"To an Aesthete Dying Young": Andrew Solomon on suicide, friendship, love, and identity
September 19, 2010 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Andrew Solomon remembers a Yale classmate, roommate, and friend who took his own life. What might have been simply a moving obituary meaningful to alumni and friends of Terry Kirk becomes instead a larger meditation on identity, depression, friendship, and suicide by the author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.
posted by liketitanic (26 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
That's a lovely piece, wonderfully written.

Also very timely - I sent a link to my sister, who is facing the suicide this weekend of an ex boyfriend, her first friend to go that way (or perhaps at all - she's 28.) The guilt, the hindsight, the signs - the nearly universal aftermath is all new to her but handled so elegantly by Solomon here. Thanks.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:09 PM on September 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

That is stunning; thank you for posting it. I snap up everything Solomon writes, but I hadn't seen this. The Noonday Demon is one of my favorite books.

It's amazing how far we are, sometimes, from knowing the people we are closest to -- and how jealously we hide our own shames from those who would be most eager to help.

From Mikhail Bulgakov's The White Guard, the epigraph to Solomon's earlier book:
Everything passes away, suffering, pain, blood, hunger, pestilence. The sword will pass away too, but the stars will still remain when the shadows of our presence and our deeds have vanished from the earth. There is no man who does not know this. Why then do we not turn our eyes to the stars? Why?
posted by cirripede at 1:09 PM on September 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

I appreciate this.

If it were any other author, the bright-college-days reminiscing would have been insufferable, but I've read The Noonday Demon. In fact, I read it under the influence of the same, all the way through, lying in bed one day. Andrew Solomon is more than entitled to talk about what happiness he has had, whatever it might have been.

In The Noonday Demon, Solomon mentioned that a student government president at my high school had hanged himself. He was about to be expelled over possession of alcohol (I think). He wrote a letter of apology, went to the dorm basement stairwell, and killed himself. I had never heard of this incident, before or since, and the press time of the book suggests to me that it happened shortly after I graduated. Although I probably never knew the boy, the image of his hanging body in a certain stairwell closet immediately formed in my mind, and it remains a kind of vicarious memory of my school.

posted by Countess Elena at 1:32 PM on September 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

Thank you.
posted by ltracey at 1:37 PM on September 19, 2010

Terrific article. And thanks for the reference to Noonday Demon, which I somehow missed as I bee-lined, head down, to the self-help section.
posted by acheekymonkey at 1:41 PM on September 19, 2010

What a beautiful, moving essay. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by artemisia at 2:04 PM on September 19, 2010

I'm not ashamed to say I cried. And I will try again to look around my friends to see who might need help.
posted by imperium at 2:05 PM on September 19, 2010

Yale dorms can apparently fit many more people than mine could.
posted by WhitenoisE at 2:15 PM on September 19, 2010

Thank you for posting this.
posted by felix betachat at 2:18 PM on September 19, 2010

Wow. Terry's story seems so familiar. The performer and the depressed? Exuberance masking vulnerability? The betrayal of how articulating your pain doesn't actually make a difference? Feeeling over-reliant on a partner that will support you no matter what?

Yeah, so very very familiar.

posted by divabat at 2:53 PM on September 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, this does cut close to the bone.
posted by bilabial at 3:30 PM on September 19, 2010

Thank you for posting that. Wow. It cut close to the bone in a good, providing-insights way.
posted by ambient2 at 3:31 PM on September 19, 2010

Also notable from Andrew Solomon - his remarkable talk at The Moth on treatment of depression in survivors of the Khmer Rouge.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:32 PM on September 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

For the light it shines on both author and subject, readers may be interested to know that Andrew Solomon's mother chose to end her life (via Seconal overdose) in the company of her family, rather than continue suffering from terminal cancer. Solomon described the events and their precedents/aftermath in this New Yorker article.
posted by carmicha at 4:34 PM on September 19, 2010

And his father bought rights to the European-manufactured drug Celexa in order to try to help his son.
posted by liketitanic at 5:23 PM on September 19, 2010

That was very painful to read. Very truthful, too. Thank you for the post.
posted by ourobouros at 6:15 PM on September 19, 2010

Thank you so much for posting this; it was sad and truthful and beautifully written, and I was glued to it. I recognized a lot of myself and people I know in it, from both the perspective of a friend-of-the-depressed and the depressed. When I come across something like a quote or passage that amazes me I'll clip it and save it, but it's rare that I'm non-stop clipping from anything; I was non-stop clipping from this.

I'm going to read The Noonday Demon ASAP; for all the varied reading I do, especially about depression, somehow I'd never heard about it. I realize after looking through the comments here that I have heard Solomon's talk at The Moth as well, I just didn't connect the dots in my head.

Anyway, this is the best thing I've read in a long time, and I'm constantly reading...
posted by Nattie at 7:14 PM on September 19, 2010

“His lack of self-esteem was like a black hole; nothing could ever fill it up. No one could ever pay enough attention to Terry. He had a consuming need for attention, from his friends and from me and from his field and from the world. He was unsatisfied and frustrated; there was something inside him that didn’t work. I think he could have fixed it, that we could have fixed it, but now we will not have the chance.” Then he said, “Terry was really two people. One of them was the performer, the charming Terry, the cheerful Terry. The other part was this dark Terry, who was almost another person, this Terry with no respect for himself, no love for himself, no self-esteem. This lonely Terry."

I had a great friend, someone who felt like a long lost sibling from the first time I met her. She committed suicide after years of drug abuse and depression - years of friends and family trying to help, her own attempts to get clean, counseling, commitments, years of tough love from some, and unconditional love from others. Some of that worked in the short term, but nothing actually helped her really feel better. She tried, though. The darker she felt inside, man...she just turned up the light brighter outside. A wonderful girl; kind, funny, and smart as hell. Anyway, she rarely opened up to anyone, but we had a talk one night and the above paragraph is about the closest thing I've seen to what she described. Everything, the drugs, the outgoing personality, the fun person who just wants to see others happy came out of the fact that nothing could make her happy inside. A black hole that nothing will satisfy. No respect for herself. No self esteem. For most of her life she was these 2 people. Using one of these personalities to compensate for, or fix, or kill the other. Eventually, even with the medication, I suppose it just gets exhausting to live like that, and unlike Terry's husband I don't necessarily think that it could have been fixed, by her or anyone else, but I won't ever know.

Hmm. Kind of rambly, sorry, but I just wanted to say thanks for posting this. It made me think of a good person.
posted by horsemuth at 7:16 PM on September 19, 2010 [11 favorites]

which was not easy to do given that we were in bunk beds.

Bunk beds at Yale? I was at a lesser liberal arts college only a few years later and still we had separate suites. Bunk beds would've been absurd.

Terry had rethematized our room into a construction site, complete with orange cones and scaffolding

Eh. One of my roommates plastered our common area with mirrored tiles and fisherman's nets. I still don't know what that was all about.

I've never heard of Terry Kirk. I should read his book.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:55 PM on September 19, 2010

If it were any other author, the bright-college-days reminiscing would have been insufferable, but I've read The Noonday Demon. In fact, I read it under the influence of the same, all the way through, lying in bed one day. Andrew Solomon is more than entitled to talk about what happiness he has had, whatever it might have been.

Nah, it's more than that. He's just good. If it was pure trite nostalgia it'd annoy me just as much coming from him as from anyone else — but he's insightful enough to write about nostalgia without making it trite.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:22 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Terry was really two people

The paradigm of bipolar disorder is that the person varies from high performance to abject depression as if riding some kind of roller coaster: periods of high alternating with periods of low. What this tragic story points up is that suicidal bipolarity is a form of quantum superposition--Schrodinger's dysfunctional cat, as it were--where the high-functioning persona coexists with the depressive at all times. The "insight" of the high-functioning mind is that it is trapped in private darkness from which escape is not possible, but only to be borne until unbearable.

For the (relatively) fortunate, the blandishments of "making quietus with a bare bodkin" are resistible; for the unfortunate, like Terry, the siren call to suicide becomes irresistible, notwithstanding the power of "the canon against self-slaughter." For some, the siren call prevails in youth; in others, the terrors of middle age--when the limits of formerly boundless possibilities become undeniable--sap the will to resist. It is the classic aspect of tragedy, where the hero's tragic flaw invokes nemesis against himself.
posted by rdone at 8:39 PM on September 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

This was even better than expected. Thank you for this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:20 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thank you for this - very timely as I just got the news that a childhood friend of mine committed suicide last week. It's so completely unknowable to me, what he must have been going through, and this essay definitely shed some light onto those dark places. Thanks again.
posted by sonika at 6:26 AM on September 20, 2010

Thank you. My best friend of more than a quarter-century committed suicide in 2008, and I am still trying to come to terms with it.
posted by biscotti at 6:35 AM on September 20, 2010

What a beautiful-sad story. Thanks.
posted by callmejay at 9:01 AM on September 20, 2010

posted by eenagy at 10:01 AM on September 24, 2010

« Older Sharia law, marriage contracts, and the rights of...   |   How heavy is a sound? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments