I’d naturally thought all along that he had wanted to disappear, that he was not “taken” by anyone else and as the days wore on and there was no sign of him I secretly thought maybe he’d killed himself, troubled by some gut-deep darkness only he could feel.
I’d thought this not because I needed to be right about something so sad and so public, but because I spend what is probably an inordinate amount of time thinking about walking away from my own life.
How to disappear?
Brogan Dulle figured it out with the ultimate head fake, dropping breadcrumb clues leading us to believe he might still be alive or dead by someone else’s hand.
This isn’t me playing armchair detective because, after all, Brogan is somebody’s 21-year-old son, someone’s baby.
Always somebody’s baby boy.
But when people do not want to be found — when we no longer want to be alive — we can and will find ways to go.
And now the grainy footage of Brogan trotting up and down McMillan Avenue, his ostensible search for his cell phone, the oft-repeated tale of him returning home only to leave again without his wallet and his keys in the door to come back yet again and be locked out — it all feels now like a scam, albeit a scam cooked up by a young man privately brokenhearted.
Yet, if the size, organization and mobility of search parties and media saturation are any indication of how much Brogan was adored and missed, then the collective longing for Brogan was immeasurable.
How many times, as it happened on West Clifton Avenue, has a portion of a hectic street in an urban neighborhood been cordoned off and transformed into a staging area for the teams searching for a missing person?
The yard signs, billboards and window flyers were everywhere.
Last Saturday in the Central Parkway Family Dollar that serves the poor black denizens of the West End and Over-the-Rhine I was among the black boys buying candy and minute phones and the black grandmammas buying household cleaning products and last-minute grilling supplies.
I stood in line behind an older white man wearing a U.S. Army cap who held a Brogan Dulle flyer in one hand and a roll of adhesive tape in the other. He was buying the tape and asking permission of the inked-up cashier to tape the flyer in the window.
“The longer it takes to find him the greater the likelihood he’s dead,” the man said to me.
That is a truism of all missing people, though miraculously many are found alive; many do come ambling up the walk to the homes they went missing from.
But this happy ending wasn’t to be for Brogan because it wasn’t the ending he wanted for himself.
It pains me to be thinking and writing so bluntly about Brogan, but he made this business of guesswork and grieving all our business the moment he decided to slip into a vacant building, to leave clues sending strangers on a fruitless scavenger hunt, to throw a rope over a beam.
He pulled us all into it, even we who did not search dumpsters and alleyways, post social media updates or paste up posters on telephone poles.
We spoke among ourselves the entire time he was absent.
His family should know this entire city waited along with them for word, for anything at all.
But we did speculate.
Especially when it became clear the outcome would be grim.
I heard myself saying: “But who could subdue a 6-foot, 1-inch man?”
“He’s found something out about himself he can’t handle.”
“He doesn’t want the life that’s been set up for him. He wants out.”
I wasn’t playing fast and loose with my own imagination or with Brogan’s life. If anything, I was playing the game suicides manipulate us into playing: It’s the Game of Attention.
The trickiest part about the Game of Attention is that suicides will never be able to see how much they matter, dead set as they are on killing themselves. They’ll never witness the hot glare on their lives once they’re gone, and it’s life’s cruelest irony that some of us need death as a litmus test for our life’s worth.
To get that worth proven to us, we must stick around.
Initially, I thought the lesson of Brogan’s life would’ve merely been that young people should re-prioritize their dependence on their cell phones and that cell phones aren’t worth going back out into the worst part of the night to retrieve.
I was all prepared to compare the pricelessness of Brogan’s life to the replacement value of a cell phone.
But then there he was, alone in that building perhaps the entire time.
Now what we can learn — and it’s a bitch — is that most of us hold a place deep inside away from everyone and everything else and it is a place untouchable by our loved ones.
It’s the place of inconsolable sadness, confusion and isolation.
I have that place and I imagine mine is damp and nothing grows there.
It just is there.
I will keep thinking about Brogan and all the other young people who seemingly have their entire lives ahead of them mapped and planned out and certain but who are devising ways to reject those lives.
I won’t pray that they consider their families and friends, because in utter darkness and despair no one matters.
I get that. I have been there.
I will pray, though, that they more closely consider their own selves if they have any powers of reasoning left.
Consider the reckless selfishness, the ultimate dotted “i” in your iUniverse. Consider that being gone threads a permanent loop of loss. Consider that search teams could put up posters of you until the end of time even after you’re found dead and that one thing will always be true: that you’d still be missing.
Gone this way is forever.