I’ve been on this planet for a hair past one half of a century.
I spent the majority of that time in the state of Minnesota.
For the better part of that, I can count on one hand the number of people I knew in one form or another that took their own lives.
One was a classmate who committed suicide just shortly after we graduated high school.
His name was Peter. Peter was an asshole. He was a narcissistic bully.
I never thought his own selfish practice of ending it all was any loss to the world.
I moved to Austin, Texas in August 2017. In just over three years of being in a new demographic, I had experienced directly four suicides of people I engaged with or of those that I was connected with.
That accounts for far more than I had experienced in my entire life prior to moving here. It makes me wonder if there is something going on in Austin/Texas that I should know about.
None impacted me so greatly as Patrick Fleming taking his own life. Five months on, I am still grappling with the void his absence continues to tender.
There are some people who beat their breasts and lament the selfishness of a person who takes their own life.
Obviously, I haven’t directly experienced taking my own life. But on some morbid level, I am not staggered to any level of silence as to why and how someone could reach that abyss…and launch themselves off the ledge.
I get it.
I’m just a different person with varying values and perspectives who could have been – and still could be – in the very same place, but one who simply chooses not to be.
I very well could be. Any one of us could be.
I first saw Patrick perform at a tiny dive bar in an Austin suburb sometime around early 2018; six months, give or take, into my new residence here.
He was playing with two other musicians, their collective’s beginning initial of their surnames forming “FBI”. And that’s what they called their acoustic collaboration.
To my knowledge, they played together only once, but I’d seen them each individually in other venues prior to their gathering that night.
In the venue that night, there were no more than a handful of people; some I’d recognized and none I could say I had met formally.
The highlight of the evening was when a patron began collecting the female attendees’ bras and hanging them on the guitar necks of the players.
I disappointed her when she drew her finger down my back and felt no strap.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” I disappointed her. “I don’t wear bras and I don’t even think I’m wearing underwear for you to steal tonight.”
She squealed in delight or surprise, whichever gripped her right then. We are friends to this day.
It was that same friend who called me to break the news of Patrick’s death.
My next encounter with Patrick was at the same bar – it just so happened to be the very first “date” I had with the man I now call my husband.
Patrick was playing another acoustic set with one of the same previous FBI members and I introduced him to my date after his set was done. I had requested that they perform a cover of Jimmy Buffet’s “Let’s Get Drunk and Screw”, a song that ignited the entire bar that night.
To this day, I remember most his explosive radiant smile and warmth with every encounter.
As time passed, we caught up with Patrick at various gigs that he played as a solo artist or with a group of musicians behind him.
One of those happened to be a brisk cloudy Sunday afternoon at a now-closed south Austin venue called Darcy’s Donkey. We sat with Patrick on the patio and I requested “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel, a rendition he did spectacularly…and during which he had to watch me singing along because he had lapsed on some of the lyrics as he sang.
Every time I hear that song now, I appreciate that chilly afternoon watching Patrick and I shake my head sadly at the irony of the song I asked him to play. Pictures that I had taken of Patrick playing that day are those still posted on his Instagram and several other music outlet pages that he had posted. It warms me now to look back at them.
As we enjoyed more and more of those encounters, we befriended Patrick and we asked him to play at our wedding.
For our reception, Patrick taught himself Etta James’ “At Last” for me to sing to my groom in front of all of our guests.
Such a gesture is beyond all that which can be fathomed. I was rendered speechless at the effort he put into that simple request, executed flawlessly and captured in a very precious moment in time.
That was Patrick. He was a consummate performer, artist, musician, and all-around personality.
A global pandemic can have a devastating impact on people; economically, personally, financially, and psychologically. And it has proven to have strained all of the above.
Perhaps it got the best of the strength that Patrick had left to give.
I don’t know.
I will never know.
That is the worst part about being left the survivor in the shadow of a loved one’s suicide.
The “why” grinds at us until the day that our own lives end, in whatever fashion that happens to be.
We grapple with the survivors’ guilt. What drove him to it? What was the final straw? Could I have done something differently?
So many questions that are never meant to have any answers, yet those that we destroy ourselves asking.
I find myself shaking my head a lot. The shame of it all. The senseless loss of such a kind, warm, talented human being.
He’s gone. He hung himself less than two weeks before Christmas and only hours before he was to be married to the woman he’d shared his life and home with for a decade.
Can you beat that? If he was going for ultimate dramatics, I think he succeeded in fine fashion.
But why? Only hours before his death, he was working in collaboration with other musicians to bring his U2 cover band and vision back to life.
Why was I surrounded by sobbing mourners, unable to catch their breaths at his memorial? Why were his darling parents so seemingly resolved in the loss of their son? Had they been expecting this ultimate end all along?
I look deep behind that megawatt smile in a futile effort to answer any one of those questions…and I forever fall short of satisfaction.
I forced myself to think of Patrick often. When I do, I empty my bottle of red wine and I cry. I listen to his music and I watch him on YouTube and I sob. In what I appreciate as the greatest irony is listening to his version of “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind – it is one of his greater covers that I thoroughly enjoy listening to. He always used to play “Cumbersome” by Seven Mary Three for me and he nailed it every time, too.
Maybe there was something attributable to that. Regardless, it is my catharsis and my very purposeful way of making sure that such a genuine soul not be forgotten.
I don’t make a point to think of him daily. I would be unable to bear the weight of the constant sadness of the knowledge of him just not being here any more.
And the times I had with him when he was here.
But tears I shed for Patrick are those that are most valuable. In a cold world of hate and cruelty, tears shed for a decent human taken from us so inexplicably are those that deserve the most attention.
That’s the best that I or any of us can do when struggling for answers. We forge on to focus on the “when” of times we enjoyed because the “why” is unachievable.
I listen to Patrick’s original song ” A Thousand Lifetimes”. How poignant the lyrics are to me now, in the song that always caught my ear when Patrick performed it live. It is undoubtedly my favorite and it moves me greatly.
I wonder if those thousand lifetimes caught up with him – his thousand deaths and thousand visions he claims to have experienced, the thousands dreams he woke up to and yet still overcame his sins to love.
How profound that his “push” finally came “to shove”, as he sings.
When the four minutes and fifty-nine seconds conclude, I return back to his Facebook page that stills lingers in virtual existence along with his ReverbNation profile that both proudly display the pictures that I had taken on various occasions when I had seen him live.
That’s all I have – the humility of having the privilege of having known, photographed, and sang along side a person who suffered too badly from such vicious demons to appreciate his same invaluable attributes that others saw and cherished in him.
That’s what I accept and cling to as the hours and days and months since his death slip by. Nothing that has passed since then, nor that which will pass into eternity, will bring him back.
Patrick exists now only in digital presence; maybe that was the life he believed was all he had to prove himself.
I think better of that attempted rationality and I am confident that a great many other Texas residence who enjoyed his performances would feel the same way.
I am left to revel in his love and knowledge of cars, music, politics, human quirks, and everything else – apparently – but how to rectify any of it to a tolerable level in his head.
I am left behind to pick up those pieces, remember the times we had, and keep his name alive.