After all I've written about Leif's unhappiness in his adult life, which hasn't really delved into some of the worst of it, the hard and cutting details, what remains is his bravery and resilience. He must have wondered why his life was so unlucky, which just once something didn't go right for him.
Yet he did experience love, even if he didn't get to keep it. He did have jobs, earn money and respect, though not up to his expectations, desires or capabilities. He did have things he loved; his cycles, his cars, his computers. He loved science fiction, computer games, movies. But at some point, those are not enough.
He drank too much to drown his pain, to help him sleep, to calm the demons.
But he was brave and resilient. How many of you could have endured what he endured, for a long as he did, keeping that cover of male bravado, that he was fine, he could take it? Could any of us keep getting up and going to work each day? He did.
How many times could we climb out of depression and try again?
How many of us could take it?
It was his resilience and bravado that gave me hope he would get through and find his place in life. It was the fact that he was in love again that gave me joy that maybe his life was turning around. It was his animated conversation the last two times we saw him that made me believe he was heading for better times. And perhaps he thought so, too. But what changed in a day?
I found a letter Leif wrote (email) that reveals some of what he went through alone at Fort Drum, and if you read my posts the last few days, you can see how this ties in to his bravado, his belief that he was beyond being hurt, beyond the demons . . . but how much could he take?
"You also say I have no idea what you are feeling. That I don't know what it feels like to be lost or hurt. BULLSHIT!!!! I know exactly how it feels and I know how much it sucks. I was stuck in frigid New York. My Wife had just left me alone. My best friend just got out of the army and went home. I was completely alone. I had a #*%&^($ boss. Take X and Y on their worst days; then make that everyday. Then give them to power to order you to do push-ups or any other sadistic cruel excercise till you puke and then keep going, and make it a federal crime for you to disobey them. Yeah, I have no idea what pain is. Imagine having a daily Asthma attack every morning while being forced to run 4 miles on shin splints so bad that you have tears streaming down your face. Then spend the rest of the day geting yelled at and told you are a piece of shit no matter how well you do the rest of your job because you couldn't keep up on the run this morning and the asthma is all in your head and you are just a lazy shitbag that doesn't want to run. Have medals you earned taken away from you because your (*^$) squad leader doesn't think you deserve them because despite being better at your job than anyone in the division you can't run very fast. You are just lazy and the Asthma is all in your head, after all. Then you finally get a doctor to say you are f--- up and you still are a piece of shit because you are on a medical profile and now you are not out running with the rest of them, so you are still a piece of shit. So you come home every night and get drunk to kill the pain and get up the next day and do it again. You use your night and weekend minutes to call back to Kansas to cry on the shoulder of an ex girlfreind who is the only kind voice you can reach because you are all alone in a foreign state and everyone here hates you and thinks you are worthless. You make detailed plans about how exactly you are going to kill yourself to the point of making sure that if you botch the job and the shotgun does not kill you instantly that you are far away from help and you will surely bleed to death before being found. You pick out a spot and map it with your GPS planning to leave the coordinates of where your body can be found miles in the wilderness where no one could stop you or save you in your suicide note. And finally the ONLY reason you don't go though with it is because you know how much it would hurt your mother for her son to die and no matter how much pain you feel you can't do that to her. And so you push on day after day just looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. There was a point where I decided it was over. I was not going to hurt anymore. I was not going to let anyone hurt me. I stopped running from my problems and faced them. After all, what have I got to lose? I was ready to die. What can they do to hurt me when I don't care about living? I let the hate roll off of me like it wasn't there. I stopped running from bills and responsibilities and I charged at them. I was going to win or they were going to destroy me. But the fear was gone and most of the pain. I still struggled, but damn, I just survived being suicidal. I decided never to be that way again. And yes, it really is that simple. You just decide one day that you are tired of feeling that way, and when you do and you let go of whatever was hurting you, then you start over. I let go of Nikko, I let go of my own doubts. I just decided to do the best I can and let the chips fall, but I decided to do my BEST! Not to run and hide. You see, it's very empowering to survive suicide. You truly become fearless. I mean, what's left to fear when you have been at a point that you no longer feared death and wanted to die?"
He wrote this in March 2007, six years after the came back from Fort Drum and one year before he died. It wasn't as simple to just put it all behind him as he says, and I don't think he ever really let go of Nikko, either. He was a very depressed man when he came back from the army, for a long time, and he was depressed again after J. left him, and again when his relationship with Donna ended, but he survived. Think of the bravery and determination it took to go on, to keep trudging forward when the light at the end of the tunnel keeps going out.
But why, a year after he wrote this, did the darkness overwhelm him? Or did it? What really happened in the wee hours of the morning of April 9, 2008?
The photo above was taken at our home on Leif's last birthday, January 2008, while he was talking on his beloved iPhone and playing with a laptop.