I used to wish that my first heartbreak was just that, a breakup story. But my first heartbreak was a heartache from loss. I was sixteen when I was impacted by suicide; at that point I had known and loved him for half of my life.
I met Jeremy when I was eight. We were at a bible study and he was leaning against the wall. I stood there wondering why he was trying to be cool; he titled and shook his head at me. Someone was trying to get us to at least say hello to each other, but I turned and walked away. I had realized that he was actually silently observing everyone and everything, which was what I normally did. Because he shook his head, I didn’t want to know what he thought when he saw me. I didn’t want to be seen.
My grandma was the closest person to me and she had died earlier that year in an unexpected, tragic way. Her death deeply affected me and I began struggling with depression. No one around me acknowledged this. Jeremy was the first person to notice and the first person to acknowledge it out loud.
He quickly became friends with all of my friends and cousins and was someone I saw regularly because of church. I avoided him. It really got on my nerves how intrigued everyone was with him. He was likable, but I didn’t want to like him. At first, he let me be. I kept to myself and spent too much time in my head. I practiced being numb and I especially didn’t want to be close to anyone else. This started to bother him. I felt like he went out of his way to get on my nerves. Finally, I asked him what his problem was and in response he asked me why I hated him. I remember how he laughed because I smirked. He said he knew it wasn’t impossible for me to laugh and he was proud of himself for getting me to do it.
He would dance around everywhere he went. He always danced instead of walked, and it probably looked like how someone skipping around today would look. If you didn’t know how to dance, he could at least get you to sway. When he walked into a room, he made the room. He made friends with just about everyone he met. If you felt like you didn’t belong anywhere else, he let you have a place right next to him. If you said you didn’t have a family to be a part of, he introduced you to his own and made you a part of it.
I can’t think about growing up without remembering him. He was there for many of my important milestones. He was there when I left elementary school to start middle school, and again when I transitioned from middle school to high school. He made fun of me when I had to get braces. He stood in at my quinceañera, and the only reason he wasn’t my chaperone is because my family preferred me to stand with an actual relative. He was there when my biological father (whom I had a strained relationship with) was released from prison. He was there when I was bullied. He talked me through having my first crush even though it was him. He managed to handle that without breaking my heart, so it felt like defeat to say his death did, but I lost so much more than our friendship when he died.
I struggled hard with depression and he was there to reason with me when I felt most out of control. But because I knew what it was, I recognized it in him, even though we hardly talked about his own depression. He didn’t want that to be a bonding experience for us. He mentioned once that we were too much of the same person, but that’s something I didn’t understand until after. Before, all I could see was the way his soul projected light while I tried to relentlessly smother mine.
This past September marked seven years since his suicide, but I’ve stopped measuring loss in years. There have been three different suicide deaths following his and sometimes it feels like the same wound keeps being reopened. Time seems immeasurable when you continue to love a person every day after they’re gone. I can’t say that one loss prepared me for the next, but it has given me words for feelings I otherwise would have not been able to explain.
His funeral was my first experience attending a funeral for someone who died by suicide, but it wasn’t a funeral. I didn’t know how to feel or grieve, if anything I felt weird. There were two services held back to back, a remembrance night and the celebration of life service. The remembrance night fell on my seventeenth birthday, and even though his sister had ask me to share, my parents refused to let me attend. My parents wanted me to have my birthday, but I wanted a goodbye. For the celebration of life service it was agreed upon that instead of wearing black, which symbolizes mourning, we would all try to be true to celebrating his life; I wore a white dress with blue roses because blue was his favorite color growing up. It rained that morning; rainy days were something he said reminded him of me. I thanked heaven for crying on my behalf as I sat in a church that we didn’t grow up in, in pews that were strangers to my prayers, half expecting to see him standing against the back wall. The service was used as an opportunity to evangelize the packed church of young people his life had drawn together. It was truly fitting to his testimony.