An old classmate and friend of mine committed suicide this morning. I just found out.
Robert and I became friends in middle school. We had a lot in common. We both loved watching horror movies and had a very similar and distinctive view on things. The downside to being his friend was the fact he suffered from an unknown anxiety disorder. His life was plagued with agoraphobia and random panic attacks. He was one of the smartest people I knew. Unfortunately, he was slightly maladjusted. Having poor social skills and a weak personality made him the perfect target for bullies. Being associated with him made me one too. Difference is: when he took the harassment, the slurs and the beatings, I actually stood up for myself.
It took me a while to figure him out. The first time I ever spoke to him, he had difficulty making eye contact or maintaining a simple conversation. He spoke in a static and robotic kind of way, and had the tendency to miss obvious social cues. He was also never able to read basic body language which made it hard for me to bond with him. I remember he rarely showed emotion, and if he did, it was very brief. If he felt happiness or got excited about something, he couldn’t keep it up. His journal was where he found confidence and comfort because he could express himself fully without being judged or made fun of. He never confided in me although I was there for him whenever he needed me to.
One day, I got fed up because something was bothering him and he wouldn’t tell me what it was, so I broke into his locker to get a hold of his journal and read through it. Robert’s diary reamed with disturbing thoughts, and its content screamed depressive. He wanted to die, but was too scared to kill himself. He was angry, mostly at himself. He blamed himself for his misfortunes and weaknesses. In one entry dating to two years prior, he described, and in great detail, sitting at the dining room table with his family photo right in front him, then shooting himself, deliberately splattering the insides of his brain all over it. I continued reading and finally made it to the big reveal: Lance, one of the school jocks, and his sidekick, Caspar (who used to be my best friend until he got super obnoxious) had been severely harassing him for months.
The following week, Robert showed up with a bruised face. I made him tell me what happened, and it took him almost a minute to spit out a single sentence. Lance and Caspar followed him the previous day, as he made his way home from school. They cornered him and punched him several times. I made him report the incident to Mr. Schröder but he wouldn’t which infuriated me because knowing those two lunatics, there was no doubt they would do it again and again to satisfy their sadistic nature. Both Lance and Caspar had a reputation for being bullies at school, though, which made them susceptible to being thrown out at any moment if they committed something bad. I decided to take charge and get them expelled and put an end to the chronic bullying. I created a really dramatic situation where I was the victim: A frame-up. The following week, I missed my bus home to cause some suspicion. I went to a nearby wooded area, walked over to a pine tree and pulled a tree branch until it broke. I scratched my forearms until they bled before slamming my forehead against the trunk of a tree, doing it enough times to create a serious injury. It was the first time I used self-harm as a mean to plot revenge and implicate an individual, in this case, two, in a crime.
My experience with self-harm is quite an interesting one. It all started by accident. I was shaving one day when I nicked my neck and watched the blood spread down. I had injured myself plenty of times before, but never really gave it much attention, and instead focused on stopping the bleeding which is what anyone would normally do. Not that day, though. There was something entrancing about seeing the blood pour out, fresh and clean, giving me relief. I thought it would be a singular experience, but it wasn’t. It was a sign my life would soon begin to crash in as my dabbling with different techniques of self-harm increased. Unlike many who enjoyed cutting, I was more into bruising myself since the pain usually came from within, lasted longer and eventually faded away. I would bruise parts of my body that were usually concealed by clothing since I didn’t want to attract any attention, and thoroughly enjoyed hurting in public, usually at school. I’d be around friends, and they wouldn’t suspect a thing. I found that exciting. It put my emotional state more into perspective. Self-harm became a coping mechanism, and I made sure I practiced it privately. It was my way to externalize my internal sense of chaos, often eager to be outwardly manifested.
The next morning, my parents called the school and spoke with Mr. Schröder. They explained to him what happened, and I was told to do the same when I got there, dragging Robert with me to support my story and make it more plausible. Lance and Caspar were totally stunned and blindsided by my story they didn’t even know where to start to defend themselves. It was my word against theirs, and due to their awfully bad reputation, it was hard, if not impossible, for them to back up their claim of innocence. Since they rarely returned home from school, they had no alibi. Even if they hung out with friends, those usually fell in their same type of group, one that consisted of deviant, untrustworthy kids. That afternoon, my parents, Robert’s parents as well as both Lance and Caspar’s met up in the principal’s office to discuss the serious matter. Since they had both broken school rules countless times before and prevented a lot of students from a safe school environment, the board agreed that the final straw had finally come, and they were both expelled. After that, I expected them to come after me, but they didn’t. There’s something about my vibe and how I came across to people that screamed “Don’t mess with me.” I always found that extremely empowering. I wish I could say the same about Robert. His suicide made the news. The whole town of Freiburg is talking about him, and school liability regarding bullying was heavily brought up in conversations with psychologists and sociologists, urging parents and school faculties to be vigilant to any signs of bullying. As the story regarding Robert’s death got more and more publicity, details leading up to his suicide started coming out thanks to his journal. Just when I thought Lance and Caspar were gone for good, somehow they managed to stay in the picture. After they’ve been expelled, they got in close contact with Rebecca, a pretty girl who went to Palmerston and who Robert secretly admired, and persuaded her to write Robert fake love letters and then convince him to meet her outside a bowling place, where Lance, Caspar and some other guys were waiting for him. They put him in Caspar’s car, drove him to the middle of nowhere, beat him senselessly and dumped him. Both my departure and Rebecca’s mean trick caused irreparable damage and a serious upheaval that sent him into a deep depression that even counseling couldn’t help him overcome.
I didn’t know the separation I’ve caused affected him so deeply although he did reach out to me asking if he could see me again (reconnecting was his therapist’s idea), and I selfishly declined because I wanted him to rely on himself instead of making me his only hope to feel better. I’ve protected him for years, and thought that he’d eventually develop a tough skin. Obviously, he didn’t. And I don’t know whether I’m to blame or not. There’s no point in thinking about it anymore. He’s no longer here.