April 13, 2004

I’ve told this story countless times before. But I’m interested in seeing how a fresh tell of it will look.

Before I get into it, let me say I wanted to post this yesterday, but I was still on my “runaway” (instead of “getaway”) and had very limited internet access. I’m a little disappointed I couldn’t post this yesterday, but hey… we don’t always win.

Five years ago yesterday, a lot of things changed for me. The night of April 12, 2004, a little over a month before I was to graduate from high school, I found myself on the phone with my boyfriend unexpectedly. He called me while I was asleep. My phone never used to wake me up. No matter how loud it was, or how close it was, it never woke me up (wish I could still say that). I took the phone waking me up as a sign. He had told me that he was stressed about an upcoming test and I thought he was calling to relax.

The conversation never went to his history test. We chatted about mundane stuff at first and then he told me something odd was going on. He could see the lights of an ambulance at a nearby dorm (he was an on campus student). He put me on hold while he tried to figure out what was going on. He came back to the phone and said “Something’s wrong with Kris. I think he tried to kill himself…”

I stopped breathing for a second, but quickly smiled thinking of how I would go visit him in the hospital the following day and give him a hard time for scaring everybody like this.

Kris was a year under me and had, in the previous 3 years, become like a little brother to me and moreso to my BFF at the time. He spent every weekend at her house and her parents had adopted him as their son. However, Kris suffered from severe depression, but his relationship with the BFFs mom, who was also a faculty member at our school, got him the quick attention and appropriate medical support he needed. So for the rest of his freshman, all of sophomore and most of junior year, Kris seemed fine.

My boyfriend was silent for a moment and then said “I need to go. I’ll call you back…”

I immediately dialed up the BFF sure she had heard the news and would be able to confirm for me that Kris was alive. She answered the phone bawling. I was shocked she was taking it so hard. “So I guess you heard about Kris” I said with a little chuckle. I think my psyche went straight into denial mode because imagining anything other than Kris lying, very much alive, in a hospital bed was too much.

I heard shuffling and then the BFFs mom was on the phone. “How’s Kris?” I said, not wanting to sound too worried. The BFF’s mom quizzed me on how I had heard and then said, “Kris is gone…”

Have you ever seen a movie where a character learns bad news, a lot like someone died, and immediately cries out “No, that can’t be…” and if you’re cynical like me you think “Well why would they say that if it wasn’t true?” But I said “No, that can’t be… I just saw him…” 5 years later, and I remember those words so clearly because as ridiculous as they were, as non sequitur as they were, they were the last bits I had.

Earlier in the day, I’d spoken to Kris for the first time in what felt like forever, but really had been 3 days. Normally Kris spent the weekend at the BFFs house and we, much like older sisters, tried to keep him out of the room and the car when we were trying to have “girls time” or go somewhere. That weekend, though, he didn’t get leave from campus and didn’t come over. Monday morning, it hit me that I hadn’t seen him and when I asked the BFF she simply said that he hadn’t gotten leave. I found out later that morning that he was going to represent our school at a conference at the local college. I saw him briefly as he was preparing to leave. I can still see his bald head bent over as he tied his shoe. “Kris!” I shouted, “Why do you keep shaving your head?” I hated his bald head… I thought it was so awkward. He looked up at me and grinned.

Then the next day, Tuesday, I saw him in our student center. I grabbed him and told him not to move because I wanted to talk to him. I went back to listening to a friend and it seemed that in the same second I turned to Kris but he was gone. I whirled around the other way watching him wave to me as I called his name and he walked out of the door. That was the last time I saw him alive.

I called a few friends to tell them and every time I had to say it, it got more and more difficult to do. By the last person, I was crying uncontrollably. I thought I might cry all night, but the next thing I knew, my alarm was going off.
I could feel the sadness in the air as soon as my front tires hit the long driveway down into my school’s campus. No one knew what to say or how to feel. The only thing we could think was “why?” We all played the “What if…” game. I thought about what if I had called him later that afternoon, or sent him an IM like I thought about doing. I know that none of that probably would’ve changed what he planned to do, but I occasionally play the what if… game now.

Kris’s death still bothers me and 5 yrs later, I’m still not sure I’ve accepted it. I didn’t go to his class’s graduation because I found out they were saving a chair for him and I thought that would be too much. My mom wouldn’t let me go to OH for his funeral and in some ways, I think that’s added to me being able to pretend like it didn’t really happen.

That was a lot for a 17 yr old to experience. It did bring my friends and I closer. I found that we would call just to check on each other, sometimes.
After his wake, my friends and I were sitting in the student center joking to keep from crying and talking about how much we’d miss seeing him slumped over in a chair, covered in his black puffy jacket, asleep, as if he didn’t have a bed less than 100 yards away. One of my friends said, seemingly as an after thought: “I hope I don’t forget what he sounded like…”

I think that’s been my goal for the last 5 years, not to forget what he sounded like. Yet, I have – and so now I just want to remember him. I want to remember Kris so that his story doesn’t have to be anyone else’s story; so that my story doesn’t have to be your story.

To see a previous incarnation of this story, go here.

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