What The Heck Happened To Jeremy Dale?

March 18, 2015 Blog, Classics Comments (0) 29

“Jeremy died. Please hurry.”

I will never, ever forget those words.

I’ll never forget how they sat there, black against a grey bubble on a glowing screen in my hand. I’ll never forget how the interior of my roommate Meghan’s car went from glowing to dark as I dropped my phone and it landed face-down on the floormat. I’ll never forget the look of horror on her face when I told her what I just read, and I’ll certainly never forget the jerk of my neck as she romped down on the accelerator and took her car over 100 miles per hour to get us to the hospital as quickly as possible.

He was fine just a few hours before, when his wife Kelly left him to join us at our house for a much needed home-cooked meal. Fine enough, that is, that she felt it was okay to leave his side — the first time she’d done so since he entered the hospital four days previous.

It was a Monday. It was the first day since he went into the hospital that I didn’t go up and visit. I went to work and went to the gym and went home. A normal day, by most counts, with the notable exception that one of my best friends was in the hospital and I was trying to pretend I didn’t have that on my mind the entire day.

I didn’t visit that Monday because the day before, it seemed he had finally snapped out of the haze and the funk of being sick. It was Sunday. Football was on. More accurately, Tom Brady’s perfect hair and smug face was on the television in the hospital room, and Jeremy and I, in usual fashion, took turns berating him. It was always fun to do that, but that Sunday, it was especially fun. After a week in a nearly catatonic state, Jeremy Dale, it seemed, was back.

It was a nice change to hear his voice, especially with the quality of jokes Jeremy is capable of producing. Prior to that, all we really heard out of him were feeble grunts and very direct, short answers to questions that doctors and nurses would ask… Most of them needing to be repeated by Kelly, because they were mostly inaudible.

But he was back. He’d watched football with me, and made jokes about Brady and the Patriots and the new Moon Knight comic book and it was all gonna be just fine. He was on the mend! He and Kelly needed a day to themselves. It was fine for me to go back to work. It was fine to go to the gym. It was fine to go home and cook a meal and let Kelly leave the hospital for a night to eat decent food. It was all going to be alright.

The next thing I know, I’m in the passenger seat of a Subaru WRX doing 110 miles an hour on the interstate, too shocked to feel any sort of panic whatsoever, reaching to the floorboard to try to pick up my dropped phone and be sure — absolutely certain — that’s what I just read.

“Jeremy died. Please hurry.”


One week earlier, I was talking to Kelly on the phone. She was calling me to inform me that Jeremy and she couldn’t make it to dinner… For the third time in a week.

“It’s just really bad Con Crud,” she replied when I asked what was going on.

Con Crud, for the uninitiated (and you should thank God that you are) is a type of flu one catches when they attend large conventions. It’s basically a stew of bacterial and/or viral infections, formed by the tens of thousands of walking vectors for disease we call humans walking around, coughing and sweating on each other. It’s basically what’s going to eventually morph into the outbreak that causes the zombie apocalypse (but conventions ARE fun, really. I promise. Don’t let that dissuade you from coming to one. I’ll see you there. Look for me, I’ll be wearing the Akira-themed SARS mask).

Jeremy and Kelly cancelled on plans so rarely, one might as well say it never happened. And this was the third time in a week.

“You guys never cancel this much… I’m getting worried,” I said.

“I AM TOO!” my roommate Meghan said from the other room, loud enough that Kelly could hear her through the phone. It made her chuckle.

“I’ll keep you guys posted,” Kelly replied. I could hear her very practiced calm demeanor shining through. I could see her smiling that lovely Kelly Dale smile that she was so famous for. That one she has when it’s time to back off. Not rude, not mean, not even stern. You just know to respect it.

Kelly and Jeremy were pretty private with Jeremy’s previous health matters. I knew he had asthma, and that it was pretty bad. I knew he grew up in Kokomo, Indiana, which was an industrial town and is famous locally for having an abnormal number of respiratory illnesses per capita. I knew he also didn’t really like people all up in his biz. So I knew not to push.

“Well, let me know if I can do anything at all,” I said.

“ME TOO!” Meghan yelled from the other room.

Another chuckle. “I will,” Kelly answered.

I knew she totally wouldn’t.

Kelly and Jeremy are both famous in the comics world. Together, they are known for being the nicest people you will ever meet. They are known for their honesty, generosity, friendliness and the way they treat each fan like they’re the only people that matter.

Ask any comics creator at any convention if they know the Dales and they won’t just say “yes” — they’ll tell you how they met, how funny they are, how great it is to talk with them… They’ll tell you the date and convention they first met at, and their favorite “Jeremy Moment” whether it be a fast comeback joke or a hilarious photobomb.

Individually, Jeremy is famous in the comics world for his work on G.I. Joe, Popgun and his creator-owned book Skyward. As an artist, his work is celebrated for being very expressive and the exceedingly high quality he achieves in such a very short timeframe.

Kelly is famous in her own right. She’s the manager’s manager. She runs a tight ship. She’s unflappable. She’s able to make just about anything that needs to happen, happen. And she does so in a way that makes you feel like you owe her a favor afterword, because she’s just so damn nice about it.

In the midst of any chaos, there is a rock in the tempest. It has red hair and freckles and answers to Kelly Dale. And this rock called us for help, for the first time in recorded history.

It was that Wednesday, two days after our call. I was at work. The phone rang. It was my roommate Meghan.

Meghan only texts. Meghan never calls.

“We need you,” she said.

Some part of me knew exactly why and what for. But I asked anyway. Kelly had just called. She was crying. Jeremy was unresponsive, and couldn’t even get out of the bed. She didn’t know what to do. Kelly never cries. And Kelly never asks for help.

I dropped everything, stood up, grabbed my keys out of my bag and literally ran out of the door. My boss saw me as I rushed by and gave me a quizzical look. I just waved and left.

I arrived at Jeremy and Kelly’s home to find Jeremy pretty much as described. He was feverish, clammy and unresponsive, except when a direct statement involving his name was said at loud or higher volume. His responses were short and you could hear his attempt to be As Jeremy As Possible, but it was for naught: he was in bad shape.

We tried to help him to the car to take him to the hospital. We made it as far as the living room couch. Jeremy was unable to move his legs. They weren’t just weak. He was paralyzed from the waist down. It wasn’t that he wasn’t strong enough to walk; he literally couldn’t move them.

We called the paramedics, who said “Sounds like the flu. But the legs being paralyzed… We should take him to the hospital to be sure.” So they carried him out and transported him to the hospital.

The doctors took a look at him. They said it was “Likely just a bad flu. But the legs being paralyzed… We better run some tests to be sure.”

So they ran tests. And then, they ran more tests. And then, the sun was going down, and they were still running tests. And then, it was getting close to midnight, and they were STILL running tests.

“He’s going to have to stay here overnight,” they told us.

We went to a 24-hour Pho noodle shop and caught our breath. It had been a long and confusing day. But hey, Jeremy was safe. He was at the hospital now. He would be okay. The doctors think it’s just a bad case of the flu. His legs… Well, that was confusing. But he was in the absolute best place to be.

He was going to be just fine.

That was Wednesday.

•     •     •

I arrived at the hospital Thursday late morning. The tests had come back. Not a single thing was wrong with him, aside from the fact that he was very dehydrated and running a slight fever and pretty much unable to form complete sentences or keep his eyes open. But they were running more tests, and they were going to let us know the second they found anything.

We kept ourselves busy. Kelly mostly managed the hospital staff and doctors. There was a lot of paperwork to do. Meghan drew comics. I brought my laptop and did some work, and when that was done, I wrote a scathing social media post about the quality of the “food” at the hospital.

I mean, It had a McDonalds in the cafeteria! Along with a pizza bar, tons of fried food, chips and sugary snacks… It was appalling! Here we were in a building dedicated to getting people healthy and back on their feet, and I was literally working from a heart disease foundry.

I digress.

The day came and went, and there was no news about Jeremy’s condition. There was simply the fact that one of my favorite people in the world was laying immobile on a gurney, unable to do much besides drink a little water here and there and laugh at my terrible jokes (when he was awake enough to hear them). And one of my other favorite people in the world sat by his side, feeling helplessly hopeful and scared. So I sat at the hospital and ate bad food and made bad jokes.

I like to think it helped.

Thursday ended with nothing much besides a shrug and a promise that something WOULD be found out. Eventually. But until then, Jeremy was staying at the hospital for observation and fluids and Reality TV, because that’s pretty much the only thing the television picked up.

Friday came around. It seemed like it was going to be a repeat of Thursday. But then, late in the afternoon, the doctors went ahead and put forward a possible diagnosis.

It might be Guillain–Barré Syndrome. This incredibly rare syndrome affects less than 20,000 people per year, and was highly treatable. It is the gradual paralysis of the limbs that occurs when the immune system suddenly decides to attack the nervous system. But if you cure the cause, you cure the syndrome too.

Treatment for this was incredibly invasive. So they wanted to hold off on treating for it until it was confirmed.

Saturday came.

“It’s not Guillain–Barré Syndrome,” the doctors told us. “It looks like it, it sounds like it… But it’s not it.”

Back to square one. More bad food and more Reality TV and more waiting around for something. For anything.

But SUNDAY! Sunday was different! I walked into the hospital room and there was Kelly and Jeremy and two big bright smiles!

“Hey man!” Jeremy said.

I wasn’t shocked per se… Delighted maybe? Taken aback with happy joyfulness? Whatever it was, it was great to hear his voice have some of that trademark Jeremy Dale brightness behind it.

I hugged him. I had to go over to his bedside, because he still couldn’t so much as flex a toe, much less walk. And of course, we were all still very concerned about that fact. But Jeremy was back, and that was cause for celebration.

And celebration came in the form of making fun of one Mr. Tom Brady and his Pantene-infused locks and his lonely hand no one will high-five and his insistence on manipulating the rules to win games. But mostly his hair.

Jeremy was back. And that was a great relief. Kelly was notably much happier. The hospital staff were still fairly confused as to what exactly was happening. Maybe it is Guillain–Barré after all? Maybe not? Maybe it was just one of those crazy flukes and he was on his way back to health?

Whatever it was, my friend was sitting up and laughing and making fun of Tom Brady. It was the most normal things had been in a week.

That was Sunday.

Monday came and so did the first normal day any of us had had in a while.

Work. Gym. Home. I made dinner. Kelly came over. Meghan, Kelly and I shared some laughs. Conversations about Jeremy’s condition ensued. He was alert and doing well, but still couldn’t walk or move his legs. Does that mean it might be Guillain–Barré after all, and maybe the treatment knocked out the sickness but the effects of GBS were still there? Was this some sort of adult-onset paralysis no one had ever heard of? What the heck was it?

It was like a real-life episode of House M.D. And that joke would have been a lot funnier if Kelly and Jeremy had actually watched the series. But still, Kelly laughed. And this laugh didn’t have nerves behind it like almost all the laughs I’d heard the past week. She was relaxing. It was nice to see.

It was time to go. She was going to swing by the hospital on the way home to kiss Jeremy on the forehead and say good night. We were going to wait up until we heard how he was doing, then Meghan would go back to work and I would go to sleep. It was 9 o’clock. I said I felt old. Jokes were made about my slowly greying but otherwise nearly-perfect curly hair, including the fact that it wasn’t as perfect as Tom Brady’s.

Kelly waved goodbye. We waved goodbye. I sighed, and began doing dishes. Meghan sighed and began watching me do dishes.

A few minutes into it, we got a call. It was Kelly.

“Don’t panic,” she started. Of course, this immediately induced panic.

“Jeremy’s had a very severe asthma attack. They’ve taken him to the Intensive Care Unit.”

“Uh… That’s worth panicking over!” I stated.

“No no, don’t,” she reiterated. “This has happened before. He’ll be okay. His asthma gets like this sometimes.”

“Well, we’re coming up there,” I stated.

“You don’t have to do—”

“We are coming up there!” Meghan yelled, knowing exactly what Kelly was saying even though she wasn’t on the call.

Kelly knew better than to argue.

We hopped in Meghan’s car. It was agreed I needed to man the phone just in case something happened. Of course, nothing was going to happen. Kelly just told us this happened before. This is just an asthma attack. It was unrelated to anything that had been going on. He was going to be fine.

My phone buzzed. My lock screen said it was Kelly Dale.

I unlocked my phone. I read the text.

“Jeremy died. Please hurry.”

I dropped my phone. Meghan dropped the accelerator pedal to the floor. The world dropped behind us in a blur as we sped to the hospital.

I immediately called Kelly. There was no answer. Of course there wasn’t. Everything she needed to say had just been said in that one text message I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

I called our closest friends. The reactions were exactly what you’d think they would be. They rushed to the hospital as well. We all met Kelly, who was sitting in a chair in an empty room. Just Kelly. Not something any of us was used to seeing. And she had been crying. Another thing we weren’t used to seeing.

The night faded into the day.

At age 34, Jeremy Dale had suddenly passed away.

•     •     •

The official cause of death was “Heart Attack.” Which was technically true — during his asthma attack, his heart suddenly stopped. There was absolutely no chance of reviving him. But something just wasn’t right here.

A week before, the guy had the flu. Then, he couldn’t walk. Then suddenly his body systematically shut down. Nothing presented on any tests whatsoever. There was no sign of standard autoimmune, neurological, cerebral or cardiac problems. In fact, he was given a clean bill of health three times over… Except that he was nearly comatose and couldn’t walk.

We were all baffled. But here we were, in this strange reality where a young, healthy guy caught a cold and suddenly died. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair.

It was reality. And it made no sense whatsoever.

Kelly posted the news to social media. The shock was palpable. The outpouring of respect was overwhelming. People shared some of their most tender and sweet memories involving Jeremy and Kelly. People came from across the country to pay their respects at the memorial service. Throughout it all, two things loomed large: Jeremy was gone, and there was no good reason as to why.

This wasn’t an unhealthy guy. He was in excellent health. His heart was fine. There was no history of heart disease or cardiac arrest. He maintained a rigorous convention and touring schedule, and that kept him quite active.

No one knew the whole story. Kelly and Jeremy don’t post on social media often, so the fact that Jeremy was even in the hospital was a shock to most people. But to find out he’d been hospitalized and then died suddenly… It was all so confusing. And the only answer any of us could give is “Heart attack… BUT IT WASN’T JUST A HEART ATTACK DAMMIT.”

The coroner performed an autopsy. When the results came back, something just wasn’t right. They wanted to dive deeper. And since no one had a clue what the heck had happened, Kelly felt it was important to rule out any sort of genetic or inherited conditions. If there was something in his family, they needed to know.

A few weeks went by. The coroner came back with a report. The report said… Nothing. There still was no clear cause of death aside from the fact that his body simply shut down and his heart stopped.

The coroner decided to call in a friend of his — a nationally recognized expert in strange death cases. Together, the two dove deep into the case, literally dissecting everything they could to figure out what had happened.

Like I said, it was like a real-life episode of House.

It’s never far from your mind when one of your best friends has passed away. But to be wrapped up in such a mysterious circumstance… It’s been a challenge not to obsess over it. But here we are, four months out, and time is doing what time always does… It moves on.

Four months had passed, when Kelly got an email from the Coroner.

Finally, there was an answer. There was a cause of death. And it is literally one of the rarest disorders in existence.

From the coroner’s report:

This 34 year old man, Jeremy Dale, died as a result of a demyelinating disorder [an example of which is multiple sclerosis], which most predominantly involved his spinal cord and brainstem. The microscopic changes are consistent with a diagnosis of Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis [ADEM]. ADEM is a rare autoimmune disorder, which most commonly occurs after a viral or bacterial infection, or less commonly after immunization. It results in an inflammatory response in the brain and spinal cord that essentially degrades myelin, resulting in the slowing down of nerve impulses from the affected areas. The axonal damage, such as that found in this case, is reportedly more frequently seen in fatal cases. The onset can be acute and progress quickly, leading to hospitalization. The neurologic signs can be multifocal and non-specific, including motor function abnormalities. When this disorder is seen in adults, the prognosis is less favorable than with children, and there have been reports of 4–12% mortality rates. As per Jeremy’s wife, he had returned from a work trip approximately 1 week prior to his hospitalization and had symptoms of a “cold”. On October 26, he began to complain of weakness and tingling in his feet and that it hurt to walk. On October 28, he was unable to walk and was taken by personal vehicle to the hospital. He was evaluated in the hospital but his symptoms progressed and on the night of November 3rd, he had trouble breathing and was subsequently pronounced dead.

So, it really was just the flu after all. Leave it to Jeremy Dale to make even the flu something rare and special.

I love him and miss him dearly.

We all do.

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I’ve Become That Guy Who Thinks Jazz Sounds Better On Vinyl And All It Took Was Losing Everything

February 16, 2015 Blog, Classics Comments (0) 33

This morning, I sat on my couch and watched a record spin on a turntable across the room. A record. Like, an LP made of vinyl. On a turntable.

If you know me, that alone could probably sum up how different life, and my perspective on it, is these days.

Maybe you’re one of my friends who saw this link on my Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr. Or you’ve read my books and articles and everything I’ve ever written the past 14 years and you get the joke here.

Or maybe somewhere during my two year writing hiatus, you forgot I existed, and you have no idea what the hell is going on with me. Or, maybe you read a thing of mine during the early 2000s on Fark or Slashdot or Digg or whatever. Or you followed my columns at CNN or Huffington Post. Or you stumbled upon one of my books a bunch of years ago, and after I stopped writing about pranks on Wal-Mart and arson at Hooters and mishaps with PETA you gave up on me, only to find me again via Google.

Maybe you’ve never even heard of me. So maybe you don’t get why this would even be funny. Let me explain.

Just a few years ago, the very mention of a turntable would have had me snorting and laughing and throwing out the words “hipster” and “luddite” and “stupid snake oil audiophile” and… oh, who knows what else. Instant snark and bitterness… over what? A medium upon which sound is recorded and played? And because why, because a trend emerged where people began rediscovering the way vinyl sounds and it became popular?

The jokes; oh they would roll. Anything to poke or prod or get attention at the expense of the trendy. Because who else deserves to burn more than the holier-than-thou? And who better to burn them, than the holier-than-holier-than-thou?

And here I sat, this morning in a tattoo-and-artist-and-motorcycle populated section of East Atlanta, in a rental house that I share with my roommate, who is a professional comic book artist. We’ve known each other almost a year and she is one of my best friends in the world.

Rent. Roommate. East Atlanta. Record players. Two-years-ago-me is screaming somewhere deep inside me “Dude, what the FUCK is going on in this bizzaro future you’ve ended up in?”

There was a purring cat in my lap and a warm cup of coffee in my hand. The light notes of John Coltrane’s saxophone drifted through the room, filling the air with an ambiance of relaxing cool. Sunlight shone in bands on the freshly-installed hardwood floors that my roomie and I cried over when they were done, because… well, we were home. And we were making it our home.

A year ago, neither of us had homes.

I pet my cat and he nudged my hand with his nose, then his cheek, telling me where I should be scratching him. I took another sip of my coffee — lightly sweetened with honey with a rich velvety texture created by the coconut milk and butter. I let it sit on my tongue and wash across the back of my mouth before swallowing. I breathed deep — not a sigh, but a purposeful “taking in the moment” breath.

Fucking butter and coconut milk, you guys. I put that in my COFFEE. A quick Google search of Joe+Peacock+Coffee will net you no fewer than 10 rants about hispter coffee bullshit, all predating the whole “Bulletproof Coffee” butter and coconut milk craze. And rest assured, had it showed up a few years ago, I would have railed against it, too.

But now, I can’t be bothered. Because I love it. It tastes good. And the John Coltrane on the record player? It sounds good. And CrossFit? Arguably the most hipster of the jockular activities? It feels good. In fact, I did a competition yesterday. A Masters Competition, for 35+ year olds.

Old man competitions in hipster sports… shit I swore I’d never, ever do.

I can feel my body reacting to the competition yesterday. It appreciates sitting heavy on the couch. It loves the warmth of my cat. It creaks a little when I lift my coffee mug to my lips, but it isn’t complaining — it’s just acknowledging that yesterday took its toll on this 38-year-old frame. But it is happy. Whatever pains it feels are simply reminders that I am alive and awake and in this moment.

This moment… it’s mostly perfect. A relaxing moment of early morning with jazz and coffee and a happy cat and a belly full of delicious breakfast.

It’s been a great morning. Life is good.

•     •     •

This time two years ago, literally the morning of February 7, 2013, my ears couldn’t hear jazz. Or any music at all, really. They were filled with the pounding of my heartbeat. My brain was on fire. I awoke and laid on a bed that wasn’t mine, in an apartment that wasn’t mine, in a city I did not live in. It was probably the twentieth time I had woken up that morning… but at least that meant I was getting some sleep.

I was in New York in my friend’s apartment in Chelsea. I was “Getting The Fuck Out Of Dodge.” Hiding, honestly, from reality.

Two weeks previous, on my birthday January 24 2013, I was on a ski trip for my birthday with my then-wife of 10 and a half years, whom I’d been in love with for over 14 years. And we decided, after months of arguing and fighting and discovery after discovery of things I never in a million years could imagine would be true, to part ways.

The next day, we flew home. We walked into the house we owned, and she packed some things and left and went to her mother’s. Very shortly thereafter, I covered nearly every square inch of floor and furniture with tears and snot.

She took “her” animals. I kept the ones that were too old to handle change and my goofy orange cats. Some of the geriatric ones passed on, one after the other, in the course of two months. It was gut wrenching.

A few months later, I discovered that my company’s largest vendor was withdrawing. My business partner and I had to close the business — an animation and art studio we had worked years to build. I used all of the money I had to pay severance to our employees. I fell behind on my mortgage, power, and water bills. I had to sell my house.

I couldn’t sell it. Despite all the improvements, and despite being located literally over a river and through the woods, I’m told it will be impossible to sell my house given where it is and the market and yadda yadda. So the bank took it.

Somewhere during all that mess, I discovered my identity stolen and several of my bank and credit card accounts compromised. The damage done persists to this day.

I lost my wife, my company, my studio, my savings, my pets, my belongings, my identity and, depending on the day, my sanity. My life, for better or for worse, was over.

By the summer of 2013, I found myself living in the tiny front room of my generous friend Mike’s one bedroom apartment with my dog and two cats. It was an extremely tight squeeze, one I tried to make more bearable by being gone as much as I could.

A few months went by. I filled the time with writing and exercise. Day in and day out, I would wake up, workout, write, eat tuna, write, workout, eat tuna and sleep.

I don’t think mere words can express the monotony of that particular time in life. Strange; I can have all this inside me, and to you, it’s only words (thanks, David Foster Wallace).

Summer became Fall, which became Winter. In that time, my best friend Jeremy lost his mom to Cancer. He was facing his first holiday season without his mother, and I was facing my first without my… well, entire life as I knew it. Some friends in Boston suggested I stay with them for a while, ostensibly to start a new life with a job and a change of scenery.

It was a good idea. The time was coming where I couldn’t just lay about any longer. I needed a job. And I really needed to get the hell out of my friend Mike’s hair. Besides, it would bring me closer to Jeremy, who was going through his own hell. So I packed up my truck and my dog and drove North.

Boston. In Winter. For those who have never done that… don’t. My hands are STILL frozen, and I’m not kidding. I’d never had cold hands like that before in my life, and now when it gets even remotely chilly, they go numb. Maybe it’s nerve damage; maybe it’s psychosomatic. Who knows. What I do know is that I’m not over it and maybe never will be.

I looked, but didn’t find much in the way of companies wanting to hire a guy whose main skills — design and development — had a notable multi-year gap in his portfolio due to spending the recent past as a producer and studio owner. And production companies weren’t really hiring guys whose main skill in the last year was firing everyone who worked for him.

So, when you’re unemployed and homeless and in a new city trying to make a new start of it all, living primarily on the goodwill and kind heart of friends, that’s the PERFECT time to start dating.

I thought I was in love. But of course, anything feels like love when it’s warm and you’re cold. While I look back on it now and realize it was rushed and foolish and basically like shooting heroin, at the time, I thought it was love. And this feeling — love, lust, fascination, infatuation, whatever — it actually motivated me to begin looking at my life with an honest lens.

I needed a damn job. I needed to get my shit together. The romantic idea of “making it on my own” and “starting fresh” and all that great stuff… it melted away, and reality began to set in. It was time to pay my debts and get back on my feet.

So, a job in Atlanta called. A good one. Really good in fact, with a huge corporation that needed someone to help them grow a studio within the company — someone who had both the design and development know-how, and the studio experience.

The girl I was seeing was sweet. Outwardly encouraging and made promises I knew she couldn’t keep.

I knew taking this role would break the relationship. But I’d spent the better part of 14 years letting the concept of “love” govern what was best for me, which led me to a place where someone I trusted more than anyone on the planet thought it was okay not only to cheat, but to lie straight to my face about it. Because I’d put her on a pedestal.

When you put someone on a pedestal, you train them to look down on you.

(Also, Boston is fucking cold and miserable and the people, by and large, suck. I’ll probably sever and eat my own testicles before I ever live there again. But I will forever be appreciative and thankful of my friends who let me stay rent-free and helped me at least try to make it there.)

So, I chose to interview for the job. I chose myself.

The second I got back to Atlanta, I got stopped on a felony drug search because there had been an ice storm and that’s when traffickers are most active. I spent three hours on the side of the road in 27 degree weather, quoting Jay-Z and 311 lyrics while I refused to be searched, because while I wasn’t carrying anything illegal at all, fuck that.

While waiting for the cops to let me go, I got a call — my mom was in the emergency room. I needed to get there. So, the cops finally let me go, but not without telling me that my license was apparently suspended and they technically should impound the car and arrest me. They would only let me go if someone else would come get me and drive me at least out of their county.

It was actually a really, really cool thing those cops did. They were just doing their jobs, and I wasn’t angry at them. They showed their sympathy for my situation by going out of their way to let me go. Some great friends of mine hopped in the car and came and got me. One drove my truck and the other followed behind.

As soon as we got to my friends’ house, I (illegally) drove to the hospital. My mom was stable, but needed to be observed for a while due to an infection that had set in. I told my parents I love them and, after driving 18 hours, being handcuffed in the cold for two, and at the hospital for four, I finally got back to Mike’s place. I fell out on the floor, literally.

I was back in the living room of the one-bedroom apartment.

When I got up, I went to go see my mom again, then planned to meet a friend of mine. En route, I was hit by a drunk lady with no insurance. The cop arrested me for my suspended license. I spent the night in jail. The next morning, Mike came and got me. Some other friends helped me get my truck, which had a big dent in the side.

I let my girlfriend-at-the-time know what was going on. The only reply I got came two days later, in the form of a breakup email. She changed her mind, the distance was too big a factor. Three days is what it took for her to come to this conclusion; that distance was too big a factor. I admire her for struggling those three days. Brave, really.

But on the other hand, it appeared that I chose correctly.

That was one year and one week ago.

•     •     •

The next weekend, I interviewed and got the job at Deloitte. I started my first corporate job in nearly eight years. Thanks to the lady hitting me, my insurance company sent me a check for damages — and at that moment, I had twelve dollars in the bank. So thank God that happened.

My sister and I went to thrift stores and consignment shops in Atlanta and built a wardrobe for my first few weeks in the new job. It was, after all, one of the “Big Four” and I needed to look the part. At first I was embarrassed to shop secondhand. But now, that’s the only way I’ll shop for clothes. I have some of the best outfits I’ve ever worn, and people constantly compliment me on how cool a shirt or jacket or pants may be.

It has come to define my “new look” — some strange amalgam of 70s and 80s shirts and dark blue indigo jeans and boots and who knows what else. I just rock what feels right. And I have hair now. For the first time in 20 years, I stopped cutting my hair with a #1 guard and just let it fly. Sometimes, I brush it over and let my beard grow out.

I moved out of Mikes place into a house I share with one of the most talented artists and best friends I’ve ever met. We just finished resurfacing the floors of our rental, and the landlords are very happy. We have our dogs and our cats and video game nights and friends over for dinner. I have a grill again. And got a decent set of knives for Christmas. I’ve finally paid back the debts from loans my friends gave me to survive.

I rebuilt. I was blown apart by a bomb planted in my life, and breathed smoke and dust while I waited for it all to settle down. It took a year. Then, brick by brick, I built a new life… A new me. Whole. Much more tightly bound. It took another year.

It’s 2015. I keep my existence very lean. I only shop for clothes secondhand. I only buy things I need, and only when I need them. I literally own four pieces of furniture, and very few paper books. I’m single and for the first time in my life, 100% fine with that fact.

And as I sit here on a plane to Germany for my new job, thinking back over the past two years of my life — the pain, the suffering, the long days and nights of nothing and no hope and no prospect of hope, the moving and the couch-surfing and the travel, the rebuilding and the new job and moving out and paying debts back…

The thing that jumps out at me; the thing that causes me to smile most is this morning: Sitting on a comfortable couch, with warm bands of sunshine draping across my neck and my back and cascading onto the floors that we recently put down in this really cute house in a really cute neighborhood in my home city of Atlanta.

I don’t own it, but for now, it’s mine. And I like thinking about being in it. I like that my cat was able to warm himself in my lap while I warmed myself with a mug of coffee, and the room warmed itself with the mellow tones of Joh Coltrane’s saxophone playing from the turntable that my roommate got me for Christmas.

I like that I get to go to Germany today, and I like that my employer trusts me and believes in me to do this work. I like that the work is interesting. I like that when I left Deloitte for this new job, more people than anyone expected came to my going away party and we had to break into two groups at two different restaurants. I like that I was able to go back to what I started my career with — making cool internet stuff. And I like that they loved the record player I brought in and the Tea Nook I built out of old and remaindered office furniture that overlooks the city from windows no one ever bothered to open until I got there.

I like that I get to see my roommate make cool art every day. I like that she leaves little drawings for me from time to time of my favorite comic and anime characters. And I like that my dog and cats and her dogs and cats get along.

I like that I have a hot shower when I want it. I like that I don’t worry much at all about any of the things I had to sell to afford to eat, or my old studio and my old business, or the house I literally built for myself and my ex wife, or my ex wife. I like that I can say, with complete honesty, that I would not have life any other way right now.

I like my new life. And I share this with you because maybe you need to hear it. Maybe you have gone through your own hell, or are going through it. Maybe you wonder why it’s happening. Maybe you think it’s all a lost cause and that life is over.

Maybe it is. But it’s just THAT life that’s over.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t get nostalgic for some of my past. I miss sitting on the back porch at my old house and listening to my creek and watching the animals in the woods while I work. I miss Sunday football gatherings and my awesome kitchen and my cool office with all the books on the shelves and instant access to every hot video game worth playing on the nice TV.

I miss having the luxury of sitting in judgement of just about everything in the world I felt was trendy or hip or popular or stupid or otherwise not my kind of thing, because I had it all figured out and sewn up and put together just right.

But do I miss actually doing that? No. Not even barely. Because who I am now is a happy person. Genuinely. And that is something I fought through hell to be, and the very last thing I’m going to spend my precious energy on is stuff that isn’t for me.

So I like what I like. And I like that others like what they like. And I smile about it every morning. Life is hardly perfect by whatever measures one chooses to call “perfect” — except for one thing: it’s perfect for me, right now. It’s what I need.

Just like losing everything was what I needed to realize just how incomplete I really was. And the new job back in the corporate world was what I needed to rebuild myself. And the girlfriend in Boston was what I needed to expose just how dependent on external validation and love and warmth I was.

I love my life. And I hope that, if you’re going through your own hell right now, you read this and realize one thing: it gets better.

But you’ve got to make it better. And ultimately, you’re the only one who can. Trust me — this too shall pass. And when it does, you’re going to realize that everything you’ve ever cared about was a decision. And you’re going to be so much more picky about what you decide to give a shit about from this point forward.

It’s not going to define you. It’s going to allow you to define yourself.

Pour yourself some coffee (and put some butter and coconut milk in it… trust me, it’s GOOOOOOOD) and get ready. It’s gonna be a long road.

You’re going to LOVE it.

…And for the record, Coltrane actually does sound better on vinyl.

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A Reply To A Suicide Letter

August 24, 2012 Blog, Classics Comments (0) 29

I’m reposting this response I gave to someone who someone who emailed me a suicide letter in 2012. I’ve gotten a few of these in my career, and have even written one myself. I share this again in the hopes that those facing depression and considering this solution know where I, a guy who has been there and made it through, stand on the topic. I also hope those who don’t understand depression and the desire to seek oblivion will read this and get some perspective, not only on the pain that someone considering suicide could be going through, but how to help them.

If you need help, call someone. Email someone. Talk to someone. ANYONE. Go to Starbucks and talk to a stranger. Don’t sit there alone. Don’t think you have no options. You do.


I’ll give away the ending of this letter:

You don’t want to die. You just want the pain to stop.

Trust me on this. I’ve been exactly where you are. It hurts. My God, it hurts so bad. The entire world — your entire world — has come crashing down around you. You realized the constructs you put in place that serve as relationships were false. You realize that you never truly connected to anyone. You’ve had your heart smashed. You’ve felt pain your entire life, with brief reprieves that came when you felt you found someone (or someones) who understood you; who accepted you.

And that’s gone. And now you’re alone. You’re isolated. You’ve been trapped in a vast expanse of nothing, because you were cut loose. You’ve made damn sure that everyone you know knows you don’t need help. You’re no pussy. You’re strong. You’re in control. And to do that, you’ve put everyone in their place. You’ve kept them at bay. You’ve never told them what’s going on with you. You’ve never asked for help. And when they finally stopped trying to help you, you took that as a sign that they don’t love you and never did.

And you want out. You want it all to go away. You want it to be over. And you think death is the way to achieve that, because nothing you’ve tried and no one you’ve met has ever cauterized the wound in your heart that’s bled since birth.

So you’re going to do something drastic… Something final. And that’s your right (at least, I feel it’s your right. It’s your life, and you own it, and if you feel that you deserve the ability to go out of it on your own terms, in your own way, that’s your choice and I can’t stop you). But here’s something you need to hear, because it’s something you need to know: As you lay there bleeding; as your eyes begin getting too heavy to hold open from the pills; as consciousness begins to fade… You’re going to have a moment that you don’t realize is coming, and when it hits, it’s going to be the most horrific moment you’ve ever experienced:

You’re going to realize you’ve slipped over the edge of a cliff you never actually wanted to jump from, and now you can’t stop. You don’t want to die. You just wanted the pain to stop. You just wanted them all to realize what life would be like without you. You wanted to matter, if only for a moment. And all of that is about to happen, but in the worst way possible, and you feel for the first time that there are alternatives. Sure, you knew all along that there were, but now you actually feel it. It’s in you. It’s clear as a bell. And it’s too late, because you’re about to die with years left on your tab. Regret is going to set in. You’re going to scream and you’re going to cry and you’re going to beg for someone to save you or for the pills to wear off or for your wounds to clot… And they won’t. And your last moment alive will be spent in anguish and regret.

And then it’s over. You’re gone, forever. And we get to pick up the pieces. We get to clean up your blood and handle your remains and pack up your apartment and move your furniture and tell the world of your demise. We get to call everyone in your phone book and tell them what happened, and try to hold back the pain and the tears and the crying as we have to be the strong one in that conversation, over and over.

We get to hold your mother as she cries for days. We get to explain what your last weeks and months are like. We get to figure out, without any real answers, what happened; what we could have done differently. We get to live the rest of our lives knowing we couldn’t save you. And now, we get to live the rest of our lives without you.

Thanks for that, you fucking asshole.

That’s right, I called you an asshole, because right now, you’re being an asshole. You never really wanted to die in the first place, you just wanted the pain to stop.

It can stop. Right now. Right here. All you have to do is talk to us. All you have to do is pick up the phone, no matter how many times you have in the past, and say “I need my friends right now.” All you have to do is ask. We realize you’re hurting. We realize you’re weak right now. We realize you need help, and that you’re not crazy, you just can’t do this yourself. That’s what we are here for.

But you see us as the enemy. You’ve spent the past few weeks or months or even years pushing us away, because you can’t trust anyone. And that’s because you can’t trust yourself. You can’t admit to yourself or anyone else that you are the reason you’re alone right now, because you turned your back on those who love you and every time they chased you, you slapped them away.

Because you feel like you have to. Because you know no better. And it’s just sad that you can’t, because it’s all so easy. All you have to do is put down the blade. Throw away the bottle. Toss the pills. Take the first step. Admit to yourself that you don’t want to die, you just want to stop hurting. Ask for help.

My fear? That this might stop you temporarily, because it filled enough of the hole in you to make you realize you’re not alone; that you’re not unloved… Until it’s not enough. And you convince yourself that I am just saying this to be nice, or because I feel like I have to.

Of course I have to. I love you. You’re human, and you’re here. You’re alive. You have so much potential and so much access to so many wonderful things. You have a thinking mind that conceives of powerful concepts. It’s just turned the wrong way right now. And I feel like I have to at least try to turn it the right way.

Please turn it the right way. Because when you are really honest with yourself in those moments where your fear can’t hide behind bravado, you know you don’t want to die. You just want to stop the pain.

So stop the pain. Call your friends. Get some help. Stop being tough. Start being strong.

Or don’t. I can’t make you, and I can’t stop you from doing what you are about to do. But I hope you won’t. I really, really do. Because I want you around. It’s entirely selfish. I don’t want a life without you in it. I don’t want a world that doesn’t get to have what you bring to the table. But more than that, I don’t want to live the rest of my life knowing that you lived the rest of your life in fear and panic and regret from making a decision you can’t ever come back from, make right, or change your mind about.

But I’m not you. You’re you. You’re the only one who can stop you.

And I think deep down, you do too. Because the truth is — and this is harsh, but there’s no getting around it — you don’t want to die, because if you did… You’d be dead right now.

You’re not. Let’s keep it that way.

I eagerly await your reply. I can’t wait to hear how you feel that suicide is your right. I want badly to hear your side of the discussion; to know why you’ve chosen this path. I want to discuss it with you over coffees had across multiple weeks. I hope we argue about this for years to come, because you’ll be here to argue with me about it.

I don’t know you, but I love you. I have to, or else I woudn’t have just written nearly 2,000 words to you. And you love yourself enough to at least try to reach out. You emailed me. You’re reading this (hopefully). You must care, in some regard, about figuring something out.

That one little bit of hope is the start. Don’t concern yourself with a year from now or a month from now or even tomorrow. Concentrate on right now. You’re here. You’re taking the steps to figure something out.

Don’t stop taking steps. I promise you, as you reach the next intersection, you’ll figure out which way to go. I know, because I have been exactly where you are, and somehow, I did. If I can do it, you can.

With love,

Joe

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