On November 23rd, 2018, the day after Thanksgiving, John Vincent Kaplan took his own life. He was 43 years old.
I met John in September of 1993 when I was 17 and he was 18. We had been set up by a mutual friend, upon whom he had a massive crush. Said friend basically just wanted to get him off her back. John was exactly what my silly adolescent mind considered to be perfect boyfriend material: he was beautiful (vaguely resembled Jim Morrison, his idol); he had the soul of a tortured poet; great singing voice, with a rock star swagger to match; we had the same taste in music, movies and books; we shared the same sick, inappropriate sense of humor. Needless to say, my dumb ass was smitten. We were doomed.
It took more than two years for me to realize that I had to end our relationship, and another year and a half before I mustered up the courage to actually end it. By then I was 22 and not the same person I was when I was 17. At 23, John hadn’t changed since the day I met him. I’m not going to insult his memory by listing all of his unsavory qualities. It’s not appropriate and it’s certainly not going to make me feel any better.
There were many reasons why I ultimately broke up with John. The most important was that I knew we would only keep hurting each other. I was about to transfer to NYU and resume my education after a long hiatus. To say he wasn’t supportive is a gross understatement. He was afraid it meant losing me. He was right. I was tired of being held back. I still cared for him a great deal, but when I thought of a future with him, all I could see was one filled with resentment, anguish and regret. It wouldn’t have been fair to either one of us. I’m not sure if he ever realized that I had done him a favor.
The last time I saw him was either right before or right after Halloween of 1998. It didn’t go well. Actually, it was far worse than I expected it to be. I hated him after that. I hated him for a long time until, one day, I didn’t. I simply didn’t care anymore, one way or the other.
I looked him up when Facebook became a thing. I didn’t miss him. It was entirely out of curiosity, the same way one might look up a former classmate. When I couldn’t find his profile, I assumed he was dead. Not that not having a Facebook profile is a reason to think a person is dead, it was just my gut reaction. I always knew he would die young. I continued to look him up periodically. Nothing.
In September of 2013, my husband Dave and I were getting ready to embark on a two-week vacation out West. We were super giddy on the porch this one night, drinking and smoking cigars. Somehow, the conversation turned to ex’s. I mentioned looking up John on Facebook, not being able to find him and assuming he was dead. Dave pulled up Facebook on his laptop and asked me for John’s full name. He typed it in and handed me the laptop. “Is that him?” It most definitely was. John had a beard and wore a bandana and sunglasses in just about every picture (very biker-esque). You could barely see his face, but it was most definitely him.
I had a sudden urge to make amends. I wanted him to know that I didn’t harbor any anger or resentment. I wanted to put everything to rest while we were both still around. Life’s too short and all that. Dave didn’t see anything wrong with it, but he told me to wait until I was sober. Good idea. So I’m drunk the following night and end up writing a surprisingly coherent and heartfelt message saying…well, basically everything I just said. When I didn’t hear back from him right away I just thought, “fine, be a dick.”
Fast forward to the end of January, 2016. My grandfather was literally on his deathbed. Dave and I had traveled to the mainland to say our goodbyes. Before we got on the road home, we decided to stop for lunch at Panera. I pulled out my phone to browse through Facebook, while Dave was waiting to pick up our order. Surprise, surprise. A response from John. Two responses, actually; one right after the other.
He seemed to be babbling. Kidney stones, suicide attempts, his grandparents dying, missing me. He kept repeating himself. It was irritating. There I was in Panera, saddened by the fact that I knew I would never see my grandfather again, and I’m being bombarded with long, rambling messages from a guy who, by that point, I had resumed anger towards. I ignored him.
It, of course, was not the last time I would hear from John. He tried again a week later or something. It was more of the same, but he added that he should have been a better friend and that he hadn’t been in a serious relationship since we broke up. This, of course, only made me angrier because I thought he was trying to make me feel bad (I suppose I did feel bad).
I finally answered him back when he messaged me the night before my 40th birthday. Surprisingly, we had a really nice conversation. It was mellow and not weird and it felt like closure. When he messaged me again about a week later, I ignored him. He stopped for a while after that.
Several months after that conversation, he picked up this habit of messaging me a few times over the course of a week or so, then being silent for a couple of months. (At this point, one might be wonder why I didn’t just block him. The answer is simple: I don’t block people unless I feel threatened. I mean, why? What if there’s an emergency or something?) I eventually wrote him back and told him he needed to stop. He apologized and said he would. After that, it was all random clips from movies we had watched a hundred times together, as well as songs we had enjoyed together and ones that simply reminded him of me. (One of them being “You Know You’re Right” by Nirvana: “I will never bother you, I will never promise to, I will never follow you, I will never bother you, never say a word again, I will crawl away for good…”)
I never considered it stalking and I still don’t. I knew he was depressed for a million different reasons. I knew his life hadn’t gotten any better since we were kids. I knew he had driven away all the people he used to be close to. I didn’t want to make him feel worse by blatantly telling him to fuck off, but I also didn’t want to get roped into anything.
Over the course of the next year or so, I would periodically check his Facebook page to make sure he was still alive. He had a habit of deactivating and reactivating his page. If the page was down, I would Google his name to see if there was an obituary. The last time I checked for an obituary was four or five days before he died.
Last Tuesday, November 27th, I received a message from a mutual former friend. No greeting, no introduction, just a link to what I knew was going to be an obituary. I, of course, clicked on it. All that came up was a picture of trees with “John Vincent Kaplan July 12, 1975 – November 23, 2018” written underneath. All I could think was “that was only four days ago.” I didn’t know what else to think. I still don’t know what else to think. I’m still stunned. I always knew John’s life would end in suicide, but I’m still stunned. I knew it would happen, but I still didn’t expect it. There’s something about seeing his name and those dates that just doesn’t seem real. I looked at them way too many times.
I want to know what song he was listening to when he did it. I want to know how planned out it was. Did he do it impulsively, or was it something he had already resolved to do by the time I randomly Googled his obituary? Did he purposely wait because he wanted one last Thanksgiving? Was he alone in the house? How long was he dead before his body was found? Did he change his mind at the very last fraction of a second when it was too late? Was he buried or cremated? If he was cremated, are his ashes in an urn or were they scattered, the wind picking them up until he was nowhere at all?
I’ve been crying on and off for the last few days and I can’t figure out why. I feel like I don’t have a right to. There isn’t a single part of me that still loves him. I don’t miss him at all. If he were to miraculously come back from the dead right now, I still wouldn’t want to see him. I’m not feeling the whole “if only he had reached out to me” thing. I’m glad he didn’t reach out. If he had messaged me on Thursday and told me he was going to kill himself the following day, I would have either ignored him, or told him to stop being a drama queen. How messed up is that? I feel like everything I feel is just plain wrong, like I’m reacting wrong. I wouldn’t want to see him again, but I would’ve liked to have been at his funeral. What the heck is that about? Ever notice how coffins look too small to contain the people inside them? It’s like we shrink by a third of our size when we die.
I’m trying not to make fun of him in my head. I know it sounds mean. Him insisting that Foster’s really is Australian for beer, will never not be funny. Him not being able to grasp that adding an ‘11’ to an amp doesn’t automatically make it louder, will never not be funny. Him insisting that ‘soy’ is pronounced ‘soy-a’ because that’s how the Chinese people would repeat it back to him when he ordered take-out, will never not be funny.
I suppose all of that beats remembering the horrible stuff, but I can’t stop that either. I might have more bad memories of being with him than I have good memories. They’re definitely easier to recall. They’re not going anywhere. All of the sadness is starting to find its way into my dreams. I only want to think about the happy stuff. Our good times were pretty mundane. We’d spend hours in my room just watching movies, listening to music and playing Nintendo. When it was freezing we would keep ice cream in the window box just outside my window. We collected high bouncy balls, the kind you get out of vending machines at the supermarket (25 cents for a small one, 50 cents for a large one) and go crazy with them at the elementary school playground in the middle of the night. One of my fondest memories of John is of him running half a block back to my house after I told him my drink was too tart, returning less than thirty seconds later with a fistful of sugar that he dumped into my glass.
I’m not wondering ‘why, why, why did he do it?’ I know why. Right now, more than ever, I want to believe that the movie Defending Your Life is an accurate depiction of what happens to a person when they die. No doubt John would be inhaling sushi until they sent him back.
I’ve been in love twice in my life. I’m getting ready to celebrate 20 years with the second one, and I cherish every last moment that the universe allows me to spend with him. My first love just ended his life. What’s next?
Photo–John and Rachel 1994
ABOUT THE AUTHOR------------
Rachel is from Jericho, NY and a graduate from New York University's dramatic writing program, as well as a graduate of the Swedish Institute's massage program. She and her husband live in Key West, Florida, where Rachel is licensed massage therapist. Her blog, "Snippets", can be found at: https://rachelbeam.blogspot.com.