“Can’t you hear the music playing, the anthem it’s my call
And the last I seen of George was him running through the door
Hey bro, what’s the word
Talking ‘bout my friend, my friend George”
-Lou Reed, My Friend George
I should have written this letter a long time ago. You were my brother and my friend. However, our family rarely sent letters. We followed our dear Mother’s example and we sent cards. Recently, I found a card you sent to me in my archives. It has a picture of the actor James Dean with a note on the back that has faded slightly with time. It appears to say “Good luck in your new place, rambling man.” I moved around a lot. We were both restless souls, as brothers, as friends.
Perhaps this is just a preamble to my larger question: What is the proper way to initiate a conversation with a ghost?
Internationally, since 1975, September has been designated Suicide Awareness Month. September 10th is Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day. How ironic that after years of flirting with the Grim Reaper, dear brother, you completed the act of suicide on September 14, 1996. I am still broken-hearted, but resilient. With time, I have realized the roots of your darkness.
I have previously written at great length, in two previous Politichicks articles, about our Father George.
You were exactly like our Father, which is why you two did not get along. You both were obsessively neat and innately quiet, if not outright shy. You were slightly different because you always had to have the last word in an argument and then sparks would fly with Dad. That started early in the game. You couldn’t have been more than 13. Even to my five year old eyes, I thought Dad was unnecessarily rough with you in your disputes. However, Dad was of a generation that demanded respect. After all, he was fighting the Japanese at the age of 17 in the Pacific Theater of World War II. He deserved our respect for that alone.
But the orders received by our Father in the Navy turned into the orders he barked to you and Jeff at home. Jeff would get quiet, you would rebel and I got the slack.
It was not all darkness, there were family cookouts, occasional vacations and Father raised beagle puppies to play with. There were kind and idyllic moments in our family despite these struggles. I must also mention that our dad had an innate charm and was loved by many. He was fully capable of cooking scrumptious, from scratch meals, was able to whistle Hank Williams songs with stunning accuracy and grew countless rose bushes from anonymous sprigs.
Looking back, as a toddler, I was incredibly close to you and brother Jeff. Hell, you guys changed my diapers. Jeff was almost ten and you were eight when I was born.
I was told that you both walked me around the neighborhoods in Hutchinson, KS and later in Norfolk, VA in a stroller, acting like the proud and loving brothers that you always were.
On December 27, 1965, we lost our Father. I was 8, you were 16 and Jeff was 18. He was the victim of a man intent on committing suicide. This man ran his car, at top speed, into the car our dad was driving. They were both killed instantly. Dad was on his was to work. By this time, Dad had already done his 20 in the Navy and he had become a Game Warden. Our Father was 39 when he was murdered. Tragic, because I think Dad found his soul in the Game Warden job. He was mellowing.
The specter of suicide haunted the Ingmire family early with his death. I think with more time, Dad would have developed into a broader human being. Not many fully realized human beings walk this earth at 39.
But there was never to be a day of reckoning for you and our Father. The abruptness of his death lead to an almost guilty joy for you. Your nemesis was now gone. I do not think you ever truly grieved for our Father. A lack of mourning leaves an emptiness, impossible to fill.
I shut down without Dad. I do not even remember the first six months after his death. My grief was all encompassing. There were not many single parent households in our 1966 neighborhood. This was the start of our friendship, my brother. It was framed by a shared love of music and literature. But the darkness was there. You started to use alcohol in your teens to temporarily quell the demons. The drinking became a constant companion.
When you were about 17, you met your wife Patricia. Within a couple of years, she was pregnant with your son, also named George, you married her and enlisted in the Army. You were initially stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska and became, as you said many times, a “Radar O’Reilly,” the Company Clerk. You said that one of your duties was cataloging the effects of soldiers killed in Vietnam. Unfortunately one of those brave soldiers was a high school friend. I could tell dear brother, even years later, that moment of recognition continued to haunt you.
There was a profound emptiness in your spirit brother, a darkness that was always close to the service. A darkness that I now fully understand. A gracious wife and brilliant child were not enough. Chillingly, when I heard you discipline my nephew George, you would slip into a broad Arkansas accent, like our Father’s. Maybe the darkness started with the unresolved relationship you two had and the violence that preceded it. Depression can be equal parts anger and sadness.
Life in itself was never enough for you. The road to your end was framed by marriage problems and family problems. You became a functional alcoholic. You were meticulous at whatever job you worked and you burned the midnight candle at both ends.
By the time I was in high school, you had been hospitalized several times for depression. There were a litany of suicide attempts, not “gestures,” over the years. You were rehearsing for death. There were an inordinate amount of shock treatments given to you by so-called “medical professionals.” Obviously, that harmed more than it helped. You drank even more. When you were given antidepressants, you used them inconsistently. Even when your life, to the casual observer, seemed to level out, it was never enough. It was not enough that you had a good life and a great family.
It was not enough that you were a talented photographer and loved by many. You continued to love music passionately and were the primary influence in my taking up the guitar and singing. You gave me many records and I in turn gave many records to your son, George. The music was not enough.
When you lost your job in 1992, after 18 years with the City of Norfolk, that was the beginning of your rapid spiral. Patricia, exercised a great deal of patience with you but your drinking escalated. Eventually, to save her own sanity and life, Patricia had no choice but to divorce you.
You became closer to our Brother Jeff in your last years. It was not enough. You had the undying love of our Mother but that, too, was not enough. I used to tell you that life is an adventure, even when it is a bad one–but that was not enough.
Life had become a lonely hell for you. No matter your family’s efforts, it was not enough to help you embrace life and be thankful for your many blessings. On the evening of September 13, 1996, you sat in our Mother’s apartment and sang “Amazing Grace” to her. You were seeking Heaven and could not wait to get there.
The next day you checked into a hotel, less than two blocks away from the area where our Father was murdered and shot yourself. No more rehearsals, final performance.
Recently, the FCC changed the National Suicide Prevention 800 number to the three digit number 988. Suicide is finally being discussed in a frank and open manner.
People must always pay attention when a loved one expresses a wish to commit suicide. For those considering suicide, remember the human wreckage you leave behind. We are on this earth to help others and our light helps light the way. You are not only taking your own life, but you take with you a piece of everyone that loves you. The world becomes a little darker.
My dear brother, not a day goes by that you do not enter my thoughts.
(This article was originally published in 2019.)