Celeste walked onto the tracks and turned her back on the oncoming train. It was over in a second.
While guns make up a slight majority of completed suicides in the US, they aren't the most reliable way to kill yourself. Trains are. Let's put that in perspective (numbers are rounded off). Over a million 'suicide attempts' occur every year -- usually through alcohol and drugs. As almost half of the 42,000+ successful suicides are drugs/booze, you're talking a hell of a failure rate. The booze and drugs failure lends credibility to the maxim of "Suicide attempts are attention seeking." The odds of survival are in your favor (20,000 to 1,000,000). Guns are used when you're serious about checking out. But even then there's a slight chance of failure. Trains are for when are dedicated about ending it. Celeste was dedicated.
It's typical to speak of the positive aspects of the dead. Not just in terms of etiquette but especially in eulogy. Okay let's get that out of the way. Celeste was -- last time I saw her -- pretty, intelligent, vivacious, fun and witty. She was the kind of person that had a sparkle to her and was fun to party with. But more than that, one look and you saw amazing potential.
She was also a complete fuck up. If you'll excuse the black humor, she was a train wreck.
I met Celeste at a rough spot in my life. If life can be likened to climbing a ladder; some people climb up, some climb down. Sometimes it's not that cut and dried. I'd spent most of a decade climbing out of the streets and away from poverty, booze, drugs and violence. The relationship that had been a major part of my upward climb had just crashed and burned. (We were both nicer and funnier people when we were drunk, sobriety left us dealing with our demons and each other.) It seriously looked like my attempts to get out of 'The Life' had failed. I took a job bodyguarding strippers. This wasn't a titty bar, it was a lot more edgy. How edgy? Not only were we skirting legal lines, it was also during this time that I was shot at-- hopefully for the last time in my life.
Basically I was back in the shit, but I was older and I'd been changed in the decade of trying to be a civilian. Yes, there are all kinds of wild stories about that time. There was a lot of laughter and good times. But mostly it was a pain in the ass. It was dealing with troubled people, stupidity, issues around booze and drugs, dysfunction and staring into the night waiting for monsters to make a run at us. A bad day at work meant someone died, and that person could have been me. This is not hyperbole, my last night there I faced off three gangbangers who'd come to rob the place. I was facing them in the office with a gun in my hand ready for a shoot out, hoping nobody would do the dumb. (This by the way, wasn't the shoot out I mentioned earlier.) It was a very dark and dangerous place. Given my headspace, it was one of the crossroads of my life.
Celeste was one of the dancers. The darkness of the environment is a big part of why she shined so bright. But like all of us there, she had her own darkness and demons. Her ending up on the train tracks tells you who won.
Remember that ladder I mentioned? Well first off, it's a lot easier to go down than it is to go up. If you're climbing up (or hell even just hanging on at a rung) you're going to see a lot of people slide past you on their way down. Still others you'll be with them on the same rung for a while before they keep climbing. I tell you that because there's an important factor in all that: age.
See what a lot of people don't realize is the ladder is a long haul. In the long run what gets you up the ladder (and keeps you up there) are skills, effort and developing resources. Those take time and dedication to develop. There isn't a single element that you can point at and say "That's what you need." It's a combination of elements that work together and the results build on each other. But more importantly, they form the ability to move up to -- and stay at -- the next rung of the ladder.
Conversely, what's called 'baggage' not only weighs you down, but pulls you down. If you've got a darkness in you, it's real easy to slide down the ladder. I tell you this because when you're young you have the energy to power through. You can push back against it and hold steady at a rung for a while.
That was Celeste in a nutshell. She wasn't just a party girl, she made us laugh. She had a zeal and gusto for experience and adventure and absolutely no filter between brain and mouth. For good or bad she'd respond to whatever stimuli she was receiving. She'd take complete delight in the feel of the ocean breeze and sunlight in her face, at the same time she'd be repelled by a bad smell. As a friend of mine observed, "She experiences the same things you and I do, but she has no filter -- instead of ignoring it, she reacts." (This after he and I kept on going through a rank smell, but she recoiled.)
It was a combination of this zeal and lack of both inhibition and malice that made her so fun to be around. At the same time, older people looked at her and wanted to help her prepare fol later life. We all tried to help her develop those skills and resources necessary for later life. Resources, not just about climbing the ladder, but at least not sliding down when her energy began to wane with age. A waning that we knew was coming, but she didn't.
She rebuffed all efforts. Know that she'd been diagnosed with ADD. Her parents had divorced and were their own unique bundles of dysfunction. She also lacked an internal moral code, sense of propriety and understanding of consequences. In that sense, she was almost like an alien. She simply couldn't understand the unspoken rules of society. They made no sense to her. She couldn't understand why she got in trouble when -- one slow night -- she got bored and climbed up on the roof of work. She also didn't understand why I got so upset with her about the kitten. An abandoned kitten had shown up on her doorstep. She took it in fed and gave it shelter. A few days later I showed up and asked where the kitten was and she told me it was dead. I asked what had happened and she said she realized it was a burden so she fed it a good meal, petted it and then snapped it's neck. I hit the roof. She honestly didn't understand why I was so upset. As far as she was concerned she'd made the kitten's life the best it could have been. Since she didn't have a car she felt she couldn't take it to the animal shelter, so killing it was the best and most rational decision. A decision that was both minimum effort on her part. She was hurt and offended that I was yelling at her. She thought she'd done good by making it comfortable and happy before killing it. She honestly couldn't see why it was wrong no matter how hard I tried to explain it to her.
Yeah, about that...
Knowing what I know now I recognize that Celeste was locked in what Time Perspective Theory is known as present perspective. That can go in one of two ways, hedonistic and fatalistic. Basically the idea is how we look at time influences our behaviors, emotions and ability to plan for the future. When it's hedonistic you live for sensation. When it's fatalistic your attitude is nothing will ever change so why bother? Celeste eventually slid into that state and walked onto the train tracks.
Tying that idea to the ladder analogy, many young people feel that because they have the energy to hold things at a rung, they don't need to invest time and energy into developing skills and resources. Even if they do, many people from dysfunctional background have a specific set of challenges. If you were raised without certain elements, you don't know they're missing. If you are told about them , there's a different set of issues. Since most people aren't consciously aware of these standards, they suck at explaining them. (Quick, why was killing the kitten the wrong thing to do?) So usually what happens is they end up yelling at that person with no real explanation other than "no, bad wrong!" Even if someone can explain the reasons, there's the challenge of getting the person to assign value to the ideas. For example: "Why should I have to show up at work on time?" (That's a major thing about not choosing to party the night before -- a common problem with present oriented people.) Finally there's the massive amount of work to 'catch up.' See if you come from a dysfunctional background, you weren't taught certain things (or you were given a twisted interpretation). Normal people get it at a certain age. In the ten years you spend wrestling with the screwed up version you were taught, normal people have 10 years of practicing meeting that standard. If and when you finally do assign it value, you either have to double time it to catch up with your age group or settle for a stunted version.
Or you can go fatalistic, like Celeste. She'd made all kinds of bad decisions about not developing what it would take to get off that rung and time had caught up with her. After years of taking the easy route she'd slid further and further down the ladder. Using another analogy, her life choices had dug her into a hole and she saw no way out of avoiding the consequences so she chose to kill herself rather than go on with the results.
I tell you this because remember I mentioned I was at a crossroads of my life? The darkness was calling me back with its sirens call. One of my favorite images comes from the artist Ursula Vernon, where a fuzzy critter walks by a pointing sign to the abyss, at the edge a voice from below offers "We have cookies." A big cookie temptation was the amount of money I was making bodyguarding. But then life decided to slam me again and my Dad's cancer came back. Family politics and bullshit aside, that became "My Watch." It was only up in Oregon that they thought they had a chance to beat it. So I loaded up the car and left California for the last time. The crossroads? I made my choice. I was going back up the ladder.
It was also the last time I saw Celeste. It would be ten years before she stepped out onto the train tracks. It was that decision that told me what had happened. She kept on slipping down. The life of a stripper isn't an easy one. It takes its toll on a person. Looks fade, boobs sag and hearts harden. In direct correlation to that, the easy money dwindles. The person is left with no skills, no resources and nothing she can use to even hang onto a rung. So the slide happens.
It would be ten more years before I found out about her death. You can come a long way in twenty years if you keep climbing. I'm married, have a career, a stable life, respect and status and an extended family. Celeste ended up strewn along the railroad tracks.