The wakeup call

By Martin Wolterding

I just received the news that my friend Robert killed himself early this morning. I was not surprised. Indeed at the time I felt absolutely nothing; a kind of emotional numbness I guess. He was a difficult man to like, let alone love, but I could see the hurt child in him and I loved that child.

Robert called me last night. I guess his call was a type of suicide letter. The pain he was in was obvious, the deep sense of isolation he felt was palpable. His 27 years of life had been a long series of rejections, one after another. Adopted out as an infant, sexually abused as a boy. Living with a "Christian" family , when his homosexuality began to manifest he was expelled from the family home, a fourteen year old on the Brisbane streets- only by prostitution could he survive. That was where he caught AIDS. Is there any wonder that he was angry? Angry with his family that was no family to him, angry with a society that had none of the nurturing support structures that a society should have.

Those who had wrapped themselves in the cloak of "Gods children" yet were unwilling or unable to take the love that God gives us all and share with others, make a mockery of Christ and His teachings. The word love falls from their mouths like dry sand, empty of nourishment, devoid of the Water of Life. This, to me, is the real blasphemy. By mouthing love when their hearts were cold they drove a young man from God. How reasonable it must have seemed for him to think, if these people are false, than God - his Love and Concern, must also be false.

Robert called me last night. He cried, asking why his life had been so hard, so much harder than the lives of others apparently were. I was unable to tell to him what I believed because others had contaminated the only words I could have used. He talked of his isolation- night after night, alone in his house. A young man, growing sicker with no friends with which to share the warmth of companionship. All his friends had either died, scattered or been driven away by his anger.

In the past, our society has adequately demonstrated that it is incapable of helping Robert in the area where he needs help the most. It was six months ago that a kindly neighbour, truly concerned during another of his bouts of depression and paranoia, called upon the system to respond- she dialled 000. The local police, feeling themselves inadequate to the task of handling a single suicidal man in a suburban house passed the problem on to the Tactical Response Team. This mob of pumped up, hyper he-men used their one and only trick. Blocking off the street to the midnight traffic, armed to the teeth with rifles, bullet proof vests and Alsatians they laid siege to Robert's home. At his wits end, determined to kill himself before the police killed him, Robert phoned me. He described the apocalyptic scene of flashing lights, guns and dogs, only when our connection was abruptly terminated by the Police did I believe his story. If this is the only way our social system has to respond to one man's call for help then it's less than useless; it's destructive in its own right like some self-devouring beast.

Last night, in yet another crisis of spirit, he told me of his plans to end his pain - the drugs, the car, the cliff. He seemed to need to convince me that he had no alternative, that he just couldn't cope any more. My mind raced for possible support structures. "Do you want to be physically restrained?" I asked . "They're not putting me in a hospital" he said. Save for men with drugs or men with guns, I could think of no one else who might help.

Now I'm the one angry. In a country with the highest male suicide rate in the world, there should be more appropriate support available. Much more. I've lived in other countries - one where the mean per capita income is only $124 a year. Yet that country would have had far more effective support available for Robert than this one has demonstrated. While he talked to me that last night of his pain and his plans, I craved three men - three wise men who had the time, the patience and the openness to go down with me and stay with Robert. To listen, perhaps to comment or suggest, but most importantly simply to be there with him for as long as it takes for his sense of isolation to fade. But no such men came. If there are such men, they live far apart and are out of touch both with each other and with us. Perhaps men who potentially could have served have long since been convinced that they are too old, too unproductive, too out-of-date to be of any service to society. Or perhaps they've been all lulled into a stupor - mesmerised by the flickering images, the electronic shadows of the TV tube.

In the end there was no cliff. He used a tree. The police are investigating the matter and will probably concluded that driving under the influence of drugs, he lost control of his car. That's probably the way it will go down in the records - a vehicle accident. God, if we only knew how many men we lose to self destruction through such car accidents, or over-drinking or any one of the myriad other ways men use to end the cycle of pain and isolation in which they find themselves. And then there are those of us who often feel much the same sense of despair, yet for one reason or another will not allow ourselves to get off the merry-go-round.

We hear every day in the media of the institution of market based reforms at every level of society. Of the restructuring of our local community services towards purchaser/provider models. How bad does the pain have to get before those in power recognise and discard these hollow paradigms as useless, counter-productive and replace them with ones which support and nourish?

Robert called me last night. He thanked me for being there for him over the last year. I was too good for him he said, he didn't deserve to have me as a friend. I see now that it was his way of saying goodbye. As the tears fill my eyes I pray that his pain has passed.

Goodbye Robert.

How to Subscribe to Certified Male

Go to table of contents

© Copyright 1995-1998.