One of Us | Teen Ink

One of Us

January 22, 2019
By Anonymous

Kaiden is dead.

You are in G period math on the second day of sophomore year when the campus supervisor, a burly mountain of a man infamously known for being petulant, intimidating, comes quietly in. Everyone immediately sits up a little straighter. His visits typically mean a student in the class has gotten themselves into enough trouble to be escorted to the office.

But this time, it seems different this time.

His footsteps coming up the stairs, usually strident like thunder, are unsettlingly soft, gentle, as if any unwarranted noises will cause damage, to what no one seems to know. But it is so quiet and delicate that the slackers sleeping in the back of the classroom don’t jerk awake until he is standing mere meters away. And even then, he pays them little attention, as if he cannot even register the presence of you and your classmates, only gestures wearily for your teacher to follow him out.

The class bursts into clamor the moment they walk out, and you make small talk with your classmates, catching up from not seeing one another all summer, already forgetting the disconcerting feeling the campus supervisor had brought into the room.

But as your teacher walks back into the room, the students closest to the door fall silent. The front of the room still hasn’t noticed that her quiet presence has reentered, and the chatter continues, lighthearted and cheerful, everyone excited for the the last period of the day to be over.

She walks slowly down the aisle, her face drained of color, jaw set. She trails in with her a quiet aura of discomfort; subtle, yet reeking of distress. As if she is pulling an insulation blanket over the class, everyone silences almost instantaneously as she goes by.

And then she finally turns back to face the class, says, in a decibel barely above a whisper, “Another senior took his own life today. I’m so sorry.”

And then class becomes completely silent, unmoving. No one knows how to react.

As if from a great distance, you vaguely hear your teacher reading from a sheet of paper given to her by the campus supervisor. Generic information about coping with grief, about the wide assortment of help offered at school. The bell rings, but still, no one moves. No one seems to even breathe. And then your teacher stops talking, bites her lip, unsure if she should say more or remain quiet.

She chooses to remain quiet.

Later, when you learn from your friends the last bit of information is about gun safety because that senior took his own life with a bullet, you’re grateful she chose not to continue.

The moment your teacher falls completely silent, finished with her obligatory speech and unsure of what else to say, the two girls sitting in front of you break the trance over the class; grab each other and cry. You’re pretty sure they don’t even know each other.

When you finally walk out of class, find your friends, everyone seems to be in a daze. This suicide is far more gruesome, far more graphic than any previous one had been. Depressed students in your school have had a history of taking their own lives via the nearby train tracks. After nine suicides and a plethora of attempts over the course of the last four years, your town implements security at every railroad crossing, hoping it will reduce the rates.

Yet it’s the second day of the year and another student is dead.

You don’t know Kaiden at all. In fact, have never even heard of him — he’s two years older, a senior, much higher on the social ladder than you.

As you almost float through the halls, unsure of how to process your thoughts and emotions and see clusters of people who could not have all known him crying, however, you feel almost heartless for not being able to shed a single tear for your dead schoolmate.

But you’re at a state of cognitive dissonance. You feel so emotional it’s hard to breathe; you want to scream and cry and shout, yet your tear ducts remain utterly unresponsive.

The spike in temperature over the next few days doesn’t help anybody’s mood. Everyone is irritable, lethargic, emotional. Everyone cries, whether privately or publicly, and countless teachers tell you about their own emotional breakdowns, tell you the catharsis is good, even encourage you to let it out. You spend every day of the rest of the week comforting someone, but still, you physically cannot express any emotion.

You think about his death every day for quite a while, even try to force yourself to cry, just so you can feel better, but nothing happens. Not until you see a post on social media by his best friend exactly a month later.

The message is simple: “It’s been a month… Rest in peace, buddy, I love you. Maybe while you’re up there, you can finally catch up on some sleep.”

And then, then is when it truly hits you. He was one of you.

Just like you, he has spent long nights struggling to finish an essay on a book he had only ever read on Sparknotes. Just like you, he has complained to his friends about how exhausted he was. Just like you, he has functioned off of four hours of sleep, trying to cram for a huge test the next day. Just like you, he has felt sad, insufficient, unaccomplished.

You feel stupid, but it’s the fact that he too, was sleep-deprived, that finally gets to you.

And then the tears come and come and come, and they refuse to stop. You cry for the boy you have never known and will never know, but a boy who had been a son, a brother, a friend.

But, at the same time, you also cry for yourself, for your friends and your siblings, because you can’t help but wonder what if.

What if the next one is your best friend? What if the next one is your sibling?

What if the next one is you?

The author's comments:

This piece is about the emotions and inner turmoil that came along with finding out a fellow student at school had taken his own life. 

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