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|Our Serotonin, Our Selves? - Page 4|
He was heavily involved with the Santeria, a traditional Caribbean religion. In his room was an ornate and beautiful Santeria shrine, filled with incense, candles, little figurines, photos of his family, and unusual objects of all kinds. I suspected that, by means of his shrine and prayers, he was continually trying to execute a reverse hex on the woman in the movie line.
I was at home watching the New York Jets on television when I got a call that Juan had died. That weekend, he'd gone to visit his family and was found by his wife Sunday morning collapsed in the bathroom, a heroin syringe on the floor. While it's possible that he'd picked up some heroin and inadvertently overdosed, that wasn't the way I interpreted it. The levels of heroin detected in the autopsy were high, and Juan, who was expert in all matters pharmaceutical, would have known that such an amount would likely be fatal for someone who hadn't used for years.
He'd recently been going through a lot of stress with his wife, and, in response to concerns that neither he nor his wife was capable of taking care of the kids, the department of child services had been called. The department's investigators had started an inquiry after finding no food in the refrigerator during their first visit. Juan had been defiant and despondent about this turn of events. He loved his wife and kids, even if he had a limited ability to take care of them.
The staff and residents of the supportive housing residence were devastated by his death. All of us, except for a paranoid person who never left his room, attended Juan's funeral in a Roman Catholic barrio church a few feet from the el. The church rattled to its foundations each time a train passed. The priest condemned Juan's manner of death and neglected to offer the Eucharist. I remember thinking that Juan would have much preferred a Santeria ceremony and hoping that his family was going to arrange for one. I recalled—as one always does, morbidly, in these situations—that the last time I'd spoken to him he'd been wearing a black T-shirt covered with hundreds of little skulls. Was that a sign he was suicidal? Why hadn't I questioned him about the shirt? Instead, I'd talked to him about how his budgeting was going.
Conversing with Arango brings thoughts to mind of another client who committed suicide: Michael. I worked intensively with Juan and Michael in the capacity of a counselor and program director. While there were immediate "psychosocial stressors" for both of them, I wondered what separated them from any number of equally troubled clients who didn't take their lives. Was it their brain chemicals? Did the supports that they received from me and many other people really make no difference? Should I have just let the neurotransmitters fire away and stand back, because their lives and deaths were just a preordained journey, to which my work was utterly and completely irrelevant?