You Never Really Know

October 4th is the birthday of a boy I grew up with from my neighbourhood. And let’s clarify: I’m not so big on birthdays, always forget them and I don’t really like celebrating my own but his, I somehow never forget.

When we were kids we used to play in kindergarten, you know, dress up or playing tag. Somewhere there is a photo of him chasing me or the other way around. I still remember he had such dry skin, odd how things work in memory land. He was nice to me and he lived close by. So we had a habit of greeting each other always.

We went to the same elementary school and eventually ended up at the same high school. As he was a cool kid, a bit mischievously looking for boundaries to break and I was the bookish silent girl, we didn’t really hang out together.

The greeting continued whenever I saw him; walking in town or passing by on a bicycle. 

Around the high school time there were rumours that he was hanging with “the wrong crowd”. It was a big shame because his mom was a pretty important person on some board in our town. Did I mention we lived in a small town? Yeah, gossip was pretty much all we had. I didn’t care much about it, living outside of town it was hard to keep up anyway.

During that time it became clear to me he was in some kind of trouble, he got kicked out of class more often than not and had a dark deep look in his eyes. I never really knew what was going on. I only heard his parents were desperately trying to find help for him.

Graduation came and went. When I spread my wings to the big world of the grown-ups, or so I thought, I hardly ever saw him again. But when we did see each other, we kept waving, me still on a bike and he dressed in black on a motor bike.

Until a close friend of mine called me and said that he had died by suicide. 

There was shock, silence and confusion. It is still with me up until this day. No, I didn’t know him that well but the impact remains the same. Like a small piece of my life’s puzzle, that’s missing forever. I send a card to his parents and sister and got to see the poem his sister wrote for his farewell service. The gentleness, love and care for him that was in it, was all I needed to know.

I talked to his mom during the years following his death. She was walking her dog and I was visiting my parents so we met occasionally. She had changed her radiant smile into a kind of hesitant one, seemed she was never able to fully embrace happiness again. The words that I remember her saying every time again were: “you never really know”.

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