By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
On another piece of paper, Valerie wrote: "Dearest Mom, I know how difficult this is going to be for you."
"Mommy," a second note to her mother began, "again I'm sorry to hurt you this way but if life is OK broke, it's not a problem I want to go through. We owe close to 1 million dollars. Our lives, with our backgrounds and education would never accomplish enough."
It was Valerie's mother who ended up finding the couple's bodies the next morning.
For those who see suicide as an act of cowardice, the case of Michael and Valerie couldn't be more illustrative. Though it is an extreme example, it represents what suicide embodies for a majority of its victims: escape. "They get to an impasse in their life which seems irreversible and they want out," offers Ronald Maris. "And they believe that the only way to get out of this hopeless life situation is by taking their own life." More than 70 percent of all suicides fall into this category, Maris says, adding that most victims face problems that would seem far more daunting than an unwillingness to restructure their lifestyle to fit a less-pleasurable economic reality. Acute depression and chronic illness are far more prevalent concerns.
Some simply find it hard to face themselves.
Vanity was more than an obsession to Richard P., it was his livelihood. Twenty years ago, at the age of 40, he divorced his wife, sold his California Cadillac dealership, and moved to Miami. He would become a man of leisure, living off the generosity of wealthy women. "He was so good-looking," recalls Harriet C., Richard's friend for eighteen years. "Oh, what a smile he had. He lived the life of a prince." He worked out, stayed in shape, took vitamins. When his hairline began to recede, he bought the finest toupees. When a gray hair appeared in his beard, he had it dyed. He underwent cosmetic surgery A a tummy tuck and a little tightening around the eyes. "He was 60 years old on paper only," Harriet attests. "He looked 35."
Harriet is right. The autopsy photographs are remarkable.
But any tinkering Richard might do on the outside could not halt the inevitable. He particularly dreaded the approach of his 60th birthday. "When you turn 60," he used to say, "you should just check out, because things just start falling apart on you." It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Six months before his birthday, he became impotent. The doctors told him it was psychological. That was no consolation.
His current paramour, Mona F., who had helped support him financially for thirteen years, told Richard not to worry, that they would work through his problem together. "He was so afraid she was going to throw him out and leave him to die destitute," remembers Harriet. "It was ridiculous. The day he died, he had $50,000 in the bank, he owned a townhouse that his previous girlfriend gave him. But it's unbelievable what goes through people's minds."
On January 28, his birthday, Richard shot himself once in the neck. In a note that appears to have been written more to himself than to anyone else, he debated the merits of his own existence. He set down a checklist of things to do: "Getting up first thing in a.m. to call and go to doctor's office for repair. SMILE. SMILE. IT USED TO BE YOUR BEST POINT. NO BRAINS, BUT A NICE SMILE."
From one line to the next, in short, cryptic sentences, the note took on a more frantic tone, alternating self-help suggestions for the future with apologies to friends for what he was about to do. "Think this is best. Wish me well. Can't go on. I am so sorry for those who care."
Just as quickly, the mood seemed to turn: "You're as good as anybody. You deserve to live as long as possible. You're going to contribute something. If only to be Mona's support and lover. If medicine and psychotherapy can help, so be it. I'll try to hang in, redevelop a personality, re-create a memory, tell jokes, laugh with wonderful friends. They're really nothing to fear. Hell they probably fear me.
"Buy inspirational videos and tapes. Joke books. Remember, be in the world, not on it. Don't live to protect yourself, have an adventure without fear. NO FEAR. NO FEAR. DYING IS SO SOON. LOVE IS SO RARE. SO IS GOOD HOUSING. FIX IT UP AND MOVE. REALLY. BUT THEN WITH WHAT TALENT OR ENERGY? YOU'VE LIVED ON MONA'S SPARE ENERGY AFTER SHE DOES ALL SHE DOES. I'M AFRAID RIGHT NOW YOU HAVE WHAT YOU DESERVE. YOU'VE BEEN AN APPENDAGE, NOTHING MORE. BUT STRANGELY SHE SAYS, 'HANG ON, I LOVE YOU!'"
It is impossible to say how much time passed between those words and what followed on a separate page, which, judging by the handwriting and the tone, reflect a more tranquil, resolute mindset. "Forty years of swimming upstream, twenty years of retirement. Call it euthanasia for the future hopelessness of my situation before it really gets terrible."
For Harriet and Mona, Richard's letter provided little solace. "I'm so angry at him for what he did, I have yet to shed a tear for him," Harriet says. "I will never forgive him."