8 years ago today, my high school best friend’s little brother took his life on the train tracks behind my school.
I remember things in spurts. Like when our mutual friend A called me and told me that B was in the hospital. I thought it was an accident. Then I called my friend and she sounded wan and just told me that yes, he was dead. I told my mom and she sounded alarmed, “What? What? Why? What?” I yelled, “I don’t know” and started to cry and my mom bundled me up and drove us over to the house.
She sat with B’s mom, and I sat in my friend’s room. We did math while she patiently answered phone calls and assured people that they were okay. We joked around, we cried a little bit, we mainly did math.
I remember feeling a lot of anger towards certain people. I remember feeling that things were unfair. I remember talking to one of the counselors that was provided that week to help students. I remember thinking that it was stupid. No, I don’t know how I feel. No, I don’t know what I should do. You’re the professional. You tell me. I left feeling underestimated (and that experience is probably why I still feel like psychologists are a waste of time). I also remember the media. A lady IMed me and asked to speak to me over the phone. I remember pouring out my heart to this reporter and then telling her that she couldn’t use anything that I said because I wanted to respect the privacy of my friend. I could tell she was annoyed. I remember going into my math teacher’s office for help with some trig and ended up blubbering into her shoulder.
I remember that K drove me to the memorial service and Don Mclean’s “American Pie” came on the radio, and we did an extra circle to finish listening to it. I remember L sending me Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen” once just out of the blue. I remember listening to Charlotte Church’s “Dream a Dream” a lot. Imagine, a junior girl listening to opera in the closet. Or don’t.
A lot of people ask “Why” and although I knew more than most about what had been going on, I still didn’t know the answer. Even now, it’s hard to point to an answer. Despite its safe, sheltered affluence our community has had so many suicides at the train tracks by my high school and the neighboring high school. Especially at school, we clamor on about the “nexus of research, practice, and policy.” Practice-based research, and research-based practice and policy. Then we also talk about how it’s “all about the kids.”
But what do we mean by it’s “about the kids.” Out of a little over 600 students here, I feel like less than 10% will be returning to direct contact with students. Granted, the other 90% are going onto “greater” things. Leadership roles, sector-shaping arenas. I guess it makes sense, especially if you’re seasoned in the field. But, I feel a little sad that the advice I get is for me to go into something other than direct teaching. “You can always teach, but with your Harvard degree, you should shoot for something higher… so that ultimately you can really accomplish something.” Yet also, I totally understand that too. And especially with the difficulty of even getting a public or charter teaching job at California (more on this later), it seems to be the easier, cushier route.
Lastly, if I’m thinking “big picture”, it makes sense to put myself in a place where I gain a macro-perspective and meet people who can help me out later… rather than “confine” myself in one tiny classroom. But, when I think about what kind of job I wanted to have in the first place, I don’t think big picture, I don’t think of my worldview or large-scale dreams. I think names. I think of Ben. I think of Deb. I think of Jeremy. I think of Noel. And the more I meet people, the more names get added to my list (for whatever reason). Jen, George, Gordon, Sonia, Meghan, Casey, Nancy, Meryssa, Empris, Christian, Uriel, Tom, Chan-Wool, Antonio, Jair. There’s always more, but I think I’ll end it here.