A mysterious and deadly chemistry

I know of a man in Alabama, late 50s, who committed suicide recently. I didn't know him well, personally, just through the financial transaction of a house sale. By his own telling, he had been a substance abuser who turned his life around and made it his Christian mission to help other men in similar conditions.

He said his mother had died in the year before he sold his house, and that her loss had been hard on him. It seemed so. I think it influenced his decision to sell the house. But he had wildly overstated the value and he seemed sorely disappointed that he had to accept a substantially lower price than he wanted.

The place was a wreck of longstanding ignored or ineptly addressed problems, often hidden by one cheap cosmetic trick or another. The huge wooden deck out back which he thought to be the property's premier attraction was actually a thoroughly rotten liability that I had to completely rip out and cart to the dump. Decades of water damage in the bathrooms meant I had to excavate both from (and including) the floor joists up, and rebuild. Someone had installed a new power line to the water heater, but had driven a drywall nail right through the 240V cable, and get this: the nail was hot. When I ripped out all the old carpets I discovered a vast splatter of undefinable and sometimes stinking stains throughout the house that made me wonder what on earth had gone on there during the years he was using it as a halfway house or rehab for his down-and-out brethren.

I could go on, but you get the drift. The man had an external positivity and cheerfulness that made me wonder if, like the house itself, they were a veneer that obscured certain structural, even foundational problems that went unfixed because it was just easier that way. Despite his "mission," there seemed to be a lack of maturity and seriousness in the man, and a habit of avoiding responsibility for things.

For example, he left a lot of stuff at the house. All kinds of things. Things that seemed to have some financial, functional, or sentimental value. Things he promised again and again he'd come and take away after the sale. Things we finally had to just get rid of, one way or another, in order to rent the place out. Because he never did come. He stopped answering our calls. He went dark.

Just how dark, we didn't know until recently. They say he went off the wagon, that he fell hard into old addictions, spent a lot of money, and finally offed himself. I don't know how.

I know another man, not so old, who lives more than 700 miles away, to the west. He did not commit suicide. Or, he hasn't yet. He sits in a jail cell, having bashed his own father's brains in and abandoned the older man in a secluded place. His dad has since died of his wounds, and the son is now facing a capital murder charge.

He's a Navy vet on a disability retirement. In past years he had been diagnosed with some variant of schizophrenia. He had other diagnoses too, which may or may not have accurately accounted for his turbulent behaviors. In and out of institutional and outpatient care. On and off one kind of therapeutic drug or another.

He had been living in an apartment on his own when he caused some trouble that got him evicted. He was off his prescribed meds. He had been deprived of in-person therapy because that's how the pandemic paranoiacs of the establishment have rolled over the past two years. His dad was just trying to help him. Again.

What's the connection between theses two men? Just brain chemistry? Real or figurative demons? Some tragic flaw of personality? I don't pretend to know. There may not be one. It may be just a figment of my imagination. But it's there in my mind, bugging me.


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There's a family gathering out in Houston this evening to remember and celebrate the life of a man I knew well. He was my first cousin. He died of a violent attack. His son sits in jail awaiting tr