Monday, November 16, 2009

I Am Loved

*I started this blog weeks ago. I haven't had the strength to finish it until now.*

A movie I once watched had a wonderful quote that I think of often. It said something to the effect of, "That's all life is, really, just a string of big days, with a bunch of meaningless ones in between." Or something like that. One of those big days got me here, to this place where I have found a cause for which to devote myself, because this day was one of the worst days of my life.

I was a sophomore in high school, and it was a Monday like any other. I got up. I took the bus to school. I arrived and went to the corner where I hung out with my "new" friends. My old ones hung out by the hangar (yes, my high school had an airplane hangar), and I always felt slightly guilty when I passed it by in the mornings in favor of newer faces and newer personalities and attitudes. I hadn't been there long when I saw a few of my old friends approaching from outside. I was happy to see them, happy that they had decided to take time out of their morning to come see me, even if it shamed me a bit to know that this meant they cared more about me than I did about them.

When they walked in, however, I could see immediately from their swollen eyes that they were not there for a pleasure visit. I knew there was bad news. My best friend from middle school was not with them. It was her sister and someone else (I can't remember who), and I initially thought something had happened to her. I asked if something had happened to her. They said no, but my relief was very short lived. I can't remember them dawdling or beating around the bush. I remember them telling me point blank that our friend, Robert, had shot himself over the weekend. He had gone out into a field (I can't remember whether it was Friday or Saturday night) and shot himself in the head. He was alive, just barely, in the hospital.

I remember that the world turned itself over. It literally felt like that, physically. I don't know how else to describe it except that every thing felt completely upside down. My friends were standing in front of me, and they reached out for me, but I couldn't move toward them. I could only move backwards. I just wanted to get away. I backed further and further, with my hands clasped over my mouth, my eyes welling with tears, silent gasps and sobs escaping my lips. I backed until I could back no further. I was backed into a corner, and I slid, sobbing, down those godawful floor to ceiling windows, until I was in a heap on the floor. Somehow, they got me up. Somehow I made my way back over to where they all were, numb and quiet. Somehow, a bell rang, and we slowly made our way to classes. The world, albeit upside down, continued to turn, and I still had to be in Horticulture.

My Horticulture teacher was my favorite teacher, and he pulled us one by one into his office to give us our progress reports. He gave me mine, and I promptly burst into tears. He started to comfort me, to tell me that it was just one bad grade, that I could make it up. I shook my head, and told him the news I had heard that morning. I remember that he hugged me. He probably wasn't supposed to, but I was so thankful, am still so thankful, for that hug.

The week passed at a slow crawl. I couldn't be anywhere. I skipped most of my classes. I couldn't bear to sit still long enough to think about him. The only way that I could survive was to keep moving, and to tell myself that somehow, he would be OK. I know, in retrospect, how completely irrational that was. People don't just recover, unscathed, from gunshot wounds to the head. But I had myself completely convinced that he was going to be a-OK; that he'd wake up from his coma anytime now, and be terribly sorry that he had worried us all so much. My Pollyanna-esque attitude was impossible for one of my friends to deal with. My coping mechanism was optimism. Hers was anger. And she was sure as hell angry at my optimism, and didn't mind informing me that all we were doing was waiting around for him to die.

One morning late in the week, my Horticulture teacher called me into his office. He told me that Robert had died the night before. They were going to announce it, he said, over the PA, but he didn't want me to hear it that way. He hugged me while I cried, again, and again I was, and remain, thankful. He wrote me a pass to the counselor's office, where I thought I would be united with my friends. Instead, I was ushered into a large room with a large table and two counselors who informed me that I couldn't go to the same counseling group my friends had been in all week. It would interrupt their progress, or something. I said nothing to them, choosing to silently cry, and give them nothing, since they would give me nothing. One of them proceeded to tell me that "you can talk to me, you know. We're not just here to make schedules and help with college applications." I resented her (and still resent her) for using my grief as an avenue for expressing TO ME, a grieving teenager, her frustration with her job. They left me alone in the room. The principal made the announcement over the PA system. I listened and cried all alone. Another friend of mine, and ex-girlfriend of Robert's, came in later with the two evil counselors, and she asked me what happened, as if she didn't know. It was so strange. It was as if she had forgotten the last few days had happened. All she could say, over and over, was, "He used to be my boyfriend. He used to be my boyfriend."

That day, I went to my classes, only because I had been to the counselor's office and someone knew I was at school. Skipping was too risky. I heard the terrible things other kids said about my friend. "Why is it always crazy white kids that do stuff like this?" "Well, at least he only killed himself instead of shooting up the school."

In the days that passed between Robert's death and his funeral, I thought about him constantly. I thought about the days the year before, when he was the first person I would see in the mornings. He was always the first one at school, and I was always the 2nd. I would walk in and find him sitting cross-legged in front of the stairs in his jean jacket, with his big black duffel bag. He would smile at me, and I would sit next to him, and we would get to talk for a while until the next person showed up. I thought about how I never treasured those moments enough.

I thought about the time our friend had her birthday party at the roller skating rink. I remembered us all being out on the rink, everyone joining hands in one long, fast, spinning line. I remembered him being at the end and reaching out for me. To this day, when I think of him, this is how I remember him...skating, smiling, and reaching out to me.

I thought about the last time I saw him, as I was leaving school the Friday before it happened. I remembered how I thought at the time he looked sad. What if I had stopped? What if I had asked what was wrong? What if I had stopped for 2 seconds caring if I missed my bus or if my friends were leaving me and took an interest? Maybe things would have been different. I know now they would not have been. At 16, I was not equipped to give the kind of help that would have prevented Robert from taking his own life. I am not now, at 27. I know that self-blame is common in those who survive victims of suicide. I know, but knowing doesn't stop the wondering.

My friend, Querida, and I went to the funeral together. I remember that it was far away. Her mother drove us, and we held hands all the way there. The funeral home was packed when we got there, and she and I stood against a side wall for the whole service. All I remember about it was that the music seemed wrong. He would have hated it. At the end, we all walked down the center aisle to look at him, and there he lay, in his jean jacket. There was a button pinned to it that said, "I Am Loved." I didn't even remember that until right this very moment. It is an almost overwhelming memory.

"I Am Loved".

I don't know if Robert knew he was loved. But he must have felt alone. He was depressed, and he had no outlet for that. Depression wasn't something we knew about to any serious degree. To us, depression was how we felt after a boyfriend broke up with us, not a serious condition needing medical treatment. If we did know that, we certainly didn't know that it was OK, that we could talk about it. That we could ask for help. That we could get better.

What if he had known? What if all of us had known?

The cause I mentioned in the beginning is To Write Love On Her Arms. To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.

Here is the vision. I thought about condensing, since this post is already so long, but I can't. It needs to be read as a whole.

The vision is that we actually believe these things…

You were created to love and be loved. You were meant to live life in relationship with other people, to know and be known. You need to know that your story is important and that you're part of a bigger story. You need to know that your life matters.

We live in a difficult world, a broken world. My friend Byron is very smart - he says that life is hard for most people most of the time. We believe that everyone can relate to pain, that all of us live with questions, and all of us get stuck in moments. You need to know that you're not alone in the places you feel stuck.

We all wake to the human condition. We wake to mystery and beauty but also to tragedy and loss. Millions of people live with problems of pain. Millions of homes are filled with questions – moments and seasons and cycles that come as thieves and aim to stay. We know that pain is very real. It is our privilege to suggest that hope is real, and that help is real.

You need to know that rescue is possible, that freedom is possible, that God is still in the business of redemption. We're seeing it happen. We're seeing lives change as people get the help they need. People sitting across from a counselor for the first time. People stepping into treatment. In desperate moments, people calling a suicide hotline. We know that the first step to recovery is the hardest to take. We want to say here that it's worth it, that your life is worth fighting for, that it's possible to change.

Beyond treatment, we believe that community is essential, that people need other people, that we were never meant to do life alone.

The vision is that community and hope and help would replace secrets and silence.

The vision is people putting down guns and blades and bottles.

The vision is that we can reduce the suicide rate in America and around the world.

The vision is that we would learn what it means to love our friends, and that we would love ourselves enough to get the help we need.

The vision is better endings. The vision is the restoration of broken families and broken relationships. The vision is people finding life, finding freedom, finding love. The vision is graduation, a Super Bowl, a wedding, a child, a sunrise. The vision is people becoming incredible parents, people breaking cycles, making change.

The vision is the possibility that your best days are ahead.

The vision is the possibility that we're more loved than we'll ever know.

The vision is hope, and hope is real.

You are not alone, and this is not the end of your story.

If you want to help, become a fan of TWLOHA on Facebook, friend on myspace, follow on Twitter, and/or just visit the website at One of the best ways to help is to buy a t-shirt. They get a LOT of their funding from t-shirt sales. You get a rad t-shirt, and you do a good deed.

Thank you for reading my purge 10 years in the making. Tell someone you love them today.


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