An Oblivious Wallflower
Three years ago, I lost a friend. We had fallen out of contact many years ago, but learning of her suicide made me rethink every interaction we ever had. In honor of National Suicide Prevention Week, I want to share our story with you— the good, the bad, and the ugly. And I want you to know that if you feel like you want to give up, there are people who care. You matter.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and it is available 24 hours. Pick up the phone and make the call.
(Names and some identifying details have been changed or glazed over for privacy’s sake)
In Kindergarten, we had to pre-select our “choice time” activity. I think it was my teacher’s way of preventing mass anarchy with five-year-olds. As someone with the last name Baker, I had the blessing and the curse of beginning-of-alphabet syndrome. For choice time, it meant I was the second to pick my activity. But it also meant I had no idea who my playmates would be. My friends Madison and Miranda (who were conveniently next to each other alphabetically, by first AND last names) told me to pick House, so we could all play together. You got it.
Then Diego picked house. The nose picker. He was the epitome of a snot-face Kindergartener, and to recognize that as a five-year-old shows you how archetypal he really was.
I pretended to do the dishes. No one joined us.
I pretended to bake. No one.
“Hi honey, how was your day?” Diego greeted. I appreciate the sentiment, but you’re not really who I want to see walk through the door.
I looked to Mrs. Summers to see how much longer I had to wait, but instead of a line of five-year-olds, I was met with the sight of my two best friends making intricate geometric patterns with plastic pattern blocks at a different station. The cherry on top was how pleased they looked when we made eye contact. Abandonment at its finest, already in Kindergarten.
We pulled up to the house to pick Erin up from the sleepover, and there was no hesitation. “Kelsey, you should be friends with Becca’s sister, Annie,” she proclaimed.
I wasn’t really for taking orders from my big sister, and arranged friendship wouldn’t appeal to most, but as someone whose best friends moved away every summer all throughout elementary school, I was open to suggestions. I needed something stable. I wanted someone consistent.
I think it was probably because both of our older sisters thought we were annoying, hyper, and maybe even pathetic, but the sixth grade is scary. And your enthusiasm was noted, as was your willingness to make room for me in your life. I could take a page from your book actually. If I made people feel as valued as you made me feel when we first became friends, maybe making friends wouldn’t be so hard for me.
I still remember your bedroom, your stacks of books. Your neatly made bed. Your folded laundry and straightly hung clothes. You would show me your new books, which were usually gently worn, and classes way above our grade level. I would never read books about militia. I avoided dense language. I loathed page after page of description. But you devoured them. I know your room contained a lot of things. But that’s what I remember the most: Hemingway.
“But why aren’t you running?" You were always faster than me. You’d run with me at practice, but beat me handily at every race.
“I’d just rather focus on school and quiz bowl.”
I was heartbroken to miss AP World History, but I had already taken a semester of French and I didn’t want to see that go to waste. Since it was only offered the same period as AP World, I had to make sacrifices. Because of Ms. Heller’s undying admiration for my sister, she was more than willing to sign the independent study paperwork.
“I promise I’ll be your eyes and ears,” you swore. “It won’t be that weird. I can help you if you need it.” But I could just picture you laughing with Molly and Christian without me, and even then, I knew it was another crack in our relationship.
It all came to fruition late in the semester. Tim, sweet child-like Timothy who you all had great disdain for, came prancing up to me.
“Hey! You’re my partner for the AP World project.”
“Oh.” I stumbled. “ Cool.” My face washed over with heat. What had happened? I thought we had an unspoken pact. I thought you were looking out for me so I wouldn’t be hung up to dry.
I texted you later. “How’d I get partnered with Tim?”
A few minutes later, my phone buzzed again. “Sorry. Molly and Chris wanted me to be in their group, and Tim was the last person without a partner, and he said he would be with you.”
The cracks were deepening as our paths were deviating further and further apart.
“But why aren’t you doing marching band? We won’t have any classes together.”
“They don’t make oboe parts for marching band and I don’t want to have to learn a new instrument. Besides, at least we’ll still be in wind ensemble together.” Two rows apart.
We were all on our way back from lunch. It was the perfect fall day out, so we sat in the back of the truck and ate before we went back inside. Simon made a side comment about the guy I had just started dating, an older boy I had liked in the past, but it hadn’t worked out until now. I blushed and looked down.
You grabbed my arm, as your eyes behind your wide-rimmed glasses lit up with confusion. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”
I think I said it just all happened so fast and unexpectedly, which wasn’t untrue. But realistically, I think it was mostly because I didn’t think about it. It never even crossed my mind to pick up the phone to call you.
My husband and I had our best friends over. It was a relaxing night of games and quality conversation. We all sat at the dining room table, laughing, joking, talking. I felt the quick buzz of a text message and I flipped my phone over.
Simon: Hey, did you hear about Annie?
Me: No. What’s up?
Simon: Can I call you?
With my phone battery at only three percent, I felt a check in my gut. Something was wrong. I excused myself to wait for the call and plugged it in on my nightstand. I waited for what felt like forever, but was realistically only a few minutes.
He told me you were gone. Simon said they were thinking it was suicide. He said your parents and his parents were in the same small group and someone had called them so they could pray and be there for them.
My heart fell into my stomach and I couldn’t process anything. I felt like I was shaking, but it looked like I was perfectly still. Simon and I said our goodbyes on the phone as I pulled my sweatshirt sleeves over my hands as a kind of comforting burrow. I slowly returned to the table, in a daze, and sat down with both a physical and emotional heaviness. But the conversation didn’t stop. It was as if everyone expected me to hop right back in where we left off, with cordial laughter. The world kept turning, but I was moving backward. To high school. To middle school.
Had it always been like this? What broke you? You had always been so logical, so rational. I knew you had high expectations for yourself. Valedictorian. National Merit Scholar. Perfect Score on the ACT. A scholarship to a prestigious university. A degree in Economics. A Masters. A Doctorate. You were at one of the greatest institutions in higher education. Everyone was amazed by you. Where did the pressure come from? When did it become too much?
You are brilliant. Are. You still are. I never understood you. We never saw eye to eye. I was amazed we were as close as we were for so long, but you complemented me so well. And you were so loyal. So trusted. So compassionate toward the people you loved. I hope you felt their compassion for you, but now I’m worried that you didn’t. Or maybe it didn’t feel like enough to remedy whatever you were going through.
As we grew apart our freshman year, you gave me Perks of Being a Wallflower for my birthday in February. I didn’t read it, but from what I had heard about it, it seemed so unlike you. Where was the rich exposition and historical setting? This was a Young Adult book, focusing on the trials of high school and trying to fit in. It was so not Annie.
I didn’t read it until I had to for a class in college, and now I look back and wonder. Were you trying to tell me something? Were you trying to speak our language, but I missed it completely?
I should have checked on you instead of just assuming you were the strong one. And I’m sorry for missing the signs. I wish I had been a wallflower— “You see things… and you understand.” I wish you had felt infinite.