Tattoos and Suicide

Thanks to L+T for the free-from-prison gift, and to amazing tattooist Lisa Korpos for her great work!

Shine On You Crazy Diamond.  By Pink Floyd, my unquestionable, unequivocal favorite band, a band that didn’t just make music, but high art in the form of compositional sonic landscapes.  The song is a 26 minute, 11 second masterpiece cut into two tracks, the first track and the last track on Wish You Were Here, separated with three other songs in between.  It is the finest album I’ve ever heard.  And Shine On is the definite best “track.”  It says so very much, musically and lyrically.  On a superficial level it is about the band’s original lead singer, guitarist and songwriter, Syd Barrett, who eventually burnt out his mind by doing massive doses of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) on a daily basis for as many as two years.  “Come on you raver,” Roger Waters sings, “you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!”  It morphs into a contemplation on the downfall of the artistic individual in general, about the dangers inherent in pushing your psyche to the brink in an effort perhaps to produce something brilliant, and perhaps simply to escape reality–which actually may be an important component of the solipsism inherent in most creative endeavors.

The song is exquisite.  It is vivid , wistful, intense, ever-changing, staggeringly beautiful, and packs an intense emotional wallop.  It is sui generis–Latin for utterly without equal.  Nothing else like it in the world.

My brother David, too, was sui generis.  Meet him once and you’d remember it forever.  He was the life of the party, even without an actual party.  He’d walk into a room and light the place up so much you practically had to shield your eyes.  He had the most beautiful, joyous smile.  His sense of humor was legendary; I remember one night he and my brother Brandon and I were camping (in our dad’s massive undeveloped back yard in Riverside) and David had us laughing our heads off for hours–telling jokes, doing impressions, relating personal stories.  Laughing so loud and hard, in fact, that our dad trekked a couple hundred yards out to the tent to tell us to shut up.  We of course thought he was a monster or vicious killer, so David pulled out his long curved knife and Brandon and I shot at dad with our BB guns.

And David had that rare form of humor than transcended age differences.  Driving to Arizona when I was about 8, he was telling a story about being solicited by a prostitute when he was stationed in Saigon with the Marines in the early ‘90s; it was hilarious to me, it was hilarious to 14-year-old Brandon, and it was hilarious to our dad.  I think David had a profound impact on the development of my own sense of humor, which has always been one of my best qualities:  my ability to see the humor in every situation, no matter how grim or personally traumatic (you’ll see what I mean if I ever get my prison memoir Rebel Hell published).  It lends a certain bearableness to living in this fucked-up, cruel, tragic world.  Once you comprehend that your own life is all a farce, you’re a step ahead.  And this helps me not just in my writing, but with interpersonal relationships and life in general.

David was a badass, too.  In the best possible way.  He was a snowboarder, covered in tattoos–a full sleeve on one arm, both pecs, the legs (his one-time roommate was a tattoo artist, so he got a bunch done for really cheap or maybe free).  David and his friends would leap off the Mission Bay Bridge in San Diego, which is about a 50-foot jump, in the middle of the night.  He totally SHONE ON like someone nearly crazed with indefatigable joie de vivre.  Truly lived life like he meant it.  Like it mattered.

The last time I saw him was 9 years ago this month–maybe even this week.  Two of my best friends at the time, Marcus and Travis (for some reason twins freaked David out a little), were on a summer-long surfing trip.  I joined them for a few days in Carlsbad, a coastal town about halfway between my L.A.-area hometown and San Diego, where David lived at the time.  I decided to pay him a visit.  I hadn’t seen him in a couple years; this was not long after I got my own car and was allowed to travel solo.

His apartment in San Diego, the last place he lived.

When I arrived at his apartment he whipped up some homemade chili and corn bread and we walked to the corner store for beer.  I was 18 and caught in that desperate pre-21, alcohol-enjoying-stage where we’d go to great lengths to procure booze:  one friend would shoplift it for us; other times we’d hang out with “Uncle Joe,” a 40-something Indian immigrant with an asphyxiating stench who’d take our cash to the liquor store in exchange for an hour or two of company and a 99-cent tall can of 211 Steel Reserve.

Over dinner, David told me a story about something that happened his senior year of high school.

It was some 9 years prior; he and two friends decided to skip school for the day.  They awoke before dawn and drove up to a lookout point in the nearby San Jacinto Mountains.  They shared a fifth of Jim Beam as the sun rose and painted the valley and foothills in brilliant purples and then oranges and then lit it up all the way.  Only when David was good and drunk did he realize:

“Oh, shit!  I have a fuckin test today!”  One that he absolutely could not miss.

His friends laughed.  “Screw it, man, that ain’ happ’nin.”  Eventually he convinced them to drop him off  school.  Took the test, still blasted– apparently he could hold his liquor.  There’s nothing worse than a man who gets drunk and starts acting idiotic and violent (one of the many reasons I despise alcohol).  When David walked to the teacher’s desk and dropped the test face-down, the teacher stared at him sidelong.  After a year with David in his class, the teacher knew my brother.  Knew his devil-may-care attitude, which emanated from his pores like whiskey.  “David, have you been drinking?”

“Nah, course not.”  He began walking out of the classroom.

“I think you need to go see Principal Couts.”

David chuckled.  “Fine by me.  I’ll go visit Couts.”  Walking out, he flicked a salute and, wearing that infamous grin, called over his shoulder, “Have a good one!”

“Let me smell your breath,” Principal Couts said in his office.

David sat on the other side of the desk.  He raised an eyebrow.  “Why do you wanna smell my breath?  That’s weird.”

“David, let me smell your breath.”

David sighed.  Fuck it, right?  He inhaled deeply, from the bottom of his lungs, leaned forward, and unleashed a big fat WHOOOOOOSH of whiskey breath right into the principal’s face.  Then he sat back and shrugged.

That was David.

Oh, and the test?  The one he took drunk off his ass without studying for?  He aced that bitch!

On October 3, 2003, I got a call from my dad on the way to a classic rock festival.  “David killed himself last night.”

I was stunned, to say the least.  To the point where it didn’t seem real, and stayed that way until the funeral a week later, when I saw his dead body in the casket, and I saw my father crying for the first time in my life.  My mom actually wrote and recorded a gorgeous song about him, about knowing him as a child when she was married to our dad (David and I had different mothers), and then losing touch with him when my mom and dad got divorced, called “I Never Said Goodbye.”  I’d love for you to take a listen.

Fuck, it still doesn’t seem real.  Sometimes I see someone that looks like him, and I think, Holy shit, maybe he didn’t kill himself!!  Or I’ll wake up from a dream in which he appeared, and in that half-asleep state of wavering-reality, and think, He’s not dead–David would NEVER kill himself!  Then the rational mind takes over and my heart is broken anew.

He was one of my favorite people in the world.  I’ll never get over it–the loss will never stop hurting.  None of us know why he did it.  I wish I knew.  But I try not to dwell on the sorrow; I try to focus on how amazing a life he had considering it ended at just 27 (my age now).  On how many lives he touched while he was here.  The vast majority of humans live for many decades longer than David did and still don’t live as much as he did.  I wish I could believe that one day we will meet again, in some afterlife, but I know it’s not going to happen.  It’s a fairy-tale hope.  But you know what?  That’s okay.  That’s life, and that’s death.  He has returned to the Earth and left behind a beautiful legacy.  I knew him until I was 18, and I count myself pretty fucking lucky for it.  Totally worth the sorrow I’ve experienced as a result of his death.   This may seem macabre, but I truly believe it’s far more tragic to live a long pointless life than it is to live a short but intense, meaningful, profoundly influential life, like he did.

And so I return to the beginning:  my tattoo.  Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a tribute to him as well.  To the amazing, inspiring way he lived.  And, perhaps most important of all, it is a reminder to me:  LIVE LIKE YOU MEAN IT.  LIKE IT FUCKING MATTERS.  Because it does.  It really does.  And who knows how much longer we have?

It is a reminder to be ME, crazy fuck-you wild me, to shine on, to speak my mind and write what I want and live how I want, no matter what the world thinks.

Today would have been David’s 36th birthday.  This is my tribute to him.  My love letter.  My thank-you note.  Happy birthday brother.

And remember–SHINE ON, YOU CRAZY DIAMOND!!!

80 thoughts on “Tattoos and Suicide

    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      We ALL felt the same way, but then again, he was a very IMPULSIVE person…so when I think of it that way, it starts to make a LITTLE sense. Thanks for your comment <3

      Reply
  1. screenwrites

    Thank you for a great piece which serves as a great reminder of how positive experiences and fully alive people shape us. I realised after losing someone with this kind of life energy that you never really lose them – they are always there because their impact looms large even after death

    Reply
  2. Barefoot Baroness

    Your poignant & beautiful post once validates for me once again that we meet the people we are supposed to, in the way we are supposed to.
    I came by initially to thank you for following my blog Lady Barefoot Baroness and browsed your blog a bit when I happened upon your Columbus Day post which led me to this post. I was moved to tears as I read.
    You are absolutely correct hat it does matter.
    Thank you for such a personal share.
    I am also a Pink Floyd Fan, have been since their inception and have had the pleasure to watch the guys grow and mature after Syd’s death in 1968. Shine On also a PF tune I have a real affinity for.
    I want to share with you a friend of mine’s instrumental cover of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, he covers many of PF’s tunes and all with deep respect and reverence.
    So this is for you & this is for your brother. http://youtu.be/b9_iQY_4NIA

    Thank you for following my blog ~ BB

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      Wow, thank you for your kind words, I’m flattered!! You should check out my revenge-on-Monsanto novel Orange Rain, available on amazon (links on top of main page) =)

      Reply
    2. TheRewildWest Post author

      Oh, and you don’t even KNOW how many years I’d trade off the end of my life to’ve been born in your generation, and been able to see all my favorite bands come onto the scene and release new albums and progress and play in concert!! I’d happily give 20 years off the end of my life for that….no anyone who could arrange that??? =P

      Reply
  3. Cheryl

    Your story reads like a Stephen King novel. Your brother sounds beautiful. Crazy beautiful. Thank you for sharing his life here. Im so sorry you lost him too soon but agree with all you said about life’s quality. Shine on indeed. Pink Floyd rocks. And so do you my friend. So do you…

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      Thank you, that means so much to me. And it’s funny you say it reads like Stephen King–he is the reason I decided to become a novelist when I was 12! I look forward to hearing what you think about my mom’s song =) Thanks again for your kind words.

      –Love and Liberation–

      Jan, http://www.JanSmitowicz.com

      Reply
  4. TrashBash

    Wow, you’re a beautiful writer. Thank you. I will be reading your blog regularly. I can’t explain it, but I find it hard to concentrate with about seven different tabs open on my computer at once… but I kept trawling through your posts. This post is so beautiful, you have done your brother justice, in sharing him with us so honestly. I wish you and your writing career all the best, truly.

    Reply
  5. Where God Takes Me

    Hi, I wrote you earlier about this piece. I also lost a brother to suide and have been trying for a number of years to write the story; rather, I have written a million different versions of the story, none of which worked. Your piece inspired me to try again and this time the result was such that I can finally put the story to rest. So thank you for your courage, thank you for writing, thank you for shinging a light.
    Warm regards, Vivian

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      I most certainly remember your earlier comment. This brought me to tears. Thank you. You have no idea how much it means to me that I could help inspire you =)))))

      Reply
  6. Ron Rosas

    I really enjoyed your story Jan. so sorry to hear about your brothers passing at such a young age. Your brother was right though. Life is to live to its fullest.

    Reply
  7. Where God Takes Me

    This is a really lovely tribute to your brother. I also lost my brother to suicide and I admire your courage in writing this piece. I especially like that you posted this tribute during Suicide Prevention Week and it has inspired me to work on a post or a series for SPW 2013.

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      I’m so sorry to hear about your brother, I appreciate your sharing that with me; thanks so much for kind words, and it means the world to me that I inspired you, thank you!! <3

      Jan

      Reply
  8. Pingback: Tattoos and Suicide « Broken Light: A Photography Collective

  9. mautha

    Beautiful. I was reluctant to read this post, I was afraid of opening old wounds, poorly healed even the first time. David was a beam of pure light and his death was a tragedy I still don’t understand. But thank you Jan for reminding me of his bright spirit, and that he isn’t forgotten.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: FROM ONE: Artist Lisa Korpos | Rewild the West, and All the Rest!

  11. wewerenothing

    OMG! Pink Floyd, Crazy Diamond, means as much to me as it does to you. It and The Lunatic. No other band like them. And you are so right about “I wish I could believe that one day we will meet again, in some afterlife, but I know it’s not going to happen. It’s a fairy-tale hope. But you know what? That’s okay. That’s life, and that’s death. He has returned to the Earth and left behind a beautiful legacy. I knew him until I was 18, and I count myself pretty fucking lucky for it. Totally worth the sorrow I’ve experienced as a result of his death.” You are totally lucky to have experienced your brother. Thanks for sharing. Maybe some day I can write about my own brother, shot to death and left in an abandoned building. Thanks for sharing. I hope it helped and was cathartic, writing about him.

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      What is “The Lunatic”?? Do you mean the song that goes, “The lunatic is on the grass…”?

      Thank you for the kind words; yes, it was very cathartic to write about, and helpful, especially with all the tremendous and sweet positive feedback I got!

      So sorry to hear about your brother, that is TERRIBLE. =’( I hope you find the energy and inner strength, if you want to, to some day write about it. Thank you for sharing your own terrible connection to untimely death.

      Reply
  12. Aran

    What a beautiful tribute to your brother. I totally agree with you that it is far more tragic to live a long pointless life than a short meaningful one – I do not intend to be on this earth for a long time but I intend to make it count.

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      Thank you so much, Aran, it means a lot to me that you read it and liked it. Thank you for validating his life, and by extension my own, in saying that you feel the same way <3

      Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      Thank you!! Perhaps indeed! In one of my as-yet-unwritten novels, I will explore the concept of dreams’ being an open conduit to communication with parallel universes =) I very much appreciate your reading this <3

      Reply
      1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        there is so much that we don’t know/don’t understand/cannot comprehend. i have had visits from my ‘loved ones’ via dreams that seem so real that surely it wasn’t ‘just a dream.’ i also dream quite often of places i’ve never seen and people i’ve never known, but in my dreams, i know them wll. go figure!

        i listened to the song and enjoyed the video. i cannot imagine how difficult it must be to pick up the pieces and move on. i’ve known too many who have taken their lives, but never a brother or sister. you have my deepest sympathy.

        good luck with the not-yet-written novel!

      2. TheRewildWest Post author

        Thank you! I actually have SIX (6) COMPLETED novels to work with, so I don’t feel bad taking a break from new-novel-writing (although I have about 4 in my head right now I could start tonight if I wanted to) =) Funny, just as you commented the album Wish You Were Here, which begins and ends with halves of Shine On You Crazy Diamond! So basically we were listening to the song at the same time. Synchronicity>>>>>dreams, just what we were talking about. Coincidences, or something else–gravity? Magnetism? Something wholly unknown and incomprehensible?……..

      3. Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        Shing On/Crazy Diamond is one of my favorites as well – and I agree, Pink Floyd’s brilliance is top of the class. The first part of Shine on is so brilliant, and I am sure you know every nuance of that music, every pause between notes.. it cradles me, and my mind is free to go wherever it chooses – oh, to have a creative soul!!!! we embrace it, and it sometimes drives others a bit nuts to be around us!

        I once read when two people do the same thing at the same time or have no need for conversations at the same time, that it’s two finely-tuned nervous systems communicating. that made sense to me, and made me feel not quite so ‘witchy.’

        keep writing and embrace your talents! Z

  13. Lena Alexander

    Thanks so much for sharing ur story of David, it’s so well written I feel like I know him! I lost my sister to suicide 13 months ago and I still feel so raw. It’s hard to think about. We are 15 months apart in age and have always been very close. I love ur tribute tat for ur brother, very nice.

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      I’m so, so sorry for your loss Lena. That’s really recent, and you were really close in age. That’s got to make it especially harder. =’( Thank you for your kind words! Hopefully this helped in some microscopic way–know that you’re not alone, and it gets better.

      Reply
  14. susanduke99

    Jan, I’m so sorry for your loss. :’( Your story made me cry, laugh, and took me back to my high school days and the fun I had with my friends…..absolutely beautiful writing!!! You have a gift, my friend! <3

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      Thank you so much, what an incredibly sweet comment! It means the world that my words had an emotional impact on you–that’s the very first reason I wanted to be a novelist, when I was some other person, age 12 =)

      p.s. If you like this, I hope you will read my novels some day, when they’re published–that’s my true passion, and where my greatest writing gifts lie!

      Reply
  15. malejones

    “The song is exquisite.  It is vivid , wistful, intense, ever-changing, staggeringly beautiful, and packs an intense emotional wallop.  It is sui generis–Latin for utterly without equal.  Nothing else like it in the world. My brother David, too, was sui generis.  Meet him once and you’d remember it forever. ”

    A beautiful piece, Jan. I love so much how music can capture exactly what one feels, and serves as a way of expressing that to others. This transition from discussing the uniqueness of the song to the uniqueness of your brother, David, is so perfect and really captures that connection between music and life. Beautifully written, as well. Thanks for sharing with us.

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      And those are some great words of your own regarding music! You have a great way of expressing your thoughts–jeez, maybe it’s because you have a degree in Journalism! ;)

      Reply
  16. vegwriter

    I wish David were hear so I could meet him. It would be wonderful to hear some jokes, relax, laugh. You share your feelings so deeply here, it is touching to read. Pink Floyd will never sound the same again.

    Reply
  17. Hillary

    I feel that those who have lost a loved one to suicide share a tragic, strong, and often unspoken or unrealized bond. It is not something that is usually talked about or shared, yet probably has more of an impact on who we are than we could ever understand. Realizing that you are not alone in your sorrow is validating and meaningful in a very real way. I appreciate your words on many levels, but most of all because I can relate to the hole that is left behind when someone in your family takes their own life. It is beautiful to see you remember your brother’s LIFE, and not allow that to become overshadowed by his death. And the way you choose to remember him is absolutely touching and heartfelt. Thank you for sharing his memory, your memories, and being brave enough to shine on and share your light with others. Ok, now I’m crying too.

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      Beautiful comment. Thank you Hillary. I’m sorry about your loss, and yes, there’s an immediate kinship with people who have lost a loved one to suicide. It’s very very different than losing someone to a “natural” (if any death can be natural with so many toxins filling our environment) cause…

      Reply
  18. EvelynWeiss

    After the sixth read, I still have tears rolling down my face and I am almost at a loss for words. How do I put what I am feeling into words? I know what it feels like to lose someone close. How it feels to lose someone so full of life. I lost my best friend. I have those moments of unreality. It has never felt real to me and I wonder if it ever will. Perhaps that isn’t important. What is important is that the people we lost had a real, lasting impact on us. Their life is what should be remembered, not their death. Happy Birthday to your David. To me, there is nothing more meaningful than writing to or about someone. It is the ultimate gift. This and your tattoo says it all: David will continue to shine on.

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      Wow, thank you sooo much! I’m sorry for your loss–obviously I know what it feels like. He will continue to shine on–I love that, yes, he will =) Thank you so much for your lovely, touching comment.

      Reply
    2. TheRewildWest Post author

      Evelyn, you said: “What is important is that the people we lost had a real, lasting impact on us. Their life is what should be remembered, not their death.”

      I love that. Beautifully said. Succinct and perfectly expressed.

      Reply
  19. Kirsti

    Thanks for sharing. I cannot imagine how that must have felt at the time, at such an innocent age also, but I am glad that you have been able to distil hope, beauty and joy out of your tragic loss. I’m sure he would have been touched by your gesture and now you can carry him in spirit around with you

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      Thanks for your lovely comment, Kirs. It was hard–I got the news TWO DAYS after starting college, right after moving into the dorms (out of home for the first time), etc. And I was in the middle of all the knee injuries and surgeries…in fact a month after he killed himself, the dumbfuck doctors finally gave me an MRI (which they should’ve done 9 months prior!) and OOPS major tears to the meniscus, not just a sprain! So yeah, bad timing, too.

      “I am glad that you have been able to distill hope, beauty and joy out of your tragic loss.”

      Me too. Thank you =)

      Reply
  20. Simone Duffin

    A Beautiful tribute written from deep in your heart and soul, thank you for sharing your most inner private feelings and love for your brother. Very appreciated and very emotionally moving.

    Reply
  21. vegansloveanimals

    Heart-achingly beautiful. I think a short, intense, meaningful life is indeed superior to a long, boring, meaningless life–still, I wish David was still here (as you obviously do, as well!) so I could meet him. Such a tragedy–the good people are always the ones who suffer most. Rest in Peace, David. Your life and memories helped to create the most beautiful man I have ever known–Jan. XOXOXOXO.

    Reply
  22. Romain Blavier

    Beautiful entry – I’m sure your brother would be proud of you and it’s great that you can carry a part of him in you.

    And personally, it was pretty cool knowing that you got that done only a couple days after we hung out. To hear you talking about it and then see pics of the tattoo in just a few days :)

    Reply
  23. carolemccormick

    It is hard to comment on this. So many words and feelings rush by me, and yet, this post leaves me speechless. First of all, I am honored that this was posted on my facebook wall. I am honored to know you even more now that you have shared this part of your life. I am honored because, now, just a little bit, I have gotten to know this Shining Diamond who will always be your brother. There are no words that humans speak that can do justice to how beautiful the song by your Mom is. While life has not been easy, I have been blessed with some fairy tales that did come true. So perhaps your “diamond” is in a better place, and perhaps we will meet him someday. I do mourn your loss with you–what courage it must have taken to post this–you know who would be proud?–David. While I do not believe or partake of organized religion, and while I doubt most people will believe me, I KNOW that David knows about this. Yes I do. I KNOW. It happens that I did some great animal rights work many moons ago while Pink Floyd played in the background. I am crying right now, but I will celebrate you, your family, the amazing David today. You have gotta believe with him being as he was, that there’s a party going on somewhere for him. So we will not cry because it’s over. We will smile because David happened. <3 xo

    Reply
  24. Nicoal Sheen

    You’re an incredible writer and a strong person for reliving these memories. Thank you for sharing Jan. I am so sorry for your loss but find inspiration in your brother’s story of living a meaningful life and taking advantage of every moment given to us.

    Reply
    1. TheRewildWest Post author

      Thank you so much Nicoal. Your words, and those of everyone else, have nearly brought me to tears. I’m so glad you find inspiration–that was the main purpose of the post, aside from being a tribute to his memory!!

      Reply
  25. Ruth Davies-Jones

    WOW! Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful piece with me Jan ♥ I am so, so sorry for your loss :( David sounds like an amazing guy and I know he will be looking down on you and so proud of the man his little brother has become :) I think this is one of the most touching things I have ever read… Happy Birthday David – thinking of you and your wonderful family and all the fabulous times you shared. I LOVE the tattoo – it says it all ♥ x

    Reply

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