For many years, I was very angry with my step-dad. He, like Wallace, suffered from depression and a litany of other mental issues. One day, when I was a month away from graduating high school, he sat against a tree and shot himself. I was 18 and for a very long time, in that self-absorbed, self-centered adolescent mindset, I blamed my step-dad for leaving us, for breaking my mother’s heart. I didn’t understand why anyone would ever choose suicide. I didn’t understand how anyone so blessed, so loved, would take themselves out of the equation and leave in his wake empty shells of those he purported to love.
So, I suppose for a long time, I was angry with Wallace as well.
I often wondered why someone with such a gift, such an immense, near genius talent would find life too compressing, so without hope, that death seemed like the only rational resolution.
Years and experience has taught me that understanding the action isn’t really the point. It isn’t simply a selfish act. It isn’t that life, even a charmed life, isn’t good enough, tolerable enough. Wallace, like many creatively gifted, truly intelligent individuals I’ve known in my life, was tortured.
It’s been said that the amazingly talented, the criminally brilliant are yes, given these amazing gifts, but are also burdened with self-doubt, or missing social skills that will enable them to function in society. Perhaps that is true. We may never know, but what is left behind, for Wallace, for others that cannot stomach the pain of their own minds, the challenge of their lives, is a legacy; a brilliant, bright, thriving legacy that doesn’t vanish with fading memories, that doesn’t disappear when their names are erased from time.
There is no way to gauge what Wallace could have accomplished. His was a talent so without equal that any future works would have certainly been relegated to study, to history, and listed among the paradigms of how real literature is written. What could Wallace have accomplished? I think a more appropriate question would be: What wouldn’t he accomplish?