JP Williams is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Archie, MO. He blogs at Believing Out Loud. In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, this is a “letter” JP wrote to his best friend who committed suicide 20 years ago.
It has been about twenty years since we cut class.
Man, was that ever a fun time. Running free. Hearts racing, hoping we didn’t get caught. Sure the Highway patrol was on the lookout for two truants.
Guitar shopping. Blasting punk rock on that old Emerson boom box. Checking out the Concert Express catalog. Taco (sort-of) Bueno.
We must have been a sight. Sitting there in Southwest Oklahoma circa 1996. You with the orange mohawk.
Me with the gothy, punky, headbangery, grungy, someone accept me cause I am socially schizophrenic look.
Then you looked at me and asked that question, “Do you think that God would forgive you if you killed yourself?”
I had no idea what to say. After all, we were just kids. And spiritually, I was a nursing baby.
“I don’t think that is ever God’s plan for someone’s life.”
“Okay.” I think you said, then, we went back to our terrible Mexican fast food, and our fantasy wardrobe of indie punk t-shirts that we knew our parents would never let us wear out of the house even if we had the money to get them.
I wish I had known.
I wish I had known that you had tried before to end your life.
I wish I had known who to turn to for help.
I wish I had known that you were not asking a random, reflective question like adolescents often do.
Why didn’t you just tell me?
You didn’t feel like you fit in anywhere.
You didn’t feel like you could break free from whatever prison you were in.
You didn’t even tell your best friend.
Friday was awesome. Then Monday came.
I saw you trudging back to the car. We were busted. Well, you were busted. I had cover.
Thankfully I can’t remember whose idea it was to cut class, because if it was mine, I am not sure if I would ever forgive myself.
I just knew I would see you again. You were headed home to face the music, I was headed to class. When you are 17, you live forever. Unless you take your life.
Tuesday, “Has anyone seen Alex?” Wednesday, “Man, I wonder where he went?” Thursday, “If we don’t hear from him soon, I bet he’s dead or something…” What a terribly accurate assessment.
I got home from work, and there was the call on my answering machine. “JP, this is [Alex’s mom], we have some news about Alex.”
You know it is bad news when they don’t leave any more details.
I prayed, and I asked for God to help me take the blow.
“They found him. He’s gone.” She wept. I kept my composure, hung up the phone, and fell apart.
Your funeral was very difficult. We walked from the school to the church. It was a longer walk than normal. I got to hang out with that cute girl with the lazy eye, and she looked great in her funeral dress. At least I was mature enough to have my mind in the right place.
I decided on the way back that I would quit smoking, you always hated that I smoked. That was my memorial tribute to you, even though it took me until New Year’s Eve ’98 to finally put them down.
You may have thought you solved your problems, but you didn’t. You ran from them. Suicide is selfish, and unforgiving. It is permanent solution to temporary problems. I have to confess that I am still pretty angry at you, but who am I kidding, I can’t be mad at you… but it hurt others, and it still hurts.
Somewhere I have some of your artwork. Your dog collar. Your bass guitar is on permanent loan to a kid you never knew. Sometimes I find stuff in my garage or whatever, and usually it stops me. I shed a tear. I move on.
The thing that hurts the most is that you never talked to me. You never told me.
What if you had? Maybe we could be laughing about the time we cut class and you got busted. You would have loved the new Supertones record, and Squad 5-0 broke big right after you…
We could have talked to our youth pastor, or the school counselor, the art teacher, anyone.
But no. You didn’t talk to us. You ran.
About a year later, your mom got to where she couldn’t bear the pain. Your dad took her to an inpatient mental facility. On the way home, he pulled over to the side of the road to take a nap and was killed by an 18 wheeler.
Did you know that you would do that to her? To him?
How could you have ever known how much you would hurt others? If you’d known, you never would have.
It doesn’t end the pain. At least not for us.
God has helped me work through most of this. But man, if I could see you again, I would just grab you, and hold you, and tell you that whatever it was that we could have worked it out. We could have fought it together. We could have won, I know it.
So maybe someone will read this. And they will think, “Man… I don’t want to do that to someone. I don’t want my best friend to be aching inside twenty years later.” That’s why I am writing to you. So that you, and maybe others can see.
It’s just terrible when you aren’t taken, but when you take your own life.
I hope that my understanding of God’s grace is right. And that one day, we will meet again.
If they allow mohawks in Heaven, I will know how to find you.
This is pretty raw, I posted it before I could talk myself out of it. When I was in High School, my best friend took his life. That was 20 years ago, and it still hurts today. Maybe this can help someone. Writing it helped me.
Alex is obviously not my friend’s name, but might be. You’re always supposed to change names when you write these sort of things.
He was a clown for a living, and an aspiring artist and musician. Quite a ladies’ man. The death of Robin Williams triggered a flood in me and this is what came of it. It is odd how so many people who make a living making us laugh seem to die of sadness.
There are some hopeful and awesome things that come out of this story, but that is not the focus today.
Please, if you read this and are contemplating suicide, or self-harm of any kind; reach out to a teacher, a pastor, a friend, even a stranger. Anyone. Most problems in life are temporary. Suicide is permanent. There is so much more to life than what you are going through, so don’t take it.