When we returned to my very small, very conservative high school in Alabama after having been together, I was terrified of him. So scared in fact that I did all I could to avoid he and I being in the same places. For weeks after we returned I avoided his phone calls and spoke to him only in short curt conversations. I just knew that he would give me away and I was certain at that young age that my life would come apart if someone found out about us. When he died 2 years later all I could think about was how alone he must have felt and how many times I could have been there for him if I simply picked up a phone or walked up to him in the hall. I remember thinking at his funeral that no one really knew him at all and that I would now carry two secrets with me for the rest of my life. Now I am not narcissistic enough to believe that his decision to end his life had anything to do with me, but I carried guilt about my choice to ignore him for years.
I thought that I had put all that behind me until this past year. When my student and friend Blake died as a result of suicide it all came rushing back to me. I was stuck by feelings of helplessness, feelings of failure, and the feeling that if only I had been more diligent then they might both be alive. The guilt and shame hit me hard and I all but fell apart. I have begun to realize (with the help of my very smart and compassionate therapist) that my whole career, all of my energy to build a better community started with the loss of "H" and that I was still holding myself responsible for something that simply was not my fault. I had to forgive myself for choosing my own life over “H” and that if I let it eat me alive I would never be able to help anyone ever again.
I know now that I am always trying to save that young, desperate 19-year-old boy who felt so alone when he died. I know now that he lives inside me every day and that the world that I am trying so hard to create would have been one that he would have loved to have lived in. I know now that I can’t save everyone (and it isn’t my job to do so) but I want to keep “H’s” memory alive and see him in the faces of all my students and friends. I was able to place Blake’s name into the title of our local archive so that he will be remembered as the amazing person he was, forever and I want “H” to know that he lives on in me and in all the people I help, every day.