The Ugly Word This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

May 19, 2011
I was staring at the phone with a strange feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. It felt like my intestines were in knots. I was vaguely aware of the fact that the girl sitting beside me, whose name I didn’t know, was asking me if I was alright. I nodded my head yes. What else could I say? The floor was somehow falling out from underneath me, all because of a few words on my phone’s screen.

They found David. They found David? They found David, and then what? My heart was about to beat itself right out of my chest. Earlier in the day, it was discovered that my best friend’s dad had gone missing, and then the text message from his mother had read, We are headed to Cleburne to look for David. If you can, please get out early. We’re expecting the worst. I knew what she meant by that. David suffered from severe depression, diabetes, sleep apnea, and many other imagined illnesses. If you could name it, David would find a way to have it. The sick feeling in my stomach intensified as I slid my phone back into my purse. I couldn’t explain it. If they had found Rylee’s father, then he must be okay, or so reason told me.

He’s fine, he’s fine, I told myself. David couldn’t possibly have gotten so sick so very quickly. He must have just been napping when his family was calling him, I told myself. Nevertheless, the worry settled itself on my shoulder like a large, unpleasantly squawking parrot.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt my purse vibrate against my leg. The parrot on my shoulder fluttered his wings and shrieked violently. I snatched my cell phone up. Please, get out of school if you can. Rylee needs you. David passed on. I’ll call and explain later. The parrot dug its talons into my chest as the floor fell out from underneath me. I stared at the message in disbelief as a sort of numbness flooded me.

I’m not sure how long I sat there before the parrot nibbled at my ear and my brain kicked on to order me to get going. Rylee needs you, the message had said. The minute the bell rang, I jumped up, gathered my things, and ran outside. I called my mom. “I’m not at school anymore,” I said, although my words came out as more of a choked sob. “Rylee’s daddy died. I have to go see him.” I’m not sure what she said. I don’t remember driving out of the school gates, and I don’t remember pulling up in front of Rylee’s grandparents’ house.

But I remember his face. Rylee’s face, white as a sheet of paper, drawn in pain. Rylee’s hands, cold as chips of ice, digging into my back. Rylee’s eyes, blank and tearless in his shock. And Rylee’s voice, repeating, over and over into my hair: “He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone.”

Nothing had ever touched my life with such a jarring reality check. I hadn’t realized that depression was real, that death really happened, and that it hurt. I had never seen death. I was terribly sheltered, now that I look back on it. I was selfish not to see it. I felt ashamed that I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand until much later, when Mandy explained David’s depression, how they’d found him, and that he’d committed suicide.

Suicide. It was such an ugly word, especially when you used it in the same sentence as the best man I’d ever known. That word had touched my life and torn a jagged wound through any bit of innocence that I’d had left. That word haunted me all through my senior year in high school. That word tugs at the edge of my consciousness right now, as I talk Rylee through losing his father for the umpteenth time, and try to help him heal.

Do I hate David? Yes, sometimes I do. I’m ashamed to admit it and could never say it out loud, but sometimes, when I’m lying in bed at night knowing how much pain Rylee is in, I hate David for leaving him like that. The rational side of me tries to blame it on depression or medication or lack thereof. But that irrational, emotional side of me wants to scream at him for all that’s happened. It’s entirely foolish; it wouldn’t help anyone, even if I could do that. And so I stay quiet, I try to put Rylee back together piece by piece, and I pray that his wounds will someday heal. I pray that he isn’t like his father. And I pray that praying will do some good.

The commercials don’t lie when they say, “Who does depression hurt? Everyone.” David’s depression has stretched from him, to his son, to me, and even as far as my family. His death, though it was almost a year ago, is something like a scar that’s just begun to heal, raw and pink in the once perfect flesh. It destroyed some things that all the faith in the world can’t even begin to put back together.

But it inspired me to help. It awakened something within me that I know, given time, will point me down the right path. It caused me to look into a career in counseling, so that I can help other people through trying times like that, through loss and depression. And maybe, just maybe, I can prevent someone from becoming David. Because you see, there’s a question burning in my chest where David is concerned: if he’d had any help with his depression at all, would he have still committed suicide? Would that ugly, ugly word and David still ring synonymously in my head? How many hearts would have remained unbroken?

That’s not a question that will ever be answered. All that there is to do is push on through all the heartbreak, and help as many people as I can while I’m at it.

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