[Author’s disclaimer: I am no longer the guy I will paint in the picture in this article. Counseling, education, responsibility, maturity, and life experiences have helped me out of that hole that I was in. I can only hope that I can do the same for someone else.
I also realize this is going to open up a whole bunch of nerves in me – and I’m not trying to compete with anyone on their personal troubles. To my friends, I hope you don’t think less of me. Then again, if you do, you weren’t a true friend to begin with.]
The first time I attempted suicide was when I was 12. We had just moved from a large town in south Texas where I could ride bikes with friends, ride my bike to the swimming pool and movie theater, and got to mow yards and wash cars to make money. I made significant money for a kid.
That was good, because both my parents had lived through the Great Depression and complained all day every day about money, and we didn’t do anything for fun. Not a movie, an ice cream cone, nothing.
My sister and I got two pairs of pants and three shirts at the beginning of each school year – which is what my parents got back in the 30s. I was so sick of hearing “we can’t do that, it costs money” that I swore that was something I’d never say to my own children once I grew up.
My parents were chain-smokers, and that didn’t help. We did the math on it later and figured that three to four packs a day (each) added up to one-third of their monthly income. That was the real reason for no money.
Dad retired from Dow Chemical and we moved 110 miles away to a very small town between Houston and San Antonio. We lived seven miles out of town. Gone were the days of mowing yards, washing cars, riding bikes with friends, going to movies.
My income sources were gone. I quickly packed on weight, which is a huge deal as a kid. Mom and dad said gas cost too much to run us into town for a movie, or to take my bike into town to ride with new-found friends.
Mom had been sexually molesting me since I was 8. She also mentally abused me from about that time, using me as a guidance counselor and sex therapist, talking for long periods of time about how dad didn’t take regular baths but still wanted sex, had his teeth and gums rotted away but he still wanted sex, and would try to have sex with her early in the morning when she needed to pee.
My oldest sister started sexually molesting me when I was nine or so. I hated her. She said she was preparing me to be a man, so I’d know how to treat a woman when I got a girlfriend.
After we moved, things had changed, and my sister didn’t visit so often, but mom still did. My older sister’s husband threw her out of the house for cheating on him, so she moved out to the country with us with her three-year-old daughter in tow, and my abuse started again.
I thought I’d escaped it.
A couple of months into that, her husband showed up at our house. I thought it was cool that they might be getting back together – he’d always been a cool guy. Turns out, she told him I’d molested their daughter, and he and my parents brought down the wrath of God on me.
I worshipped that little girl. My older sister would sleep all day and neglect her, so me and my sister closer to me in age would play with her, and we taught her how to talk. She couldn’t talk before that. I taught her to read. My older sister and her husband got back together, and they moved back to Houston.
We went from a predominantly white neighborhood to a small town that was predominantly black. My youngest sister, two years older than me, started hanging out with some of them, which many others didn’t like. When I say it was a small town, here’s how small: My 6th grade class only had 30 students – in the whole grade. The entire four grades in high school only had 120 kids. Small town.
People talked, I got picked on and got beat up when I tried to talk back.
I was done.
My mom was on several medications, having depression, diabetes, low thyroid, high blood pressure – the works. I wrote down an inventory of her medications and took my list to school. I went through a dictionary and a set of encyclopedias and figured out what each drug did. One was “Elavil”, evidently a strong, rough precursor to Prozac and Xanax. I made myself a 20-pill cocktail and said goodbye to my dog.
I ended up getting violently ill for a couple of days, felt drunk, and it all passed. No one knew what I’d done. The folks took me to the ER, but they looked at me and assumed I had food poisoning.
The next year, my then-14-year-old sister was raped by four young black guys we went to school with. She had walked into a maintenance shed with one guy, so I followed her in there – to defend her honor, or to go off on her about her choices and how they impacted me.
There were three more waiting, and they forced me to watch. I consoled her as we cried together after the boys left. I called mom to pick us up, and mom didn’t believe us. I called and talked to the local police dispatcher from inside a closet in the house, and they didn’t believe me, either.
That was a Friday. On Saturday, we went to town and walked around the grocery store. Since this was 1977, I noticed something that caught my eye. A hair “rake” in the ethnic hair care section. I grabbed it, went to the bathroom, and slid the package into my pants. When I got home, I took it out of the package and used my dad’s metal rasp to file the tines.
That Monday, it was in my back pocket, hidden by my t-shirt. In first period (math class), after the teacher took roll (in a grade with 30 kids?), the black guy who sat to my right started talking trash about the “good time” my sister had on Friday.
I lost it.
I took out the rake and swung the rake at him for what seemed like a hundred times, stabbing him over and over. To both our good fortunes, the rake just put a bunch of pinholes in him that caused minor bleeding. I wanted to kill him. But I couldn’t. I was expelled from my public junior high and went to Catholic school for the last semester of 7th grade. I wasn’t Catholic. My parents were pissed because it cost them $40 for the semester.
The whole town talked about me.
I was enrolled in counseling in that small town. The psychologist was a great guy, but I wasn’t about to fully let him in. I told him that I’d been bullied about my sister. That was it. No sexual abuse, no mental abuse, no suicide attempt. Nothing. After a few sessions, he figured I was good as new.
After my attack on that boy, my mom and sister left me alone. I finished junior high and went to 9th grade there, and then we moved to a larger consolidated school with about 1,500 kids.
I thought my demons were gone.
Enter Tech Sgt Rogers, USAF recruiter. He gave a presentation at my school and really patted me on the back for doing well in band. That was exactly what my ego needed. He told me that I could join the USAF band in San Antonio and spend my entire 20-year career in Texas.
He lied about this and a couple of other things, and not just to me. He was convicted of recruiting fraud and went to Leavenworth for 10 years, but that’s another story.
At the Military Entry Processing Station (MEPS), the sergeant in charge of job assignments told me I’d need to choose a job. I proudly announced that I was going to be a member of the USAF band. He chuckled and congratulated me but told me I need a “backup.” So, I picked “Security Specialist.”
I tried out for the band on my 3rd day of basic training with a Senior Master Sergeant (E-8). More stripes than I’d seen at that point. Nice enough old guy, and he said my tryout was great, but then asked about my education. I told him I’d just graduated high school. He asked, “Didn’t your recruiter tell you that you have to have an associate’s degree in music or music theory to be in the Air Force Band of the West?”
“No, sir, he didn’t say that.”
That’s how I became a cop. I didn’t want to be a cop.
My first base was Aviano, Italy, and we worked hard. Full gear, weapon, ammo can if you had the M-203 that day, and rain or shine, you walked either the aircraft alert area or weapons storage area. When you weren’t doing that, you were carrying an M-60 machine gun on a fire team with 1,500 rounds of ammo and a spare barrel.
Now, in basic training, I met a girl. Like so many idiots who do this, we got serious. My dad had a mild heart attack, so I went home on emergency leave just three months after getting to Italy.
With the leave I took after tech school, this put me 62 days in the hole on leave – you only earn 30 a year. It didn’t hit me at the time, but I wasn’t going to be able to take leave again for two years. While I was home, I flew down to San Antonio where she was still going through tech school and we got married.
A few months later, I had orders to Athens, Greece to join her in her assignment. This wasn’t going to be too bad. The duty at Hellenikon Air Base was skate – easy stuff.
We had moved into a little place off base, and things were going great. That is, until I started hearing stories. I heard she’d been passed around like a joint at a Grateful Dead concert while she was in tech school.
She’d arrived in Greece 2 months ahead of me, and I heard those stories, too. Several members of my police squadron. THREE Navy guys (at once) while on shore leave. I blew it all off as people just screwing with the new guy. And then I got off work early one day and surprised her on a Saturday, and she was in bed with a guy from the communications squadron.
I moved into my own place and handled it for a while. About a week. I was at work one sunny day on “Security 6”, a close-in sentry (entry controller) to the RC-135 section of our small aircraft ramp. We had a decent gate shack on wheels, a chair, and a desk.
I was in a job I didn’t want to do, wasn’t in the band, was married to a woman who’d likely been with enough dudes to furnish a football roster, and I was in a guard shack that you couldn’t see into, sitting in a chair, had my M-16 and 240 rounds, and it all came flooding back. I thought about mom, my older sister, the stuff from school, and this current situation. My M-16 was between my legs, pointing barrel-up – I charged a round, and put my mouth over the flash suppressor, and switched the fire selection lever to auto.
Just then, Tommy and John rolled up in their patrol truck, hollering and acting goofy, and I stepped outside to take the Coke they’d bought me. Tommy was an older guy from Alabama, and John was about my age and from Ohio. John had been giving me rides to work from my off-base apartment because the engine in my VW Bug was blown. John got mad at me several times because I wasn’t out of bed when he showed up. I didn’t want to go to work.
Tommy and John saved my life that day. After they rolled away, I went back inside, removed the magazine, ejected the round I’d charged and put it back in the mag. And of course, switched the weapon back to safe.
Shortly after that, I enrolled in college courses. I was able to CLEP test for a huge bunch of credits, but I needed to take psychology and sociology courses for my intended degree. I found myself staying after class all the time, bugging the two professors for information on depression and suicide, saying I was “asking for a friend” or that I was “just trying to be a better supervisor.”
I counseled myself out of that frame of mind.
There were several setbacks, however. For example, when I arrived at Kunsan Air Base, Korea in November 1990, I ran into several people I’d been stationed with before. It happens. The military can be its own small world. One guy had been in Greece with me and asked about the ex-wife. It all came flooding back over the next few days – I was on a remote tour, thousands of miles from my wife and kids, and dealing with the same demons I thought I’d laid to rest.
One great friend of mine, Brian, and I hung out constantly, and with just socializing, and playing racquetball with him, and going to the larger base (Osan Air Base) together, we supported each other through tough times on a remote tour.
I threw myself into helping others through counseling as part of the internship for my psychology degree. My own issues certainly helped me empathize with the people I talked with and kept me distracted while I threw myself into work, working out, running, playing racquetball and just generally staying busy.
Please read these next two statements very carefully. There is not a single damned day that goes by that I don’t think about suicide. Not about committing suicide, but that nasty, heavy, hopeless feeling I had back then when suicide seemed like the only way out.
For years, I lied on psych evals and things like that – while it was true that I’d never received counseling for suicidal thoughts or tendencies, I had experienced them. The Air Force has a program called the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP) for people working around nuclear weapons and other sensitive things. Part of that certification process is a mental health eval. I knew that if I was honest, I’d lose my police certification and have to become a cook or something, or worse, get discharged and have to go back home and face mom. I made it work.
Two years after my “Security 6” incident, while still in Greece, I got married to a wonderful woman, we’ve had two great sons. I also have a daughter from a girl I dated in high school, and a daughter with my first wife – the only good thing that came out of that stupid choice I made when I was 18. I have six grandsons. I have three careers at once. Things are good.
Brothers and sisters, if I know one thing, it’s that suicide isn’t the answer. Back in the 80s, opening up your feelings may have killed a career, but I just don’t think it’s like that now. Get help. Talk to someone. Let it out. You MUST.
At the very least, research and do some serious reading, and self-counsel. I think you will quickly find that you’re not the root of all evil, and you’re likely not responsible for the conditions around you that make you sad and mad.
Did you know that over 75% of all suicides are related to another person committing suicide? People’s wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, children, and even coworkers take their own lives because of the guilt forced on them by your suicide. That’s a statistic to think about.
One thing I’ve done as I’ve gotten older is that I have thrown myself into writing. Seventeen books and counting, two regular magazine columns, tons of articles – it’s a passion that I’m glad I discovered in myself.
Find your passion, be it stamp collecting, building car models, bowling, or karaoke.
Do it. Do it for YOU. Make the time. It’s YOUR time.
I’m here if you need to talk. Law enforcement, military, civilian, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been there, and I know it sucks. Contact me.
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