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For Guy Combine

For Guy Combine

If you've come across this page and have lost anyone to suicide or are worried that you have a friend or family member who might be depressed enough to hurt themselves, please read on.  This page is dedicated to Guy Combine, who during the spring of 2004, took his own life.  He was a wonderful person. 

Guy, the world is a less brilliant place now that you're gone.  This page is for you.

Guy Combine should never be forgotten.


In August of 1990, I got a job at an up-and-coming italian restaurant in Hermitage, PA.   It was at a time in my life when things were rocky, at best.  I'd returned to my home turf from not only from a big city (Cleveland) but a bad relationship, and I needed work if I was to get by.

My father pulled a few strings and secured a job interview for me at this restaurant with its cook, Guy Combine.  It's been over 19 years, yet I still remember the interview.  Everything went right - it was weird that way.  Not often in one's life does an interview go so well. 

I walked in and was met by this tall, lanky dude in kitchen whites with wayward, straw-colored curls accompanied by the most comforting blue-grey eyes I'd ever seen.  He held his hand out to me and introduced himself as Guy.  He seemed nervous; either that, or he wasn't used to strange meetings like interviews.  I mean, sure, you can open a business, but who's going to tell you how to change who you really are?  After the initial uncomfortable formalities, we sat at an equally awkward, black-painted, padless booth, and he began to ask me questions.

I nailed that interview.  Nailed it.

He laughed, I relaxed;  and as we got further into my application, the formality between us kind of melted.  Guy and I were a good mix from the beginning.  Even though he was nerdy in nature, Guy Combine was one of the most comforting persons with whom I'd ever spent time; and despite the awkwardness of our first meeting, I liked him immediately.  Sitting there and answering his questions seemed like the most natural thing I've ever done.  How many times in your life will you ever click with someone so well?

Needless to say, I got the job.

And what a hard, challenging, rewarding job it was.  I benefitted from the experience of dealing with the public in such a nature.  Being a hostess for Combine's taught me to listen to people, watch them, to expect the unexpected, and to well, kiss ass.  It taught me that many people hate waiting... this restaurant did not take reservations;  it went on a nightly waiting list.  Many people in the Shenango Valley did not like this approach, especially the 'A list'.  I can't begin to tell you how many times certain lawyers, doctors, and business owners would attempt to bump themselves up a few names or outright push themselves into an open booth.  When that didn't work, they either left or stayed; but either way I was made known to their discomfort and often expected to change what they felt was at times a personal slight.  Some whined, some tried to bribe me, and a few bitched and moaned when they weren't seated fast enough.  I learned about entitlement quickly.

Over the next 3 months, Combine Brother's no-reservation idea payed off, because the people who came to eat and stayed would not only stay, but they began to enjoy the two-hour wait one often found during Friday and Saturday night.  These people expected to drink and laugh before dinner.  These were the people Guy was looking for.

While working a nightly shift was exciting, there were monotonies involved that became maddening.  I can't begin to tell you how many times I had to hear "Three Coins in a Fountain" by Frank Sinatra because The Best of Frank Sinatra was one of only two cd's I remember getting constant playing time.  Between than cd and the 10,000 Maniacs cd Jeff liked, I was pretty much up to my eyeballs in Frank and Natalie.  Every night.  All night. 

I've always wondered on the side - why don't certain restaurants and  chains like Pier One get more than two cd's?  What's the damage?  Don't they realize that:

1.) there's lots of music out there, and

2.) they drive their employees crazy?

During the year I worked at this restaurant, I was a mess.  My life was going nowhere, I drank too much, and was unhappy with myself.  The only positive thing I did at the time was work.  I took pride in my job.  From Tuesday to Saturday, I was the hostess and worked from five PM to an unofficial ten PM or midnight on weeknights and weekend nights.  On nights like Wednesday, it was possible to hustle a bit of change off those on the waiting list by remembering drink orders from the previous time they came in and being attentive.  It's amazing how much it meant to customers if I could remember their name from an hour before;  to be called by their name as they walk in the restaurant weeks later often brought about beaming smiles.  To be remembered, to be greeted, to be called by name and dragged to the bar for a drink that you've remembered they drink - for some people this was a real treat.  If I remembered an older person's name and their drink, they would grab my arm or hug me on the way out the door.   While greeting them during their next visit, it became obvious as he or she might self-consciously pull on a suit or dress years too tight that this was the first time this person has been out since the last time they'd come in to eat.  There was no bad side to this.

The Combine brothers' restaurant had a huge italian customer base, and some of them may have not dined out since the Paradise Lounge served up sauce in the eighties.   I pulled in from thirty to sixty bucks extra depending on the night because I learned what my job really was;  I was to keep people from leaving if there was a wait list.   I was to sell the restaurant.  Guy's food was the real sell,  but I was the first face these diners saw five out of six nights a week and had to pimp like crazy sometimes to keep them from leaving.  I had to learn whose kids where going to what school, who drank what, and who hated chairs and who liked the seat by the kitchen; who liked half orders, who wanted the extra sauce taken off his plate (this meant you, Mr. Cardamon!!), and so on.   From the shift's start to finish, there was a full-adrenaline go, and Guy Combine gave me the opportunity to enjoy myself while doing it.  He gave me the opportunity to make people happy and study them at the same time.

Once, during an ABC golf tournament at Tam-O'Shantern gold course, I turned down three hundred dollars in total worth of tip money to put the out-of-towners ahead of regulars on a two-hour wait list.  There were people argueing with me to put them up on the list and showing me one hundred-dollar bills, but I couldn't take the money.  It was more important to Guy to treat the once in awhile rich guy like the twice a week steel worker - to make sure everyone stood in the same line.  Not once during the whole year that I worked there did I ever cross that line.  For this loyalty to the rules, Guy Combine took care of me;  he was a superb boss.

Guy Combine was the oldest child in his family of four brothers and one sister.  I don't know much about his childhood, but I do know that the happiest times he talked about were when he lived in St. Thomas with his wife a few years before Combine's Restaurant came into existence.  He loved to scuba dive, cook, and had a rather eclectic taste in music.  There were many nights at the restaurant that we listened to the B-52's and They Might Be Giants after closing.  It was interesting to be around him after he loosened up because during work hours he was so reserved around customers.  He might be open with people he knew well, but otherwise he kept his emotions under wraps.  There were a few times, though, that he let loose.......

One year his birthday fell on a Friday, a karaoke Friday.  Holy Crap I hated karaoke Fridays.  The words escape me.  They might have been fun for the customers, but they were hell for me.  I had the extreme displeasure of weaving in and out of drunk masses of Westminster College students who all wanted to drink but didn't want to pay, let alone tip, the frazzled hostess.  (One night someone threw a fifty cent tip at me that bounced on the table and to the floor.  While I tried to grab both quarters at once, and couldn't,  I decided that they could get their own drinks for the rest of the night.)  And I couldn't even get away with drinking on the job like the bartenders could.  It basically sucked.

One karaoke night Guy sang Secret Agent Man.  I don't know who signed him up, but  I do know he didn't do it himself.  He was as surprised as the rest of us when the karaoke host called his name as "the birthday boy".   We all watched him read the words on the monitor like he was reading a menu and cracked up.  He was blushing and smiling and singing (kind of), "There's a man who lives a life of danger..."  Robin the bartender leaned over and said to me "I cannot believe what I'm seeing."  No of us could.  It's one of my favorite memories of him because for once, he was shoved into the spotlight, and he couldn't dip back into the kitchen.

He was calm most of the time; when it got crazy during rush hour, he was all business.  He rarely yelled.  He was rarely cross with us, the waitresses and hostess.  Guy was always focused on getting the food out with attention to each dish.  I remember him having this one towel that he used to wipe the edges of each pasta dish so a waitress could serve it without having to worry about having thumbed the sauce - leaving an obvious thumbprint on the plate where you have to hold it.

Guy was a genius with seafood.  Having just moved up from St. Thomas with his wife, he brought with him a knowledge of the marrying of hot peppers, shellfish, and oil that to this day makes me smile.  Jesus, could Guy Combine cook.  I can't say it any better than that.  He loved it.  He loved to cook.

Guy could prepare and hand over the nightly special - after wiping the edges of course - and one of us could say, "That looks so good.  I want to eat it now."   And he'd smile.  Guy must have loved to make people happy.  He'd pop out from the kitchen during lulls in business to get a drink and I'd catch him looking at the dining room, at times, smiling.  At first I thought he was just happy to be out of the oven, but on closer reflection, I think it was because he liked to feed people, pure and simple, and he got satisfaction in knowing that they enjoyed what he made.

He also fed me many a night when I was too stupid to feed myself.  He used to make Baccala, which was a salt cod cooked in tomatoes, raisins, and onions, on Fridays and Saturdays.  It was my favorite thing in the restaurant.  I'd come in early to eat a big bowl (and then brush my teeth) and then managed to nibble on it the entire night each time I passed the pan.  Yeah, I was gross.  If I had a moment, I'd sneak my hand in the pan and grab a piece of fish.  He didn't use the original salt cod but a white fish fillet, not that it mattered.  It was my favorite thing to eat in the whole wide world.  Still is.  The raisins would plump up from the tomato's liquid;  they would be sweet and swimming in little pools of oil and translucent onions.  Being that Combine's was a real italian restaurant, one could always find a shaker of decent parmisgan within hand's reach.  So many times I remember hiding by the back register with that shaker and a piece of fish, gobbling it up before I had to address the new customers at the door.  I bought at least two packs of Sugar Free Spearmint Breath Savers a week to save them smelling it on me.

Week after week on a Saturday night, after midnight, I'd sign out and there would often be half a pan of the stuff; and Guy almost always asked me if I'd like to take it home.  Many weekends my fridge would have two styrofoam containers full of it.  Many times it was the only Sunday meal I'd have because I spent my money on alcohol and a two AM breakfast.  Guy always offered food to us.  Yes, it would go to waste you say, but he didn't have to offer it.  He did anyway.  That's just the way he was.

Even after I moved to Germany to be with my husband and our first child, Guy sent a Christmas card of the Sphinx with the star of Bethlehem shining in the sky.  The inside was quaint and to the point.  "Merry Christmas number 9 (me).  Guy."  We sent cards back and forth a bit before his life moved on.  I think I visited four more times over the next eight or nine years, during which I learned how to make bread like his mom did.  I also figured out the Baccala recipe, and I now make three different red sauces and a few other things like Bracciole and Alfredo.  I hand toss home-made pizza crust and get corn meal and flour everywhere.  I can't cut an onion without seeing him in my mind, either; he's always there.  Life does move on, but not always kindly.

By the spring of 2004, I hadn't written to him in over three years.  During a call to my dad, who still lived in the Shenango Valley, I was finally made aware of Guy's death.  "I haven't told you, but Guy Combine shot himself last week."  My dad continued,  "He was discovered in the shed behind his house."

How does one explain the impact terrible news hits you with when you hear it for the first time?   I can only think of how we felt as kids.  Upon hearing something horrible or being scared, really scared, most kids feel what I remember feeling and felt on that day.  First, you can't breathe.  Second, a feeling of panic overcomes you so fast that you don't know what to do.  It starts from your chest, goes out to your limbs, and then settles back into the pit of your stomach.  By the point, when that feeling settled into my stomach, my mouth felt hollow and I was crying.

After a few minutes, he told me the whole story, or at least what he knew, and then he hung up.  This call left me in the apartment by myself with a whole lot of panic.  And why was I panicking?  Because Guy Combine had always been there.  He was a steady in my life whether or not I still lived in Hermitage, PA.  He was this figure of trust, of comfort.  When I thought of him, I thought of good things.  And now he was dead.

That night I wrote very hearfelt letters to his family and his ex-wife.  I also spent most of the night on the phone with one of my best friends trying to make sense of it all, but there was none to be had.

Why now after almost three years since his death, do I feel the need to talk about him?  I don't know.  The reason could be because there are thousands of families across this nation who lose beloved family members to suicide every day who don't have to. 

And because Guy Combine needs to be remembered.

Every day someone kills himself.  He might slash his wrists or take a bunch of pills and not wake up.  He might drive his car over a cliff.  He might shoot himself.  And many times people want to forget this person existed because it hurts to talk or think about him.  Well, I don't want to forget Guy.  I know he lived.  I know he died.  And I know that he died alone.  Then he was cremated and put to rest.  Yet, there are people out here, people like me, who remember him, who loved him, who remember.

We remember the way he would make tiny, intelligent jokes when he was feeling confident.  We remember that he had blond curls and a Roman nose and blue eyes.  We remember that he smiled and laughed.  I remember.

I remember all these things because I looked up to him.  I floundered around, moved on from the Shenango Valley, came back to visit, and always got a hug from him.  One of the memories that I carry in my heart and damn myself for not capturing on film of any kind was Guy picking up my son and taking him behind the counter of the restaurant during a visit to PA in 1995.  He held Thomas in his oversized, greasy hands and they looked at the pictures on the walls.  Then, he brought Thomas back to me and we talked for a minute.  It was late, like almost ten PM, and Thomas was tired and full of spaghetti.  Guy seemed so happy to see us.  Still dressed in a white shirt and apron stained with orange oil, he turned around and went back to the kitchen with that apron slapping against his bare legs.  Guy liked to wear shorts.

I remember seeing him later in years, but only vaguely; life was crazy and I had two kids and a husband to worry about.  We only did carry-out.   The kitchen had been remodeled and the restaurant had grown.   And Guy was still Guy for a little while longer.

He was always there, and I made that horrible mistake of forgetting to write or call; and now I can't call or write again ever.  Guy Combine was a wonderful person who became depressed due to personal issues and he shot himself, and we didn't see it coming.

He has left behind brothers, a sister, and parents.  He left behind an ex-wife who knew him well, friends, employees, and people who loved his cooking.  He touched thousands of people in the time he was the head chef of Combine Brothers Restaurant.  And now he's gone.

Almost two years ago my husband took me to this restaurant in our home town with an italian theme.  It's got decent pizza, but they overcook their pasta and don't understand pre-boiling only means cooking it halfway.  The ravioli was good. 

I can't go in there anymore. 

We went in and I found myself in tears as I'm in now, crying without understanding why.  "What the hell?" Kurt asked, "What's the matter?"  All I could say is "I miss Guy."  It was true.  The smells, the cheese shaker, these things reminded me of someone I never thought would be gone, someone I'd taken for granted would always be there.

Here are some symptoms of depression and potential suicidal behavior.

:  The person may talk about suicide.  If he or she does, take it seriously and be there for them.  Suicide is preventable.

:  He or she might have tried it before.  Stay on top of a friend or a loved one if they've had trouble in the past and seem to be acting depressed.

:  People who are thinking of killing themselves might also start giving things away that they treasure.  This is one of the bigger signs that often goes unnoticed.

:  If someone has recently been through traumatic incidents or has lost someone themselves, be careful.  Accidents, divorce, or the death of a spouse can trigger unfathomable depression.  It was told to me for instance that Guy had just been in an intervention.  He might have felt his back was against the wall and had no way out of the current situation in his life.  We'll never know now.

:  If someone seems depressed, they are more likely to contemplate killing themselves.  Symptoms of depression are regressing from society, being withdrawn, losing interest in things he or she might normally love, losing sleep or sleeping too much, missing appointments, work, and/or participating in self-destructive behavior.  Drug use, excessive drinking, and reckless driving are all examples of this.

One of the biggest reasons for suicide seems to be the person feels as if there is no cure or solution to the situation that he or she is currently in.  I have known people who may have killed themselves because they felt this way.  A younger brother of a boy I graduated with shot himself because he had recently been arrested with drugs, and those who knew him said he couldn't imagine how he was going to live his life normally after going to jail.    The note he left alluded to this very point.  One of our friends in Fort Knox shot himself after moving to Florida, and it was suggested to us that he had just contracted HIV.  I believe this was true.  Both these people were in situations they couldn't see their way out of.  Sometimes I think Guy might have felt this way too.  He had lost his way during the last years of his life and the intervention might have been too much for him to handle.  Even though it's speculation, I think he may have felt helpless to control or fix his life.

What we do know is that suicide is preventable.  Preventing someone from feeling isolated could be as easy as making a phone call, visiting him or her, or just being around to pick up the phone.

:  The last symptom is the most confusing.  If someone has been going through an extremely hard time and for no apparent reason seems to get 'better', or seems to be at peace with themselves, this is often a sign that he or she has simply given up and is ready to die.  One of my best friends is a nurse who has done psych rotations.  She told me that the real suicide attempt cases she interviewed stated the concept of suicide led them to relief because it was an answer, finally, to their pain.

If anyone you know has had a hard time or is drinking way more than normal, has recently split from their significant other, or is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, for God's sakes, make a phone call.  Visit.  Be a pest.  Trust your instincts if they tell you something is wrong.  When I think of Guy, I imagine that there were people who were afraid to ask if he was OK.  It's so fucked up how our society is.  We have been taught to be social but not to inquire as to how someone is truly feeling.  How many times have you seen neighbors fight and didn't ask the wife or husband if everything was all right later on?  How many times have you seen someone being bullied in public and didn't get involved?  What the hell's wrong with us?  We've been trained to mind our own business, and it's not right in instances where you feel in the pit of your stomach that something's wrong.  It stinks.

Maybe the best advice anyone could give is to get involved.  It's certainly better to be wrong than to have been right but didn't act.

Lastly, here's a link to the national suicide hotline website...


On it you will find numbers to call anywhere in the US and much better information that I scraped up.

I love you so much, Guy, and wish I could see you again.  If anyone reads this page and helps someone who's been depressed because of it, we've done a little.  I know you would have liked that because you always cared for us; it was your nature.  I will always miss you.

August 5th, 2007 - I've added a place for any of you who knew Guy and are reading this to leave a comment or your favorite memory of him, or for anyone in general who read this page and has had a similar experience.  I'd love if you signed the book, because you wouldn't believe how often I get an email from someone who knew him or from someone who has lost a friend to suicide.  I think it would be nice to share these comments, but of course, I don't want to publish anything that was meant for me to read alone.  Thanks - daphne, zookeeper

*Update - September 29, 2009 - Since the site moved, the previous guestbook signatures have been lost.  If you've signed before and your entry was lost, it would be nice if you signed again.

Sign Guy's Guestbook  View Guy's Guestbook

*Attention Spammer - You Are Not Welcome To Sign This Guestbook*

I recently erased a guestbook signature from  host.com, a rival business of my host company, Web.com, who apparently decided it was fine business practice to sign Guy's guestbook for the purpose of advertising their web-hosting services, even though this is a tribute to a man who ended his own life.  Spammers. 

                                                     You are all dicks.

You'll never be replaced, Guy.  Like me.


....if it's not covered in pet hair, it probably isn't mine....

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