I have very few memories of actually enjoying high school. Kung fu was my main escape, but I also looked forward to seeing a group of childhood family friends. We only saw each other a few times a year, including Christmas at Sunday River and summer camp in idyllic western MA. I felt like I could be myself around these friends, and I was accepted for who I was. One of my friends was JC. This kid wore a t-shirt all the time, even when there was snow on the ground. He was kind to everyone, approachable, and very easy to talk to. His laughs were always laugh out loud giggles. He gave the best bear hugs.
Although we liked playing sports and did normal things that teens do, we bonded over feeling depressed about life. I hesitated in using the word “depressed” because although I was never clinically diagnosed, JC was. He was bi-polar to be exact, but I didn’t know it until later. Sometimes, we talked about ending our suffering. He actually tried it by cutting his wrists. The second time, he tried to OD on pills, but his parents found him and took him to the hospital where he had his stomach pumped. When he told me about these events, he almost made it sound like he thought he was more “hardcore” depressed than I was, because I never made any attempts on my life while he did. It was so long ago that I don’t really remember how I felt, other than being glad that he failed. I didn’t want to lose him.
Were things really that terrible for me? No, but a lot of times I didn’t feel like I had any good reason to live. I was stuck in a negative mindset and it closed me off to a lot of opportunities for friendship and personal growth. Somehow, I snapped out of it during senior year. It was because I went from a virtual loner to finally finding a group of friends. I was also accepted to Tufts University and thrilled about leaving high school behind. As I became less depressed, JC and I grew further apart. Then on April 29, 2001, another friend showed up at my house crying. She said JC crashed his car the night before, and died early this morning. He was 17. He had been accepted to Northeastern University and had a bright future ahead of him. I was looking forward to visiting him since we would be in the same city. My last contact with him was two nights prior on AOL Instant Messenger (I feel like I have to spell that out since it was eons ago in the web age). His screen name was dukenukem17. I remember being annoyed at him because he had been distant for a while. When he said “goodbye,” I didn’t even respond because I was so annoyed. Then he signed off. I didn’t get to say goodbye.
What non-depressed people don’t understand is that suicidal people don’t think they’re being selfish by taking their own lives. They don’t think they’re hurting their loved ones. They think they’re being selfless because they feel worthless and life for everyone would be better if they didn’t exist. You can’t tell them “Don’t do it because you’ll hurt your loved ones.” They have to feel like they’re worth saving. They have to feel like their lives are worth living. I was crushed when JC killed himself, but at the same time, I understood how he felt and I was glad he didn’t have to suffer anymore. I didn’t know how to help him and even if I tried, I don’t know if it would have changed anything.
How can I do this? By being there. Even if I’m not a “real” friend and I never see them again, maybe I was meant to be present in this person’s life, at this particular time, for this very reason.
I’ll keep trying if I am healthy in enough areas of my own life. As long as I am able, I feel morally obligated.
At the very least, get a band aid.