Sunday mornings our parents would regroup. They’d all go out for a trek, or anything to get a day out of our unbearably boring town. My parents, my best friend’s parents, and this kid’s father. And his aunt.
I remember the day his father died.
I went to the funeral, more as a formality than anything. I never knew what to say when tragedies occurred. I remember I had just stood in a corner, and when he’d glanced at me- I’d never seen his eyes so dark.
I remember wanting to go up to him, give him a hug. I wanted to cry with him. I wanted to tell him, “Everything will be okay. It will get better, and you will get through this. Your sadness will not last forever.”
But I didn’t. Something held my feet firmly to the ground.
I was afraid.
I was afraid that I would say the wrong things, that I wouldn’t be able to comfort him. I was afraid I wouldn’t do enough to help him.
I was afraid I’d do something stupid.
And then I did the most stupid thing ever.
I gave him a sympathetic look and walked away, like everyone else.
I knew he was struggling- everyone could see it. For a month and a half, he didn’t come to school. When he finally did, he looked much better. He talked normally, even though I was certain he had noticed how our guard was up. We were very careful what we talked about, in front of him. He didn’t have much to say, but he laughed at all our jokes.
I could tell, he’d still got a lot of fight left in him.
But not enough.
He’d gained weight. He wasn’t skinny, anymore. Good, he’s been eating well, I’d thought.
But I’d been wrong. Everyone had been wrong. Months later, he told me he’d been getting medication to help him get through each day. Weight gain was just a side effect.
I wondered what else he didn’t tell us.
Every day I’d see something new penned on his wrist: all the tattoos he had ever wished to get. He’d always been an artistic one. It was a good show for us: a funny quote or a pretty picture, something motivational or something sad- in beautiful calligraphy. We were glad it was just a pen across his skin.
He isn’t dumb enough to hurt himself, we all thought.
But we were all wrong again. He wasn’t dumb, yes. But he was in pain, already.
We’d all been sitting together, when he’d asked me what I wanted to be when I was older. I’d said that I wanted to be a pilot.
Funny job, everyone had said, for a girl.
He’d given them all a hard look and said, “Girls are just as good as any boy. What is it that they can’t do that we can?” He’d always pretend to be a feminist but I knew for a fact, he was very sexist.
Girl power, all the way.
He’d been smart, perhaps the smartest in my class, but I could see that his grades were dropping. He went from As to Bs, and then Cs.
I saw his face fall, with every test result, and I didn’t know what to say.
I thought of offering him help with school. I thought of asking him to group study with me. I thought of giving him my notes.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t, because I was afraid.
I was afraid that he would take offence, that he’d say he was fine without my help. I was afraid I would mess up somehow.
So I looked away, and ignored his pain.
When school reopened after summer the next year, he came to school with a new identity- transsexual. It wasn’t too much of a shock for those of us who knew him as a friend. The others, however, were not so hospitable to him anymore. They made jokes about him, with no sympathy whatsoever. The world was crueler to him than it had been to any of us.
I wanted to tell him, still. I wanted to say, “Don’t listen to them, they shouldn’t matter to you as much as you matter to yourself.” I wanted to tell him that I, too, was an outcast. I wanted to tell him I was bisexual, that I could understand what it meant to be different.
But I didn’t, again.
I was afraid that he wouldn’t want to talk to me about it, that he would blow me off. Worse, I was terrified because I didn’t want to admit my sexuality. I didn’t want to become like him, hated by everyone I knew for my choices.
In the next few weeks, there was a rush of changes.
He looked happier. He didn’t care about his grades, or the rumors. He didn’t look so devastated about his father’s death anymore. I found it easier to be around him, and our friendship grew. He told me the little things, bits that everyone had overlooked.
I told him he could always come to me if he needed anything. But that’s all I said, and I could feel how empty it sounded, even as I said it.
Everyone thought he was doing alright, much better.
Until one Sunday I found him at his house, hanging from the ceiling fan.
Maybe I couldn’t have helped him, but I should have at least tried.
I wrote this about two years back, way before I even read Thirteen Reasons Why, so please spare me the “rip off” comments.