The walnut trees stood abundant and ordered against the night sky, in sharp contrast to the life of Mark James.
It was 1996, and he had loaded up his van with the wares he used as a local carpet cleaner. The gas powered machinery — and the fumes it created — were tasked with a different job this night.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t take it any longer,” said James. “I took this van out into the country, into a walnut grove and tried to asphyxiate myself.”
James had taped up the windows to keep any carbon monoxide from escaping through the sills. He blared Led Zeppelin through the dashboard stereo, as the deadly smoke curled about the van like the treble clefs of guitar solo.
James was drifting away in the 1970s Dodge. His suicide note was penned and resting on the armrest, or seat next to him, James does not remember which.
“Then I don’t know if it was audible, or just in my head, but I believe that God asked, ‘Is this the last memory you want your mom to have of you?’”
The door latch was in cloudy view, if he wanted to see his mother again. But so were experiences so painful that he sometimes tried to convince himself they never happened.
“I was molested when I was child,” said James. “Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.”
It would be nearly a decade before he approached Tulare County Mental Health for help. And nearly two decades before he was able to participate in the mental health redesign.
“I shared it with a (county) therapist in 2003,” he said of the molestation incident. “They absolutely acted like I never brought it up. ... I wasn’t a huge fan of them before.”
He is a fan of county treatment now. But it all started with him making the choice to inch his way out of the grove that night.
“I opened the door and just fell out of the van and it took me two hours to come to,” said James. “Stuff’s still runnin’ in the van, and I could smell the carbon monoxide.
“The smell was terrible.”
— John Gonzales