Why would anyone that landed in this little burg – arguably one of the most beautiful spots on the planet – suddenly decide to kill themselves?
I don’t pretend to be the arbiter of all things Bolinas, but I do know a little bit about suicide having lost more than one friend to the grim reaper this way in the past five years. The losses were Peter Allen, a role model for many of us teenagers thirty years ago; my pal Joe Dentoni, who killed himself accidentally with a mix of booze and pills, and Mark Farnsworth, a year older than me in school. The latter two were “accidental suicides.” The common denominator with all of these men, however, was alcohol and drug abuse throughout their lives. Sadly, the same is true with Bicycle Tim and Buddy Craig, who wrestled with their demons. As one e-mailer wrote to me, “Such suffering, just children trying to be men, lonely while surrounded by people.”
Pearl Helyar was another suicide that won’t soon be forgotten, hanging himself from a beam in a house on the Big Mesa. Neither will Jim Oughton, who shot himself, or Noah Corkland, dying of a self-inflicted drug overdose. Last year, another young person from the community, Owein Sanders, took his own life.
There is also the mystery of the relatively young people who just suddenly “die,” and that is the last that is ever spoken about it. Steve “Stu” McCarthy and Eric Platsky are two fine people that should really still be on the planet. Neither were deemed suicides but the circumstances surrounding their deaths were hushed up rather quickly in the circles where these men traveled. It’s sad, but I tell people in my life that the average life expectancy for a certain population in beautiful Bolinas is mid-forties to mid-fifties.
We need to talk about what is going on.
I recall from a College of Marin psychology class that the majority of suicides happen by accident and are really people crying out for help. The person literally thinks that they will be rescued before they are actually dead. In other cases, as with my friend Joe, the mix of pills and booze did him in, the result of his fondness for beer and whiskey and alleviating the pain in his increasingly bad back. After a few stints in rehab, Joe was living at his mother’s home in Petaluma. Mrs. Dentoni told me that she had taken to hiding his alcohol from him – something that is common with people dealing with another person’s alcoholism or drug abuse.
I cannot speak on the circumstances surrounding Bicycle Tim or Buddy Craig. And this is not a finger-wagging lecture on the perils of alcohol and drug abuse. I do know that Buddy was sober and trying to stay that way the last time that I saw him. And my last conversation with Tim was maybe a decade ago, early one morning as he swept up the streets of Wharf Road. He was bitter, he said, because the community center had discharged him from his clean-up duties there. But he didn’t care. He said that he prided himself on keeping Bolinas clean. And that his presence had even stopped some burglaries from taking place.
The sad things that happens when local characters exit in this fashion is that there are many who look at it as an excuse to tie one on. I know from experience that there are photos of the departed taped to the mirror at Smiley’s Saloon, and that there are some who have been on a ‘bender’ this week, all in memory of the departed. Better, in my opinion, would be to quietly reflect on the contributions of these individuals, and to think about their good qualities, and not the tortured people who couldn’t see how much people loved them, in spite of the fact that it was right in front of them the entire time.
There are options for those that feel like doing themselves in. It may not feel possible to talk with a family member or even a friend, but the Family Service Agency of Marin does have a 24-hour telephone hotline for people experiencing anxiety, depression, or feeling suicidal. The hotline number is 415-499-1100. We need to stop the cycle of suicide in Bolinas, as well as other West Marin communities. We need to identify solutions and resources for people that are coping with difficult internal issues. We need to understand that positive mental health is a fragile state and one that needs to be protected at all costs. Next time, it could be you, or me.
To get a handle on what is happening, we need to do something that can be uncomfortable to a lot of people.
We need to talk about what is going on.