I sat outside their house for 20 minutes……mustering courage. Had been on assignment when it happened. Had evaded returning home. Marabella hadn’t been pleased and I eventually caved.
As I absently brushed off dry leaves stuck to my jacket, I remembered a time when we were about 10; running in this yard, scooping up as many leaves as our little hands could take from the neat piles and throwing them up in the air. Other parents would reprimand such kids, but not his. They encouraged us to jump higher, clapped when we made our line and rewarded us with pulla or rönttönen. Sometimes I’d stay for dinner if Aunty Marja made her famous venison ragout.
That’s just one memory of my best friend Niilo and his parents Uncle Anton and Aunty Marja. Plenty came surging, tears pricking my eyes. I couldn’t walk away. Got up and knocked.
Uncle Anton had aged. Forehead wrinkled with exhaustion and grief. Marabella was right; seeing him would make it feel right. I’d admired and respected him more than my own father. We reached out almost simultaneously. His hugs were as warm, inviting, caring and genuine as they’d always been, making the worries of the world vanish. He welcomed me in. What I saw next stopped me in my tracks. Aunty Marja, sitting on the same checkered couch, but frailer and gazing into the distance. Uncle Anton asked her if she recognized me. She turned, eyes glassy, a faraway look on her face, almost as if she’d turned at the mere sound but not the words; then turned away again.
“She died inside the day Niilo died,” Uncle Anton said, a quiver in his voice. With a forced smile he continued, “come, sit, have some kahvi and pulla.” I looked at what was laid out. It looked different. “They’re not made by her,” apologized Uncle Anton, sensing my puzzlement, “she doesn’t make them anymore…. they were……our Niillo’s favourite,” he sobbed doubling over. Tears flowed as I guided him to his chair. Here was a man whose stoicness had been his strongest trait, breaking down and crumpling with hopelessness.
Uncle Anton gathered himself and said feebly, “anteeksi. We tried to make sense of it. Luukas helped trace our Niilo’s steps. We put some pieces together, found little peace, but no closure.”
“Pieces? What pieces?” Why hadn’t I heard about this?
“Livy,” answered Luukas, entering. “Niilo was devastated. Joined some infidelity support group. I still blame them!”
“There’s a support group for that!?” I asked incredulously.
“No, our Niilo was disturbed. Responsibility is only Niilo’s,” Uncle Anton waved dismissively as he left to make coffee.
As soon as he was out of earshot, I swiveled towards Luukas. For a person whose profession was dependent on verbiage words failed me but Luukas’s desire to offload was stronger than my shocked stuttering and he poured it out.
“That’s enough,” Uncle Anton’s voice cut through. He glanced at Aunty Marja dozing lopsidedly. Went over and helped her up. He looked defeated and exhausted. We’d never seen him so forlorn. We dropped it. Respected them too much to argue, but it stayed with me.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I said into the phone the next morning. “Luukas,” I implored. “I need to know!”
“Uncle Anton tried many ways, pleading for closure,” sighed Luukas. “I read the messages. Some acknowledged, attempted to understand our Niilo but the last one didn’t. Was heartbreaking to read his pleas but he stopped because of Aunty Marja. They’d lost their world, he didn’t want to lose her too. I thought we’d managed to trace everything, to help them bring closure…..but….” he trailed off.
After a relentlessness hour of persuasion, Luukas agreed to divulge all and join my quest to bring closure to the Järvinens. Three hours, six beers and a pack of stale Malboros later I sat there in sombre silence trying to comprehend the depths of Niilo’s dark internal-battle.
Niilo’s angst had led to damaging actions both in his and in others’ lives. His fanatic pursuance to scalp people like Livy had created madness, and he had been alone…through all of it. He had battled this hell all alone, leading to a drastic step; effects of which will continue to plague his parents. Livy’s actions were merely a trigger to a deeply embedded depressive tenebrosity in Niilo.
“What are you doing?” asked Luukas as I reached for my laptop.
“I have to do something. Perhaps appeal to that teacher in Pa.…”
“NO!” Luukas cut me off emphatically. “Find another way. Uncle Anton’s desperate seek for understanding was dolorous, but when he showed none, Uncle Anton said no more writing!”
I was seething at Luukas’ firmness, but relented. Uncle Anton had been more than our father-figure. He’d been our savior.
Marabella tried to reason, “obtaining more information from this ‘teacher in Paris,’ hearing more of Niilo’s irrevocable actions and state of mind, would cause further grief, despair and agony. Not everyone in this world is forgiving. Accept that.”
I shook my head in resignation, “…maybe, but imagine waking up everyday with the knowledge that someone somewhere detests your son; is unwilling to provide the needed to comprehend the depths of your son’s emotional struggle or accept an apology to find closure. Aunty Marja and Uncle Anton’s grief is tied to only one question: “why?””
Against all of Aunty Marja’s wishes, an 84 year old man had driven to the town library every day to learn how to use social media searching for answers to his son’s suicide. Thanks to Lukaas, traces of those whose lives Niilo had disturbed, emerged, giving some insight of Niilo’s desolation and anguish as he struggled with depression. Uncle Anton’s appeals were heard by a compassionate handful, some of whom responded with forgiveness, giving the Järvinens some peace and hope….only to be disintegrated by none from one person.
Niilo’s death brings ruminating questions. Should Niilo’s actions be overlooked because he struggled with depression or is the damage done too grave? Should the Järvinens pursue their quest for understanding from ‘that teacher in Paris?’ Isn’t closure imperative for them all? Could we have saved Niilo from falling off the precipice? Helped him deal with the ugly situation involving Livy? Would our intervention have thwart the cyber mess that ensued?
Could we have empowered him? Changed the way this ended? For Niilo these remain unanswered, but you, you can still do something. You can still change a story.
In memory of Niilo Järvinen (1997 – 2017)