Classmates Left Behind
When I was in college, I skipped majors like crazy. I started out as an East Asian Studies major, which became a Korean minor, and I stumbled until I found Information Technology as a major. I had to drop Korean as a minor as it got too hard, and through a series of events and being required to have a minor, I came across Jewish Studies and made it my minor. (Am I Jewish? No, but who cares?)
Being one of 1-2 non-Jews in a bunch of Jewish history classes at a heavily Jewish college is kind of interesting. You learn who’s religious, who’s not, who goes to Hillel, who scoffs at Hillel and goes to Chabad instead, and all of that. It’s a big community, and I even saw someone be proposed to in class (she said yes). It was like one big Jewish family.
There were a few loners here and there, like any community. One freshman in a lot of my classes was very loud and a little awkward, but very smart: let’s call him R. R raised his hand at every question, ready to debate any point. He was quoted on some political pieces in the student newspaper. He was super outspoken in non-Jewish Studies classes my friends had with him as well. I saw him around campus all the time, but after a while I realized I never saw him with anyone else. R was an awkward loner, an out of state student, and just not quite fitting in.
In the spring semester, I think I had only one class with him, and I didn’t take notice of him so much, probably because the classes were harder and there was a little less open discussion in class. The last time I really noticed him somewhere was during Passover, as my then-boyfriend and I were eating lunch or dinner at Chabad and he was there, alone. I thought about asking him if he wanted to join us but I didn’t. Soon after, he gathered up his stuff and left.
Two weeks before the semester was over, I realized I hadn’t seen R in class in a week or so. I asked a friend who had him in one of his classes, and he hadn’t either. It seemed really strange for such an outspoken, nerdy guy to suddenly disappear from class right before finals.
A few days later, a student committed suicide at my college. He hopped off the train platform and people called for him to come back up, offering him a hand. An Amtrak train was nearing the station on the middle lanes and he waited. People called for him to come back but he didn’t, and the train hit him, and it was over. R had left.
This haunted me for a long time. The “what if”s plagued me. What if I had said hello? What if someone else had befriended him in class? What if I said hi when I saw him crossing the street? What if we had invited him to sit with us that day during Passover?
There’s no way to know, I could only be sad. Sad that maybe I didn’t do enough from across the room, but how would I have known? I didn’t. Sad for his parents who had to come collect him and his things. Sad that he didn’t just buy a train ticket home and skip exams and drop out instead of leaving this world.
This was 5 or 6 years ago now, but I still think about R from time to time, when I come across my old class notebooks, when I go to the train station (I had to go to a different one for a while), and when I’m feeling sad. I’ve been feeling down for the past while, and a little panicky at times. I just know that when I feel the worst, I need to say something to someone, and I do.
If you are having a hard time, find someone to talk to. Even if you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to, you do. A significant other, a roommate, a family member, an old friend, a new friend, even anonymously on the internet. If something is stressing you out, step away from it. If it is very, very bad, remove yourself from the situation. Move home. Take some days off of work. Find a way to talk over your problems and decompress in a constructive way. Even if that is buying a pint of your favorite ice cream, going to Goodwill to buy some old computers and inviting someone over to go smash them in the backyard, that is totally something.
If you need help, ask for it. People want to help you, just let them know you need it. Sometimes others are too shy to ask if people need something until it’s too late. The hole can be dark, but sometimes if you shift a little bit and make a sound, some light can come in.
September 8-14 is Worldwide Suicide Prevention and Awareness Week. If you are having a hard time (or know someone who is), please reach out or encourage others to reach out for help. You’re not alone.