I took a deep breath, trying to find the words to explain a thing that used to be so close to the surface that it seeped from my pores. It wasn’t information I’d introduced to anyone in so long and this wasn’t the time to dig into it, to crack it open and unpack it.
Quickly, I said, “When I was 16, a friend, David, committed suicide. He gave me a ride home that day, asked if I wanted a ride the next day and I said no because I was afraid of missing the bus and then twenty minutes later he was dead.”
Another deep breath. A pause.
“It’s 20 years on Monday, actually,” I said.
Twenty years and Aprils are still hard. Harder maybe, with the addition of another April suicide tacked to the middle of the month and my dead grandmother’s birthday a handful of days later.
April is fucking hard.
In two full and complete decades, I’ve had ample time to look at David’s death from every and all angles. I’ve circled through and around, under and over the stages of grief. I’ve thought about the way it shaped me as a human, thought about the way it shaped my view of death, spirituality and whatever the fuck comes after. I spent 16 years, the length of his life, writing about him and his death, exploring all the things I was thinking, experiencing and feeling.
I still don’t think I ever got the words right.
We sat next to each other in 10th grade English. I made him promise if he took a leap, he’d take me with him, but in the end, he didn’t.
It was my principal and English teacher who told me. They pulled me from the concession stand of my high school’s performance of Cinderella which I wasn’t a part of because I couldn’t (and can’t) sing for shit. They said it was about David and I thought I was in trouble, thought the pot he’d smoked that morning on our way to school had gotten me into trouble, even though I hadn’t smoked, had once again declined, much to his frustration.
What I remember most from that moment is the floor tiles in the room where they told me. That and how shitty the tissues at my public high school were, the box rectangular and smeared with an inoffensive pattern in shades of barely green.
They said they wanted me to know before I heard about it on the news. It was a real and actual kindness, what they did.
A senior drove me home.
They let me keep the tissue box.
Maybe if wasn’t April I wouldn’t have explained any of it. Maybe if it wasn’t April when his hand touched the scar on my arm I would have left it with the words I mumbled before I exhaled an explanation. Maybe I would have left it at, “I had a few really hard years.”
But every year for the last 20, as the end of my birthday month ticks its way into April, it becomes an extra-large presence. It is never, during any month, far from me, the weight of this thing, but in those final days of March, those first days of April, it is a yoke.
Sometimes, when things are very dark, David is the light. Sometimes it’s the remnant of him that lets me know I’m not, and have never been, alone.
Time does a lot. It frays the corners and fills in the cracks. It smooths the edges. But David’s death is still, 20 years later, one of the top five life-shaping things that I have ever experienced.
As smooth as the edge of the pain gets, it is still pain. It still has an edge. It still has a bite.