Learning from tragedy

Mullen It Over


Anthony had been learning new types of knots for several months. Why had he been practicing knots? No one knew. Perhaps more accurately, no one cared.

Sitting in our middle school biology class in an over-sized high-chair, he looped his hoody’s strings between his fingers, and slipped one end of the cord over the other, again and again.

After what seemed like seconds, he’d crafted a miniature noose. Anthony grabbed a number two pencil and looped the noose around the eraser, just above the copper, and dangled it in the air. I looked at him in awe.

How on earth had he mastered that knot so quickly? Now I cared.

He taught me how to do it in about five minutes.

This wasn’t unusual behavior for a 12-year-old in biology class. Our short attention spans got the best of us and those miniature skateboards had gone out of style months ago. In Cub Scouts, tying new knots was common. Hell, we got badges for it.

Anthony was (in my humble opinion) the most popular kid in the school. Granted, we graduated 43 students my senior year, but you could ask any one of my classmates and they’d tell you, Anthony was the top dog.

Take us out for recess and he’d be the team captain, regardless of the activity.

He lived in a castle north of town (I’ll leave it nameless to assuage the pain of his parents), yes, an actual castle that had been built by a mining company when a boom was on. It was a place for the big shots, and the miners on occasion, to celebrate. Those days are nearly a century in the rear view mirror.

When Anthony turned thirteen, a lucky few of us were invited to roam the halls and the dungeon. There were maybe 15 of us in all.

We started the festivities in the parlor and after the parents went to bed, we told each other ghost stories, each of us trying to make ours a bit more gross and unbelievable.

“This is a haunted castle,” he’d say. And with his parents asleep, we’d scurry from chamber to chamber.

Anthony would lag behind and make scratching noises along the walls to intensify the mood.

“A woman was tortured in this room. You can still hear her screams if you close the door and turn off the lights,” he said.

Naturally, Anthony closed the door and now I was the one screaming on the other side.

After too many seconds of agony and pounding on the door, threatening to release my bowels on the floor, the boys let me out of the room.

But it was all in good fun and we ended the night as most 13-year-olds do, talking about the girls we wanted to kiss and perusing the naughty magazines we’d stolen from our older siblings.

Less than a month after that birthday, Anthony used that knot he’d taught me in biology class to hang himself.

People said he and a friend were playing a trick on his mother. All I know is that the next time I saw my friend, he was in a coffin.

Suicide has reached epidemic proportions in this country and it’s easy to turn a blind eye. But sweeping tragedy under the rug is a poor way of addressing any issue, let alone trying to make change for the better.

In this week’s edition of your hometown newspaper, you’ll see a few stories about suicide in Jefferson County.

We hope the dialogue can help create a knowledge base from which we can impact this increasing problem.

Lloyd Mullen is the Publisher of the Port Townsend Leader. He writes the newspaper’s editorials and occasionally writes personal columns like this under the heading of Mullen It Over.


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