TW/CW: Mentions of su*cide, death/dying, etc.
I may have made more phone calls on the morning of October 12, 2021 than I’ve ever had in my entire life.
And that was just yesterday. And the day before that, I had completed a 5000-word story for my first writing competition. I was smiling. I posted on Instagram about it. I was excited to tell one of my best friends about it — he had never read this story, and I was eager to share.
He would never read this story. He took his own life over the weekend.
There wasn’t a reason why.
I just remember the phone call. I was one of the first of his friends to know. His family called me “special to him”. All I heard was, “He’s gone.”
My body seemed to move like clockwork in the immediate seconds after. I remember my roommate clutching my hand, and when I hung up, I said to her, “I have a math test today.” I repeated it, maybe twice, then I said, “How am I supposed to tell everyone else?” I saw her tear up.
(To my roommate, I’m sorry. I hope you get a good grade on that exam you were taking.)
I emailed my professors. Copy-and-pasted the same thing, with a few words different. Each replied with, “My condolences . . .”
I felt telling people about his death became my job. I didn’t want anyone to find out through a shitty Instagram post or a picture on a story with a cryptic caption. I didn’t want anyone to wonder what the hell happened. I called one person. I cried. That person helped me tell others.
I called a second person. I cried with her. I called a third. A fourth. A fifth. I began scouring my contacts. Who knew him? Who knew of him? Who was in his life for years, and who was in his life for seconds?
I began to call, and after a while, I knew exactly what to say. I didn’t cry. I just said it matter-of-factly. Each response was so similar. It was silence, then it was, “What?” Then it was, “Let me know if there’s anything I could do.”
It was those who didn’t reply with silence that I still think about.
“He wouldn’t do that, right?”
How could I have an answer to that?
In the moments after death (or finding out about it), I began to think of what I should do next. Dress shopping was one of them. Jeez, I don’t even like the color black on me. It brought too much attention to my eyes. My friends and I could do nothing but crack jokes.
“You guys have to send fit checks,” one of them said.
Such normalcy in a world torn apart.
A few of us went to Red Robin afterward. Miraculously, none of us cried. Though, we did laugh about how we dragged our feet across the pavement, and how each of us looked dressed for completely different events. That poor waiter, so down-to-earth, probably thought we had just come from an awful college exam. A friend and I made eye contact across the booth as I said, “Sorry, we just had a day.”
We began sharing memories of him, and laughing about dumb things only close friends could know about him. I knew that if he was sitting with us, he would be pouting. Whining all like, “Shut the hell up! It was one time!” I took my food home but I never ate it. I was just glad the water I had subsided my splitting headache.
Then there was a gathering at my house. My friends and I all had pizza. We didn’t know what to say. We didn’t talk about what happened much. I think a lot of us were still trying to process that it even happened. I stood outside and talked to my partner with my soggy Red Robin leftover burger.
He said to me a few things that I would remember. We came to realize that we grieved very similarly. It helped.
Grief is an odd thing. There’s the moment you find out about a death (those breathless moments, those chilling moments, those anger-filled, empty moments), then the moments after. The moments that answer, “What comes next?” The moments where you have to feel the shock, rather than just live it.
I’m still trying to find a word to these moments. I keep finding it all funny. And then I just keep remembering all the stories we used to write as kids.
He was my first ever writer friend, and I hope you all come to remember that. True writer friends are such rare finds in this world. They uplift you in ways a non-writer couldn’t. In the most personal way possible. He did that for me. He had always wanted to read the newest version of my next novel.
I would always say, “Maybe your next birthday. Turn nineteen first, then we’ll see.”
And man, I never took him driving. Never seen him drive. Never saw him get married. Never went biking, rock-climbing, exploring. Never went on a beach trip. A concert. We were planning to do all that. It was always, “Soon.”
He would probably tell us all to stop crying. He’s having a few last laughs wherever he is.
Most feel a hole in their lives when someone is gone. I feel I was privileged enough to be left with a few things to fill it. I knew him for about six years of my life. I got to know his writing, and therefore I got to know his soul. His soul had always been young.
Years ago, he and I’s friendship made it into my novel in the form of two characters: Tabitha and Thorin. I will cherish those two characters. I vow to give them enough page time.
In the after, I thought of what to do. I thought that the only thing I could do was write. That was all he’s ever wanted for me — to be able to write, because it made me happier than anything. He understood that more than most. We wrote for similar reasons — to escape.
Now, at least, I can write for something different. Something healthier. Something whole: myself, in the memory of those I lost.
It’s a privilege to have gained something from loss, as harrowing as it all is.