I am no public speaker. This is no speech. The right words only find me when I have a pen in hand. So instead, I have tried to write a memorial that would do justice to a storm cloud that came and went through my happy, long ago, summer-blue skies.
Our friend Keith was living proof that everything is bigger in Texas. My height, Keith outweighed me by fifty pounds, but more than that, he was big in style and manner. He walked loud in stacked-heel boots, and he talked loud, laughed loud, and even slept loud, snoring like a bull elephant.
Keith came to Virginia Beach from Galveston looking for work. Twenty-two years old, there wasn’t much that he couldn’t do; heavy equipment driving, pipe fitting, carpentry, electrician, he even picked guitar, and sang, so I wondered how an economy as big as Texas could be so bad that someone with his skill set could not find something to do. He stayed with me and Dave in our bachelor pad for a couple of weeks, and we got to know him well. I was quickly shown through his “loud Texan” front, as the two of us sat up late one work night. Keith was picking out George Strait tunes on his guitar while I threw darts. Baby Blue was his favorite, he said, on account of his fiance’s baby-blue eyes... like the Colorado skies. Beers were going down at our typical high rate of speed as Keith shared his story with me.
Keith’s father had blown his own head off when Keith was in the ninth grade. Clean off. Keith’s mother found him, and it effected her to where she lost her job, her will, and finally her psyche. Keith’s strength through those times came from a school counselor who took an interest in Keith and his twin brother Kevin. This counselor asked Keith and Kevin what they might be interested in doing, something that might take their minds off of their troubles. Keith responded that he would like to be able to play guitar, or maybe learn karate. The counselor found him free instruction in both. Keith threw his energies into them, and excelled quickly at both while his brother Kevin found no outlet, and spiraled downward.
Keith explained to me that night that suicide is genetic. Keith had learned this “fact” after his brother Kevin disappeared from the oil rig he was working on in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. After that was when Keith left Texas, and came to Virginia. He said he was running away from his destiny. He was crying when he said it. All I can remember thinking at the time was that it was very uncomfortable to see such a physically strong, rough-and-rowdy-type guy crying. I was twenty-one. I had no clue as to how I was supposed to respond to such a comment, so I just said, “aw, fuck it, Man,” and got him another beer.
Weeks later Keith asked me to pick his fiance up at the airport. Dave had wrecked Keith’s truck, and I was glad to help. I realized that Keith was in trouble right quick when Anne made a move on me before we got to their new apartment, but I blew it off, and never mentioned it to Keith. Regardless though, Anne quickly got pregnant. She and Keith got married in a hurry, and the three of them seemed to settle in nicely to family life. That’s why it was so surprising when Anne called me up one night scarcely a year after I’d met him and told me that Keith was dead. She’d found him hanging in their garage. Those baby-blue’s of hers weren’t crying as she told me.
It turns out that she had told Keith the baby wasn’t his. It turns out she didn’t even know who’s baby it actually was. Tough news for an already struggling young man.
I don’t believe suicide is genetic, but it does linger, souring in your mouth like stale beer. The scenes linger, and the thoughts... forever. Forty years later I can’t help but feel there were moments when I could have made a difference, when I could have said something, anything other than, “aw, fuck it, Man.”
But there it is. That’s where suicide leaves you.
She held it deep inside,
but somehow I always knew,
she’d go away when the grass turned green
and the sky turned baby blue.
And like a breath of Spring she came and left,
and I still don’t know why,
so... here’s to you, whoever holds my baby blue tonight.