Monday, April 5, 2010

A Lesson Before Dying

May 2002, I sat in my AP Psychology class, a junior in high school.  We were a week away from summer break, chatting and discussing our plans for the summer, and for next year as we became seniors, while the teacher lounged in the back giving us a break for the day.
The intercom crackled to life, and all of us ignored it, not even bothering to quieten down.  Until we heard the words our principal was saying.

Jeremy killed himself.
We were passing from juniors to seniors, almost kings of the school, and he killed himself.  We were just starting out, our lives taking flight, and he killed himself.  As we listened to the intercom, he killed himself.

Rumors flew, as they will in a small town.  Everyone had an opinion or an "I-know-what-really-happened" story.  He was overly depressed and on drugs.  He found out his girlfriend was cheating on him or about to dump him.  He wanted to make his mom hurt, and blamed her for his suicide.  His suicide note claimed the world was ending, and he did not want to live through the tribulations coming.  

But the darkest rumor of all - he had no reason, no explanation, no note to give us an insight to his decision.  Just shot himself in the stomach.  What if he hadn't meant to die?

The details were gruesome.  EMT's leak information, so one story was the same running through town, and that was how he died.  He had sat in the floor of his living room, back pressed against the couch, a short barreled shot gun pushing into his abdomen.

No one heard the gun go off.  They lived in the rural outskirts, houses few and far between.  His mother at work, his sister at school.  He sat in the living room bleeding out.  That was the worst and hardest part to hear.  The shell hadn't killed him as it cut through his stomach.  It was enough to hurt, it was enough to stun, but it wasn't enough to kill immediately.  He could have survived, if he had been found in time.  But by the time his sister got off the bus, the life had drained from him, like the pool of blood in the floor.

He wasn't the only one to "end it" at my high school.  "End it" was the euphemism, a way to say it without saying it.  There were several suicides, some accidental deaths.  But Jeremy was always a mystery to me. 
I really don't think he meant to die.  He was smart, intelligent, not like some of my fellow classmates.  He knew a shot to the stomach didn't mean death.  At least not right away.  I think it was a cry for help that ended tragically.  Especially when you think that his mom's shift ended at work about an hour after he pulled the trigger, but she decided to work a double.  

At the funeral, I saw the guilt and pain on his mother's face, the tears pouring down his sister's cheeks.  I saw his classmates and friends gather at his coffin to say a few words, promise to remember, tell him goodbye.  
Everything happens for a reason, everything has a purpose.  Jeremy did not die in vain.  His death had a purpose, maybe more than one.  But I knew one small reason. 
I held it close, I hold it close, and I remember my lesson every day.

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