The Long Suicide

There’s something to plunging one’s self into the gutter that brings a smile. Memories of pain and suffering are just the trick. One can always pretend they weren’t real, but then the truth comes back: one touches the scars, the skin-flecked discoloration of war that seems to mark one’s body like a bloody thought. But unlike thoughts, scars keep reminding you of all those other deaths that were not yours. That’s when it hits you between the eyes like a baseball bat: all those others were your buddies, and like them you never did return, you’re just a ghost wandering the wastelands of a secular hell. No reprieve, no redemption, no saviors for the dammed; just the bitter fruit of a long suicide. – s.c. hickman

7 thoughts on “The Long Suicide

  1. Relieved when Memorial Day is over. This day has no good smells. It’s not possible to honor or commemorate the men and women lured, or forced, to serve the Masters of Empire, without the stench of corruption that is war, betraying the words, offered with the best of intentions… without erasing or flag washing the reality.
    As I read your moving account, and one by Bill Perry, on FB… fragments of what your service in Vietnam meant for you… no one else, no one who was not there, I thought, has a right to speak of what we are really commemorating.
    My feelings are additionally conflicted by my very different experience. I refused service. Refused even to carry a draft card: mailed mine back to my draft board, repeatedly, with letters of explanation, until I was ordered to report for enlistment–where I, again, refused compliance. The risk I faced (5 years in prison and/or $10,000 fine), was on such an order of magnitude removed from those who I left sitting in the room at 401 Broad, 1966–probably all of whom, believed they had no choice. I feel to this day, a different kind of survivors guilt… though I was acting on my conviction that this war was wrong, in every possible way a war could be wrong, I knew then, and never forget… that whatever circumstances had created it–my conviction–not the one about the war–but the conviction that I had a choice–had nothing to do with moral courage, but was a privilege I had somehow been given. A privilege the men in that room had been denied. A year later, I was arrested. Under court orders, I worked for 2 1/2 years at Haverford Psychiatric Hospital… most of the time in the Geriatrics Ward.
    I think of them… mere shadows of memory now. They will be older now than most the men I cared for at that hospital. I think of them often, and always on Memorial Day. Where are they now? How many never came back, or left pieces of body and soul behind… while I was left — safe. Untouched — by what they experienced.
    I have no idea how to reconcile the contradictions. How to process this in memory and thought. I hope I never do.

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    • Yea, I understand… for me it wasn’t till that experience that I began to question every aspect of my world. Growing up in the Bible-Belt, in a working man’s town (Odessa, Texas), having been raised in the church (Southern Methodist), played football at the school they made the movie and TV Series (Friday Night Lights), etc., I’d already been a part of the great illusory world of mythic America… just the sort of world we now love to bash and hate.

      But it was the inanity of the war, fighting with our hands behind our backs, unable to win, only to defend, and in the process using disturbing methods (Agent Orange, among other things…) that lead me to rethink my whole life up to that point. Coming back home and being ostracized, pummeled by many like yourself, targeted as a “baby killer” (My squad never did such indiscriminate slaughter…. Enough said… I’ll not return there… it’s already too hard.).

      For me the conflict was personal and up close, but the only thing I feel or can feel is for the men I was close too, as well as the peasants and farmers who were as well used by the VC and us in ways that surpass understanding. Enough said.

      Took me years to overcome it. Does one every overcome such a thing? My mind is still an open wound even if my body is a medical rat trap of scars and other issues… So long ago, but I can barely talk of it even now. It made me lose both my faith and many friends when I turned away from family, friends, and Texas… probably why I went from ignorant jock to this creature before you… my romp through our cultural past was a long search for answers to my early life of blind patriotism and the Church. Took me years to overcome my bigotry, racism, religion, and everything else connected to the South… am I free of it? I doubt anyone raised in that world can ever be totally free of it, it corrupts you and taints you forever, leaves a dark stain on your soul that will remain their to the end. Maybe why I feel so close to Faulkner, O’Conner, McCullers, McCarthy, Welty and all those Southern gothic writers… a dark world of stains and corruption that is not easily forgotten, nor forgiven…

      Hell I live with it everyday of my fucking life. It’s just there like a dead fish or Albatross hanging around my neck, a reminder of what I was, not what I am or can be… yet, with all my industrious effort to overcome it I know it is still there like some rabid beast of prey out their ready to pounce, ready to claim me, take me back down into its hell-hole and finish me off. Overdramatic? Sure it fucking is… that’s one reason I don’t claim any intellectual lineage, not democracy, not communism, not socialism, not liberalism, nothing… am I a nihilist? In the end are any of us really that passive or even active to stare the sun down? I don’t think there’s a label for what I am, nothing one could hang their hat on when it comes down to it. People like to tag people, peg and pin them down with words. If that works for you, I guess it goes with the territory. Hell of late a guy on FB’s been tagging me with these four letter psychological profiles or types, etc. To me all this Jungian crapology just tries to reduce one to a fiction, a personality profile they can then manipulate. To me that’s just one more tool of the world of Capital, a way to keep the little guy pegged down for diagnosis and treatment in case of … well, you know…

      In the end I’m as perplexed as to what I am (or if there is a me, there! If the neuroscientists are right, that’s the last bastion of mythology of Self…). I only know there is this thing that thinks, has memories, loves, friends, children… attachments. The Buddhists (sorry if I offend non-Buddhists – please don’t lecture me!) say we need to divest ourselves of these attachments… maybe so, but I probably will die holding onto at least one of them: the memory of my good wife, dead these many years… that one I want let go easily. Everything else they can have… whoever “they” are… no conspiracy monger here… just a guy who admits he’s still fairly well ignorant and like that old street philosopher from Athens, Socrates… likes music and has his own demons…

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      • Why I never want to reconcile the contradictions. Blake got that part right. We are torn creatures… and those who would efface the contradictions, erase the reality of our lives. For what it’s worth… I send you a sense, across the abyss that divides us… of solidarity. I would prefer something more physical… I like strong man-hugs… but not everyone likes that.
        I appreciate your words. Your uncompromising mind. Persist.
        It’s all we got.

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