Last Thursday, in the afternoon, I found out that a former classmate of mine - someone I'd known for 11 years - was dead. I'd had some inkling that there was something wrong that morning, when two or three of our mutual Facebook friends referenced his name (which I won't publish here, in deference to his family, his memory, and the fact that I really don't want to be the one they find when/if they Google their youngest son) in their status updates...but you can never really be sure until you're sure.
On Friday, we found out that he had committed suicide.
This weekend was pretty fucked up for all of us from my middle school and high school (he'd been my classmate in both levels). Of course you realize that life is intrinsically just a razor-thin mistake away from death. A meteorite could fall out of the sky and kill you at any moment, and that's just something you have to accept, or you'd end up living in a bubble. But death takes on a shade completely unfamiliar when the victim is your peer. That, too, is expected: oh sure, it could happen to me. But it was the fact that it happened to The Boy I Knew specifically that shocked me, shocked us all, I think.
The broad strokes of his character were that The Boy I Knew came from a happy family, and was a star athlete, valedictorian of our class, Ivy League educated. I'm pretty sure he was even fucking HOMECOMING KING. He was a golden boy. But there were things about him which you would have to move in closer to see: at the memorial service, yesterday, his father described him so appropriately - "The Boy I Knew abhorred a vacuum." If the room was ever silent, the conversation ever static, The Boy I Knew would suddenly speak up: Once, in History class (sophomore or junior year), he raised his hand and asked our young, female teacher, "I don't have a date to Homecoming. Will you go with me?" When she turned him down, he asked if it would be okay to bring an escort.
(There are so many stories about him like that...I'm saving mine for the letter I send his parents. It seems like they should be the first to know that their son impacted me in a way I'll always, always remember.)
But this isn't about the popular boy in school - the guy every girl wanted to fuck and every guy wanted to be. On the contrary - nobody wanted to have sex with him when I knew him in high school: he was notoriously bad with The Ladies. And nobody that I was aware of wanted to be him, either, unless they were envious of his athletic ability. The Boy I Knew managed to always be distinctly left of center.
Of course, we're all quirky and different and downright weird, and the amalgamation of all our foibles makes Normal. Despite that fact, every one of us is in a constant battle to shake what makes us odd: every single one of us is fighting every day to fade into the middle. Part of that comes from the fact that Man has always been a social animal - to linger outside the crowd meant vulnerability to predators - this was, of course, back in the time when humans had predators. Check out any ad on TV - the advertisers are preying on the very human need to be one of the crowd. Now our predators are not physically dangerous but psychologically and emotionally: Bullies.
It's easy to want to fade away to avoid being recognized for a freak or a spaz or a queer or whatever. But not The Boy I Knew. He was different, special in so many ways...the most important of which (to me) was that he embraced his oddity, his position on the Outside. Everything that should have made him ashamed made him proud, instead. That notorious failure with the girls in my class? In college, he wrote a bi-weekly opinion column in the school newspaper, and almost always included self-consciously terrible dating tips ("You may be tempted to give a girl flowers, but this is the new millennium - give her something practical. Like cash"). To acknowledge one's weirdness, to embrace it, to even wear it as a badge of honor, takes a bravery only a few will ever touch.
It seemed as though The Boy I Knew was aware of, able to see, a bigger picture...one that I am only now beginning to see for myself.