Pretty soon everywhere you look online people will be compiling year end lists. That and mangled Christmas Carols make this the hardest time of the year for me. Key West is an odd place to be in the last few weeks of the year.
First of all there is no seasonal weather. You can put up all the wreaths and fake holly and icicles you want but its an even chance Christmas Day will dawn sunny and clear with temperatures over 82 degrees (28 Canadian for the poor bloody snowbirds). Some people moan about the lack of frost and brown withered leaves and the opportunity to wear a new wardrobe. Not me.
The other thing that is tough to take is the number of people who come to Key West in despair thinking about taking their own lives. 2016 has been particularly tough in that regard for me, and even though most suicides are a call for help there are enough truly desperate people who come to Key West to say goodbye world, and who pull it off, that one has to wish they wouldn't come here to end it all. For some reason, maybe happy memories or simply the weird terminal physical geography ("the end of the road" mantra) people do choose to come to Key West to die. One of the advantages of taking 911 calls at night is that suicides are usually reported during the day, and that is a huge relief to me. There is something about suicide that gets to me more than any other way of death and I dread the end of the year at work.
This particular way of ending life leaves behind a trail of devastation with extra layers and extra grief on an already impossible situation. My own brushes with suicide in 2016 came first with a local character whose happy exterior belied the secret pain and his departure left many people I know in shock. A local lawyer, a well respected prosecutor took his own life, an event that shook his law enforcement colleagues. He was breezing toward retirement and even though the recent election was going to lay him off because his boss lost, he had other job offers in this town where everyone wished him well. And yet in that moment none of it was enough and he killed himself with a determination that makes your blood run cold. He left no room for failure. No one is immune to the false promise of release through death. A permanent solution to a temporary problem as they say.
The third suicide that affected me directly was when I was working the night it was discovered and I knew I knew him but I couldn't make the connection. Besides I had so little information to go on, a first name was all I knew him by, so I could not put two and two together. And so outrageous was the circumstance why would I assume the dead man was the person I knew? But this is a small town. I racked my brains until I got home and woke my wife to ask her to remind me if this was who we knew. We sat in silence and contemplated how it was possible. That he should choose to die by his own hand was so unlikely I had still trouble putting the equation together and understanding it was him. I still ponder that death. He wasn't an intimate friend but he guided my wife and I in making some life decisions and helped us see our path forward to retirement an exciting new adventure for us, and his advice was so clear and useful and understandable it was inconceivable his own way forward became so murky he chose to end it all alone in a deserted parking lot.
I walk around Key West enjoying the details of a town that is always rebuilding itself. Money flows in, alcohol flows everywhere and visitors who are here to celebrate life, resent anyone who spoils the carefully cultivated image of stress-free of "island time" which is how people in the Keys are supposed to live. Yet life is real here, and frequently harsh. I see houses being rebuilt: a statement of faith in a future where for some people the future is bleak they find it better to step off. In the end we all have to go, no matter how much we adapt to life's set backs. Yet one resents the choice of those who choose to speed the process up. They should have faith that things will work out, they should tough it out with us.
For the first time Rusty gets to be indoors this holiday season, loved and cherished and walked a great deal. I wonder why dogs abandoned as he was never elect to kill themselves. Another lesson they can teach us as we ponder our good fortune versus so many who live with real daily problems that seem insuperable.