Thomm Quackenbush, author

How the Dragon Got a New Lair | 2011 | Floating Aloft

11.25.11

I wish I could have known earlier that you have all the time you'll need right up to the day you die.  

-William Wiley

 


Eulogy for Kelley

His name was Kelley Doyle. I met and worked with him at the Haunted Mansion almost fifteen years ago. He was such a character that I wrote him into a one-act play I created in college, one that was never produced and which got a C from a professor because he could not believe in Kelley. Someone so foulmouthed could not possibly have wisdom to bestow, according to my teacher.

Kelley was just a kid when I met him, short and frenetic. You could not keep him still. He had an attitude that demanded attention. He could crash a funeral and somehow make the bereaved laugh.

We hadn't spent any real time together for years, since I could no longer offer my Octobers to the Haunted Mansion. We remained friendly, no doubt, but there did not seem a compelling reason to hang out unless by chance we ran into one another. Still, if anyone asked about him, I would have had only positive remarks. No one could hate him, no matter how he might amuse himself by tormenting them.

I have looked through his Facebook Wall every day since my younger brother texted me to let me know the rumor that Kelley had killed himself before Thanksgiving. I admit I looked in part to try to figure out why, as though these cursory glances will arouse in me some Holmesian intuition.

When I look through what is being posted, I find this from our mutual friend Rob.

Just feel numb. To my knowledge I haven't lost any friends in my age bracket until now. And suicide of all things. I'm glad the last time I saw him in September it was on good terms with a hearty handshake and greeting. I think I met Kelley Doyle around 1996, and since then he's always been a guy that almost always "got away with murder". Sometimes he was incredibly annoying and we'd end up in a fist fight. He actually tried to fight me after I quit the Haunted Mansion 10 yrs ago... because I quit. Two summers ago, I helped him raise money at Hope On The Hudson. I was pretty impressed with him for organizing and producing that benefit. This time, he has gotten away with murder, his own. I wanna call him out, like he did me... and kick his ass for quitting. Even when the guy pissed you off, you couldn't be mad at him for too long.

Kelley is not the first suicide in my circle of friends. That dubious honor goes to Todd, ten years dead last summer. Instead, Kelley is the least explicable, the one I know will disturb me for a long time.

Not that there can be any real comparison, but last year at this time, I was beginning one of the mentally darkest points in my adult life. The life I led felt impossible and I felt terrible about myself. The herbal remedy I took to alleviate the symptoms made me so much worse, so sensitive to all pain around me and yet completely trapped inside my head. I called the crisis hotline too many times, just to have someone to talk to about what welled up in me without other outlet. Kelley does not seem like the type to reach out.

Obviously, I didn't kill myself. I did not even want to kill myself, I just ached for my life to be easier to endure. However, had I died then, I do not doubt that anyone looking at my recent communications would feel all signs pointed toward self-destruction. I do few things without considering every angle in writing.

I am not exactly casting aspersion that Kelley did kill himself, but I can think of no justifiable reasons. I try to find his rationale, though I would not be able to accept it if I did. Why he died and, I suppose, why I didn't. It feels as though he were leading an arguably enviable life on his terms. He had started a relationship in June with an attractive woman. His job seemed to be traveling the country, building haunted houses and going to horror conventions. He had been on AMC for the month of October as part of a documentary series about the Haunted Mansion. If there were a camera anywhere, it was going to end up turned on Kelley. (A little unfortunate at the moment; given the nature of his work, there are several pictures of Kelley smiling as he builds coffins.) He was a difficult man to ignore, somehow more so now.

He was was so vibrant. There are these pictures of him, grinning, a beer in his hand. Him in a suit and sunglasses, looking like a scene out of Wedding Crashers. Acting in a murder mystery. Yet I cannot find even a morsel - a message of concern from a friend, a morose status update - that would lead me to understand why he did this.

We are conditioned to expect a sort of paper trail. You want a plot, you want foreshadowing. But with Kelley, at an arm's length as I am, I get none of that. People go from making joking homoerotic references one day to mourning his death the next with no intermission. You see this outpouring of love after someone dies, after they kill themselves, because you can't be expected to be that open when someone is still above ground. Someone posted that they had run into him a few days before at a grocery store and that he seemed fine then. While that might not be the ideal place to unburden oneself of secrets, it seems that no one had an inkling.

I don't know the vagaries of the end of his life. There is no reason for me to and I do not deserve to. I do not know if he reached out to anyone, if there were hints at what he might do. I do not know and never will if this had been his first attempt or simply his last. Anything I learned about this would only be to comfort me, would be an implicitly selfish act.

There is so much about him that is a blank, white space to me. I don't know if he ever had thoughts of suicide before. I don't know if there was a note. And, frankly, it isn't any of my business. I have no right to know and I don't presume otherwise. I am little better than a stranger and I won't ever get a chance to be any more than that. I can't imagine what it must be like for his girlfriend, likely still in the honeymoon period of their relationship when she so decisively lost him. She keeps her status as "In a Relationship", even after Kelley's sister uses his account to end their connection.

We stereotype what a suicidal person is supposed to be. Kelley wasn't, he just died. You want to believe stereotypes about suicidal people because it makes them distant from you. No one who is like you could ever want to end their life, you want to believe. But suicidal people are just people, in the end. They are you, the only difference being that they could not get the help they needed in time, that they quit. It would be a tragedy if this death were only an accident and would rally up an angry mob were it a homicide. But Kelley did this to himself and so there is the survivor's guilt, the love for him and the shock intermingled, the ache that maybe something could have been done and wasn't.

I search for an answer nevertheless, to beat back the despair and comfort myself that there will be signs the next time someone I know thinks of taking his or her life. Kelley did not seem to be suffering from a terminal disease. No one in his life had just died. He had not endured an especially wrenching breakup, even. None of these would make it acceptable, but it would make it a bit more comprehensible. Primarily among adolescents, suicide is thought to be communicable. In a sense, the need to conform is greater than the need to survive. If someone who you believe to be similar to you kills himself, your subconscious adds weight to the belief that committing suicide is something that people like you do. This tendency is so prevalent as to have earned the name the Werther effect.

Particularly in countries outside of America, the fear of contagious suicide is so great that media is banned if it is presumed to glorify the act, that hearing about a suicide makes the vulnerable feel that they are now permitted to succumb. If someone so full of life as Kelley can end it all definitively, what chance does someone of a more depressive constitution have? I think Kelley would kick the ass of anyone daring to follow him into death. He was the sort of person who would not stand for someone hurting themselves (unless it could pass as a viral video), even if he was not inclined to regard himself with such compassion. I know he would not want himself to be this sort of example.

Could he have felt anything but loved in life? People flocked to him and regarded him with appreciation, even at his worst. He was constantly surrounded by friends or he simply made friends of most everyone around him, but that does not mean he was not lonely.

Soon in Xenology: The wake. Moving.

last watched: Santa Claus
reading: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
listening: Spinning Jennies

How the Dragon Got a New Lair | 2011 | Floating Aloft

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes three novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods). His fourth book in the Night's Dream series, Flies to Wanton Boys, is due shortly. He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. He finds that friends do not enjoy the extremes he goes to in order to research books, as these involve mortuaries and UFO support groups. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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