I wrote and re-wrote this introduction at least a dozen times, trying to find a broad, yet meaningful segue into what I am about to write. Everything sounded so pathetic, so cliche…so blah, that I eventually came to realize that there was no way to introduce this. No words that could come from my own mind would do this justice. I just needed to start from the beginning and that’s all I could really do.
One month ago, on a chilly September evening, a man I know shot himself.
Everyone wanted to know why. Why did he do this? Why weren’t we able to stop this? There was no note, no apology, no irrational answer as to why that trigger was pulled. He left our community grieving without any way to understand. It was hurtful, it was infuriating, it was heartbreaking.
He was the one who brought my husband and I to the Bay Area, to a place that I finally felt at home. He gave me the keys to our house, smiling as our dogs leapt out of our car window so that they could sniff around the yard. “I guess that means they like it here,” he said with a grin. He was the one, who only a few days before his death, asked me how my “ultimate weekend” went, to which I shyly responded “Great!” without too many details because our team hadn’t performed particularly well at Regionals. He didn’t know much about ultimate, but knew I was obsessed, and always took the time to ask me about it. The idea of not seeing him again, grinning his usual grin, speaking so calmly and asking me about ultimate, was painful.
I somehow took solace in the words of Stephen Hawking. “Of course, one could say that free will is an illusion anyways. If there really is a complete unified theory of everything, it presumably also determines your actions. But it does so in a way that is impossible to calculate for an organism that is as complicated as a human being.” I didn’t have any answer, so I forced myself to believe in one. Perhaps it wasn’t really a choice, this final act. It was simply a pre-determined destiny of sorts, but without our ability to understand or calculate it. Although those words were of some comfort, they neglected to calm the larger waves of emotional distress that would come at the most unreasonable and irrational of times.
I stopped responding to invites from my teammates. It’s not that I didn’t want to see them, I just didn’t want them to see me like this. I didn’t want them to see me vulnerable and scared and angry. I spent weeks alone in my house, laying in bed, waiting for the tears to stop rolling down my cheeks. I shuffled around the living room, constantly switching which shows to watch because I really didn’t care about watching other people. I started reading the Harry Potter series to quell my need for an alternative reality. I read all seven books in a week and a half: 4,224 pages of escapism. But then it was done and I had no other way to distract myself.
The Saturday of the memorial was the same day as the Bay Area Spirit Championships, a fun alternative-to-club-nationals tournament. Instead of hopping in my car, wearing ragged ultimate gear, getting excited while listening to my pump up music, I wore a black dress and shoved a handful of tissues into my purse. Instead of watching great plays of skies, hucks and layouts, I watched as everyone bowed their heads, tears falling to the ground, as “Blackbird” quietly echoed around us. “…you were only waiting for this moment to be free…” A flock of quails burst into the sky from behind us, my emotional brain seeing a final goodbye.
A day later I found out at that same moment, at that tournament, on the field that I was supposed to be playing, a player dropped dead of unknown reasons.
I saw my friends and teammates react the way I wish I could. They hugged, they cried, they found solace in one another. They grieved together. They created their own group sessions, what the professional world would call a Critical Incident Stress Management Meeting, without even realizing it. They talked about mental health, about trauma, about how everything changed in that split second. They healed together. It seemed easier than what I was doing. I was fighting, struggling, pushing away for no rational reason, and I still found it so hard to speak those words I had been trying so hard to say. Maybe there was something wrong with me, but I just needed more time by myself to be okay. Or maybe it would have been easier if I had a little help from my friends.
I don’t know if there is a lesson to this story, but I will leave you with this. As the late, great, Albus Dumbledore once said, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”