Town gives something back to friend in need — (Charleston Gazette)

Original article no longer available

Charleston Gazette (WV) 

August 18, 2002

Author: Sandy Wells,

“I got out a utility knife and started whacking away at my wrists. I cut myself 22 times. Eighteen times on my wrists. One time in the crook of each arm. One time on each side of my neck. I couldn’t find the right vein. I realized I was going to have to cut harder and it was going to hurt like hell.”

People in Charleston remember John Scott as flamboyant and fun-loving, a gregarious good-timer garbed in business suits by day, jeans and T-shirts at night. On weekends, he played sax in Michael Lipton’s rock and roll band.

He was a reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail, a reporter for UPI, a communications assistant for Kanawha County Schools and, for seven years, executive director of the West Virginia Republican Party.

He showed virtually no signs of the fermenting depression that recently pushed him to the brink. And alcoholism? Well, you know John. He just liked to have a good time.

Suicide? John Scott? No way. Absolutely not.

But he tried it. In July. At his home in Buckhannon. First, he wanted to get in the tub, fill it with water and throw in the hair dryer. But no. That would be too quick, too sure. So he tried slitting his wrists.

He will tell you all about it. Every detail. But that’s not what this story is about, he said. It’s more about a town rallying around a native son. It’s about the people who are getting him back on his feet.

“My house was totally trashed,” said the 59-year-old Scott. “In 1995, I quit cleaning my house. I isolated myself. I even quit doing dishes. I had two cats inside and a dog outside and four years’ worth of dishes in the sink.”

He enjoyed his job as editor of the town newspaper, he said, “but the rest of my life was hell.”

After Scott’s suicide attempt, Buckhannon City Attorney David McCauley and businessman Rick Rice established Operation Turn Around, a trust fund earmarked for repairs to Scott’s home. They descended on the house with paintbrushes, buckets and mops and carted out enough debris to fill three Dumpsters. They’ve replaced the furniture, refrigerator and stove, bought sheets and pillows, made curtains and a bookcase, contributed lamps, a computer, cookware, silverware and other kitchen utensils and restocked the kitchen.

The to-do list includes fixing the leaky roof, repairing the windows, replacing the carpeting with linoleum, replacing the bedroom floor and supplying a grill, wastebaskets, garbage cans, cleaning supplies, towels and a wardrobe to replace his standard Grateful Dead T-shirts.

So far, they’ve spent about $10,000 on materials and about $20,000 in labor, Scott said. “The response has been totally overwhelming. I had no idea people thought so much of me.”

He’s sharing the painful story of his suicide attempt, he said, because there’s a message behind it. “It’s important for people to know that, no matter how bad things seem to be, there are people out there who like you and will help you. I have more friends than I thought I had, and I think that’s true for all of us.”

He traces his depression and low self-esteem to childhood. His father was stationed in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. In a letter written to his mother in 1942, the year he was born, his father urged her to get an abortion.

They divorced. She married a man in the Army Air Corps. They had a son. They lived with Scott’s grandparents. After the war, the family decided John would stay in Buckhannon with his grandparents while his mother, half brother and stepfather moved to New Jersey.

“I saw my mother and stepbrother two or three times a year, but I think a lot of damage was done. I was about 3 when my mother and brother were taken away.”

‘Charleston is a wonderful place to party’

Two failed marriages also chipped away at his psyche. “I was married to two beautiful, intelligent, successful women. Having them both leave contributed to my longstanding depression.”

So did alcohol. “I always drank a lot of wine. Charleston is a wonderful place to party.” The drinking picked up in 1990 when he moved back to Buckhannon as communications director at West Virginia Wesleyan. “I moved to a town of 7,000 people from Charleston, where I had a very active social life. The Buckhannon population is purgatory for single people.”

He jumped from a couple glasses of wine a day to 1.5 liters, followed by a batch of margaritas. He capped the night with schnapps.

On a November morning in 1994, his secretary discovered him passed out in his office. On a boozy night two weeks later, he landed in jail. Some teen-agers had stolen and wrecked his car. “They claimed I’d given them marijuana and alcohol. As far as I know, I hadn’t.” The magistrate agreed to drop charges if he agreed to get treatment.

The next day, Wesleyan fired him. But the school also arranged his admission to Chestnut Ridge, an alcohol treatment center, and extended his insurance to pay for it. “It’s a good thing they did. It cost $23,000 for 11 days.” Then he drove to Morgantown three times a week for follow-up group sessions.

Finally, he got a job offer from the Record-Delta, the tri-weekly paper he’d worked on in high school. His salary dipped from $30,000 to $15,000, another blow to his fragile ego. After three years, he was promoted to editor and has won several first-place awards from the West Virginia Press Association.

The drinking escalated, aggravated by his relationship with a woman alcoholic. And by then, there were clues to the consuming depression. He’d taken only one vacation in seven years at the newspaper. And, it got harder and harder to get out of bed. “When the alarm clock went off, my mantra was, ‘I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to go to that office. I don’t want to see those people. I don’t want to see anyone. All I want to do is sleep.’ Then I started adding, ‘There is no damn reason for me to be around.’ I felt lonely, depressed and unappreciated, all the things you feel when you’ve got low self-esteem.”

On July 13, he argued with the woman he was seeing. He went home, turned on some blaring rock and roll music and started drinking Bacardi Silvers. He wrote notes to himself, venting his anger.

It occurred to him that he hadn’t changed his will in 20 years. He rewrote his will, including his desire to be cremated, and wrote the plans for his memorial service.

He’d never seriously thought about killing himself. Everybody thinks about it occasionally, he said, but they move on. This night, he didn’t. He couldn’t.

Bacardi, Prozac , Valium and Valerin

Suddenly, suicide made more sense than anything else in his alcohol- and depression-driven world. He didn’t do it all at once. Over a 10-hour period, as he sank deeper and deeper in that oppressive dark hole, he downed five Bacardi Silvers, took an entire bottle of Prozac, a handful every hour; and swallowed every other drug he could find, including Valium and Valerin, an herbal sedative.

“I wanted to deaden my senses, make it easier. Looking back, I see someone who didn’t really want to do it, but was still trying, knowing I wouldn’t be able to pull it off.”

He rejected the hair dryer idea. That wouldn’t give him time to change his mind, just in case. So he settled on the utility knife. “The blood was coming out, but it was coagulating quickly.” He realized how deep he was going to have to cut, how very much it was going to hurt. “At that point, I said, ‘That’s it. I’m not doing it.'” And he called for help.

A week later, he answered the door, and it was Circuit Judge Tom Cadle. “That’s when I knew something really unusual was happening. He had a paint roller. He was the first of the paint crew to show up. They totally repainted the inside and outside of the house.”

In a newsletter update on the project, McCauley wrote, “Our hope is that within a month, John’s home will be completely clean, livable and functional, and then we may all gather for an open house celebration of our wonderful community coming together to help out one of Buckhannon’s finest and most giving sons.

“John has done much for many in our community, and this is our way of saying thanks.”

“My self-esteem sure has been getting a shot in the arm the past couple of weeks,” Scott said. “In a county of 21,000 residents and a city of 7,000, to have that kind of support develop is, well, I hate to say mind-boggling because it’s trite, but in this case, it’s true.

“I was totally self-absorbed with a self-created depression, so my vision was very narrow. I had a cynical, unrealistic vision of the world around me. I found out there are a lot of decent people out there.”

The experience added a dimension to his life, he said. “It’s one simple word: faith.”

Now, the idea of suicide shames him. “It’s like, ‘My God, John, whatever were you thinking?'”

And the drinking? “I’ve been drunk once since then, just to find out what it felt like. The next morning, I thought, well, that will never happen again. I drink a beer occasionally. It’s totally under control.”

To contact staff writer Sandy Wells, use e-mail or call 348-5173.

Record Number: 100EF0A44D12DBB7