At the end of the "Parts Unknown" Berlin episode, Anthony Bourdain quoted Samuel Beckett: "You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on." Except he didn't go on. Shortly before this episode aired, he hung himself in a French hotel room.
I read Kitchen Confidential a few years after it was published and became an immediate fan of Bourdain. I was thankful for the invention of the DVR so I wouldn't miss any episodes of his shows. I didn't like him because of his cooking and adventurous eating; I'm a pretty dull vegetarian (Bourdain once said vegetarians are "the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit," though I do wonder if his recent interest in environmentalism changed his opinion). I never aspired to travel the planet like him; I get anxiety just flying to the east coast. What drew me to him was his way with words and his "give no f***s" attitude. He always did things his way. I never thought him doing things his way would end like this.
His suicide came shortly after Kate Spade's. I'm about as familiar with fashion as I am with the intricacies of braising short ribs, but I still found myself scouring the Internet for information about Spade. I scrolled through photos of her with her husband and daughter. I refreshed the news sites to see if there were any more details about what had happened--was she home alone? Did she leave a note? Were there marital problems? For some reason, I had to know. I had to understand.
That's the thing about suicide--it leaves those left behind desperate to understand. We want some clues into the despair that leads to this. We want to know how to stop the despair if we feel it ourselves, or if we see it in our loved ones. We want there to be some reason, something that will make us say, "Oh, well, that makes sense then." Often, there is no such conclusion to be had.
I've been trying to think of the appropriate word to describe my relationship with suicide. Is it fascination? Obsession? It started in high school. A classmate's father killed himself and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I didn't know the classmate well. His father had been the chaperone on one of our Sierra Club hiking trips and he seemed like a completely normal guy. He reminded me of my own dad. Then he jumped off a parking garage (or, at least, that was the rumor; there was no Google back then, no rabbit hole dug by morbid curiosity). I remember going to bed at night, picturing him at the top of that parking garage, pondering the jump. I remember wondering how his loved ones would ever get that image out of their minds.
I struggled with depression through adolescence and into young adulthood. There were times I hated being alive, but I never wanted to die. Maybe that explains my fascination/obsession. I knew the darkness of depression, but I'd never pondered taking my own life. Where was the line between the two? Was I close to it? Would I know if I was? More importantly, if I crossed the line, would I be able to go back?
I have eight months to live.
That's the line that kept nagging me and led me to start writing Cherry Blossoms back in 2009. The character saying the line was a guy named Jonathan. He had a plan: He was going to quit his job and, when his money ran out, kill himself. That's all I knew. I didn't know his motivations. I didn't know if he would go through with it. I think I wrote the book to discover those things. I think I wrote the book as a way to put myself on the ledge and see if I could turn around. Hindsight being 20/20, I see why I set the book aside for several years. I was going through my own dark night of the soul and I couldn't figure out Jonathan's story until I'd figured out my own.
I did a lot of research about suicide while writing Cherry Blossoms. I read through notes left by those who took their own lives. I looked up rates by gender, race, country. Through all the research, I think I was hoping to find that thing to explain it, the same thing I was looking for online in the days after the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. I have yet to find any one thing to explain it. What I've found is human suffering that feels, to the sufferer, insurmountable. What I've found is that many of us feel this suffering, to different degrees. What I've found is that we are all connected that way, though many of us continue to feel completely alone.
There is still too much stigma in our society about mental health issues. People are still shy about admitting they see a therapist. Taking medication is often seen as a sign of weakness, not strength. That needs to change. My own little offering is a book featuring someone who is struggling. My hope is that I've created a character who feels like a real person, a guy you would meet in the break room at work or in the grocery store checkout line. My hope is that by sharing his innermost thoughts--the funny ones, as well as the ugly ones--someone out there will feel less alone. That's what reading is about, after all--connection.
** IMPORTANT **
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, GET HELP. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.
Kim Hooper will be donating a portion of her proceeds to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.