No Note, No Explanation
Suicide rates are rising, and the pain of the pandemic put more people at risk. Talking about it matters.
Growing up, I was a lonely kid. The only friend I had was the son of one of my parents’ friends—a gentle boy with dirty-blond hair and soft, sea-blue eyes. My one happiness was going over to his house. His face would light up when he saw me. After a quick hello to his parents, we would race up to his room, a magical place filled with colorful toys and board games. I remember spilling whole containers of Legos on his worn-out carpet and sitting cross-legged for hours, creating our own villages of blocky houses and trees.
Each time my mother called up the stairs to say it was time to go, my heart sank. My friend made me feel alive. I never wanted to leave.
A few years later, we moved away. I saw him a couple of times after that, but as our parents’ friendship faded, so did our visits.
My family’s move was followed by another, and then another. I was always the new kid in school. As I walked down the halls filled with students who had grown up together, I felt unseen.
My home life was sadder. My parents fought all the time. There were moments when I looked at the pills in their medicine cabinet and thought maybe it would be easier not to be alive.
One day after school, instead of walking home, I walked into the middle school counselor’s office. I didn’t know what I would say but I knew I needed someone to see me. At first I just sat there, nervously bouncing my leg, not knowing how to explain the dread I felt. He was a patient, soft-spoken man with a salt-and-pepper beard, wearing worn corduroy pants. He asked simple questions and waited for me to tell him small bits about my life. I didn’t reveal all of my thoughts, but apparently I said enough that he called my mother after I left.
I arrived home later to a bouquet of red roses in my room. My mom and I didn’t talk about it until that night. I was sitting on the edge of her bathtub, watching her going through her face-cleansing routine, when she asked me what was going on. I tried to explain my pain. She tried to understand. The conversation didn’t fix my family’s dysfunction, or my feelings of isolation at school, but it helped.
Eventually I made friends and saw a hopeful path forward. Like many people who go through periods of suicidal ideation, I managed to find my way out of that dark place. Life went on, as it does. I went to college. I fell in love, got married and had kids.
One day, many years later, my mother called to tell me my childhood friend had died by suicide. He was in his late 30s, single and had been struggling with mental illness. The news knocked me over.
What had happened to that kindhearted, happy boy? I couldn’t stop thinking about his last moments. My mind would stay in that room, lingering with him, wanting to reverse his feelings of hopelessness. I imagined his mother finding him and how that must have shattered her soul.
I wanted to call and tell her how much I had loved her son, but I didn’t. I couldn’t fathom her agony, much less what I would say.
Instead, I sat down and wrote him a letter, hoping that somehow my words would reach him: I’m so sorry for the pain you had to endure. I can’t imagine how bad things got that you felt like you needed to leave this world.
I recounted stories from our childhood and told him something I should have shared with him while he was alive—that his kindness and friendship had filled a lonely girl’s heart. And that he, in turn, was not alone.