Today is a different kind of post, inspired by events that happened several years ago. I understand that this is very different from my normal content, but if there is ONE text-heavy/informational/rambling style post you read from me, this should be it.
Today, I’m turning 23. This day in 1994, early in the morning, it was storming outside when my mom went into labor. I was a difficult pregnancy- my mom was (supposed to be) on bed rest. When she and my father dropped my older sister off at a friends’ house, their friends said, “Look’s like Stormy Bennett is on her way.”
Perhaps there was some foreshadowing, but this is not the point.
Transport back a bit further than eight years to my sophomore year of high school. High school and I did not get along. My personal mental health was suffering. After a week stay in the hospital (and a couple months or so), I found myself in a pretty terrible relationship with an older boy who did not respect me. I didn’t know this at the time, and when I told him one day that I wasn’t comfortable with something… he didn’t care, and then he broke up with me. Guilt overcame me; I remember sleeping on the floor by my bed, no pillows or blankets, because I didn’t deserve them. Later on, I learned he had been cheating on me with my then best friend anyway. I never spoke to her about what happened; I accepted what I thought was my fate and let my friend group slip away. Add in isolation.
I won’t lie and tell you I was fine. I wasn’t, and I knew it. But, like the story of my birth, that isn’t the point.
I still went to school every day. School, for me, was a constant. I’m intelligent enough that school was never difficult, and I took pride, perhaps the only pride I could, in my studies. My teachers all had some idea that the year was difficult for me, although I hadn’t told anybody why. So I went to school. I enjoyed moments of silent introspection. Chemistry came naturally to me. AP European History offered mindless memorization, day-dreams, and the occasional analysis. In Spanish, I could dream of far away worlds and integrating, maybe, into a different culture. The 50-minute calculus class was a safe haven for me, a moment in the day where I could have a white board to myself and mess around, proving theorems or deriving formulas for my peers to use on tests. In those moments, I felt useful.
Then I had Honors English. My teacher had a strong interest in psychology and yoga- which is almost funny, as so do I now. Her lessons felt practical but empowering- sure, we had to write a research paper, but we were in charge of the subject. Occasionally, though, she would push me further than I’d want, demanding in-class presentations, group projects, and eyes-on-you monologues. It was in this class I felt most anxious. It was also in this class I met a friend.
And this, this is where we get into the point.
His name was Matt. I can’t remember if we had assigned seats, but I remember sitting by him. He would talk to me, even if I was a little preoccupied in my mind. We weren’t great friends, and he had his own friend group, but he made some effort to ask how I was, and I’d do the same. We had similar classes (just at different periods), and while those provided most conversation topics, we had made some tentative plans to, at some point in time, play a zombie computer game online together.
It seems small, but I felt slightly more welcomed by him, not just in the class, but in life in general.
On the evening of my 15th birthday, there was a phone call. My mom answered it. Understanding my own mental health struggles that year, my English teacher thought it would be appropriate for my mom to know, to prepare just in case there was any backlash with me.
Matt had died.
He was found by his parents, having choked himself.
It was officially ruled a suicide. I remember my parents telling me it might have been the choking game. Perhaps that was popular at the time; I couldn’t tell you. The school, though, treated it like a suicide. I can’t remember most of the day. That’s what happens when you get terrible news. You remember where you were the moment you became aware, but you don’t remember all the events afterward. I still remember watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11, but I couldn’t tell you what happened at school. I’m sure many people remember exactly what class they heard the news in, but when you’re numb, trying to process it… you don’t. I only remember people crying, confused, wondering why and how. I remember old friends saying, “He always seemed so happy.” “Those are the ones that typically do it, right?” “I wish we could’ve done something.” “Maybe if I said hello more.” “Maybe if we talked about it more.” Maybe… maybe… maybe….
To most people, I didn’t appear to be in the front row. We weren’t known friends. We just talked sometimes. No blame can be placed on those who ran to his closest friends to offer support or those who ran to their own closest friends to obtain support. I understood. I accepted it, and I felt some level of peace, knowing that those around me were capable of love.
That said, my feelings were very complicated, but they are also not the point entirely. My emotions ranged from sadness and loneliness to confusion to anger and despondency. I was hurt. The girl he had spoken to only in class.
This is where my point comes in. I spent many years dreading my birthday, as it serves as a reminder of that day. It’s not that it’s particularly awful; I just get all the feels. Even eight years later, I still cry, and yes, I have a box of tissues with me now as I type. Sharing this story is always hard, no matter who I share it with, when, or why. As the years go on, though, the message to me becomes stronger.
At the time, it was easy for me to angry at my classmates, as I was hurting and had been hurting for several months without a bat of an eye from many of them. I lost my friends, and to see them go on about the tragedy, I couldn’t help but think that nobody would’ve reacted like this had it been me. However, Matt was proof that others care. Those you sit by during your morning commute. The barista at the coffee shop you go to on Saturday. The coworker you see in passing… Anybody you talk to or smile at, however briefly, is impacted by you and would miss you if you were gone.