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Things Are Never As Bad As They Seem... Sometimes They're Worse.

Demons 2024. Mat Chacon

My neighbor died today. He killed himself at 5am. No one in my quiet lakeside neighborhood is particularly surprised. They all had him pegged for a loser and thought it was only a matter of time before he ate the gun. I understand why, too. His house is that one home that haunts every neighborhood, regardless of HOA dues. A once proud estate that formerly hosted Northern aristocracy has become a sorry tableau of happier times now long forgotten. Thick paint peels from the outer walls in long, thick scales and weeds grow wildly without fear of the hoe. It's the kind of home where children pass from the other side of the street and bet each other to step just one foot onto the lawn because it's obviously haunted and the lawn clearly cursed. 

Everyone expected this morning’s outcome… everyone except me. 

I was the only person in my lakeside community who made an effort to get to know the man who lived there. His name was Jason. He was a U.S. Army veteran who wrestled with the slow voice of ruin poisoning his mind from past experiences he never should have had. Like most of the cannon fodder aggressively recruited into the military out of high school, I wouldn’t describe him as a smart man. I’m not sure I would even describe him as a good man. But he was not a bad man either. He was just a man, like any other man. Subject to the same demons that visit us all from time to time. 

Personal Reflection 2024. Mat Chacon

I’d often see him smoking outside or walking his mangey pit bull with the milky eye. Because I was born with a curious nature and an absence of fear, I’d regularly stop and talk to him. No one else did. 

Jason’s father bought the home in the early 80s and gifted it to him after retiring and moving away. Jason tried making a go of it after his bid in the Army. He worked a string of dead-end jobs until finally settling on a desperate life lived off his disability severance and whatever else he could get from the government, family, and friends. It didn’t take long for his home’s external reality to become the physical manifestation of his internal reality as Jason delved into darkness and slowly uncoupled from this world. 

I’d regularly drop off a weekly donation of food on his front deck. On the rare occasions that he’d come out to greet me I’d ask how he was doing and we’d share idle chit-chat. He always looked the same, sporting a perpetual five-o-clock shadow, and dressed like his job was scaring away birds from someone’s garden. Being a chain smoker he often bore the stale odor of a crypt, and when he spoke he wheezed his words between slow, pregnant pauses as though he had just hauled a friend's couch into a third-floor walk-up without so much as a thank you. The stories he told were always interesting, though I can’t confirm their truth. Regardless, his life was more interesting than the tech industry drones quickly gentrifying my beloved community where homes now sell for far more than their previous owners can purchase. 

Flashing red and blue lights coaxed people from their homes at 5am. People shuffled outside and collected on the street, glassy-eyed and ambling about like a cast of puppets. I could hear them murmuring about the crazy man in the decrepit house, and my first thoughts were of Charles Bukowski, probably because Jason was fast approaching his own Bukowski-level of existence. 

“All people start to come apart finally and there it is, just empty ashtrays in a room or wisps of hair on a comb in the dissolving moonlight.” - Charles Bukowski.

The Final Selfie 2024. Mat Chacon

I stayed in the cozy comfort of my living room, espresso in hand, and watched the ghastly carnival of onlookers still dressed in their pajamas, hugging themselves against the cold, and stretching their necks simply agog at the destruction of another person’s life. A policeman approached the looky-loos crammed together on Jason’s front lawn and they tried to skulk away like roaches in a newly lit kitchen but instead toppled over like an overloaded coat rack. I think Jason would have smiled at that.

I could hear my neighbors offering empty platitudes among one another like “things are never as bad as they seem” and I realized that these people were doing nothing more than indulging in their own absurdity. The reality is that sometimes they’re worse. 

Jason decided he was done traversing his sightless dark and took matters into his own hands. 

I get it. We are all thrust into a world of molten lava that will either destroy us or forge us. The outcome is ultimately our decision. 

I hope Jason has finally found his peace. 

If you’re struggling with depression, call a hotline, family, or friends. If you can’t do that, message me on Instagram. I’ll be there for you. That’s a promise that will never be broken. 

I photographed the images in this post from inside Jason’s home. He’d given me a key to watch his dog when he visited his father over a long weekend. After Jason passed, I used the key to go inside and shoot these images as a visual expression of the demons he had wrestled with and ultimately lost to. 

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