Always Choose Life

Robin Williams took his own life this past Monday and there’s been a lot of chatter on the Internet and broader media about his choice. Did he have a choice? That’s the question. To be or not to be, as Hamlet pondered. Life’s slings and arrows can be daunting and too much at times. They can be completely overwhelming when suffering with depression or other mental illness.

So again, is it a choice? Robin had open heart surgery in 2009 and research shows that those who undertake such surgery often wrestle with depression post-op. Add in other problems that are being reported: alimony, loss of work, taking work he didn’t want to, and early onset Parkinson’s, then you have quite a heavy weight for someone already vulnerable. He said himself (as reported by his friend Carrie Fisher) that he suffered from bipolar disorder. So, again, did Robin have a choice? Life and death?

Some cynics and writers have been postulating that Robin, even though loved deeply by family and friends, along with millions of fans, couldn’t find anything redeeming in this world. Has this world become so bad? Has it become so devoid of moral value and goodness (plain old kindness) that one of its most bright and colorful inhabitants, one of its most empathetic, could not beat it any longer? Did he have a choice?

Depression can hit anyone, rich or poor, but while suffering with it can you still make rational decisions? It seems that you cannot, according to many experts. But something that is so fundamental as your own mortality? Did he have a choice? When it’s been shown time and time again that those poor souls who lived through the Holocaust most often chose life? Sure, we are all cut from different cultural and genetic cloth, but is there something universally human when it comes to choosing our own mortality no matter what? Did Robin have a choice?

I don’t think he did. But let’s cast our question in a different light: did Robin know there was a choice? I think he didn’t. When our dear friend, the one who brought tears of joy and heartache and taught life lessons on the silver and small screens, sat there in his closet and took his belt and put it around his throat he had lost all reason. All choices were gone. They had been muted by the sheer terrible force of a depression so deep that he was no longer in control. So, the question we should ask is this: why did it get to that point? What can we as a society say when someone like Robin takes his own life? We say we need to know more, we need to find the warning signs, we need to convey this no matter how much it hurts or how dark it seems to everyone from as early an age as experts agree. Suicide is not something we whisk away under the rug of sentimentality. Under pictures of genies going up to heaven. Robin didn’t have to die. Maybe he couldn’t choose life for himself, but perhaps someone close to him could have.




Greg hadn’t been back in five years. The once bright and shining building with its neat rows of red brick and white window frames now lay in ruins. Parts of walls were falling over, some blackened by fire, and others standing whole as if by divine intervention. He crossed through what had once been the foyer, stepping over cinder blocks, bricks, cracked and warped boards. A tricycle with colorful plastic streamers lay on its side, the white plastic seat burnt, curled. Could it have been only a few years ago that he stood here with Sherry? Holding hands, laughing, walking to the overcrowded classroom where their daughter was waiting to be picked up early. He stumbled, looking down and thought he saw an arm. No, it was a plastic tube for storing sketches in the art room. He kicked it, fell back against one of the blackened walls. “Look,” Sherry had said, “she doesn’t want to leave! Can you believe that? Maybe we should just go without her.” Why not? They might have had fun on their own; they hadn’t had a chance for alone time since the move. But seeing his daughter there then at that moment, sitting with her little pigtails in the semi-circle with her teacher… laughing, turning to him and smiling. He couldn’t resist lifting her and twirling her around. Hug her until she said, “Daddy, stop, you’re squeezing too tight!” He collapsed onto the charred floor, his feet pushing against the footboard of the tricycle. It slid against the cracked, burnt tiles. Fingers on a chalkboard. If only he had said “Yeah, you know what, let her stay. She’s happy. Next time.” But he didn’t. And she came with them that day six years ago. Sat in the back seat when the tractor trailer took too wide of a turn, fishtailed, slammed into their old white Volvo.


An Innocent Flame


I creep into the woods slowly as not to disturb his manly ritual and can’t help but see him as both man and boy: man, tall and dark in silhouette like a knight in an old romance winning duels (or whatever they did) for his paramour; boy, a little Quixote donning daddy’s armor to topple a windmill giant. The clearing is small and out of the way enough that it serves as our meeting place. He turns at the sound of my footfalls, crunching the undergrowth with each measured step. You’re late, he says, and he’s doing that thing when he looks at me like a disappointed father. Boy no more. Makes me want to strangle him, and he knows it, and that’s exactly why he does it. He’s a distraction, I tell myself. Just something to pass the time. A summertime fling that’ll be forgotten a year from now. I’m only sixteen — what do I know?

Doesn’t matter, he says. You’re always going to be late anyway. Not going to change that. I tell him he’s a fool, and he shrugs. Casts it off easily like all the rest of the world’s ills that don’t agree with him or try to harm him. Esther, he says, let’s just say it already. And there it is. The words that are tinder for an innocent flame — that will burn down my foundation forever; words that set in motion a settling of debts. We have to do it, he says. We have to tell your parents now before it’s too late.

The fire’s looming. It’s drawing breath from the late summer air, dry and sweetless. I don’t want him anymore. He’s become an old judge, no more fun like he used to be. Ever since he began taking Milly out. Who would have thought he’d be the one wheeling the cripple? Now don’t start on me, Milly’s my favorite — she’s what I’d call my best friend, a sister who’s two years older, stricken with palsy and epilepsy who talks and acts like she’s three. I know what Jean’s talking about right away. I take a few more hard steps towards him, scowling. You stay out of this, I say. It’s family business. I’ll tell them. You go run on home, Jean, you’ve a mother to take care of.

It’s not so simple, he says. He’s talking about what happened a few nights ago. I have three sisters: Mildred (but we call her Milly), she’s the cripple; Ivy, she’s only a year older than me but already graduated from high school and a teacher at the elementary in Boise; and then there’s Josephine, or little Jo, the oldest of us all at twenty four, a real world traveller, who brought a husband home. This husband is what’s all the trouble now as Jean rambles on in the clearing.

He touched her, Esther. I saw him. He touched her and when I came over he denied it. But you saw him, I say. That’s right, Jean says. I shake my head, and lurch toward him like a scarecrow in the wind. I believe you but what can we do? His nostrils flare like a restless hog, and he clenches his fists. You know what? You don’t give a shit about her. About Milly.

You ever hit a man? I suggest you try sometime. Feels good. Especially one who thinks he can beat on you anytime he wants.

He’s down on the ground before he can say another word. Before he can look at me shamefully. My fist is trembling as I step over him, looking down into those green eyes that cast a spell on me some three months ago. I’m searching, studying, a detective of the heart, and when I’ve found it I hold out my hand. He takes it, grumbling.


Days stand still, the sun having stopped in the sky as it once did at Jericho for Joshua and the Israelites. We wait for a sign. The first death in two hundred and eighty-seven years. It’s an odd thing to write. How do we feel? If it’s shock, do we even remember what it feels like? How can we be shocked anymore? There is, there was, no death for us. No war. No famine. Were we even human? If being human means living and loving and dying then perhaps we still fit the definition on two counts: we live, and we love, but it’s not what love used to be. Or so we imagine. Call up a Twenty or Twenty-One (Century) flick — Tee Vee or Movee they called them — what sentiment is on display! A mere hundred years ago at the turn of the Twenty Three was it Randal Marques who said we’d all become French? Americanism died out quickly — that youthful starry-eyed three act story in which the Individual was the star? When Death came calling and we surprised it by donning its cloak and stealing its scythe, effectively becoming immortal, we never could have imagined the creature we were becoming. We were our very own Dr Frankenstein. Our very own monster.

I wonder if anyone else has as much pleasure talking about the end of the world? I suppose if I was out there in the tumult I would know the answer to that question, but ever since news broke of the first mortal in three hundred years I’ve decided to keep my ears and eyes shut for a while. I’m not sure what that says about me. Perhaps I am what all my friends and family have claimed over the years — a pessimist in a world in which such creatures became extinct many years ago. Centuries, in fact. But if I were to analyze my own misgivings and actions on the matter of “the great event,” then I would simply say that I have given in to instinct, succumbed to that old ticking time bomb Thanatos — still very much alive — is that the right word? — inside our engineered bodies.


I wanted her to know that I’d be back, that I’d do anything for her and change what was about to come. How could I explain it all. How could I go into detail about how it made me ache in every part of my dying body. That I would trade everything to give her a better life. You feel all this in an instant; it’s true, they say it and you see it in movies and think it’s shit, but it’s true and it’s terrible. The impotency of the tongue to translate the heart’s desire. All I could give her was what lay in my eyes, which I hoped accurately reflected my will. She struggled for a moment, knitting her brow, searching, and finally recognition shone on her pale face. Light in eyes that had been dark for so long. Relief, for a moment, was ours, and it was okay because even if it were only for a matter of minutes, it was an eternity as it happened, for we were fooled into believing the “we” and the “us” — the this — is all there ever was or would be.