Gordon Alexander Mayer was the second son born to Karl Herman Mayer and Dorothy Mayer, in Cleveland, Ohio on August 7, 1921. He moved to Yonkers and Manhattan and was living in Bronxville, New York during his early years in elementary school. He had what seemed like an idyllic childhood. They vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard and spent a few weeks every year in the Green Mountains. His mother often took him and his brother to the city to see movies and shows.
Sadly, when Gordon was only eight years old he was swimming in the lake with his good friend as a boat was going by. His friend somehow got tangled up in the propeller of the boat and not only did he not survive, but he was badly mangled and Gordon witnessed the entire ordeal as he helplessly watched the horrific scene. It is not known if it was the death of his friend that led to his life of self-destruction or if he would have gone that route anyway, but Gordon’s life was not a happy one after that day in 1929.
He went to Exeter in Ithaca, New Hampshire and then chose to go to Hamilton College in New York with the intention of becoming an attorney. During one of his drives in that area, Gordon drove his car off of a gorge with the intention of committing suicide. He was found, not seriously injured and returned to college soon thereafter. Although he completed college he chose not to take the bar exam and while he had the credits he was never a practicing lawyer.
He returned to Cleveland where his parents lived and his father had gotten him a job. When he failed to show up one day his brother was sent to the house to check on him. Sure enough, Gordon had taken a lethal amount of medication but his brother’s arrival interrupted his plans and he recovered from that as well.
With the news of the war going on and Gordon not really having a job nor wanting to get one his thoughts again turned to suicide, although this time he planned it so there would be no mistakes. He purchased a gun and shot himself in the chest while waiting for the end to come. It did not. Instead, the doorbell rang and the neighbor found him.
He did get married but that did not last long as he was not really capable of financially or emotionally supporting a wife, let alone a family.
I saw him in 1984 and he was a slobbering drunk who cussed and screamed and scared me. He blamed everything on his parents – whom he had followed to California when they moved. He was angry because they were talking about revoking his permit to drive a taxi because he had gotten so many DWIs.
Years later, in 1997, my father and I were in California looking at graduate schools and we met up with Gordon. We had an interesting time. He had given up driving a few years before and enjoyed giving me directions. I noticed that we were driving in circles and getting on and off the Interstate and questioned him. He replied, “I just wanted to see what all has changed and how these intersections work.”
We invited him to Sunday brunch and allowed him to choose the restaurant. It was at the top of a large hill in Orange, California with a large buffet and a beautiful view of the area below. When we got to the top he sat down and refused to go back for seconds. I finally said “Gordon, why did you choose this place if you weren’t happy with the food?” He replied that he had always wanted to go but didn’t have anyone to go with and now that he was there he realized he was afraid of heights.
On his 80th birthday, I sent him a dozen roses. I knew that it would embarrass him and he might be very unhappy, yet I also knew that he had probably never gotten flowers before. The day of his birthday he called screaming at my father “Who in the hell sent me these flowers? What am I going to do with flowers? I don’t even like flowers.” Pop smiled and handed me the phone.
“Hi, Gordon. I guess you got the flowers. I just wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday. I hope you have a great day.” He was quiet for a minute and then said, “I don’t understand you or why you did this, but if you don’t watch out you are going to end up just like your father.” I laughed because that was always one of the family jokes and at the end of the phone call I told him that I loved him.
Around 2004 he entered an Assisted Living Facility and somehow convinced the doctor to allow him one alcoholic drink per day. Gordon saved up his drinks for a week and then slit his wrists. When they found him, still alive, he was sent to a psych ward and when they called us we laughed because the facility had not thought to ask him about his previous suicide attempts, the DWIs, or his psychiatric history.
Within two months we received another phone call from a different facility. Gordon had gotten himself admitted to another Assisted Living and had again failed to tell them about his past history. He had simply hired a cab, gone to a liquor store to buy a bottle of gin, drank all of the gin, got into the bathtub and proceeded to cut both his arms and his legs as the alcohol put him to sleep.
When my father, Gordon’s brother, was dying he would often get confused because of the morphine. One night he called out for Gordon and I came into his room. I gently asked my dad if he knew what year it was (2011) and he did. I said “Pop, Gordon died in 2005. I’m so sorry.” My dad looked at me and said “Well after six tries he finally got it right.”
I often wonder if Gordon’s life would have been better, or at least different, were he able to get the mental health treatment that he needed. I do find comfort that in the final years of his life he was able to spend time with his nephew and go see baseball games and do things that they enjoyed.