Thomas Wictor

A prayer for William Cox

A prayer for William Cox

I had a business associate name William Cox. Though we never met, we spoke on the phone. William was thirty-two. His best friend “Mark” told me a couple of days ago that William had committed suicide. He’d gone out in his car, parked in the nearby woods, run a garden hose from the exhaust pipe into the passenger compartment, and killed himself with carbon monoxide. The car eventually ran out of gas, and then William sat there for four days until he was found.

Mark is very angry, which I understand. Both my parents committed suicide, and so did my best friend. My parents refused to cooperate in their treatment for cancer, so they died. Both stopped eating, and my father retreated into madness, making it impossible for him to have the surgery and the chemotherapy. My mother had the surgery but then starved herself to death over a six-month period, while we begged her to live.

I knew that my friend Nick would someday kill himself, since he spent two years trying to get me to help him, but like William Cox he gave nobody any notice. I went out to see Nick at the place where we met every afternoon, and a makeshift memorial had been set up for him. When I came over the hill, I realized immediately that he’d done it. Though that was fourteen years ago, the sadness hasn’t diminished.

Nick had an incurable condition. My parents were in total denial about their conditions. I have an idea why William Cox killed himself, but revealing it would violate his privacy.

Suicide is very strange in that by killing yourself, you kill so many others. William’s suicide has upset me greatly even though we never met. Mark went to William’s house to see if he could find any hint of why his friend had killed himself. There was nothing out of the ordinary. No debts, no relationship problems, no drug or alcohol abuse.

People often say that suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness. I don’t agree. It’s the ultimate act of despair. Some people kill themselves because they want to punish others; a man I knew blew off his own head with a shotgun in his basement after calling his wife at work and telling her to come home. So when she arrived, that’s what she found.

I knew a kid whose much older sister killed herself. She called her parents, told them she’d just taken an overdose of pills, and then hung up. The parents called the police in their daughter’s city, but when the cops broke down the door, nobody was home. The woman had checked into a motel, where she died.

A brilliant film has the identical scenario: The Slender Thread. Sidney Poitier works at a suicide prevention hotline, and he gets a call from Anne Bancroft, who’s taken a handful of pills. Since she’s in a hotel, he has to either keep her on the phone long enough to trace the call, or he has to convince her to tell him where she is.


It’s an absolutely stunning, timeless commentary on the human condition.

When I told Tim about William, we talked about The Slender Thread.

“You did the same thing to me,” he said.

I had no idea what he was talking about. Tim said it happened the time I drove across the country in less than three days. From Massachusetts to Los Angeles in sixty-odd hours.


It was about 3000 miles (4828 kilometers). I’d gone to Boston to meet with a woman I deeply loved.


When I got there, I discovered that she was living a life of unspeakable depravity. She hated me for loving her, so she made sure I understood just how thoroughly she’d debased herself. It was the last straw. I got in my car and started driving. This was the morning I left.


I remember calling Tim at 3:00 a.m. from somewhere in Texas. It was at a deserted gas station surrounded by sand and cactus. Being there made me feel glamorously doomed, like I was in the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks (1942).


Tim said I called him the next day from New Mexico and told him that I couldn’t see or think anymore, but I was going to keep driving just to find out what would happen.

Then I hung up.

I have no memory of that call. What I do remember is that by the time I entered California, everything looked two dimensional, as though I were in a driving simulator with one screen in front and one on either side. When I got home, Tim was furious.

“Don’t you ever do anything like that again!” he snarled.

For years I wondered what he was so angry about. Well, I finally found out a couple of days ago. I still draw a complete blank on that call. Stress causes me to dissociate. Who knows what else I did?

A woman once friended me on Facebook for the express purpose of criticizing me for being upset at my parents’ death. It turns out that this woman is a right-to-die monomaniac. That’s the center of her existence. It’s the only thing she cares about. She was like a robot, telling me that by being anything but ecstatic at my parents’ deaths, I was insulting everyone who who supports the right to die.

I tried to explain that my parents didn’t make an informed choice, as evidenced by the fact that both died in terror, crying and trying to get out of bed to run from their deaths, but the woman ignored everything I said, doggedly feeding me her stupid bumper-sticker slogans.

Since she was a friend of someone else, I tried to be polite at first. Finally I said, “You know, it takes superhuman narcissism and obliviousness to tell a complete stranger how he should feel about the deaths of his own parents.”

So she got really nasty and accused me of writing about it in order to get attention.

“Attention from people like you?” I asked. “I’d rather live the rest of my life in a bathysphere at the bottom of the ocean than have contact with you.”

“I can see no purpose in continuing this relationship. Since you are a writer, I will give you the last word.”

I didn’t respond.

But I’ll let Mark Twain have the last word.

I do see that there is an argument against suicide: the grief of the worshipers left behind, the awful famine in their hearts, these are too costly terms for the release.