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Remembering Otto

I didn’t know Otto well when he committed suicide, over ten years ago now, while I was living with him. In fact, it quickly became apparent to me that no one knew him well. The day that he took his own life just outside the city limits, he cried into the phone with an immediate relative on the other line to whom he hadn’t spoken a word in nearly as long as it has now been since his death; and while he was inhaling the exhaust fumes from the driver’s seat of his truck, he phoned his best friend of several decades and made just a couple of concise statements that made the blood run cold in the man on the line with him. From the time he hung up the phone until the moment his remains were located, an agonizing three and a half days passed during which his best friend and I checked in with each other only to determine Otto’s status, while we both frantically tried again and again to reach him by phone—it always went straight to an automated voicemail message declaring that his messages were full.

For some reason, possibly related to the heat of the season, I started thinking about Otto again today. I was working at a gas station he frequented for coffee and fuel when I first met him. At first, he was probably just another unremarkable customer, but he warmed up to me very quickly. Before long, I thought of him as one of very few men who were regular customers there who didn’t piss me off or hit on me—which was quite a high regard at the time, given the circumstances. As we built our rapport together, we’d make cracks at each other about how old the coffee tasted even as I removed it, steaming, from beneath the brewer. And after a couple months, I started smiling whenever he stepped out of his truck. He was a man whose presence alone made me smile, during a time of my life when no one could and at a job I hated. He admitted after a few months that the coffee was the reason he kept coming back to the station where I worked. I still remember his smile and the sound of his voice and laughter. He reminded me, in many good ways, of my paternal grandfather (from whom I inherited my Viking heritage).

Otto and I quickly developed a strange sort of relationship, almost like friends who haven’t seen each other for decades, but pick up right where they left off as if they had just been together the night before. It just took me time to see it. I had started that job while running for my life from a psychopathic wife-beating rapist who, after trying to convince me to be trafficked for sexual purposes, exposed me to a film so heinously graphic that I was fully convinced it was snuff. I was running from a lifetime of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse at the hands of my immediate biological relatives, and the crippling denial shared by my other biological relatives, too. And I was running from all the psychiatrists who thought, having no faith in my rational self-interest or capacity to be an advocate for my own mental health, that a script for heavy doses of anti-psychotics and SSRIs would adequately supplement meaningful therapy or even a superficial grasp of exactly the nature of my own mental illness (which was systematically denied to me by my own mental health service providers, for years). By the time Otto told me that my coffee-making kept him coming back most weekdays during my full-time shift, I could sense that something enormous and threatening to my safety was going to come crashing through my life. I just didn’t know what it would be.

When it finally did come, as I have been accurately able to anticipate with dread every time it has happened, Otto stepped up to ground me in a gesture I will not be able to forget during this lifetime. I was evicted with just half a day’s notice to pack up all my things and leave. I had an iguana I rescued from a neglectful home (whose enclosure Otto helped me move, even though it didn’t fit in the house I was living in) and a snake I had acquired several months earlier, and nowhere to take them. Otto offered me a room in his basement suite, in a subdivided house owned by his best friend. He made sure I was nourished, and he didn’t judge me for my character when I told him I was married to the idea of supplementing some of my income with a form of sex work I preferred to think of at the time as professional domination. He even helped me acquire my first two pieces of dungeon furniture when I had saved enough of my hard-earned dollars just in time for a sale on them. He spent the last days of his life making sure I felt genuinely comfortable and secure in his home with him, during a period when everywhere else I turned, I was being preyed upon by men (most of whom were roughly his age). He never asked me for anything in return.

I was very lucky to have Otto in my life. He was ready to offer me unconditional love, but he wouldn’t push it on me or attempt to hurl it at me. As I write this piece tonight in his memory, I offer that same unconditional love back to him.

It’s been over ten years, and I am still haunted by the repercussions of Otto’s death. His immediate relative, who he phoned first when he had already turned the ignition with the hose from the exhaust pipe slowly filling the cab of his truck with fumes, came to the home Otto and I shared. She had come to retrieve all of his personal belongings, and in her despair, informed me that she had been asked to identify his remains after he had been found. She said she could barely recognize him, and having already gone there recently enough, my mind plummeted into graphic attempts to fill in the blanks left in my head by the way she spoke around what she had witnessed. She told me that in the wake of his suicide, she discovered that he had been leading a full-blown double-life. When I returned home from work that same evening, I discovered that she had removed no less than the gross majority of my personal belongings, including every stick of furniture I had acquired with my own money. I felt furious and violated. There are some very personal items that I never got back when she finally returned my belongings a few days later, saying that she had mistaken them for his, thinking that this was another side of him that she could have never anticipated.

His best friend, who owned the house and had rented the basement to Otto, threw me out a few days later, and my only prospective professional domination client offered to share his bed with me for a couple of weeks before I moved into my first apartment.

Two or three years after the fact, I found myself speechless when I caught a brief glance of a man who could have been Otto’s identical twin, driving a nearly identical truck. Only the geography had changed. Instanteously, I asked myself whether it was even remotely possible that he is still alive somehow. Like lightning, my mind jumped to the possibility that, like more than one time in my life and not too long before the year I met Otto, I had actually imagined or hallucinated the entire thing—the way I must have hallucinated a mind-altering event in which I became convinced that my best friend’s sister had died in a car accident, and I couldn’t understand how my best friend could keep speaking of her as though she were alive until my stomach dropped to my ankles six months later when I overheard her voice over the phone that Christmas. Was I experiencing a similar psychotic episode, in which I could no longer distinguish between realities? Or was this man simply an accidental reminder of both that episode and my friend Otto?

I will probably never know why Otto decided to take his own life, or why the season during which he committed suicide has passed several times without reminding me of this loss. But this Summer, I suddenly find myself wishing he was still here. I feel and express my gratitude toward him for the help that he provided so long ago, which was instrumental in re-establishing me in a critical moment of my life when I could have lost everything—and when two animals, who had no choice in their circumstances, would have wound up euthanized if it weren’t for his compassion towards me.

Otto provided help and care to me in my time of crisis, during his own, that I could not have gained from anyone else. He spent his last months giving me a reason to smile and laugh, and he spent his last days making me feel safe. Though I truly did not know Otto well, his memory lives on through my life. I think I am finally living in a way that would bring a smile to his face even if nothing else could.

Good-bye, my friend.

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