Anthony Bourdain Dead at 61 read so many headlines on June 8 and the days following. Not to be indelicate, but the general sentiment that seemed to be felt by people probably would have been voiced by Anthony as, “What in the ever loving fuck?” No one understood. No one ever understands when a famous person, that pinnacle of the American dream, could possibly kill themselves when by our standards, they had “everything”.
I myself was still in the grips of a pretty fierce manic episode that had begun a few weeks before, spiraled up into a genuine psychotic break, and then settled back into a pretty standard orbit, albeit a rather high one. So when I heard Mr. Bourdain had committed suicide, it registered, but it wasn’t something I wanted to read about, not just yet. As a person who has had three family members and one good friend kill themselves, that was a little too close to home, and his death struck me between the eyes much like Robin Williams’ had, yet another famous death that nearly no one understood until it was revealed he had been suffering from Lewy-Body dementia, an unfortunate brain disorder that can’t be diagnosed until after death.
Then I “crashed”, much in the same way I suspect Anthony did, but I’ll get to that. I had been through a really transformative experience that was still unfolding, yet from the outside perspective of my doctor, and likely my husband, it seemed immediately apparent that I needed some sort of medication, ostensibly to keep my mind from sailing away again as it had a week or so before. So he stuck me on some new-fangled drug that was supposed to be very mild and not hit me like a hammer like so many other antipsychotics can. And so I spent the next couple of weeks really enjoying my life, my husband, my child, and regular everyday activities as I had not in, well, DECADES.
Just like Anthony had, as detailed in the article linked above. He was really looking forward to a trip to Hong Kong where he would be doing some filming. According to those closest to him, they had never seen him so excited, and he was doing things he didn’t usually do, like constantly emailing and texting about publicity and other things that needed to be done towards realizing what he was calling a serious pinnacle of his work. However, after he died, other friends reported that he was in a “dark mood”, which was presumed to be a result of his grueling work and travel schedule.
Reading those words in the article, I understood precisely what had happened to Anthony Bourdain. He “crashed”. He went from whatever speed his incredible mind usually sped along at, to zero, slowly enough for people to notice his “dark mood” but too quickly for anyone to realize what had really happened to him and stop the inevitable trajectory of his path.
Strange things happen when you crash, and crashing happens at different speeds for different people. I wasn’t around Mr. Bourdain, of course, but it seems like his crash took at least a few days, and no one will ever know what triggered his deceleration. It could have been anything, but whatever it did eventually made his mind focus too hard on the negative potentials of what he was doing, most directly his Hong Kong project, until the excitement, adventure, and hope of the project was thrown into doubt by his own mind. I’m willing to bet he struggled mightily with himself for some unknown period of time in an effort to reassure himself he was on the right track, but if your mind has betrayed you, it does not respond to logic. It gets stuck on bad things, like an anchor dragging the bottom of a rocky ocean, until eventually you grind to a halt or go in circles.
My crash happened very quickly, within the space of hours. For example, Sunday afternoon was a wonderful time spent with my husband. Eight hours later, at midnight or so, all those good feelings were gone. *snap* Just like that. It was like being hit in the face with a board. The whole next day, I could palpably feel every good feeling I had recovered since my break slowly sliding away one by one, hour by hour. By the time dinner rolled around and my husband and I went to Jim’s Diner for the first time in the few weeks since my break, I had gone from a wide open spacious world full of possibility to a tiny, dark room with blackened windows, pinpricks for light, and every single door nailed shut save the one that Mr. Bourdain decided to walk through, very likely in a snap judgment.
I had at least two things it doesn’t appear Mr. Bourdain had. One: I wasn’t alone. I’d really rather not entertain what might have happened had I been alone. Which makes me wonder what might have happened with Mr. Bourdain had someone bothered to check and see why he didn’t come down for dinner the previous evening, which was extremely unusual. Anthony Bourdain miss an exquisite French meal? That should have been a major warning bell and while I’m sure those people are already kicking themselves for not checking on him, that may have been a crucial missed opportunity. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for those circling the drain, as it were, so assure others they are fine, for a variety of reasons, and so it may not have mattered if anyone checked to see why he did not come down for dinner.
The other thing I have that maybe Anthony didn’t was an inner guiding “voice”, although I can tell you that no matter how loud that voice may usually be, when the windows darken, the walls close in, and the only exit left is marked DEATH, that voice becomes subaural and the only way it works is if you believe it’s still there. I also had the personal knowledge of knowing four people who found themselves in that tiny, dark room and went ahead and took that exit, and I know what happened to the rest of us when they made that choice. My inner voice said “nuh uh, we’re not doing that”, and after I was done crying into my eggs and hash browns, my husband took me home where I crawled into bed and stayed there, where I knew I’d be safe.
Maybe Anthony did have a voice, but it grew too dim for him to hear anymore, AND he no longer believed it was there. That’s when the normal laws of emotional logic fail to meet the standards of the average happy person and the person in the dark room begins operating by illogical standards and faulty assumptions that seem like perfectly reasonable explanations for whatever conundrum they are faced with. There has been more than one instance in my life where I was absolutely convinced that I had been born cursed, due to some repeating circumstance or inability to wrench myself out of some bit of bad luck that was too reminiscent of past situations. When life shoves you back into the same shitpile you’ve tried so hard to get out of so many times, it can be hard not to think that the Universe wants you to stay there. Maybe Anthony found himself in front of one of those shitpiles and instead of deciding to go around it or try cleaning it up, he just said, “fuck it.” Only an individual knows when they reach the “fuck it” point, and so that will likely just have to remain one of the mysteries that surrounds Anthony’s death.
There’s a third element at play here, something that I believe both Anthony I possessed, and I still do, seeing as how I’m alive, and that’s something I can only call gumption. Gumption says “fuck that noise” when faced with an obstacle, and will help you find any way around it, over it, through it, or will hand you a weapon so you can smash that fucker to bits. Anthony had goddamned buckets of gumption, and I loved watching him use it when I watched his Travel Channel show “No Reservations”.
This is a man who, when presented with a not-so-carefully prepared and barely cooked rectum of some African animal and told it was a delicacy, you could almost see him put that gumption hat on and say “okay, fuck it, I’m eating asshole today”, a decision that would ultimately send him wretchedly sick to the doctor. But that was Anthony: irreverent, bold, adventurous, and always ready for a drink and a cigarette, when he still smoked, along with whatever audacious food would keep him and his eating and travelling companions going until they passed out from food, fun, and booze.
I had a child in the years following “No Reservations” and so I was too busy to keep up with his new shows, but from what I did see, it seemed that he actually did have some reservations now. He’d had a child of his own, quit drinking and smoking, got married, and seemed to be a pretty happy guy. Something was missing from his shows, though. He’d lost some of his gumption, for whatever reason. And I can only assume that he kept losing it over the years, or else he might not have found himself in a French hotel on June 7 / 8, in a dark room with only one even darker exit that has only one lock: your own will not to go through it.
It’s been determined by French authorities that Anthony had no drugs or alcohol in his system, so those very normal indicators of suicide were not present. And sadly, even if there had been something like antidepressants or antipsychotics in his system, it might not have helped. That drug my doctor put me on? I’m pretty sure it CAUSED my crash, and so is my husband, and so we’re going to have to have a long talk about being careful with what drugs we use to treat me, because they’re supposed to prevent finding yourself in that dark room, and now I’ve found myself there twice in the darkest place I’ve ever experienced in my life, and believe me, there have been plenty of times I have found myself in very dark places indeed.
I’ve still got my gumption, though. It may dissolve into puddles of tears as it did this morning, as I sat smoking and drinking my coffee, much like Anthony did so many years ago before he cleaned up his act, so to speak, yearning for the happiness that had been given to me a few weeks ago, and then snatched away so quickly I barely had time to notice it was gone until I went to access it and found that it was missing. It was like someone had brought my long-dead cat YinYang back to life for a few weeks and then murdered him in front of me.
But yes, I’ve still got my gumption, and I still have my Voice, and by the Goddess it doesn’t matter if that room shrinks to the size of a closet and that big black door looms so wide and tall I may fear I’ll fall into it, I will NOT go through that door.
While I had my psychotic break, I went walking with the Goddess to many places, and I even became different people so I could properly experience what she was showing me. At one point I noticed someone was accompanying us as we walked, and I looked over and it was DEATH. I wondered why he was there, and she said it was because we were in his world now, but I was safe. He wasn’t there to take me, he was there to show me around, and also to remind me that he’s always there, a lot like that door to Crazytown I swear I woke up in on May 21.
I’m not afraid of DEATH. I’m afraid of that tiny room with the blackened windows and shrinking walls that only has pinpricks of light that go out one by one if you can’t manage to push the walls back to a manageable distance. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear a lack of choices. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear the after effects it has on those who are left behind who are often left with unanswerable questions unless the person was premeditated enough to leave a cogent suicide note, which is very often not present.
And that’s probably something more important than most other things that have kept me away from that door: knowing what suicide does to other people, even if they do know why, like Robin Williams’ family. So I hope that dark room never shrinks so small that the pinpricks of light that represent the people that love me disappear, like they did for Anthony.
I’m sorry your world shrank, Anthony, a person for whom the world was truly a majestic, giant place full of excitement and opportunity which you always seemed so eager to pursue. There was always one more place to go, one more new noodle to try, one more exotic drink, one more club, one more person to show you something you hadn’t experienced before. I don’t know what happened to you that made those big wide walls start to close in, but something tells me it took a long time, until finally, in that French hotel room, after you had crashed for whatever reason, the walls finally became so close and so dark that all glimmers of hope disappeared, and you walked through that door. I, along with everyone else I imagine, will probably always wonder why you didn’t say “hey, the world doesn’t seem as big and as hopeful as it used to, is something wrong with me?” Maybe it frightened you so much you couldn’t say anything, which is so often the case for people whose walls begin to close. Even I, a person who has walked alongside DEATH my whole life and stared at that door a few times myself, will not understand what happened to you until I myself pass through that door, very hopefully not by my own hands, and get to ask you “hey man, what happened?” It’s the question all of us who are left behind by the suicidal ask ourselves, and it haunts us our whole lives.
Anthony Bourdain. Robin Williams. Spalding Gray. Chris Cornell. Layne Staley. Kurt Cobain. Jim Morrison. The list goes on of those shining souls we admire and are inspired by, and are then kicked in the gut when they leave so suddenly. I was listening to Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway”, one of Chris Cornell’s bands, and it occurred to me he may have left a message for us in his lyrics
I’ve put millions of miles under my heels
And still too close to you, I feel
I’ll leave you with some words from one of my favorite movies, “A River Runs Through It”. In it, Tom Skerritt’s character, a Presbyterian minister, is giving a sermon in which it is plain to his remaining son, played by Craig Sheffer, that he is talking about the death of his younger brother, Paul, a charming young man played by Brad Pitt who found himself in trouble with gamblers, with a predictable result. And he says the following:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
Later he narrator ends the movie with this:
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
I’ll listen for you at the rivers, Anthony, along with everyone else we, and I, have lost over the years. And hopefully at the end of a very long, fulfilling life, I will meet you at the appropriate time at that river, and you’ll answer the question we all have, and then we’ll sit at a great table and eat and drink to our heart’s content. I’ll even eat durian fruit with you and maybe you can introduce me to a noodle I actually like. But I’m not eating asshole. Fuck that noise. 🙂