Testing the Strong Ones

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I rarely get too personal on this blog, where I prefer to post photos of poorly dressed city folk & rant about Washington's many, many quirks than to reveal anything very telling or intimate. But today, here's some insight into my life - who I am & where I've come from, what's made me the way I am & how. It's rare, & I may take it down in a few hours, but mostly I just need to get it out.

Four years ago today, my high school boyfriend took his own life by hanging himself from the rafters in his garage. Dave was supposed to leave the next week to study broad in Australia. He was supposed to graduate from the College of Wooster with a degree in education. He was supposed to finish an album with his band, The Supporting Cast. 

Dave was supposed to do & be a lot of things, but a mental illness no one could see or stop got in the way, & instead, his friends & family buried him on a rainy Valentine's Day, just two months past his 20th birthday.

Cliche though it may be, Dave was one of the most beautiful people I've ever met, both inside & out - one of the beautiful, most artistic, most creative people I've ever met, but also one of the most volatile & unstable. He felt everything too strongly, sort of like April in "The Secret Life of Bees," so strongly that he couldn't adapt to the pain or work around it. And in the end, I think, Dave just got sick. He wouldn't have chosen this for himself; I don't think he had any choice.

But I don't want to remember Dave for the way he died. I want to remember him for the way he lived, for the things about him that no one ever asks about or mentions anymore. I want to remember him as the boy who introduced me to Jimmy Eat World's "Clarity" & a million other albums that have now stood by me at my lowest points. I want to remember Dave as the boy who gave me a failed guitar lesson in a park, who set up a scavenger hunt on my 18th birthday, who sent me a heart-shaped box of hard-to-find Sixlets for Valentine's Day, who sang "Hands Down," dedicated to me, on stage at the high school talent show, who came over to visit unannounced & always when I was napping. I want to remember Dave as the boy who
wore Chucks to his high school homecoming before Chucks were in, who had a long-awaited red star tattooed on his bicep on his 18th birthday, who got arrested for stealing an orange road cone & was punished by having to paint a fence, Tom Sawyer-style. The boy whose bright ideas included getting high & then doing the laundry, who hated pizza & almost always ordered chicken fingers, who wanted to move to New York City someday, who drove a teal Tempo but had to lie down when I was behind the wheel.

Every year, I think it'll hurt less, & every year I'm proven wrong. But it's not just the anniversary of his death or his birthday - it's every single day. It's a daily struggle to keep my head above the proverbial waters, to remind myself that it is a braver feat to live than to die, to convince myself that my 17-year-old trespasses neither took Dave's life nor rule mine. It is a constant battle to live - and even more importantly, to live in love rather than in regret.

If I were given the choice between having Dave gone & having him here, the answer would be clear. But that's not a choice I'll ever be given, of course, & so four years has given me plenty of time to think of ways to accept & even appreciate Dave's death. I've learned to look for the meaning behind every change in my life, to seek out every cause, effect & influence. Dave's death changed everything – it led me back home again, transferring colleges to be closer to my mother while I gave myself time to heal. It brought me closer to my rabbi, who encouraged me to apply for a summer internship with the organization where I now work. It created friendships with people I never dreamed I'd befriend & strengthened friendships I never imagined would last. Dave's death changed all of our lives. It tore some of us apart & thrust others of us together & set into motion a series of events I couldn't have foretold in any "what if" scenario.

The moral of my story, of Dave's story, is, I suppose, two-fold. The first is that maybe some people were born to live short lives but, in doing so, to change dozens. Maybe everything really does happen for a reason - or that even if it doesn't happen for a reason, there's something good to be found in it just the same.

And the second part of our story is this: Don't be afraid to reach out. People commit suicide when they think they have nowhere else to turn, when they've exhausted their options & connections & intimations. People commit suicide when they think no one else is watching. So watch. If you're worried about someone, tell them so. If you think they need help, make sure they get it. You will never regret anything more than you'll regret not having done your best to save someone who, at the very least, would have died knowing you cared.

And if you're the one who needs help, please find it. I love & appreciate my life the way it is now because there's no going back & because these are the cards we've been dealt -- but I would give anything to catch even a glimpse of what we all would have been had Dave gotten the help he needed. In the words of one of Dave's & my favorite bands, "Feel the pain, teaching us how much more we can take, reminding us how far we've come" -- it takes infinitely more effort to live than it does to die, & it's more painful, too, but nothing worth fighting for ever comes easily. Fight for your life - I wish to God that he had.


  1. With tears in my eyes & love in my heart, I have to say thank you. We've talked about this before, but I've never told you how much your strength gives me strength. Yes, I wasn't as close to him (by no mean) how you and Kevin were/are, but I feel him everyday. I love you, Kate. I don't tell you enough. Even though we've been through hell & back, you are a roll model to me through all these years.
    love you.

  2. I hope you won't take this down. It's very beautiful and very powerful. "Fight for your life" is right...I know all too well that some people really just can't manage it, because living can be so hard, especially for some of the most gifted and emotionally complex people.

    I'm glad you've found support and growth in your grief, anyway. (

  3. This is beautiful. I hardly know you, beyond this blog and Twitter and other random internet connections, but I'm still in tears.

    I do believe things happen for a reason (I've come to feel this even more strongly since my illness last year...) and for you to be able to find the positive, the strength in such a tragic event - it's beautiful and inspiring.

    I've never lost someone this close to me. I know someday I will and I only hope I can have the strength you've shown.

  4. This is why I love your blog. Your words are so addicting and you're a beautiful writer. Thank you for this post about Dave... may he rest in peace. I know he's looking down and smiling at you at this very moment. You are so strong.


  5. Hi Kate, you're inspiring me... and u're right. Sometimes we don't notice that our close friends or people are secreaming for help. Actually I'm the one who not really noticing people, because I prefer them to tell to me. I decided if they need me, they talk to me first, I won't ask first. Because I'm afraid they don't really like me doing that.

    I just wanna say, if one has problem, needs to be hugged, just ask. Ask to your closest person, bestfriends. By asking, by saying what you want, I hope it'll help to ease the pain you feel...

  6. This story is such an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. Oh honey, I'm so sad for you. Sometimes things like this just never get easier. I hope that sharing this with us has made it a little easier for you to get through this tough time.

  8. This is beautiful - I completely agree with everyone that has commented before. You are an amazing writer - you have a gift of weaving words together that make me speechless. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  9. Your words are amazing and powerful, a message to all to just "live" and to reach out to those who feel they just can't anymore. Missing our Daves, ilu

  10. Thank you for writing this.

    As someone who's been close to the flip side of your experience - I've attempted suicide - I'd like to repeat your sentiment. Talk to those you care about. Make sure they know you care, and that you'll listen and not judge.


  11. Kate,
    You and I do not know each other very well (though I've been internet stalking you for years) and I did not know Dave at all, but I thank you for posting this.
    As others have said above, your writing is additively beautiful, but more than that your message is a very important one.

    I'm sorry for your loss, and admire your strength. You are a very lovely soul.

    -Kara Anne

  12. This was a very beautiful post. I think about Dave from time to time and I also ask myself some of the same questions. Dave and I were fairly close at times and I had talked to him just weeks before this happened and he helped me through a tough time, and I wish I could've somehow helped him too. Thank you for writing this, as I never really see or talk to many people who knew Dave as well.

    -Jeremy Glass

  13. "So watch."

    At the end of any day, we're just people; each of us. And so we share much more than we ever believe we do. But even the best sense of self leads to a feeling of singularity, of oneness. And so it's no wonder that a harmful sense of self does, too.

    So many times, we lose our sense of connection by doubting our intuition. But I think we know more about each other than we pretend. And so your idea - to just watch - could not be any closer to exactly the way we all should live. We should take care of each other; if not out of love, then because if we don't, we really will be alone.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for sharing.

  14. This was beautiful. I'm thinking of you.

  15. I've been on the other end of your coin, and it's hard to rise above everything when it seems like there is so much, so very much all the time and all around. Every day can be a struggle, and sometimes? It still is. But it's people like you -- people who care, who are strong and loving and have the desire to live that keep people like me above the water.

    Thank you for sharing this part of your life.

  16. Kate, you write so beautifully and this story is beautiful. This brings tears to my eyes because I know how much you love him.

    I LOVE YOU!!

  17. It's truly amazing how profound a life lesson becomes when it's played out before our eyes. Everyone has heard the statement, "Look out for eachother" or the Golden Rule. To see the negative effects of what happens when these things aren't made into habit, when we ignore accidentally...

    A kid I graduated high school with committed suicide. My sisters are bi-polar. My dad's depressed. I mean, I seem to be surrounded by people who need the psychiatric help, the medical help, and the pure love and support of family.

    Waving to the kid "no one talks to" when you pass him on campus, smiling at someone in a bookstore, the meer action of acknowledging someone's presence... it's utterly astounding how powerful those simple actions can be.

    When I feel utterly alone, when I feel like my family is too far away to help and the phone is my only connection to friends who care... it's the friendly guy at the coffee shop or the helpful girl in the bookstore who recognize that I'm a person... you're not alone. We're all moving in this worldly existance together.

    Everything does happen for a reason, even you writing this blog. It brings to our attention so many things we should remember daily.

  18. the ability to keep lost loved ones in a positive place in your heart is a gift that comes with the passing of time: the daily flutters and reminders of another's long term gift to you before they left.

    glad you can still feel the butterflies.

  19. This is a really great post and I'm glad you didn't take it down. I am new to your blog and found you through the Green Team on 20 SB Biggest Loser. I went through a similar situation and it is really nice to hear the ways in which the death of Dave helped you.

  20. Please do not ever remove this post. Not only did you need to write it, but others need to read it.

  21. I pray you continue to grow and find peace. Your words are so powerful they will touch many hearts and lead to others being helped. Thank you for sharing your feelings and insight.

  22. I'm unfortunately very familiar with suicide, and it feels so good when other people share their stories. I really think the more that survivors tell how horrible it is, the less people will do it. So, thank you so much for this. And thank you for finding the positives in it. You're so motivating. It's beautiful.

  23. this is incredibly brave, brutally honest, and nothing short of beautiful. thank you for sharing, kate.


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