Story first, and then the bit you won’t like.
The community was in shock. One of their own was dead by his own hand. Bear had been loved by all, a laughing figure, forever the roaring heart of the party. One man who always had time for those who were struggling, for those who were hurting, for those who were lost. He was in many ways like a bear, too large for life, and his bumbling rambling progress through life and its spaces left a certain amount of chaos and spills in its wake, but laughter coloured those spills and memories for everyone. The news that this laughing giant would no more loom in every picture, that his booming laugh and off colour remarks would no longer trigger laughter and pained groans in every gathering was just starting to sink in.
Angus was the leader of the community, its most frequent priest. He and Bear had also been inseparable. The stories of their exploits were half the boasting history of the kindred, and half a cautionary tale of lessons learned, and mistakes survived. Ellen was the communities voice, the one who could take what people meant, what peoples deeds sang of, and put it into words where often the people of the community couldn’t. Heathenry was not old in this generation. It was an ancient tradition, but the reality was that it was killed once, and lived again, much like Bear had, in an untidy, shambling, boisterous progress that lurched more or less forward, powered by shared love of each other, and devotion to the gods of their folk.
Angus and Ellen had made arrangements to gather the kindred together in this time of loss to process their grief, and to begin making practical arrangements for funeral services, for gathering distant friends and family for the memorial, and taking care of any outstanding commitments Bear left behind. The bar was one that had hosted many a meet and greet, many a planning meeting too large for people’s homes, or where there wasn’t notice to book a hall. There was the old barman looming cheerfully keeping the drinks pouring and lending an ear when people got too pained by the group talking about Bear’s life and his loss and needed to be alone to vent, to cry, to rage, and to question.
The old man looked like a hundred miles of hard road, a face that looked like it had seen every pain and horror of this world and not been impressed. He moved with the sort of jerky motion of one whose body had been broken so many times the various bits were in constant negotiation about what was going to work and what was going to fail this time, and he was going to carry on regardless. His eye was cold, flat and hungry like a shark in one moment, then flashing like lightning when he flashed a devil may care grin, or the gentle mocking smirk that invited you to share the sort of joke that only those who have been through hard times could understand or dream of laughing at.
Ellen moved to the bar, drawn from the circle of light, the deep ringing praise of the mourners by a wound she couldn’t define, let alone staunch. It was her job to put into words what the community needed to say, but she could not understand this, could not accept this. Not this. Angus was telling no less than the truth. Praise was given for Bear, and all of it was earned. That just made it worse. He was ALWAYS there for them. Always ready to listen. He was a soft touch for a sob story, but a master at calling you on your BS. He did so with humour, and usually found a way to laugh at himself when he did it, but he gave what was needed in a way that disguised it as what was wanted, even when the truth wasn’t really what most people wanted anyway. He was always there when she asked for help, or even when she needed help and didn’t ask for it. That is what had the rage so thick in her throat she could not swallow, and throat so tight she could not speak. Rage, pain, shame, combined to take away even her ability to grieve.
Ellen slumped onto the barstool and made a vague gesture at the racked bottles, but the grey shaggy head of the barman just shook as he decanted a wine glass filled with sun bright mead, rather than the blood dark whiskey she had indicated.
“Mead to remember, whiskey to forget, brandy to savour and wine for regrets. It’s too early to forget about a loss you haven’t finished feeling yet” He said, not ungently.
Ellen flashed her eyes at his, seeking any judgement in them her anger could latch upon, any excuse to let her storm of emotions lash out in simple rage, but the barman turned to wipe the pristine glasses he hung in the overhead racks with the care of a dwarf setting amber in Brisingamen’s perfection. His face left only the shadow of the eyeless socket facing her, as he hummed tunelessly as he worked.
Ellen sipped her mead, the sweet honey fire of the mead recalling so many festivals, so many feasts, so many long nights of lore discussions, so many nights of ridiculously, even childishly foolish games played with Bear’s untidy company as part of a small group or large. Sweet as each memory was, each one only brought with it the bitter dregs of the words she was screaming inside, but had not dared to speak.
She slammed the glass down harder than intended, and her words rasped out, low hurt and angry, vibrating with a rage and pain that only by shreds of her will she kept from screaming.
“Why didn’t he call? Why didn’t he reach out? He was always there for us, did he think we would not answer, that we would not be there for him?”
The barman charged her glass again, the bottle rolling in his hand as smooth as a sword for a fencing master, and with the quick head snap of a raven who spots his next meal, his one eye caught hers in open challenge. His own words were a question just short of mockery.
“Your friends are over there, in the light, sharing memories and strength. Your kindred are crying on each other shoulders, sharing their pain, bleeding out their wounds, coming together for healing. Why are you here and not there? Do you not love them? Do you not think they love you?”
The glass of mead snapped the barman’s head back like a punch as Ellen dashed it in his face. Her rage broke free, the pain, shame, guilt all united in a single lightning bolt of pure transforming rage, and she rose from her seat, casting the mead in the barman’s face like a spear into a charging foe. Her words rang like a challenge and fell with the fire of her rage and iron of her will.
“How DARE you! I love these people as I love my own blood, closer than half the blood of my birth family. There is nothing I would not do for them, and they for me. What the hell do you know about how kindred care for each other? I am only here because some pain cuts too deep to share, and I don’t want to hurt the people I love!”
The barman thrust his face right into hers, pinning the wrist with the glass to the bar as gently as a new father grips his newborn daughter, white teeth flashing as her open hand slapped his face loud enough to sound like a pistol shot.
She froze in shock, never having struck another human being in anger before, but he waggled his eyebrows at her and smiled a quick grin of a man who has been slapped many times in his life by one woman or another, and always deserved it. Then his eye went flat and cold, and she felt herself falling into its depths, frozen in the same fear a rabbit felt turning the corner of a tree and finding a waiting wolf.
His voice was low and quiet, not quite a whisper, but she found herself straining to catch the ghost of a voice he spoke with.
“So you think Bear loved your community any less than you did because he felt some pain cut too deep to share, and didn’t reach out to you all?”
She slumped onto the stool and began to cry wordlessly. Her wound now open and bleeding whether she wanted to let the words out or not. She felt the burning of her hand and seeing the redness of it in the shadows of the bar realized she had struck the barman hard enough to numb her hand. Sick horror at her loss of control caused her to babble incoherent apologies. The barman grinned at her, an expression of innocent joy so at odds on his old wolf face that it drew a smile through her sobs.
“Don’t worry about it darlin’. I have the face that just calls upon pretty girls for slapping. It’s a curse I have to live with.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively at her as he poured a straight double of Crown Royal whiskey into a glass for her. With a wink, he continued.
“One on the house. Forget about that little tickle. I had it coming, and you are already hurting enough”
The rye burned like pain given form, but warmed like love remembered. She sipped in silence until it was done. Then gestured at her mead glass, and with an extravagant bow, the barman refilled it. As she sipped, and looked at her community coming together over Bear’s death, the wound of his death shone stark upon all of them. Each bore the wound differently, for each had known him a different way, but his loss was like a piece torn from all of them.
“How could he leave us this way? How could he do this to us?”
Ten minutes or an eternity ago, she would not have dared to speak those words, never admitted rage against what Bear had done for taking his own life was part of what she was feeling, what they were all feeling. The barman had cut loose her defenses, until she had felt ridiculous enough holding them, to finally let them drop.
The barman took the mead bottle and extended it towards her glass, but wordlessly she covered it with her hand to signal she was not having another.
The barman nodded, and carefully gazing past her at the Kindred gathered together, he raised his chin to point at their bright gathering as he began to speak.
“They have a good party going there, your kindred does. I have always loved your parties. You come together and grow stronger, grow wiser, grow together. It’s a great party, and you are all better for it, but there comes a time your done with the party, and its time to go. You don’t want to throw a damper on their party, you don’t want to be the ghost at the feast, and gods forbid, you don’t want them to get the idea the party wasn’t good for you, or that they gave you less than everything you needed, but its time to go.”
Ellen could barely see as she got up to leave the bar. Her tears burned as they fell, burned harsher than the whiskey, but they burned now with sorrow, with loss, with pain, but no longer with rage.
Fumbling at her purse, she looked for her keys, until she heard a cough. Turning to look at the barman, she saw her keys in his scarred fist. He grinned and tapped his empty socket miming a wink with his sightless eye as he whispered.
“Bear knew one truth, even when you have to leave the party early, you don’t risk hurting someone else. The cab is waiting for you outside.”
Bear had been a part of the community; a bright thread wove through all of their lives. His laughter and words would ring in memory, even as some of his greatest mishaps would ring in story and song long after the original witnesses were dust and ash. He had not been cut off from his community, not been abandoned by his community. He had not turned away from them because he didn’t feel welcome. He had been welcomed, been loved, been kindred, until the time came that he couldn’t face tomorrow and couldn’t bring himself to ask for help.
He didn’t fail them by choosing his end. They didn’t fail him by not seeing what he didn’t show, by not hearing what he never said. Last call had come for him before the party was over, and he didn’t want to wreck the party.
She might not agree with it, might never agree with it, but she couldn’t hate him for it. Tomorrow, she would try to find the words to help her kindred understand it too.
I will admit I should have addressed this earlier. I should have addressed this a few bodies ago. I was a coward. The words are difficult, and the truths unpleasant. The reality is that if I speak the truth, some who are hurting are going to chose to read this as support for suicide. It is not. I have been fortunate to help more than a few people get through the low point where a permanent solution to a temporary problem looked awfully attractive. If there are any better solutions out there, do not hesitate to reach out to your community because the reality is no amount of pain or work on our part to help you through things is any where near what we will all pay if you chose to opt out rather than reaching out.
That is one fact. Here is the second one, the army taught us early never to second guess the man on the ground. No one else knew what options they saw, what resources they had when they made their choices. Hindsight is twenty-twenty and it is bullshit. We weren’t there, and I won’t condemn someone for a choice they made on something as personal as their own life.
There is almost always a better option, almost always a way to make it through the next fight to win a tomorrow that is worth the price you paid to get there. Almost always. The last truth is just this, we all die. We have one life to live, to build worth, to face challenges, to make mistakes and try to grow into a person that won’t make the same mistake twice, to laugh, to love, to dance, to create. We have one life in which we must accomplish all that will ever be ours, the deeds that time and the grave can never rob from us, but then we also have that one death. That death is not a maybe, not a possibly, that death is a given, and only its date and mechanism remain to be written.
I don’t advocate suicide as a solution, but I don’t condemn a person’s life because of the manner of their death. Death is the period at the end of a sentence, the silence at the end of the song. It does not erase what went before, not the bright and not the dark, it is simply the end. When one we love is taken from us, it is natural to be angry and whoever and whatever took them from us. When they are taken by their own hand, there is always more damage as we both rage against them for going, and against ourselves for not being there when they needed us.
Strive to always be there for the people that you love, strive to actually hear even the things that you don’t want to hear, that make you uncomfortable when the people you are comfortable with in their normal social role express needs, doubts, fears, or simple exhaustion you aren’t comfortable about seeing in them. That you can do.
You cannot make them reach out, cannot make them speak out, cannot make them want to continue. That you cannot do, and will only hurt for believing otherwise. This will please no one, anger many, but maybe, just maybe it will help someone.
One thought on “Last Call”
Reblogged this on All Their Voices and commented:
The silence at the end of the song…yes, it’s that.