The following (edited) post was written as a tribute to my friend on what would have been his 28th birthday this past March:
Today is my friend’s birthday. Was. It was his birthday. Or is it “is”? I just don’t know.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I befriended a freshman named John. He was on the swim team with me and we clicked instantly. We had little crushes, but after 4 days of the innocent hand-holding thing, we decided we were better as friends. We spent hours together. We’d share a lane at swim practice and walk for a bite to eat after school. When I started dating a football player my junior year, I’d go to every game and sit right next to the band so I could hang out with John while he played clarinet. He’d make me laugh with his Elmo voice and hear me out on my issues with other girls. He was my best friend. At the end of my junior year, John tried out for – and won – the drum major role for the next year. He was so ecstatic. He had such a love for music and had so many ideas for field formations and songs the band could perform.
On Labor Day my senior year, I was at home, enjoying an extra day off from school. We had friends over to swim. The phone rang, my friend Jamie told me to sit down. She told me John was gone. My heart broke then and there. He’d taken his own life, his mom had found him. The next days were a blur – the candlelight vigil, the wake, the funeral. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t eat. My world no longer had light. On Thursday that week, our flex schedule should have crossed our paths between 2nd and 4th period on my way to pre-calculus. He didn’t greet me at the stairs. I burst into shuddering sobs, and my friend led me to the grief counselor that had been brought in just for us.
To this day, I don’t know why he’s gone, but I still miss him when I think of him. I think his passing has impacted me so deeply because he was so young. We were so young. We were supposed to be happy and carefree. On the surface, he was. But deep down, there was a sadness I can’t begin to comprehend. How could a 16-year-old think that suicide was the only way? At his funeral, John’s mom said he’d made a mistake. I believe that – that he’d gotten caught up in some dark place and didn’t see another way out. I don’t think he truly wanted to leave. He had too much left to do, too much left to see.
As I’ve grown up, I’m often reminded of the things that John won’t experience. He never got to drive the vintage VW Bug he saved for for three years. He didn’t walk across the stage on our high school football field and graduate. He never had a college roommate or had to endure finals. He never fell in love. But with all he’ll miss, there is one thing he did do that brings a smile to my face and makes my heart clench and my throat burn with pride and happiness through my tears. I’m thankful that he got to lead his beloved band as drum major for the first game of the season, 2 days before he left us. I remember my last hug, and it’s something I hope I will never forget. The game had just ended, and I went running to find him and congratulate him. I told him I wanted a hug and he said, “no, you don’t. I’m all sweaty and hot.” I responded, “I promise I’ll always want to hug you” and wrapped my arms around him for the last time.
His birthdays always touch my heart. He loved to celebrate birthdays, just as I do. He’d bring his friends balloon bouquets at school. I don’t like to think about his death, though that date is forever etched in my mind. I prefer to think of him on his birthday, and remember him as he was when he was happiest: blonde hair, blue eyes, a mouth full of braces, proudly wearing his fire red and white band uniform. It’s what he wore when he gave me that last hug, the last time I saw him. When he was laid to rest, his mom told us that when we saw a rainbow, it was a smile from above, a gift from John. I don’t believe it myself, but every year on March 4th, I’ve seen a rainbow. He’s the one giving gifts on his birthday. He was always so sweet like that.
–Brooke Kingston, March 4, 2010
After his death, some of my other friends and I realized that he’d said good-bye to each of us in our own way. He paid compliments, told us how much he enjoyed our friendship, said he’d miss us. We thought he meant he’d miss us over the weekend and though nothing of it. We had no idea he was reaching out, trying to tell us something. We had no idea it was already too late.
But it didn’t have to be to be too late for John, or for anyone. There was somewhere for him to turn, someone who could have been there to listen. To Write Love On Her Arms, or TWLOHA, as it’s often referred to, is a non-profit organization that serves to provide hope and support to those struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA’s mission is a thing of compassion and love.
An excerpt: “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.”
To Write Love On Her Arms works to “encourage, inform inspire, and also invest directly into treatment and recovery.”
It offers a complete directory of helplines and services for those in need. Donations made to TWLOHA help to fund such organizations as The National Hopeline, Self-Abuse Finally Ends, IM Alive, and Kid’s Helpline Australia.
TWLOHA could have helped my friend, John, and many others. It is my sincere hope that awareness is spread about this incredible and compassionate organization so that others don’t have to lose their friend or family member.