May 10, 2008

I am both grateful that I checked my blog stats and looked at the Search Terms stats - and profoundly sad at the same time.

While I have heard some people put forth the claim that the internet is not truly growing larger anymore, but instead, is fragmenting off into specialist areas, today I was forcibly reminded that the internet is still growing larger and that it has shrunk our world considerably.

One hundred years ago, if you moved some thousand or more miles from your home town, you would be hard pressed to hear any news of anyone you didn't personally correspond with.

Yesterday, as I logged into StatCounter for a fast look at the statistics for my websites, I discovered a chilling blast from the past. The search term was pretty simple: "christopher balcezak suicide." I was instantly catapulted back in time.

My family lived in Austin, Texas for all of about five years. I started kindergarten there. By the time I was 10, I had lived in Austin far longer than any other city we'd lived in. It was and has always been the town I think of as home.

My first Halloween in Austin, I had to wear the damn pumpkin costume. I hated it. It had to be stuffed with pillows and my mother teased me constantly about being fat whilst I worse it. It felt like torture to me. But it was wear the pumpkin or miss out on trick-or-treating and this would be my first "real" time going out with a big group of neighborhood kids. I mustered all my bravado - and bolstered that by running to my room at the last minute and grabbing my beloved "baby pillow" (travel-sized pillow) and shoving that in the very front of the costume - a kind of hidden security thing.
(Note: ignore the smile. I was NOT a happy camper that evening.)

Pumpkin Costume - oh how NOT clever this was

Mom walked me out to the group of kids with chaperones and dropped me off. Instantly, the troublemaker boy who lived around the corner from us started teasing me about being fat. I retorted with something about being well-protected and bet that I would not feel it if anyone tried to punch me in the stomach.

Yeah, I guess you could say I was baiting him.

Being a tough guy, he was sure he could make me feel it. I thought I was pretty slick. There was no way I was gonna feel his punch through two or three pillows right in front of my stomach - and I have a high pain tolerance anyway. Even if it hurt a little bit, I was not going to show it and his rep as a tuff guy would be shattered. With any luck, he'd stop picking on kids.

He hauled back, punched me in the gut - and one of the chaperones turned around just at that minute. Of course, to the adults, it looked like unprovoked aggression. They ignored the fact that I laughed at the punch (I really didn't feel it) and they sent him home.

That was my first memorable experience with Chris Balcezak.

While we lived in Austin, we went to St. Theresa's Catholic Church. This would have been the mid to late 70s - the church was opened in 1968, the same year that I and most of my friends were born.

I remember the long drives from our house through my beloved Texas hill country to get to church. Up and down the hills, trees and grass all shades of vibrant greens - bits of granite and limestone jutting out from the earth like the bones or teeth of some tremendous creature. The church was tucked in at the top of a hill, nestled into the trees. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been and I loved it. CCD (kind of like Sunday school for Catholic kids) was sometimes held in small classrooms, but was sometimes held outdoors - and I admit on those days I was far more entranced with the splendour of the world around me than I was the intricacies of catechism.

I remember the day at CCD when we were doing some stupid exercise outside and we were supposed to freeze when the teacher said some special freeze phrase or another. We did, but shortly thereafter Chris started wiggling and finally stood up. The teacher yelled at him - he was always in trouble for something - until he got her to realize that he'd laid down in a fire ant mound. If you know anything about fire ants, you know that to say this was "unpleasant" is a distinct understatement - those suckers HURT.

Being bratty children and tired of being bullied by Chris, one of us (probably me, to be honest) began giggling and pointing out that Chris had ants in his pants. This is the height of childhood chuckles, you know. Ants in the pants. I mean, it damages the rep of the neighborhood quasi-bully and it rhymes and it's something adults used to tell us when we couldn't be still. And Chris couldn't be still with all those fire ants biting him all over. Poor guy was in tears before he was rushed off to have the ants hosed off of him.

And, of course, we were all in trouble for not being empathetic to Chris' pain. Actually, I think our teacher was rather horrified by our callousness, but the truth of the matter was I don't think any of us truly understood the level of pain that Chris was in.

My last memory of this boy who lived around the corner from me for five years was when we finally, finally got a bus to come pick us up for school. Balcones Woods was some five or ten miles from Pillow Elementary school and our parents were tired of driving us - they wanted the school to provide a bus. Naturally, my bus stop was shared with Chris - and that was the impetus for my often leaving the house early and traveling up the neighborhood to other bus stops closer to the entrance of our subdivision. Our vice principal sometimes rode the buses in the afternoon - partly to mix more with the students, and partly to help keep the drivers keep better control over all of us young hooligans.

The first time he rode our bus, he sat next to Chris, which made all of us laugh (and sigh with relief). Chris was well-known for singing all of the mangled song lyrics like the schoolyard version of "On Top of Old Smokey." Sure enough, one of the kids from the back, called out for Chris to start us on that song. Red faced, staring at the floor and trying not to look at the vice principal, Chris stammered a refusal. To our surprise, however, the old fogey adult vice principal got the song started for us.

I remember looking back in shock - along with all of the rest of the bus - and seeing the stunned gratitude on Chris' face.

It hadn't occurred to me until then that Chris was something of a pariah at our school. To be sure, with his penchant for mercilessly teasing the rest of us and for beating the crap out of smaller kids, there was good reason most of us ignored him. But it didn't occur to me until that moment that Chris might be lonely as well.

For me, all through my life, Chris was a legend - the only neighborhood bully I really knew at all whilst growing up. He was not the quintessential evil bully. I don't recall him beating the utter shit out of any kid. I don't recall him doing any real damage - he was just a bit of a bully. He liked to get his way and he didn't really want to deal with anything else. He liked attention and he didn't mind too much how he got it. To this day, I can't think of my childhood in Austin without thinking of Chris.

So getting this search term hit on my blog was somewhat stunning. Surely this was not the same kid that I knew. I ran the search myself, only to find this snippet of text next to a Google search hit:

Dr. Christopher Balcezak, 34, died from an overdose of Amitriptyline.

That was from 2004. The right age. Still, surely this was another Christopher Balcezak. I clicked through.

Raised in Austin, Texas, Balcezak received his undergraduate degree at Notre Dame, then attended medical school at the University of Texas at Houston, where he graduated in 1995.

It all fits. Raised in Austin, went to a Catholic university ... this article was about the boy I once knew back in the 70s.

Chris BalcezakHe disappeared on the way to making his rounds and was found two days later, in his pickup, in a grove of trees. Later, the coroner released that Chris had purchased a large quantity of Amitriptyline under assumed names all across town. He apparently drove his truck through a corn field and into the grove of trees where he downed a large quantity of the drug with a bottle of Boulevard beer. A Physician's Desk Reference with a place marker at the entry for Amitriptyline was found in the truck - along with a framed photo of his three children, aged 6, 3 and 1.

It's beyond strange, really, to realize that someone you knew some 30 years ago is now dead. It's jarring to realize that I don't know his story ... that I will never know why he chose to end his life just a few years into his participation in a good medical practice - when it looked like his life was just coming together. It was strange to read these articles and tease out bits of his life after I moved away.

Article 1
Article 2
Article 3
Article 4

It's beyond bizarre to realize that Chris did his undergrad at Notre Dame - and I did my grad work there some four years or so after he'd left the place.

While I remember bits of trouble that Chris started or was involved in, while I called his pre-fourth grade self something of a bully - he was not, to my recollection, a bad kid. He was more the "classical" rough-n-tumble kid. He smarted off without thinking - he reacted to most of us by lashing out, but not utterly beating the crap out of anyone. A punch maybe. Two punches perhaps, but for the most part, he was all bluster and bellowing and not the truly violent type.

I've often wondered through the years where Chris wound up.

Thanks to someone hitting my blog via that search term, I now know a small slice of his story. Makes me wish I knew more - it makes me sad.

His oldest is now about the age I was when I moved away from Austin. And his youngest is about the age Chris and I were when we first met.

If I close my eyes or if I stare off into the distance and let my eyes unfocus, I can see past Keith's house and across the side street to the corner where we used to wait for the bus. If I concentrate, I can see Chris standing at the corner, waiting.

I have to wonder why he picked that grove of trees ... I wonder ... I wonder if it reminded him of Balcones Woods ... of a simpler time ... I wonder if he loved those woods as much as I did, if it reminded him of home.

Requiescat in pace.

Posted by Red Monkey at May 10, 2008 1:12 AM | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


John Sullivan said:

Wow that was some great writing.I sat here thinking about a lot of things.I mostly thought of his kids and how his decision is going to DRASTICALLY affect their whole lives.
Life has it's up and downs,only God knows what that man was struggling with.It doesn't make much sense does it.I also know someone that took their life over a woman.In my eyes he had everything.Like Chris this "friend" was so distraught- but he used a shotgun and blew his whole face/head OFF.
A few days after we went to the spot as I tried to understand the point a person must be at to do something like that.I looked down and there was a piece of skull,hairs and all I picked it up and tossed it into the river right there.
In the end I guess it's a person's right to end their life but I know NO matter how bad things ever seem I want to LIVE.
Thanks for some awesome writing.
John Sullivan
San Antonio

May 10, 2008 6:06 AM


Claire said:

"I have to wonder why he picked that grove of trees ... I wonder ... I wonder if it reminded him of Balcones Woods ... of a simpler time ... I wonder if he loved those woods as much as I did, if it reminded him of home."


May 10, 2008 1:46 PM


Dawn said:

A haunting piece, conjuring up remembrances of old childhood fixtures of my own and of the college friend who committed suicide, a truth that was not fully acknowledged by most (self included) at his funeral.

There was a Chris in my class who is not dead but is in some unspoken-of place/status; I don't know the details and I don't really need to, I guess, but I have wondered about him lately. Chris's parents have legally adopted his children, beautiful and gifted kids I met at my parents' church on my last visit home, the daughter playing a piano piece far beyond my abilities. My mom tells me that when a photo of her dad, Chris, appeared on some father's day board or something, she covered her eyes and turned away.

I remember Chris as a gifted artist, a bit of a loner, and in high school as a guy who went to the Christian thrash metal (how embarrassing to me now!) concert I longed to go despite my parents' refusal. Chris once walked into my computer class right before class began to show me how he could roll razor blades on his tongue only to be shooed out by the teacher. I joined the class in calling him weird and psycho behind his back and shrugged as to why he would come show me (of all people!) his strange talent, but I secretly liked him and had always felt an unspoken connection to him, maybe because I felt we were bought outsiders and misunderstood, though in very different ways.

May 11, 2008 11:10 PM


Mike said:

So weird I came across your blog.

You and I had very similar experiences with Chris. I had a few run-ins with him during 7th grade, even getting to the point of having a fight after school.

I wonder what led to his decision to commit suicide...

July 14, 2008 1:31 PM


H said:

This is H. I am Chris Balcezak's daughter.... could this really all be true?? I always remembered him as such a loving caring person... though I was only 6 when he died. I am now in 7th grade, 13..... and well..... this all just isn't adding up.... what else happened? Do you have any more info... I feel like I need to say how much this has effected my life... Because it has so much...... I don't have a dad anymore and that is honestly what I want more than anything.... what could have led to this....? nothing was wrong, though I wouldn't know because he was always gone at work... I wouldn't see him for sometimes up to three days..... all I can say is...... oh my gosh... could this have been because of me? People say I am like my dad in many ways... but they always say the good ways.... but what about the bad ways.... could I still be like him in all those bad ways..... will I ever know??

Red Monkey says: Oh honey, I'm so sorry about your dad.
I only knew him for a few years when we were just little kids and people change a LOT between second grade and the time they're adults. Don't take the couple of memories I have of him being a brat as a condemnation of him or especially thinking that that was all he was. He was more than that. That's just a couple of select memories I happen to have and I didn't know him all that well.
I think of the time on the bus where the other kids were trying to get him to sing On Top of Old Smokey when the vice principal was on the bus. He was embarrassed and wouldn't do it until the vice principal started it. He had such a sweet look on his face then. (Very surprised, too!) You know, that says a lot about his character. He sang those songs on the bus (like we all did, every one of us), to be ornery. There's nothing at all wrong with being ornery! I use that to describe myself every day. But when he thought it might hurt the vice principal, he stopped. He wouldn't do it until he knew it was okay. I think that says a lot about him.
I don't know what else happened to him. I wish I did. For all that I said he could be Mr. Rough-and-Tumble, I never got the sense that he was a bad person. He was a little blustery, like most boys in Texas were. And I was shocked to read what he'd done.
I do know it was not because of you. Or your siblings. I know that because he had your picture with him. I really believe he wanted to be comforted by the picture of his children. That's why the photo was there. He loved you all very, very much.
Please, please do me one favour? Please make sure you talk to people about how you're feeling right now. Talk to Shannon. Talk to an adult you trust. Your mom, a teacher you trust. Just make sure you talk about how you're feeling. It's really important to do that.
May 4, 2011 10:27 AM


s said:

hey this is one of h's best friend shannon who knows whats happening to her im so sorry for ur loss h but think hat he is up there with my dad also they probably met the same way we did(: best day ever not kidding:DD but this is so sad im so sorry for what happend to him if u ever need a shoulder to cry on of a hug or just someone to talk to im here i know what to say and how to say it. just tell me when u need to ok(: love ya h

May 4, 2011 10:33 AM


Amy said:

I am just now coming across this blog...many years later and the same day I found out Chris had passed away (11-12-11).
I do not remember the Chris that is talked about in this blog. I remember Chris as my first date, as the boy I dated towards the end of High School, through that summer, and on the weekends when he would return home from N.D.
I remember the Chris that sang to me the theme song from St. Elmo's Fire while we lay in the grass, looking at the stars. I remember the Chris who would throw pebbles at my window, long after my parents had gone to bed, and wait for me to sit in the hammock with him. I remember the Chris who would always have me home on time, who walked me to the door, kissed me good night, and who would call me when got back home (30 minutes away). I remember the Chris who had manners, who would open doors (cars included) and who would stand up when my mother or I would come into the room, who always had a hand extended to greet my father.
I remember the determination he had to go to N.D. and to medical school. I remember him as a very important and very special part of my young adulthood. I will always remember him that way.

Red Monkey said: I'm so sorry for your loss.
And I can't tell you how incredibly grateful I am that you chose to share your memories of Chris here. He and I knew each other for such a short time when we were so young ... of the few names I still remember from Pillow elementary, his name and memory is the one that has stayed with me the longest. Even when we didn't get along, I was always fascinated by him - he just had a certain presence about him.
Thank you.
November 13, 2011 12:00 AM
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