Ian James Stewart was born on June 20, 1977. He died by suicide on February 18th, 2014.
In between those dates, he lived a life, like all of us do. I didn’t know him as a child, but his family have said that he was a happy little boy, sensitive, caring toward his little sister, and stubborn as all get-out. I believe all of those things.
By the time I had a chance to get to know him, he’d been broken down by the world. By love, by loss, and by depression. But he still shone brighter than anyone I’ve known.
He was very private, and hid his pain from the world very effectively. Because of his incredible ability to read people and understand them, he knew exactly how to act to convey the person he wanted you to think he was. It was rare that anyone was able to get through to the actual person inside, and I was one of the lucky few.
Much has been written about Ian, and how other people knew him (in his obituary and in the incredible eulogy given at his memorial) so I feel the need to talk about the person I knew. The one who was not only the dwarven-spirited, fun, bacon-loving sports fan, but who was also the incredibly kind, intelligent, responsible – and yes, broken – man I loved.
Everyone who knew Ian knew that he was opinionated and stubborn. Once he decided something, it would take a miracle to change his mind on the matter. Usually, such decisions were inconsequential, and at worst, vaguely unhealthy (see his opinions on anything remotely healthy in terms of food), but one decision that he made that WAS harmful was his decision about his own worthiness. He held two almost contradictory opinions of himself; the first was that he was smart and good at most things, which was true (except anything mechanical). The second opinion he held was that he was an irredeemable fuckup (his word). He decided (I have no idea when, except that it was before I got to know him) that he was not worthy of being loved by someone who would treat him well. He’d decided that he deserved the depression he was fighting; that he earned it by being a terrible person.
While those two opinions seem to be mutually exclusive, in our many discussions, I learned how he could hold them both to be equally true. See, his ability to do things, his intelligence, and his ability to help people were removed in his mind from the actual worth of his personality. He knew that he was good at reading people. He knew that he could convey whatever person he wanted, and people would believe that was who he was. So he conveyed what he thought he should be. All the while, believing that ultimately, he would let people down – believing that he would hurt them.
One of the things I’ve heard from multiple people, and have said myself, was that Ian, when he was with you, would not judge you for anything. He was perfectly accepting, understanding, and loving. And he was. If you were with him. He, like everyone I’ve ever met, had the capacity for meanness and uncharitable talk. In talking with him, though, his protestations about someone’s undesirable qualities always rang a little false. He would protest that so-and-so was terrible, and he hated them, but I’d catch softness in his eyes, and he’d later say something about them not being that bad. But I think he focused on that part, the part where he was being mean, and thought that THAT was the measure of his character. He stubbornly refused to believe that the true measure of his character was his action. And his action was almost always gentle.
When my grandfather died, Ian was who I went to. Ian was my shoulder to cry on. The reason I trusted him was his gentle nature. I knew he wouldn’t push me in any way. And he didn’t. He just listened. Made neutral and caring comments. Held me while I cried. And that was characteristic of him. If you needed him, he’d be there. And he wouldn’t push or pull or do anything except what you prompted. He gave amazing advice, but only when you requested it. He would tell you when you were being stupid, but only if you were ready to hear it. That ability to be just what you needed was intrinsic to who he was. It went along with his ability to read people, to convey what he wanted them to believe. It was because he was so sensitive and perceptive. He knew probably at least six months before I did that I was hopelessly in love with him. And he never understood why. Where he trusted my judgment for everything else, he just couldn’t believe the reasons I gave him.
And no, he wasn’t perfect. No one is. I was fully aware of his flaws, that he had the capacity to be incredibly manipulative. That he had a problem telling the whole truth about things. That he had a (big) problem with alcohol. I rolled my eyes and called him on it when he would be intentionally vague in order to lead me to believe something that wasn’t strictly true. I ignored him when he got whiny and immature after a night of hard drinking. Those things were the price of admission. And they were (for me) so far outweighed by his virtues, that I was happy to put up with them.
Everyone had fun with Ian. He prided himself on his ability to throw a good party; to make people laugh. Less well-known, but still fairly apparent was his driving desire to help people. He strove to make people’s lives better – and in most cases he succeeded. What I discovered was that he would do that to his own detriment. For everyone. He had an almost pathological aversion to disappointing people. Rather than tell someone no to an invitation, he would be non-committal and just not show up. Rather than tell someone that he was not interested in continuing to talk to them, he’d ignore them for weeks at a time, and eventually feel bad for being mean and talk to them again. If he truly decided not to have anything more to do with someone, which was rare, he would manage to make it their idea; make it so that they would come to that conclusion themselves. (Yes, there are exceptions to these things, but in general, this was his way of doing things.) And when they did, he would take it as confirmation that he only brought pain and sorrow to people’s lives.
There are so many things about him that I could write. And I probably will. I want to remember him. I want to remember all of him. As much of him as it’s possible to remember. The good, the bad, and the ugly. So if you knew him, feel free to share your observations. The more people weigh in, the more complete the picture will be. And while it’s impossible to capture all of anyone who is complex, as he was, we can try.
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