Recently I was at an open studio in the hills around La Honda with my parents and my mom's cousin Amy. I was wandering around, looking at the sculptures and not paying a whole lot of attention to anything. Mom and Amy were talking about a road trip they were planning on taking from the Bay Area down into Mexico. This was the first time I had heard about the trip but the discussion in its self did not really perk up my interest. My mom has been going through kind of a hard time. Her father has started detereorating and is suffering from dimentia and she had recently gotten sperated from my father. She talks often about going away for while and it seems like everytime I talk to her she is entertaining a new plan of escape: a month or two at a health spa in Arizona or a boat trip down the canals of the Netherlands. Amy's mother too is in decline and so the sudden talk of a southern tour hardly surprised me. The idea of two middle aged women driving off into the desert and away from their problems did strike me as a little steryotypical for my mother's taste but as it turns out I shouldn't have under estimated her.
My first sense that there was something more to this trip came when I heard Amy talking about the mexican pharmacies and animal hospitals she had researched on the internet. Now, if my friends and I were planning a trip to Mexico that planning would neccessarily involve a discussion of pharmacies and, depending on who was coming, maybe even a pet hospital or two. On the other hand, coming from my mom this kind of talk caught me off guard. My mom has never been the type to seek escape in drugs. She prefers the subtler endorphine rush of chocolate, or if the situation is really dire, the literal escape of travel abroad and has long been content to leave the substance abuse in the eager and capable hands of her son. Amy, as well, has been sober for years. I started listening more keenly to their discussion and, when I heard my dad jokingly refer to their "south of the border suicide quest", I thought it was time to intervene.
I asked my mother exactly what it was she was planning and she responded enthusiasticly, "We're going to Mexico to buy suicide pills!"
To which Amy gleefuly added "You should come with us! or you could put your name on the list and we could pick you up a dose."
I still needed further explanaition and my silence encouraged Amy to extol the virtues of suicide. How no man can truly be free unless he has real autonomy over every aspect of his life especially his death. How life should be measured in quality not quantity etc. etc. It should be clear by now that my family is not squeemish about death. We are, as a rule, emphaticaly not spiritual and hardly weghed down with sentiment. Also, I should hasten to say that I profoundly agreed with everything she said. I'm all about people having the right to off themselves. I especailly understood where they were coming from. Everyone on my mother's side of the family, upon reaching eighty years old, rapidly loses their mind. It was obvious to me that having a vial of suicide juice in the fridge could by ameliorating the fears of growing old and going nuts allow you to really enjoy living the second half of your life. That said, it is still mightily disconcerting, when you are a happy twenty three year old in good health, to be eagerly offered suicide pills by your closest relatives. Also I thought having a bottle of sketchy Mexican meds in my fridge was not so smart when you consider how many people regularly troll thru my house looking for medication to pilfer.
It seems that after an especially trying time with her mother Amy was researching the most efficient and painless forms of suicide and discovered that (according to the internet) the best technique was to use a concoction they use to put animals to sleep. Although strictly controlled in the U.S. it is possible to obtain some over the counter in Mexico (god bless 'em).
After that day it seemed to me that the idea of the South of the Border Suicide Quest kind of faded away. I did notice a growing tension between my parents (whose relations were already strained at best). It was weeks later and I, having already forgotten all about the proposed mexico trip was riding with my dad in his car. We were riding in silence until he said, employing that tone awkwardly situated between testy and cautious, "Your mother..."
"uh oh" said my brain.
"Your mother won't let me order any of her suicide pills. She said no! Can you believe that?"
"Really?" I said. Although I certainly could beleive it. In fact I was surprised that I hadn't seen this coming upon hearing of the plan in the first place. You see, to my dad, mom was just trying to control him. She was trying to deny him the autonomy and freedom she said were the imputouses for buying the drugs in the first place. I could see where he was coming from.
"If everyone else can kill themselves why can't I?" She had offered to buy her own son suicide meds and the fact that there was a list implied that she had probably made similair offers to all of her other friends and realitives. My father felt that he had been singled out. Singled out and left out. In his mind her actions had an element of vindictivness.
That said I could also easily see my mother's side of things and it seemed to me that my father had probably gotten her intentions all wrong. First let me say that my dad is a charming funny man. Growing up he brought me nothing but joy and laughter and certainly never struck me as depressed. Now, that said, his life was a hard one and he would often cultivate a personality of weary bittnerness (at the time I thought it was all for comidic effect). Among his favorite childhood stories was how after reading Steppenwolf he would take one day out of every year to reflect on his life and determine wheather he should kill himslef or wait until next year. He would initiate family dinner discussions with zingers like "Life is ashes in my mouth". So, for my mom her dilemma was a moral one. Neo-liberal rhetoric about personal choice aside would providing a man who was already in therapy four days a week with a lethal concoction of phamracuticles really be the right thing to do? It was no secret that following the seperation my father was not my mother's favorite person. At best my mother would seem like an enabler and at worst a potential murderer. The role of jilted wife providing her husband with poison is hardly an easy one to comfortably slip into.
Now, I wish I had a better way to finish this story. I wish there would have been some kind of resolution. Most of all I wish that they would have gone on their trip and that I could be writing this to you from a cyber-cafe in Juarez hot on the trail of a black market veterinarian. What actually happened is that the idea of the Great International Suicide Trip of 2007 just faded away. I hadn't heard a thing about it for weeks until three days ago when I asked my Dad whatever happened.
"Amy agreed with your mother and wouldn't get me any suicide juice either." He misunderstood.
"No no no I mean whatever happened to the trip? Are they still going to go?"
He answered me laughing, "Oh no. Apparently your mother learned that its better just to strangle yourself."
So, there you go.