Losing Zavin

Suicide hits people in ways that are unpredictable

Image copyright the author. Not the bridge in question, but just down the harbour from it

Zavin was different. He was a giant of a man with flaming red hair. Nothing about him was conventional. He was sweet and kind but always kind of lost. We weren’t that close, but we were friends. This is how I missed talking him out of killing himself.


The first time I met Zavin, he was panhandling. Well, not exactly. Zavin would offer to “Sell you a joke for a nickel” and then tell some incredibly lame knock-knock joke. The jokes were always terrible, but he always delivered. If you gave him that nickel you would get a joke.

He was a nice guy, friendly and smiley, but he was a big man, and he could be terrifying if he wanted, especially because he was a punk. His outfit was rags and patches mixed with spikes and chains. I think he would have been happier as a hippie, but there he was, a crust-punk in a small city.

We got along. I was new to Halifax, well, recently returned. Toronto had been my last stop, and I was pretty rough. In Toronto, I had done a little bit of loan sharking. I was well under eighteen at the time. I wanted to get back into it because I wanted money. Zavin borrowed a few bucks from me, and I offered to forgive it if he helped me collect from other people. That never ended up happening, and I never resumed my career as a loan shark, but I did make friends with Zavin. He was a great guy.

Moving On

I had a kid. Started to get my life together. Then I fell apart. My wife left me, and I ended up living with her father for a while. The place was one step from condemned. I was trying to pick myself up, put myself back together, and it was going poorly. I had an education by this point, a few jobs under my belt, but I was still a mess. The end of my marriage hit me hard.

I was sleeping in this room. It’s hard to describe. One thing I remember was the rats. They chewed my pillow while I slept a few times. The first time that happened, I thought about suicide. There was a bridge a few feet from my house, just outside my window. I thought hard about that bridge. Knowing that my son would have to deal with it if I went through with it, that he would deal with that scar for the rest of his life, was the only thing that stopped me.

The Lights

One of the things that made me think about the bridge was that every time there was a jumper on the bridge I could hear the commotion, I could see the red and blue lights reflected on my wall, filtered through curtains that were merely sheets pinned up.

I remember that night clearly. I saw the lights again. I was tired — the exhaustion of depression and insomnia. I remember the thought. “Just jump for fucks sakes. Let me get some sleep.”

I found out the next day that he did. The jumper that night, he jumped. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t.

It was another couple of days before I found out it was Zavin.

We hadn’t talked in years. I didn’t have much contact with people from back then, but I ran into someone from our old circle, and we did the usual thing, talked about who was doing what — although with people like us it always included a bit of who had died, who had been committed to long term care due to drugs, who was in prison.

The Guilt

It still eats at me from time to time. I was right there, a few feet away. I don’t know if it would have changed anything, but maybe a friend showing up, even someone who wasn’t that close, who hadn’t been around in a few years, perhaps that would have been enough. Maybe he wouldn’t have jumped. I did find out that his circle had moved on, leaving him alone. Who knows, perhaps if I’d gone outside instead of pulling my rat chewed pillow over my head he would have lived, could have turned it around.

Living With It and Moving On

It doesn’t matter what could have been. What is, is. Zavin died, I didn’t save him. I moved on with my life, pulled myself out of that hole, although it wasn’t the last hole I ended up in. Got myself together and moved on. I still think about that night, and I still think about Zavin trying to sell jokes. I can picture him plain as day, even now, almost thirty years later.

I don’t let it haunt me too often, but I do try to remember that lesson. I do try to keep in mind that I’m not disconnected from the world outside my window, that the lights flashing against my wall might mean something to me.

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