Many, many years ago, when I freshman in high school living in Raleigh, two friends of mine, Jon and Justin Jablonski, were driving out to a lake to have a few beers after school with some friends. This was a regular occurrence down south. I can think of many times where a bunch of us were standing around a body of water, sipping beer, (or Mountain Dew), smoking cigarettes, lighting small fires, and throwing pebbles or sticks into said body of water. Occasionally, someone would make out with someone on a piece of cardboard or whatever other man-made material they could find. But usually we all just sat around and talked.
I partook on a few of these trips but not many. Usually, I would stay local (places attained by foot), and venture to “The Pit” to hang out, throw things, ride around on borrowed motorbikes, or watch Miles act completely insane. Miles was the neighborhood spaz. I have mentioned him before.
The Pit was the place we went desperately seeking a teenage independence. (That was until we found the abandoned house up the street. But that’s a story for another day.) We didn’t do much I would consider “wrong” at The Pit. I know some of the neighborhood kids smoked weed out there from time to time. There was booze consumed at times, but usually it was an undrinkable smorgasbord of crap straight out of our parents’ liquor cabinet. For the most part, we just sat out there and talked and got to know our teenage displacement.
The high school kids with cars ventured out further. They ventured out to sandy, contorted tree-covered lakesides, equipped with a more booze and probably more pot, too. Jon had a car. He and Justin also had an older brother named Jim. Jim looked old enough to buy booze. Justin, the youngest of the three, was one of my first boyfriends. We went out a few times to play video games at the mall. We rode skateboards once or twice and talked about Pink Floyd. But mostly we gabbed on the telephone. (I talked on the phone a lot. I mean, a lot, lot. Today, for teens, I imagine that the internet is the new phone. At least back then we knew who we were actually talking to.)
Justin and I didn’t “go out” for long. Eventually, the distance of neighborhoods got in our way. We found people closer in proximity to fancy. But we did remain friends.
I didn’t go to the lake that evening but I heard the plans being made between classes. I chose not to go. Due to a level-psychotic crush I had on Jason (the boy who lived across the street from me), I didn’t venture out past my neighborhood very often. (Ahhhh what young, obsessive love can do to help a young girl from spinning out of orbit and smashing into the wrong neighborhood.)
That evening, as we all prepared for our dinners or our TV shows, our homework or our evening walks, Jon left the lake to pick up Justin. As they were returning to the lake with his younger brother along a typical rural southern road, he hit a vehicle head-on after veering over the center line. The other vehicle, driven by a friend of my brother’s named Julie, was crumpled up like a soda can. Jon and Justin died almost instantly. Julie, lived for a few days, even conscious during a few of them, until she too would pass away from a brain hemorrhage. Later, the autopsy would come back reporting that no alcohol was in Jon’s blood. It was just a really bad evening.
The weeks that followed this horrible event were dark. You can probably imagine what we all went through. Kids were skipping school. Girls and boys alike were breaking into tears throughout the high school hallways. The flag was at half mast for weeks. People were feeling so selfish at the time, it was no wonder no one noticed Josh.
Josh was Jon’s best friend. That night at the lake, as Jon left to go pick up Justin, he asked Josh if he wanted to go along for the ride. Josh declined. He said he’d see Jon when he returned. Jon never came back. Neither did Justin. In retrospect, I can only imagine the turmoil Josh had been going through during the weeks that followed.
Two or so weeks following the crash that killed three of our classmates, Josh decided his fate. He went home one day, took the gun from his dad’s room and sat on his bed. He put the pistol in his mouth and shot himself in the head. He died instantly. Our high school went into a deeper state of mourning.
I was reminded of this time today because of this news story. It had me thinking about Josh and the weeks which led up to his death. I always wondered what was going through his head and why no one caught on. I wondered why he never spoke to anyone and no one thought to ask.
I was 14 at the time. Prior that day, I never realized that life could come to an end so easily. I never realized that there was and is always the possibility of never seeing someone again. I never thought that anything could be so fragile, whether it be a body or a mind.
Since then, I have a sort of fascination and compassion for those who commit suicide. I think it’s an aftermath that comes from the thought that there was something you could have done to stop it. How is it that people decide they’re done with living? How does a mother of three curl up in the fetal position on a track of a speeding D.C. commuter train and wait, until it finally comes and takes her life? What happens in someone’s head to make this seem like their only way out? What can compel a person to hang themselves from a tree in a park and carve “I’m sorry” into a rock which lay beneath their feet? Who shoots themselves in their favorite armchair so that their son might find them? How does a 25 year old kid drive the entire way up to NYC from Georgia, climb an off-limit fence and STILL decide after all the distance and obstacle that he should still shoot himself in head?
I feel an absolute sadness and compassion for these individuals. And I hope Veal’s protest doesn’t become a trend.
(Edited to add: Holy shit, this post is morbid. I am so sorry for that. I’m not feeling at all morbid. I was just remembering. Oops.)