Last night I found out that one of my surfing buddies died. Russ Mori. I was floored. At first I thought it was a joke, but reading the details of his obituary convinced me that this was real. Even more shocking, he apparently took his own life. He was only 55 years old.
I’m still in shock. Russ wasn’t a super close friend that I shared beers with outside of surfing, but I have grown to know him over the years. Russ had an effortless ease, which combined with his rugged handsomeness, lent him a charm that felt lively and authentic. Many of us liked him a great deal, and Russ was definitely a member of our surfing tribe. In a sport that is often filled with unbridled aggression, Russ was a breath of fresh air — he always had a kind smile on his face, he always had a compliment for one of our waves, and I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anybody at Swamis. I always looked forward to seeing Russ out in the lineup. He’d always pop a bright smile your way. Russ was an avid surfer who rode short and long boards equally well, whether in knee high or overhead surf. The thought of never seeing Russ’s smile or hearing his enthusiastic hoot when you make it through a fast section fills me with a heavy sadness.
I guess you just never know how much people suffer inside. Russ was the last person I’d think to take his own life; he always seemed so happy and content, healthy physically and mentally. He didn’t have that agitated or dark energy that some other folks had. Was it the separation/divorce that did it? I wondered to myself. I remember chatting with him in the parking lot almost of year ago, as we were all out of the surf and changing by the trunks of our cars. He shared that he was going through a divorce, and how he and his wife were looking for a mediator. He also shared that they were both handling it pretty well. I remember feeling a tinge of envy, wishing that my own separation fared with that much ease and amicability.
He fit the statistics, though — white male, single or separated, in his 50s. And everyone knows how much a nightmare divorce can be. I am making my own assumptions, of course. I have no idea if Russ and his wife were able to work things out; I would hope that they did. What then comes to mind is the bleak and desolate wasteland of my own divorce process. On many levels, I could understand why a person would want to give up. In my case, it was the financial stress of being the breadwinner of the family for nearly 10 years (my soon-to-be ex-husband did not work for almost the entire marriage, and drank at least 4-6 beers a day), and then having nearly half my wages garnished. I make decent money but not enough to support two households in Southern California; supporting a family of four on one income was difficult enough. Soon I was wondering whether I had enough money to pay the rent, buy food or pump enough gas to commute to work…being able to buy $7 burrito for lunch on occasion soon felt like a frivolous luxury.
I was filled with a sense of desperation that darkened my days, weeks, and months. It was not a good feeling to know that you can’t pay your bills for months and months on end, and not being able to see any relief. It is also a terrible feeling to know your ex-spouse is purposefully trying to make your life difficult, and trying turn your children against you. I remember seeing a creditor’s phone number flash on my phone, while I was driving on the freeway. It had become a familiar sight, and I’ve gotten into the habit of blocking such calls or deleting voicemails. Just earlier, I received a threatening phone call from my landlord, demanding that I pay the remaining half of the rent or I would be served with an eviction notice. Never before in my life had I ever been faced with the prospect of being out in the streets, and certainly I did not expect that at this stage in my life or career. I had this sudden thought flash through my mind, Well, if I just swerve and crash my car into the median, I’ll never have to deal with this again. My hands tightened on the steering wheel. It would be so simple, it would take only seconds for me to slam the wheel around, slam the car around, and have all the ongoing traffic hurl into me on the I-5 during rush hour at 80 miles per hour. I could see the headlines now: Psychotherapist commits apparent suicide on I-5 by driving in the wrong direction during rush hour! She was 47 years old. I would be an embarassment to my profession. But even more importantly, I thought of Ava and Dylan, and how they still needed me. I want to be there to see them grow up, and I want to be there when they may need help from me during a tough and dark time.
Russ was also a father; he is survived by his teenage son. Why didn’t that stop him? Was it really that bad, if it really was a suicide? I’m still hoping to learn that it was something else — a freak accident somehow would make it feel a little more palatable.
I wish that he had called me, or another friend, or anyone, for that matter. I wish that someone could have helped him. Because he was a good guy. He deserved at least 50 more years of living and happiness on this planet. But sometimes the good die young. Russ was good, and he died young.
Wherever you are, Russ, I hope you’re happy now. And long may you may ride that perfect point break wave in the sky…