“Do you remember K*?” my friend asked as we walked from my car to the Target in Clifton. I hadn’t seen my friend since we were seventeen, maybe eighteen. We were having a good time reminiscing, discovering how many similarities we shared as adults, although my chest ached a bit. It was difficult to hear some things, such as her mother asking why she was friends with such a weird kid (aka me) and her saying, “Because weird kids deserve friends.” Or the apology for her falling out of touch because I dumped so many of my issues on her. Funny how not long after that, I stopped talking. Not in the literal sense.
“Yeah, of course I remember K,” I said when we got to the front doors.
“She committed suicide.”
I walked into the store, dazed. I must have asked questions because I remember snippets of answers, like, “It happened a few years ago.”
Once I got back to my apartment, I went online and googled her name with “suicide” attached to it. There wasn’t much information, posts about her untimely end, and tragic passing, and an announcement on a page that included a very passive aggressive, bitter “untimely end.” A comment at the bottom asked what happened. Her partner answered.
Someone left too many pills around.
I went through the posts about her death fairly quickly because there wasn’t a lot of info. One part of me was numb, the other part was punched in the throat.
I learned that she had an MFA in poetry. I knew she was getting a Masters, but didn’t know we were in a similar field. I learned that, to honor her death, a Writer-in-Residence program was created in her name. I learned that she came out as gay. That she had a wife, and that she couldn’t cope with both of their inner demons. I learned that she had tons of support from friends, but it wasn’t enough. That she refused help.
She found pills. Game over.
I looked at the picture of K that they used. She was sitting outside on a bench with a closed-lipped smile, almost amused. But I didn’t see joy. I saw dark bags under her eyes, puffy and pink near the eye, with a dark line that looked like eyeliner, or a bruise. I noticed a cut on her nose, her arm, her legs. Little, tiny lines. And I wondered were they self-inflicted or did she fall on a bike?
I waited for the tears, to break, to feel some sort of emotion, but I didn’t feel a thing. I still don’t.
Well, almost nothing except the strange feeling of guilt.
I went to middle school with K. As an incoming sixth grader, I thought she was so cool. Smart as could be. Really awesome. I wanted to be her friend.
But back then, K was a mean girl. I learned that soon as she’d make snippy comments at me. And maybe I was a bit too clingy. I was obsessed with horses and talked about them to cope with what I obviously didn’t realize was early childhood depression. I remember getting talks from teachers, telling me, “The girls don’t like you because all you talk about is horses,” and me saying, “I talk about horses because I’ve tried to talk about what they like and they leave me out.” I wasn’t able to articulate that I felt it was better to be teased and miserable because then it meant my peers noticed me. That I wasn’t invisible.
I remember going to my locker one day, in between classes, and finding it destroyed. All my things, trashed. Some sort of gooey substance all over my books, my coat, my sneakers, my walkman, my Zac Hansen poster. I stared in confused disbelief, wondering what happened, until one of the girls blurted out, “It was K who did it!” And then, a few others verified it.
I don’t remember going to a teacher, or speaking with the Dean. I don’t think I did because they never offered me an apology.
But I know she was pulled out of class. And I know she returned to class, sobbing, about getting in trouble. And I know I sat there, watching as the girls surrounded her, hugging her, consoling her, saying how sorry they were.
Sorry that she got in trouble for destroying my stuff, or sorry she was sad? Or sorry for turning her in?
She never apologized to me. She never looked at me. I don’t remember if she ever said another word to me ever again. I doubt it. I don’t even think she got in detention.
A few years ago, some of the girls from that school suddenly added me on Facebook. I’m not sure how they found me, maybe it was nostalgia. And, maybe, I thought it’d be nice to reconnect. Maybe, I thought, I could finally figure out why things happened the way they did. Maybe I could tell them, “I’m sorry I didn’t belong.”
I tried messaging her. Or maybe she messaged me. I think I messaged her. We only chatted once. We talked about grad school, although I didn’t know she was in an MFA program. I discovered she was gay. Had a (then) girlfriend. Later, wife.
As we talked, I realized I was almost boasting, talking up my accomplishments, doing something to try and prove to her, foolishly, that I was doing well. That I was fine. That I wasn’t affected by things. I wanted her to be impressed. She was polite, but I knew she didn’t care.
It wasn’t long after that when I decided I’d delete not just her, but everyone from that school (except three) from my Facebook. I couldn’t get over the bullying from those people. I couldn’t get over the hurt. I was a number, an addition on Facebook to add to the large list of “friends.” Three years of middle school, and I was still worthless to all of them. And I felt it was the right call. I felt it was the right decision.
Now, after learning about the suicide, I’m not so sure. Maybe I held too much of a grudge. Maybe I should have given them a chance. Maybe I should have asked for clarity with her grad school, learned that she wrote, asked to read her work.
Maybe in another time, another life, we could have been friends.
But we weren’t friends. We never were. And she’s dead. And I’m numb.
And I wonder, guiltily, as I was told that she couldn’t deal with both her inner demons and her wife’s, whether people have felt that way about me. My friend admitted she disappeared because she couldn’t handle my problems. That her mom thought I was so weird. That she was my friend because “weird kids deserved to have a friend.” And I wonder how many friends, potential and real, along the way, I’ve alienated. How many people strayed because they couldn’t deal with my intensity, my desperation to connect with someone, my desire, more than anything, to be saved.
I wonder if there was any other way for me to have gotten help. I wonder if there was any other way I could have alerted someone that I was in danger. That I needed serious help.
I wonder if that’s why I got drawn to the internet and my friends, many of whom were torn up inside, like me.
I wonder if that’s why I became prey to some abusive people. Toxic friendships, demoralizing friendships, things I wouldn’t dare of writing in text. Could they sense the desperation?
I wonder what I would have done in K’s shoes if, when I was so damaged, I was involved in a serious relationship? Could I have gone through with an irreversible situation? Could my significant other?
Logically, I know I couldn’t. But still, I’m left with this lingering numb, wondering whether I should be able to feel something while, hours later, I’m unable to feel anything at all.
*Name withheld for privacy.
Mia Siegert received her MFA from Goddard College and her BA from Montclair State University where she won Honorable Mention in the 2009 English Department Awards for fiction. Her debut JERKBAIT (a dark/contemporary LGBT YA) will be released May 2016 by Jolly Fish Press. Siegert has been published in Clapboard House, Word Riot, The Limn Literary & Arts Journal, as well as a few other small presses.