I want to be clear from the outset that Mike Tyson is not responsible for my suicide. He’s got enough demons of his own without me adding to his burden. It’s true that for a while there I got pretty obsessed by him and spent my evenings split between masturbating and watching clips of him on YouTube. These two activities were not related. I can categorically deny that I have ever masturbated over a video of Mike Tyson. Although I do have a hunch he might be gay. It’s not his high-pitched voice or his effeminate lisp, it’s the number of times he has used homosexual references when he’s gotten angry. “I’ll fuck you ’til you love me, faggot” is a particularly memorable example.
When people talk about near-death experiences they often say things like, “My whole life flashed before my eyes.” A phrase that’s been repeated so much, it’s become a cliché. It’s strange to think that once upon a time someone somewhere was the first person ever to say it. “Once upon a time,” that’s another expression used so often that we don’t give it the time of day. I’m not sure what “give it the time of day” even means. “Give him the time of day,” makes sense. It’s a harsh insult, not in the league of “I’ll fuck you ’til you love me,” but still. I wonder if it’s possible to fuck someone until they love you. It seems unlikely if you didn’t connect in other ways, emotionally say, or intellectually.
When I was a teenager I used to play a game with my friends. I don’t remember exactly how we did it. I know we hyperventilated and there was something about pushing on each others’ chests. The details are not important. The result was that we fainted. That’s when I discovered relativity. During the few seconds I passed out I had the most vivid hallucinatory dreams. It was as if I had accessed a parallel universe every bit as real as the actual one. The weirdest thing was that events in the dream world would last hours or even days when in the real world I had only been unconscious for a second or two. I would wake up with jet lag. I wonder if Einstein played the fainting game. I know a good story about Einstein. Strictly speaking it’s not actually a story about Einstein; he’s a bit part player in a story about someone else.
Once upon a time there was a brilliant mathematician called Gödel. He and Wittgenstein had a big disagreement but that doesn’t feature in the story. Gödel published something called his Incompleteness Theorem. It blew people’s minds in a way that makes theoretical mathematics seem kind of sexy. He proved that no logical system could be both complete and consistent. It’s some pretty abstract shit but it changed people’s understanding of what mathematics even is. He used the Liar Paradox as his starting point. The Liar Paradox is a puzzle that’s been around for thousands of years. It revolves around the sentence “this is a lie.” One of the basic rules of logic is that statements must be capable of being either true or false. But the statement “this is a lie” defies the rule. If it’s true then it’s false and if it’s false then it’s true. It leads to an infinite regress of true then false then true then false and so on. This means that it’s either both true and false or neither true nor false depending on how you choose to look at it. Either way it’s a major pain in the ass for theories of logic. All this is beside the point. I’m merely attempting to show you that Gödel was an incredibly smart human being. So smart in fact that for Einstein’s seventieth birthday Gödel presented him with some inconsistencies in the Theory of Relativity. As birthday presents for an old man go I think it must have sucked.
As well as being a genius Gödel was more than a touch crazy. He was paranoid and believed someone was trying to poison his food. Maybe they were but I doubt it. He would only eat food cooked by his wife. When she got ill and was taken into hospital Gödel starved to death.
I find it reassuring that one of the smartest minds of the twentieth century was also a moron. This might make me a small person, to have my self worth reinforced by someone else’s imperfections. I certainly don’t think it’s entirely healthy but it’s a little late to worry about that kind of thing now. I wonder if Gödel’s life flashed before his eyes in the seconds before his death.
I’ve never tried the drug DMT. It’s one of many regrets. It’s supposed to be amazing. They say its active component is a chemical that naturally occurs at only two moments in a person’s life, the moment you are born and the moment you die. What I can confirm is that in the few seconds before death time distorts and distends in the same way that it did when I used to make myself faint. That’s probably what people mean when they say “my entire life flashed before my eyes.” It’s a pleasant feeling. Seconds become hours and there is plenty of time to reflect.
The trouble started this morning. Perhaps that’s not entirely true. I doubt there is an exact moment that I could pinpoint when my life started on the path that would lead to this moment. Maybe it was when my mother stole money from my father’s parents and when she got caught pretending she had cancer and told us she was dying. On the other hand maybe it was the Big Bang. Did you know we human beings are composed of 9% of the material generated by the Big Bang and 91% material from exploding stars? Probably it was an accumulation of events over many years, no one of which is entirely responsible. If I were to oversimplify, and I think I should seeing how even death’s magical time cannot be infinite, I would say that the immediate catalyst for my suicide was the pigeon.
I’ve been trying to eat breakfast regularly. It’s one of the small but strangely powerful steps I’ve been taking to fight against the depression I’ve struggled with my entire adult life. Opening the post and drinking lots of water are two others. These seemingly inconsequential actions are surprisingly helpful in making me feel more in control of my life. This morning I ate breakfast (vanilla yogurt with sliced strawberries), then walked to work. It takes about fifteen minutes. Exercise is also a weapon against depression. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking about, but I do know that it wasn’t anything particularly negative; probably I was thinking about work or what I might have for dinner or reminding myself to buy toilet paper on the way home. I called into the café on the corner for a coffee. I usually drink it outside the office while I smoke a cigarette. My preferred brand is Marlboro Lights. I had just lit up when I saw the pigeon.
It was facing the wall of the café, its beak no more than an inch or two away from the bricks. It struck me as being depressed. I considered getting it some breakfast but I wasn’t sure that would work for a bird. It was just sort of standing there, looking morose. The thought occurred to me slowly: I was looking at a dying animal. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. As I passed by, the pigeon saw me and tried to shuffle out of my way. Its balance was off, and when it tried to fly it toppled over. Two words popped into my head: Mike Tyson.
As a boy Mike Tyson kept pigeons. He took enormous pleasure in caring for them. I don’t think he would object if I suggested that he loved them. He was gentle and tender toward them and in return found them to be loyal and generous companions. There is something endearing about a child whose best friend is an animal. Think Lassie or Gentle Ben or Black Beauty.
Mike Tyson lived in Brooklyn, New York. He didn’t have a dog or a bear or a horse. He had pigeons. The story goes that when Mike was twelve, two older boys, neighborhood bullies, got hold of one of his pigeons and started taunting him. Mike begged and pleaded with them to release his bird. There may or may not have been tears. I like to think that there were. His pleas had no effect. One of the bullies grasped the pigeon by the neck, and with a vicious yank, ripped the bird’s head clean from its body. Laughing, he threw the bloody carcass at the distraught twelve-year-old. For the first time in his young life, Mike was overcome by rage. Grief fueled anger and anger became violence. Through his tears he attacked the bullies and knocked them both out cold. It was the first time Mike Tyson ever punched anybody.
I first heard this story in the documentary Tyson, which I highly recommend. I must have watched it more than thirty times, and certain scenes over a hundred. Before I jumped off the roof of a fourteen-story building I hadn’t fully comprehended the reason for my obsession with Tyson. I’m not even a boxing fan. I don’t like violence, it frightens me. When I was in school and there was a fight, which was an almost daily occurrence, crowds of spectators would gather round to watch, chanting and shouting encouragement to one or other of the participants. The whole school would appear, a mass of crazed adolescents united by a thirst for violence and the possibility of blood. Group psychology both fascinates and terrifies me.
I traveled to Brighton once to watch the starlings fly over the pier. They gather just before dusk and form a huge black cloud, tens of thousands thick, each bird only inches from the next, and perform one of nature’s most magnificent spectacles. It’s called a murmuration. Why they assemble in such huge numbers and how they manage to fly as one writhing mass without ever bumping into one another is something of a mystery. Watching them it’s as if there are not tens of thousands of birds flapping furiously, but one huge organism possessed of a liquid grace that inspires a sense of awe and wonder in anyone who sees it. They are of one consciousness. Mobs of people feel a bit like this to me. Normally separate and autonomous individual minds can, given the right circumstances, melt together and reform as one mind comprised of many brains. I’m not sure if that mind has a life and will of its own, or if the stronger individuals in the group exercise some control. It doesn’t really matter. The point is, people in groups will do things that they normally wouldn’t and one of these things is scream with excitement, wild-eyed and thirsty for blood, as one child beats the shit out of another in the school playground. I doubt either of the bullies that killed Mike Tyson’s pigeon would have done so were they alone. Strictly speaking, two doesn’t constitute a group but at almost half way through my fall I’ll have to settle for the odd inconsistency.
I finished my coffee and went into work. For a while I forgot about the pigeon. It’s not that I didn’t care. I was just busy. After an hour or so I went outside for another cigarette. It was back staring at the wall. Again it moved out of the way with the shuffling and toppling and this time I caught sight of the bloody underside of its broken wing. I kind of wished the pigeon would fuck off and die somewhere else. It was making me feel weird and distressed and somehow ashamed that it was dying and I couldn’t fix it or even keep it company in any meaningful way. It had this melancholic look about it, like it knew it was dying and that the world was a cruel and unfair place.
Back at my desk I couldn’t concentrate. I wanted to talk about the pigeon but I didn’t trust myself not to cry. After a while I wanted to walk across the road and get another coffee. But I didn’t. I was worried the pigeon would be there on the step staring at the wall and slowly dying. I was scared I would see the bloody wing again. I knew that whether I went out or not wouldn’t change whether the bird was dying. But it wasn’t really the bird I was worried about. It was my own distress. I felt nauseous. Someone said that I didn’t look well. I was sort of angry at the pigeon. Why did it choose my office to die outside? Why didn’t it hobble off and die somewhere where I didn’t have to see it?
The more distressed I got the more I wanted to smoke but also the more I didn’t want to go outside and see the dying. The whole thing was driving me crazy. I started to think about killing the pigeon, breaking its neck or something. Someone should have but I knew I wouldn’t be able to. I looked around the office wondering who might be able to put it out of its misery. I figured someone from sales maybe or Jan from accounts. She’s kind of motherly but in a tough love way. She could probably have done it. I wondered why I couldn’t. I mean, it was dying anyway and it was obviously in terrible pain. It would have been kindest to break its neck, or crush its skull with a stone. That’s what Mike Tyson would have done. But I couldn’t. I was too weak. I hated the bird for making me feel weak.
I stared at the computer and thought about what a crappy weak person I’ve been my whole life. Sometimes, as a kid, I would fantasize about standing up to a bully, surprising everyone by beating the crap out of him. It’d make me a hero at school and everyone would like and respect me. But in real life I am a coward and always have been, even as a kid. When someone bullied me I would cry and run away. Once I wet myself in assembly because I was too afraid to raise my hand and ask for the toilet. I must have been five or six. I was sitting cross legged on the wooden floor surrounded by my classmates and I was desperate for a wee. I couldn’t ask though. I was too scared. I tried to hold it in. My little dick ached with the effort. I joggled around but in the end I couldn’t stop it. At first it was a relief when I felt the warm piss wet my shorts. It was almost comforting. Then the kids around me started to move away. They had these disgusted looks on their faces. Fucking pigeon.
Today isn’t the first time I have contemplated suicide but it is the first time I’ve committed to the act. Overdoses and slit wrists never appealed to me. Even hanging seems to require a level of preparation I cannot imagine myself capable of. The only other method that I’ve ever considered is drowning. I figure that once you overcame the body’s natural instinct to fight then it’s probably not an entirely unpleasant death. The preceding accumulation of emotional distress occurs over many years, a lifetime perhaps, dripping in one hurt and disappointment at a time, barely noticeable at first, until eventually every second is excruciatingly painful and you can’t even imagine the possibility of happiness. Whatever sinew of hope that has allowed survival thus far finally snaps after decades of increasing tension. The act of jumping only takes a split second. If it hadn’t been the pigeon it would probably have been something else.
By mid-afternoon, the familiar physical sensation that precedes a serious depression had begun its invasion. It’s a strange feeling — as if some toxin is running through my veins and every atom of my body is poisoned. I imagine it as an organic feathery mass that’s rotting inside my stomach, like a shit so vile that it’s almost alive. Eventually the poison reaches my brain and begins to corrode the meager defenses I have vainly gathered to try and combat it. My thoughts blacken and turn against me. I am a fraud, worthless, a failure, a traitor to myself, inconsolably lonely, entirely unlovable — an ugly sick creature in a disgusting hopeless world.
Of the 53 medals awarded to animals for extraordinary service during the Second World War, 32 were given to pigeons. Mike Tyson was 14 when he became the youngest ever winner of the Olympic youth boxing competition. He knocked out every opponent in the first round, one of them in eight seconds which is the fastest knockout in Olympic history. Manatees have no natural predators and live up to 60 years. Their gestation period is 13 months.
My life flashing before my eyes consists of more useless facts than I had expected. It’s not exactly that I have forgotten the time Mum phoned up drunk to tell me Dad had been raping her, or when I was five and she wrote “I hate you all” in messy red letters on the kitchen wall, or the day she chased me around the house naked and tried to strangle me. These are just not the things that come immediately to mind.
Depression’s greatest weapon is convincing the depressed person that it’s the truth. This afternoon the fragile mental façade I had constructed began to fall apart. With every brick removed I became increasingly aware of how meaningless and out of control my life was and that any time I have ever felt differently, or believed in anything, it was a pathetic attempt to seek refuge from a capital T truth too devastating to bear. I began to panic. The best way I can think to describe it is being locked in solitary confinement. I am naked and the harsh florescent lights are on day and night and the floor is cold and I have no mattress. The cell is a concrete box, entirely bare aside from four speakers, one mounted in each of the four corners of the room. Through the speakers is broadcast a constant high-pitched noise, which gradually gets louder and higher. Every time I think it cannot possibly get any louder or higher it does until I cannot think or even move and the only thing in the entire world is the piercing violent sound and I would rather die than endure another second hearing it. There was a time, as a teenager, when I could stop the noise by taking a small sharp knife and running it across the flesh of my forearm. I would feel immediate relief as I watched the skin open and the panic trickle out, red and dark and beautiful.
The idea came to me in an instant. I would go outside and confront my fear. If the pigeon had gone I would smoke a cigarette, get some lunch, go back to work, and then get on with my life. I would eat more regularly, take more exercise, drink more water, maybe even see a therapist or try antidepressants. I would make changes. If the pigeon was there, staring at the wall and dying, I would smoke the cigarette, and then jump off the roof.
I didn’t pause at the ledge to think about it like they do in films. I didn’t like the idea of crowds of people gathering in the street below, half of them secretly willing me to jump, hoping for a good story to tell, or to gain a little sympathy for what they had witnessed. No, I took the lift to the top floor, climbed the fire escape stairs, opened the door, and then I ran and I jumped.
Time slowed and for a moment I was not falling but flying. I felt light and I felt good and I felt whole. As I flew a face appeared to me. Hello, Mike. What are you doing here? Can you fly too? Doesn’t everyone look funny from up here, like ants or those tiny red spiders you can’t even see at first and then when you spot one you suddenly realize the ground is covered in them? You know what I mean don’t you, Mike? How all those things that seem important end up being meaningless? You were heavyweight champion of the world.
I floated for a while, no longer flying but not yet falling, and Mike Tyson began to speak. I recognized his words. I’d heard them many times before. He told me how he was a small fat kid who wore thick glasses and had a high-pitched voice. How he never knew who his father was. How he used to get robbed and bullied at school and how one day some kids stole his glasses and snapped them and threw them in the back of a milk cart and how, “I couldn’t believe a human being would do that. I never believed an absolute stranger could do that to me. I didn’t know why. Wow. I just ran.”
Mike described meeting Cus D’Amato, the old man who trained him as a teenager. “He talked to me for hours every night, saying kind things, building my confidence. I couldn’t understand what this old white man wanted. I thought he must be a faggot. I didn’t understand why he was being nice to me, no one had ever been kind to me like that before. He took me into his house, I was a complete stranger. I could have robbed him. I thought about it. I thought about robbing him and going back to Brooklyn.”
Mike Tyson started to cry. He couldn’t get the words out. Big fat tears streamed down his bloated, tattooed face. “After a few months of Cus talking like that to me I started to trust this old white man. He became like a father to me. I was a scared kid from a bad neighborhood. In the gym, Cus told me I could be a great fighter, a magnificent fighter. He said I could be champion of the world. At first I thought wow, this old man’s crazy, but after a while of him saying it over and over each day I started to believe him. After months of Cus training me, and talking to me every night, I knew… I knew I didn’t have to be scared no more. I knew that no one… no one would ever fuck with me physically again because… because I would fucking kill them.”
Mike stopped speaking. His gaze turned inward to some painful private place that no other human being could ever reach. It hurt my heart to look at him. I wanted to wipe a tear from his cheek. In his face I could see every incarnation of Mike Tyson that had ever existed. I saw the sweet fat kid who loved pigeons and couldn’t understand why the world was unkind, I saw the teenage boy so unloved that he was confused by a strangers’ kindness, I saw the world champion boxer, I saw the hurt child inside the angry man who bit ears and raped women and told journalists he would fuck them until they loved him. I realized that all these different versions of Mike Tyson still existed in the weary middle-aged man who was crying in front of me. I knew then what perhaps Cus D’Amato had always known, that Mike Tyson needed that same thing he had needed as a child and never got. He needed someone to love him. All that rage and violence was hiding a vulnerability too painful for Mike to acknowledge. Being angry and violent was his way of trying to protect himself. It was the only way he knew how. Inside he was the same lonely scared little boy he had always been.
Mike Tyson and Mum and I are not so different from one another. None of us are. We are all hurting and we are all scared. We don’t admit it. It’s too hard. Instead we hurt each other, or ourselves. If I could do it over I would try to see past all the violence to the heartache underneath.
It’s almost over now.
I can see the pigeon on the ground below. Good-bye, pigeon.
Good-bye, Mike Tyson.
I love you.
Front page image by bixentro.