I was having a pretty rough week six months ago. This was after a car crash, after a break-up and after a serious family crisis. How I dealt with all the uncertainty being thrown at me was to lose myself in all of the anxiety. A lot of the time, I felt like I was drowning.
Realizing that this reaction did nothing to help me, I decided to change course for at least one week. That decision was due mainly to Matt, my coworker at a local restaurant.
When I walked into work that Friday, I was expecting to continue being in a bad mood, but as soon as I clocked in and checked the schedules posted on the cooler, Matt made some remark that made me laugh. We teased each other all throughout the night, as was his manner with everyone. After work, we sat in our favorite booth with some of our other coworkers, including my sister, and ate as much free food as we could.
Although he was still his teasing self, Matt was noticeably off that night. My sister mentioned it when we sat down to eat, but after he pinky-promised me that the problem was too big to talk about, I brushed it off. He shared one of his fries with me, and I hugged him for it. That was the only time I saw my friend full-on smile that night, and I honestly felt like I had brightened his mood as much as he had brightened mine.
Matt was a reliable worker, so when he didn’t come in the next day, we were all surprised. I was mad at first, because it was super busy and we couldn’t handle having him gone. But it was also because the person that made work especially enjoyable was now missing. We ended our Saturday night eating in the booth without him, but my sister made sure the manager called his parents to make sure he was okay. It was late at night, however, so when they didn’t answer, we weren’t surprised.
When I got the call from my manager Sunday morning saying Matt had killed himself, a part of me broke.
Matt, the kid whose quick wit caused smiles to come out of nowhere. Matt, the kid who announced he was going to go to college on a football scholarship. Matt, the kid that had my mom laughing as I relayed my work stories to her at night. Matt, the kid I was sitting next to the night before, whom I could have helped.
I bought a ring a few days after he died as a token. It was my way of saying that this boy existed, and that his life meant something to me. I wanted the gem to be his favorite color, and I was so mad at myself when I realized I didn’t know it. It illegitimized the whole friendship; I must not have really cared about him if I didn’t even know that simple fact. When I finally made it to the wake, alongside hundreds of other people, I found that the ring I had chosen was just a few shades lighter than the green of his casket.
A 16-year-old boy should not feel so hopeless that he takes his own life. An 18-year-old girl should not have to find out her friend’s favorite color at his funeral.
Please take this as an excuse to check up on your friends or people you barely know. Use this as an excuse to ask how they are and expect a real answer. Don’t settle for “It’s not important” or “I’m fine” or “It’s too big of a problem to talk about.” This is, quite literally, life or death. The ring reminds me that you never know, and that you always have the chance to do something.
Even now, six months later, I can’t sit in that booth without thinking about him, and what I could have done.
Hannah Desrosiers is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.