When someone bent on suicide victimizes strangers who are my friends27 september 2014, 13:58
I remember the excitement in the email I received from her in June.
“Papa and Mama agreed to buy me a car!” 19-year-old Leila, a student at the Kazakh Russian University, enthused.
To show off a little, she sent me a photo of herself sitting behind the wheel of a black Honda.
I smiled at the picture. She was wearing sunglasses to look as cool as possible.
I knew her parents didn’t have a lot of money, so I told her I hoped she appreciated their sacrifice for her. She said she did.
From the time she began driving in June until last week, the car was a source of joy for her
Then in one moment of stupidity, everything exploded in her face. Now she no longer wants to drive the once-beloved Honda.
It wasn’t her moment of stupidity. It was the stupidity of a stranger who intruded himself into her family’s life, changing it forever.
The 21-year-old stranger was one of four soldiers from Shymkent who had been on an all-night bender in Astana.
At 9 in the morning the four were staggering along the street, arguing. The argument consisted of three of the soldiers berating the other about something.
In his alcoholic fog the soldier who was the target of the scorn decided to end it all.
He suddenly broke from his mates and rushed into the road in a deliberate effort to get hit by a car.
He got his wish. A black Honda going only 20 miles an hour slammed on its brakes but failed to stop before hitting him. The soldier was thrown onto the car’s windshield.
It was Leila’s car. She wasn’t driving at the time. Her father was behind the wheel, with her mom in the front seat with him.
“An ambulance came and they took the soldier to a hospital,” Leila told me a day after it happened. “He’s in a coma. Papa and Mama can’t eat or sleep. They’re afraid he’s going to die. I can’t eat, either. I’m so stressed that I throw up when I do.”
My mind raced with emotion about this needless tragedy that had been visited on my friends. And I must admit that anger was my most prominent emotion.
I’m as compassionate as the next guy, but my first thought was: “If he’d wanted to kill himself, why didn’t he do it by himself? Why did he drag a family of innocent strangers into it?”
Alcohol was the obvious answer. I did a story a year ago about a national suicide conference at Nazarbayev University.
Youth suicide has long been a scourge here. One of the findings from the conference was that there’s a link between substance abuse, depression and suicide.
In Leila’s family’s case, the soldier was so drunk he was unable to consider the harm he’d inflict on those he’d be jumping in front of.
My mind wandered from my friends’ victimization at the hands of someone suicidal to an even more crass kind of victimization that has generated a lot of attention in the United States in recent years. It’s called suicide by cop.
This is a situation in which a person wants to take his life but apparently doesn’t have the guts to do it himself, or deliberately wants to hurt someone else as he’s “going out.” His choice of tactic is provoking a confrontation with a law enforcement officer that he knows will lead to the officer shooting him.
If you’re never heard of suicide by cop, your first reaction is probably incredulity. That was certainly mine. I still remember shaking my heading and thinking, “Naw, it can’t be.”
But if you doubt me, look it up. It’s so well documented that even academic papers have been written about it.
Some people have an image of police as tough guys who can handle any situation without emotion, shrugging off tragedy as part of the job. But unless he’s a monster, anyone who kills another person – even when protecting the public or himself – will bear scars that will last forever.
That’s why I believe that those who commit suicide by cop don’t just want to hurt themselves but also deliberately want to hurt others as well.
A key difference between a suicide-by-cop situation and what happened to Leila’s family is that a suicide-by-cop situation is planned whereas the soldier’s dash in front of Leila’s Honda was spur-of-the-moment.
Although I know the soldier was drunk, and obviously had mental problems or wouldn’t have attempted suicide, I was surprised to find that my overriding emotion toward him was not sympathy but anger.
That was the main emotion Leila’s family was feeling, too.
“We don’t want him to die,” she said. “But we’re really angry. He did something really bad to my family.”
“Have you talked with the other soldiers?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “They apologized to us. They feel really bad. They said it was their fault.”
“They should feel bad,” I said, feeling the same kind of anger toward them that I was feeling toward their buddy in the hospital.
Leila’s family was on tenterhooks for four days waiting to see what would happen to the soldier. She, her parents and her older brother were dying a little each day.
Finally she told me the soldier had come out of the coma. Not only that, but except for the concussion that had put him in the coma, his injuries were superficial. He was going to be OK.
“He apologized to us, said it was all his fault, and asked us to forgive him,” Leila said.
Leila’s father and mother were relieved they hadn’t ended up with blood on their hands, but the scars from the tragedy will never heal.
I asked Leila about the car.
“It will take about $1,000 to fix it,” she said. “The windshield is smashed, and there’s damage to the bumper, front lights and other areas.”
“Did you have insurance?” I asked.
“Yes, but the insurance company won’t pay. It says the policy covers only a collision between my car and another car, not a collision with a pedestrian.”
I was stunned. I’m sure an American insurance company would never be able to get away with that. In my mind, collision insurance is collision insurance, whether the object your car collides with is another car, a person, a horse or a runaway food-vending cart.
I felt certain the insurance company was screwing the family, and it increased my anger over the situation, but I decided not to press the issue with Leila, who was already feeling bad enough.
“Is the soldier going to pay for the damage?” I asked.
“His family’s very poor,” she said. “He doesn’t have money and neither does his family. The police said they would prepare a report that would force him to pay, but Papa and Mama don’t want to do that.”
“I think you should have police prepare the document,” I said. “The guy needs to do something for you, Leila, for all the harm he’s caused. Even if he pays only 20 percent of the bill, he needs to be held accountable for what he’s done.”
“Papa and Mama won’t do it,” she said.
“Your parents are very good people,” I said, admiring their spirit of generosity. “But I think this guy needs to be taught a lesson.
Otherwise, he’s going to do something like this again to other innocent people.”
Then I asked: “Are you going to drive the car once it’s repaired?”
“No,” she said. “We’re going to sell it. How can I drive that car again when I know I’ll be thinking about the accident every time I get behind the wheel?”
I didn’t have the heart at that moment to tell her that her family would take a big loss selling it, because the price of a new car drops substantially as soon as it’s driven off the lot.
As I thought about her Mom and Dad having to work even harder to cover the loss from the sale of the car, I felt my anger rising again, like bile surfacing in my throat.
The soldier had cost Leila some of her youthful innocence, left her Papa and Mama with lasting psychic wounds, and caused the family a financial problem that it will take them a year to work their way out of.
At that moment, I was so angry I felt like wringing the guy’s neck.
Then I shrugged it off.
The guy would be dodging the consequences for the moment, but he would be unable to elude them because one inescapable rule in life is that what goes around, comes around.
And because of that abiding principle, Leila’s family will be rewarded for being kind to their tormentor.