Testing the Strong Ones: A Reprise

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I'm cheating. This post is from a year ago, but tomorrow marks the five-year anniversary, & because last year's post was one of the most powerful I feel I've ever written - not just about him or the issue of suicide prevention, but ever - I decided to just go ahead & repost. I have different readers now, a new batch of people to tell this story to & hopefully impact. Dave's story is my story now, & I will make sure he is remembered in the only way I know how.

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 have 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.

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