I was devastated to see Anthony Bourdain’s smiling face flash upon the CNN screen as its somber commentator reported his death. How could this be? This remarkable indestructible resilient forever young man be dead? How? When? Where? It seemed forever before we learned he had killed himself in a 4-star French hotel. “Why here?” the owner wondered. Further astonishment as we learned the person he had planned to have dinner with was told he wasn’t available — but not until a different person was told the next morning that he still wasn’t available did the owner learn, upon entering his room, that he had hanged himself! These were people who knew him – thought they knew him.
Yet I recalled seeing a former show when he was spending time with his therapist, lying on a couch, telling her in his usual conversational tone, “I am not happy. I just am not.” And later in the same show, he again saw her, with the same message. The psychological me (I am a psychologist) wondered how could that be? This man who seemed so sure of himself, his surroundings, the everyday people with whom he surrounded himself, the huge amounts of stuff called food that he shoved into his mouth with head nodding assurances to his watchful food preparers.
Years ago when I first started watching him, finding him a handsome, appealing ‘hunk’, I thought I could never be his companion. First of all, I was not a ‘foodie’, second of all, I was highly suspicious of any food not served in Iowa, thus on all trips to parts unknown, I carried in my backpack a jar of Skippy Peanut Butter.
But his interactions with the people, their customs, the world in which they lived, he brought to life with joy and insouciance or admiration when grim, and I understood it better because of his acceptance of all he experienced. Only recently did I recall that earlier visit to his therapist — when I later saw him looking at tattoos being put on his wrist and his remarks that another tattoo could not make him young again – nor able to adjust to the joys and hardships of their young lives, often with such gusto. Then I noticed his eyes looked weary and his skin wrinkled around his neck and lower arms. It was then I wondered at the hard, unrelenting work it must be to devise and maintain his weekly show schedules with staff, travels, and its many demands and frustration as he relentlessly aged more each year. That I could relate to as I caught the wrinkled sagging skin on my face when I looked in the wrong mirror, or the need for keeping more of my skin covered when caring how I looked. Hearing the date he was born, I realized he was exactly my daughter’s age and she was truly looking forward to retirement, spending more times with Nature, husband, hobbies and family.
When meeting old friends asking me what I’m doing these days, I find myself saying, “Living the good life of an Emily Dickinson,” Since the death of my companion of 31 years, I have felt the need to write several memoirs about our lives together, then with others as well and that has seemed satisfying,
But he couldn’t ‘just retire’ to a meditative life for as I learned from CNN news personnel, he had many years of despair that he had been a disappointment to his father, seeking solace in drugs. But seeming to conquer his many devils perhaps found him too weary, as he aged, to continue ‘the good fight’ longer. So I now suspect I understand a bit better, why he couldn’t just retire. If the weariness of forever adapting to the diminishing joys of aging becomes too much, this obviously is an option for many.