Almost a year ago, just a few days before my birthday, my best friend Ben committed suicide.
Suicide has sadly become a normal reality for many of us but you never really take it seriously until it becomes personal to you. Ben was always different and even though we grew up next door to each other for most of my childhood, I was afraid of him. He always wore black, he listened to music that made my ears hurt, and he kept to himself most of the time.
It wasn’t until we were young teenagers that I got to know him and realized that we had a lot in common, specifically skateboarding. I grew up painfully shy as a child but learned in my adolescence that I could hide through humor. Being the classic comedian I am, I used to call out his name and wave dramatically whenever he got off the bus from school, because it made my friends laugh. After a few weeks of doing that everyday, we actually started talking and built a meaningful friendship from it. We ended up purchasing the new “wave boards” together and would spend hours riding around my driveway in circles talking about anything and everything. Religion, cartoons, family, friends, love, loss, everything that two kids going through adolescence are wondering and are curious about. Ben’s family ended up moving away once we got into high school, but I would always make sure to keep in contact through social media and maybe a coffee date once a year.
I learned about his suicide through a Facebook post that his mother had posted, saying “It’s with a heavy heart that I share that my youngest son has joined the ranks of Heavenly angels. We are at a loss for words but we don’t want to shut you out. Everything is quite surreal right now. We don’t need anything but we appreciate all the offers. We will have a graveside service at Sunset Gardens on Monday. Thank you for your prayers.”
My heart stopped. My phone started ringing and buzzing with people trying to get ahold of me, knowing that I was probably the last person in our class to have any contact with him. The only thing that I could think of was how I was not shocked that he had decided to take that step. It was the most obvious answer and yet the most heartbreaking. Throughout all the years of knowing him and talking with him, why did I ignore all the signs?
I remember a time in 8th grade when I was sitting in the back of my english classroom with him and one of his friends. We got to talking about what it means to “cut” and they asked if I had ever done it before. I was nervous but intrigued, I had never even thought about doing that to myself let alone thought anyone could actually do it. His friend leaned in close and said “don’t tell anyone” and slowly rolled up her sleeve. I looked down and saw small slashes across her wrists, fresh wounds from the night before. I was scared. I looked at Ben, expecting him to be just as shocked, but he shrugged his shoulders and looked down.
Ben could feel me staring him down and almost out of guilt, he slowly took off half his jacket, exposing his entire arm. He not only had slashes across his wrists, but deep cuts from his wrist up to his shoulder. I panicked, I didn’t know what to do and ended up sitting there speechless. I ended up talking with a counselor after class, but I only told them about his friend and not Ben. I couldn’t tattle on Ben, he was my friend. His friend ended up getting suspended and word spread that I had been the tattle-tale. My trust was in question so for the next year, so I kept silent, but I wish I hadn’t.
After Ben moved away, he was in and out of rehab and I never actually knew where he was at any point during the year. When I was 17, I was at my weekly religious group gathering with other youth in my church. One of the other members of our church owned a rehab center for young men where they had a ropes course to help build trust and teamwork. Our leaders thought would be a good bonding activity for the youth.
The ropes course was a few feet from these small dorm looking buildings where we were told the boys at the rehab center were staying, but we wouldn’t be bothered. As I waited in line to take my turn at the rope course, I happened to look towards one of the dorm buildings and saw a kid sitting against it, watching us. I realized it was Ben. It had probably been 2 years since I had heard from him, so naturally I jumped back into my pre-teen self and started yelling his name and dramatically waving my arms like I used to do at the bus stop after school. Ben got scared and quickly jumped up, running behind one of the buildings. I ran after him and gave him a huge hug, ecstatic to see him. He barely hugged me back and gave me a grim look, his eyes looked sunken in and he looked broken.
I smiled and said “Ben! It’s Mckenzie!”. I was able to see him give a small smirk before one of my church leaders grabbed me and told me to get back to the group. Before the activity was over, I was pulled aside and questioned by my leaders and the owner of the site. “How do you know that boy? What did he say? Why did you hug him?”. I shrugged it off and simply said, “Because he’s my best friend, Ben!”. Some of them smiled while others shrugged. The owner of the site said, “Well, it was probably good for him to see his old friend.” It was another sign that I simply brushed off, wishing now I had kept in contact with him more seriously.
I had other small moments like this with Ben over the years, small meetings or words shared online, but it always comes down to the main lesson. If you or someone you know is showing signs of suicidal thoughts or tendencies, act now so you won’t regret it later. The day of Ben’s funeral, I shared a Facebook post to share my thoughts and feelings for those that are struggling with suicide today.
Take that step that I never took with Ben. If you or someone you know is struggling with the thought of suicide there are many resources for you, starting with calling 1-800-273-TALK.
National Hotline 1-800-273-Talk
Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 Press 1
Anti Bullying Coalition of Utah – http://www.utahantibullying.org