Big Cry Baby

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez

I am the biggest cry baby in the world. There are some things that can make me break down into a waterfall of salty tears. I don’t know when it started. I have to blame Lifetime channel as one of the culprits. Music is another. Who says that what we hear has no affect on us?

The band, Chicago, has a song “Take Me as I Am” which came out in the late 1980s and every time I hear that song tears trickle down my cheeks. When you connect the song to my high school years there is an enormous clash of high and low. The song is beautiful and deserves the highest kudos. However, there is a sad memory attached to that song and now the song will eternally be known as the “Jim the Wrestler” song.

I was part of the wrestling team, a wrestlette, someone who helps the coach and wrestlers during practice and matches. One afternoon after wrestling practice during mid term exam week, a wrestler named Jim asked me if he could get a ride home. I knew he had had a rough afternoon because the coach was really pushing him to do better during practice and he looked worn out. My mom was known as the mom who would give anyone a ride home.

I didn’t know Jim personally but supposedly one of the guys on the team said I would give him a ride. I asked my mom when she arrived and she said sure but then she realized that she had not picked up someone and needed to quickly be there so her answer went from a yes to a no in less than a minute.

Jim looked down but I don’t know if it was from the physically exhausting practice or because he couldn’t find a ride home.

The next day in Psychology class I see one of my classmates crying. What better place to cry than Psychology class. My friend, Gary, told me that Jim had died the night before. He asked his best friend to come over and when his best friend rang the doorbell, Jim shot himself.

He was a senior, a wrestler, a son, a friend, a student, a teammate, and a human being. He was gone. What made him do that? So many rumors spread that it was difficult to know truth from fiction? What would make him pull the gun’s trigger? Was he scared? Was life really that horrific for him?

But one question that always comes back to me is whether I could have done something to help him? Perhaps I could have said something to make him see a little better? Or good enough to want to see the next day and the day after that?

My mom was stunned. I think it was my delivery. I said, “Hi mom. You know that wrestler that you didn’t give a ride to yesterday? Well, he killed himself last night.”

I didn’t know him. But my sister, cousin and our friends went to the funeral to pay our respects since he was part of the wrestling team and since he felt comfortable enough to ask for a ride and since my mom made us!

The church was packed. His picture was next to his closed coffin. Boxes of tissues were continuously passed around. But nothing can erase the image of his grandmother’s reaction when she went up to the coffin as she grabbed her grandson’s picture frame and wailed. I wish I could say yelled or cried out loud but this was the true definition of a wail. It broke my heart.

Death is awful but suicide really sucks!

Then, in 1993 I was an interning teacher at a local junior high school. It was right after Hurricane Andrew and this place had been practically devastated. Our school was the base for the military helping to keep order in place. One day, a student stayed after class while I was packing papers to grade at home. There was no one else in the room because the clinical teacher was absent that day and the substitute went home when the bell rang.

The student came up to me and asked, “Ms. Alvarez, have you ever thought about killing yourself?”

This came out of the mouth of a 13-14 year old boy who never spoke to me about anything other than the answer to a question. Jim’s funeral flashed through my mind. I knew I had to say the right thing or I would find myself at another funeral.

I said, “Yes. I have.” I wasn’t lying but I thought I needed to connect with him at his level.

We spoke. I asked him if he was ok.

He said he was. I had to get to my transportation or it would leave me. I asked him to walk me to the van. We spoke some more. I asked him if he was ok. He said yes. We said goodbye.

I didn’t have a cellphone back then. I tried to rush the driver to my home. Once I got there, I called the clinical teacher she said she would talk to the counselor. The next day in school, the counselor and I worked out a signal so that I could indirectly point out the child. I was supposed to ask him to wipe the chalkboard for me.

The counselor came. She spoke to the class about stress and Hurricane Andrew. She explained to the children that she wanted to speak to a group of volunteer students and who would want to be a part of it. Hands shot up! She asked me if she could use the chalk board to write the names. I asked HIM if he would mind erasing the board for me. He almost stood up when another kid jumped at the chance to please the teacher and erased the board herself.

But, the counselor saw HIM make a move for the board so she knew who HE was. She chose him.

A couple of days later, I am reading the student’s journals and he wrote how he hates me and that he can never trust me again!

I was emotionally crushed. I thought I had done the right thing. By the end of my internship, we repaired our friendship and he gave me a warm farewell hug. He developed a mother/son relationship with the clinical teacher for the next couple of years.

Then in late December 1995, the night after my release from the hospital after a bout with pneumonia, my clinical teacher called. HE, my former student, was in the hospital after an apparent attempted suicide, which luckily failed.

She said he had asked for me. ME?! I was too sick myself and I was supposed to stay in bed. But he asked for me! I couldn’t let him down. I drove myself back to the hospital and found him strapped down with charcoal smears around his mouth. He didn’t want to talk about the suicide or his life. He wanted me to hold his hand because he was scared.

He was being transferred to one of the places that were supposed to help severely depressed people. I stayed with him the whole time until the ambulance came to transfer him. We spoke briefly a few times afterwards throughout the years. I don’t know if he is ok today. I can only hope.

Two young men willing to end their lives and for what? Why?

How many people with physical disabilities have the same death wishes? Where are the statistics on suicide rate among the disabled?

If my classmate and my student felt their lives were useless and worthless and they are considered better off than the physically disabled, then what is being done to assist the physically disabled who suffer with depression?

I hope the answer is not a bottle. But I am afraid that if I choose to dig deep into this area there will more than likely be a bottle under the category SOLUTION. It might be a medication bottle or alcohol bottle.

I believe there are other alternatives but as long as there is a bottle, the problem remains classified as SOLVED.

My question: Is it better to physically die then to lead a numb life filled with drugs?

I would like to know: How do you cope with depression? What makes you smile when you would otherwise be crying? What brings you hope when you see despair?

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