William - an Unfinished Portrait

Mary Withers

I joined the Suicide Survivors' club, without realizing it, sometime between 6:30PM on March 14, 1996 and 12:45PM the next afternoon, when my amusing, talented, handsome, popular 25-year-old son, William Ellery Weiss, decided to eat a 9mm hollow-point bullet.

All his life, Bill balanced a tender, sensitive, bookish private side with an outrageous, extroverted, over-the-top public personality. No one was more trouble to raise than Bill, and no one was more fun!

Some things Bill was:

Sweet, funny, talkative baby with huge blue eyes
Constantly questioning, vulnerable schoolchild
Protective big brother
Friend to cats and most other small animals
Voracious reader
Outrageous punker teenager (double Mohawk, leather jacket with
the legend "zerstorte jugend" on the sleeve)
Almost a genius (170+ IQ)
*VERY* bad student (underachiever, constant discipline problem)
Brave US Marine (Gulf War combat veteran - 2nd tank across the
Kuwait border)
Part-time Casanova (three girlfriends, one fiancee' and one
friendly ex-wife at the time of his death)
Spiritual seeker
Good friend and confidant
One of the Funniest People on Earth

picture of Bill Even with his intelligence, school and Bill just didn't mix. We tried different approaches, ranging from warm and permissive to cold and authoritarian. He responded better to strictness. He could be talked into behaving, but couldn't be talked into excelling, except on his own terms. I was surprised when he announced his secret desire to join the United States Marine Corps! I thought that he would surely be kicked out of boot camp. I was wrong. He loved the Marines and became a perfect soldier. He loved the physical challenge, the camaraderie, and the travel.

But something happened to him during the Gulf War. The guys in Bill's tank crew say they had several close calls, and they had to kill a lot of enemy soldiers. That bothered everyone. When Bill came home, some of the light was gone from his eyes. To make matters worse, his youthful marriage failed tragically just a few weeks after his homecoming.

He didn't re-enlist. He took a few college classes, tried to launch a graphic arts business, waited tables, and wrote for small magazines. He also took up "extreme" sports, such as bungee-jumping and snowboarding. I once asked him if he thought he wasn't supposed to have survived the war. He told me to stop worrying. I stayed worried when I found that he was using drugs - Ecstasy and LSD, and something called, I think, GHB? But during this troubled period, he and I became friends again.

About 18 months before his death he really cracked down on himself. He stopped using drugs, and began reading Zen Buddhist literature and following a strict semi-macrobiotic diet. He began preaching to his friends, cutting people off because of drug use or poor morals. I thought he overdid this "sage" role, but I figured he had to go through this "reformed and self-righteous" phase as a natural part of finding his balance and becoming the person he was meant to be. We talked a lot during this period, and he seemed busy and thoughtful, but happy.

So - it makes no sense that on March 14th, 1996, William borrowed an H&K 9mm pistol from a roommate, took the bus to the beach (in San Diego), and walked to the end of the north jetty on San Diego's Mission Bay. Near sunset, he called 911 on his cell phone, gave his location, and said "I'm going to take my life. I want an officer to come get my body so that no civilians find it. On second thought, why don't you wait until morning? The tide is high right now, and it's slippery." Always considerate. The girl who took the call did not forward the location to the SDPD, so he was found shortly after noon the next day by a civilian. So much for his last request on Earth.

They found his body leaning against the navigation light, his eyes staring out toward the sea that he loved. In his left hand was the gun. In his right hand, a copy of _What the Buddha Taught_. In the matter-of-fact letter he mailed to his roommates, he said: "I will not be returning to the house. If anyone asks why I have done what I have done, tell them that for me, it was a good thing. Never thirst. I am free." The autopsy showed that his health had been perfect, and his blood 100% drug-free.

I keep replaying parts of a conversation he and I had one month before he died. He mentioned that it seemed strange to be older than his father (his Dad died at the age of 24). He told me that he wasn't sure he would ever be good at computers because he was so poor at Math. I told him that he didn't need math - just a logical mind and creativity. He told me that he couldn't have children because of the war, and that the war had disillusioned him. He wasn't sure where he was going to fit in the world, and it bothered him to be getting older and losing his hair. I told him that everyone feels that way, and that things get better. I noticed that he looked too thin and maybe a little sad, but I thought I was just "being a Mom" and worrying unnecessarily.

He had never attempted suicide before, and he never seemed mentally ill, but still --- how could I miss these warnings?

Ah, God... I miss him so damned much... I feel lost, hopeless, terribly guilty, and I just ache at the thought that he will never call me on the phone again to share a joke.

I suppose the point now is not why this happened, but where I'm going to go from here. But I had to tell you what happened, and about who it happened to.

All I know is that wherever he is now, people are laughing... Lucky them. Wretched me.

Mary Withers

You can send email to Mary at [email protected]
mail welcome

email updated 2-02

[return to home page] [column] [book excerpts] [honor page] [discussions page]

Crisis, Grief, and Healing: Tom Golden LCSW