The Illusion of Community

This isn’t a nice post, and it’s not about those who we’ve already lost. It’s about why we’ve lost them and how to keep from losing more. Thank you to the many people who helped me write this for your support and your points/opinions, many of which I pulled from. I hope those of you who do read this, understand where it comes from and why it needed to be said. Nothing can be done about those we’ve lost, but we can prevent losing more.

*UPDATE: I posted this on Facebook but for those of you that are finding this through another means, I’ll comment here, too. I’d like to make something as clear as I possibly can right now: This post was not written as a hate piece against Acton-Boxborough or to bash any particular group of people, including the teachers and counseling staff of AB. I was trying very hard NOT to refer to any specific situations and keep it as general as I could. I recognize that I didn’t do the best job at making that clear in the piece, but I’m a 20 year old college student venting on the internet… I can’t be expected to have the accuracy of the New York Times and the wonderful thing about wordpress is it always lets me go back and edit!!! I never expected anyone other than my friends to even read it let alone for it to blow up the way that it did, but I wanted to thank everyone who read it and messaged me today, and also apologize to anyone who may have misread the post or my intentions. There are quite a few people at AB that I love dearly, and I hope they know who they are (apart from those that I’ve already spoken with today). The fact that SO many people connected with this piece and told me that it was exactly how they felt is a huge sign that something is wrong. I hope you can all see this piece as a whole instead of just the little pieces of it that you may not like or agree with.

Probably most importantly: I cannot stress enough how much this is about loss as a WHOLE and not any specific person. I know with the timing, it may seem like it is about the two most recent losses in particular, but it is not in any way about those people or their experiences, as I do not know their situations and would never make assumptions. This was written through my own eyes about my own experiences and those of my friends.

(Before getting started, I urge you to take a look at this post, which is the one I originally wrote two nights ago about AB’s most recent losses. This post is not about those people, but is written through my own eyes about my own experiences and those of my friends.)

 

I know you’re not supposed to try to place blame in times of loss, it isn’t my first time around ya know.. I don’t think anyone should blame themselves and it isn’t any one individual or group of individuals’ fault, but all of ours. Acton-Boxborough has failed as a community and whether you played a role in that or not, that’s for you to decide. I’m not writing this to call anyone out, but to point out how wronged we have all been by the place that is supposed to be our home. I’m sure I’ve already got some people mad, especially those of you posting about how it’s such a beautiful community and how you’re so thankful to be apart of it, but bear with me because I do have a point to this.

First I’d like to point out that I literally just said “it isn’t my first time around.” I graduated less than three years ago and in that time alone have seen at least eight people in our community die, most of which being just in the past year and not including the (at least) three I saw during my time in high school. These people were my closest friends, my classmates, people I didn’t like and people I never knew, members of what you would call my “community.” In most of these cases, if not all, the cause of these deaths were either some form of overdose or suicide. I know right now I’m just relaying information most of you probably already know but it’s important to remember this. All these people in the same community, most just in the past few months, and all for the same reasons.

Second I’d like to backtrack to those people who are posting about how beautiful of a community Acton is and how it shaped us into who we are and how we should all be so thankful to live in a place that is so warm and welcoming. I will say this: you’re right about one thing. It did shape us into who we are. Unfortunately for a lot of us, instead of shaping us into college-level sports playing superstars it shaped us into suicidal balls of self-hatred who turn to drugs or other forms of self-destruction to cope with how we didn’t turn out as great as the rest of you. Because that is what Acton does to you. It drills into your head that if you’re not academically inclined or some kind of jock, you’re not as important. You’re not as good. You’re not as worthy. We all had different high school experiences, obviously, but if you don’t remember the immense pressure everyone felt junior and senior year to get into a great college and do better on your SATs than the kid who was mean to you in chemistry because you didn’t understand a question, or the girls crying in history class because they got less than a 95% on an exam, or the people that would literally drink during school because they’d just given up so long ago, then you’re lying. Do you remember being called a fat slut every day in junior high and growing up into an anorexic whore? Probably not, but do you remember the girl who did? Probably not, either. I bet you would if she died. Maybe that wasn’t fair. But do you remember going to your counselor and asking for help because your parents wouldn’t listen, and all they would do was call your parents? Do you remember detentions for getting into screaming matches in one of the common areas with someone who did something awful to you? Do you remember the whole main lobby being blocked off frequently and all the ambulances and all the hospitals and all the people who wanted to die? Do you at least remember seeing or hearing about any of this? Probably not.

I’ve said before, it is beautiful how the members of AB come together in times of loss. It’s always nice to see everyone’s kind words, and it’s clear that most of the sadness is genuine. What I can’t understand, though, is where you all were when these people were alive? Why didn’t you have any kind words then? In one case in particular I know no one had heard from or about this person in years, but you all had plenty to say about how great he was once the chance to make a Facebook status popped up. I know most of you people. I know most of you don’t mean it in the way I’m making it sound. I know most of you genuinely care and are deeply saddened by this constant news of death, but that doesn’t change the fact that no one appreciated these people until they were gone. If AB is such a beautiful and warm community, its members should feel welcomed and appreciated while they’re alive. Its members shouldn’t feel like they need to turn to drugs or suicide to feel better. If we had such a strong community, we wouldn’t have lost six members in the last year.

Acton-Boxborough does an excellent job at raising students, but not necessarily humans. It’s great at staying at the top academically but has no problem letting a few kids slip through the cracks. Have any of you noticed, since leaving AB, that other high schools and colleges make it a point to reach out to their students in times of tragedy? All those communities make counseling readily available, while AB stays silent apart from the occasional email to the parents or maybe a Facebook group. Teachers in some schools in the district were specifically instructed not to mention any of the losses from the past few weeks. Kids still in high school have told me that they haven’t had a single teacher say a word about any of it. How are you expected to go into school the next morning after finding out one of your friends killed himself or overdosed on Heroin, and then have everyone act as if nothing happened? How are you supposed to just act like nothing happened? Lucky for you, AB is great at teaching you to shove it all under the rug and keep up with your studies.

I know it’s scary, and parents don’t want to think of their kids as being depressed, and the school has other concerns, too. I know that it’s not a fun topic to discuss and it is different for everyone, but it’s such an easy thing to prevent. It’s so easy to teach people to love themselves if you start right away, if you start in what’s supposed to be their “home.” Obviously not everyone is going to be happy and love themselves, but significantly more people would. High school and college are supposed to be the greatest times of our lives, and there are people who aren’t even living long enough to find out if that’s true. Those of us who are still living are just going day by day and waiting for a text message to see who’s going to be next. People are really scared right now. It’s such a small town and we’ve lost so much, and it seems we only have each other to rely on and most of us don’t even like each other very much. It shouldn’t be that way. Our school and our community should be there as means of support, especially in times like this. Our school and our community should be actively working towards a solution and prevention rather than just brushing it off and moving on with the school year. Finally, I’ll end this incredibly long post filled with run-on sentences and rants and nonsense with this: Those of you who felt at home at AB, I am happy for you. I’m thankful that you’re one less person that feels like these people who have died did, like most of the people I know do. But please remember, a large portion of what you call your community does not feel a part of that community. A large portion of the people you know feel alone, and helpless, and cannot call that place their home. We can’t end depression or suicide, but we certainly can’t do it by ourselves, and Facebook statuses don’t help anyone after they’ve already died. We don’t need to lose anyone else.

A Promise to Those Suffering a Loss This Morning

I’m not going to pretend I knew him at all. In fact, I’d only met Alex maybe a few times at a friend’s house years ago, and honestly had to be reminded of that. But I know we had a lot of mutual friends and I’m seeing a lot of people hurting, both that I care a lot about and that I don’t even know. So I wrote this for those people, and I hope that in some way it helps. I also want you all to know that I’m here if you need to talk, or vent, or honestly just cry. I work from home so Facebook or cell phone is always a great way to contact me and I’m usually able to respond pretty quickly. My heart goes out to all of you, and to Alex and his family. Rest easy .

(This also goes out to the other members of AB who are suffering losses, as well. I don’t know that person, her family, friends, or much about what happened so I don’t want to tag or mention her or her loss but I hope someone sees it and passes it along to someone in that situation that might benefit)

*UPDATE, ONE WEEK LATER: I Heard some people in Acton might need something like this today. Heartbreaking to hear of yet another loss in our community, but I wish I’d heard sooner so I could have shared sooner and reached out to my little friends still in high school and struggling with it, and to the family members, some of which I used to know well. I don’t know anything about anything (and please don’t ask) but I love you all and I hope this, or maybe something else I’ve written, will help. Here if anyone needs anything. Let’s hope these are the last, and remember that it doesn’t stay bad forever. <3
(It devastated me to have to edit this post just now and change it to plural with the news of a second loss. Please don't let people forget how much they mean to you. Don't stop telling everyone you love that you love them every single time you talk. You don't want to realize how important it is after it's too late.)

So many in the Acton-Boxborough community are hurting right now after all our losses yesterday. I’ve had several people, both friends and strangers, come to me with the question, “How do you deal with death?” and it’s a difficult one to answer. Everyone feels things differently, everyone had different relationships with the person lost, and all pain is different. I suppose my answer to all of you for now is: you don’t. You don’t just “deal” with death. It is a concept beyond any of our understandings and something that takes a LOT of time to come to terms with. We lost Meg almost eight months ago and I’ve still yet to fully come to terms with it. Hell, it’s been two and a half years and there are still nights I find myself missing Noah. Don’t try to “deal” with death and just focus on yourself and getting through it, because I promise you that you will.

What I will tell you (and have already for some) is this: don’t try and hold it in. Don’t bury it deep down and tell everyone you’re okay. From the moment I got home after receiving the text about Meg until the moment I was driven to the airport for her funeral, I did not leave my bed once. I left school and laid in bed, constantly scrolling through Facebook reading everyone’s posts, searching for answers, ignoring all the condolence texts, not eating, and switching between full blown panic attacks and swallowing pills to keep me asleep for entire days. I did this for a full week.

I’m not saying you should do that, we all know I don’t exactly handle things in the healthiest of ways, but what I am trying to say is you don’t have to just carry on pretending like it didn’t happen. Stop trying to hide it and give yourself time to be sad. Stop searching for answers and let the ones that do exist come to you, because in some cases there may not be any. Stop trying to understand. Just collapse onto the floor or your bed and smash the furniture around your bedroom and scream at the top of your lungs and curse the universe or God or whatever you believe in and cry and cry and cry. Let yourself be miserable for as long as you need because no one in this world is expecting you to be happy. Take time off of work or school if you need to (most people will understand and if they don’t, screw them, find a better job or professor). Do whatever you need to do to get it out and let yourself feel all that pain, no matter how unbearable and impossible it may seem now. Let yourself feel the hurt and confusion and emptiness for as long as you need to and then once you have, you’ll see that you survived. One of the worst things you’ll probably (hopefully) ever have to face, and you survived it, though there may have been points you didn’t think you would. You survived, and that means you can survive the rest of it, too.

Those of you who have read my other posts know that I’m nothing close to being over losing Meg. As I said, the only thing I know for sure is that it takes a lot of time. There are still days, eight months later, that I find myself unable to leave my bed or having to leave a party because a song came on that reminded me of her. There are nights I find myself sleeping in her sweatshirt, with a photo of us beside me on the pillow. I still talk to her, every single day. Every sign I think I see from her, I thank her. Every beautiful sunset I drive by I say “there’s Meg!” I still text her phone when I need to talk, knowing I won’t get a response but imagining that she’s still receiving it somehow. And Noah, too. He died exactly two and a half years ago last Wednesday and I still think of him as I drive by the Grapevine or I see a bottle of Ten High. And clearly, I can still tell you exactly how long it’s been, to the day. His number is still in my contacts and if someone hadn’t texted back one day, I’d still be texting him when I needed to, too. I still flinch every time I hear the word “heroin” and I’m still deeply affected by the stories of similar situations to his. But I am surviving. It’s getting easier to drive through Acton and see all the places we used to go. It’s getting easier to live. I’m reapplying to schools and found a full-time job and finally started going out with friends again after all these months. I’m moving forward, and you will too.

I’ve said it a hundred times but I’d say it a hundred more if it wouldn’t bore you all out of reading this (assuming you’ve even made it this far), but this is going to take TIME. It’s going to hurt, really fucking bad for what feels like forever, but it isn’t going to be forever. One day you’re going to wake up and without even realizing it, you’ll wonder what to have for breakfast instead of instantly thinking of your loss and sadness. One day you’ll drive by the old parking lot you used to hang out in and think of your friend but you won’t need to pull over to cry. That hole in your life which that person used to fill will always be there. You’ll never forget them or stop thinking about them altogether, but someday it’ll stop hurting to hear their name. The secret is, rather than trying to fill it or avoid it, learning to live with it.

All pain is different and everyone goes through the mourning process in their own way. My story and situation differs from all of yours and the way you deal with it will be different than I did. I can’t promise you, and wouldn’t even try to, that this is solid, professional advice and that reading this dumb article will make you all better. I can’t even promise that anything I’ve said will help you. I can only hope that it does. You’re still going to be sad, but I hope I’ve gotten the point across that the devastation you feel now will not last forever. I’m not going to say that there will never again be times that it hurts, or that you’ll ever stop missing that person, and I haven’t lived long enough to even know the answer to that question, but I am going to promise you that it will get easier. It will get easier and it will get better and you will be okay. It’s going to feel impossible, and it will be hard for a long time, but I promise that you are going to survive it. I promise you’re going to be okay, and although I can’t promise this one, I do firmly believe that your friend will be right there beside you helping you all the way through it.

I’ll Take Your Darkness So You Can Go Into the Light

It’s odd when you meet someone who really honestly truly gets you. There are infinite types of these people and infinite ways for them to enter your life, but my personal favorite are those tropical storms that roll through and engulf your soul. Those are the ones you find yourself most amazed by. They relate to you in every way imaginable and you have so few differences you pretend there are none at all. You instantly click: maybe drunkenly on a basement floor or maybe in the back of a cab or maybe through a mutual friend. Maybe some universal being just drops them into your life and disguises it as an exchange of phone numbers. They’re the ones you can share a pile of nachos with or split an entire ice cream cake or even devour both in one sitting. They know about your darkest parts and they’ve felt just as dark. They place a blade in your hand, not because they want you to do it, but because they trust you not to. They trust you not to let the darkness escape out through your veins and have nowhere left to go but into their lungs. And you don’t. You put the blade in your pocket with I’ll just do it later in mind and then later comes and you still don’t do it but you don’t know why. It just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do anymore, and you go to sleep.

Sometimes those people and you clash. You scream at each other in parked cars and punch holes through each others’ walls and spread horrible, regretful things about one another that shouldn’t be forgivable. Sometimes your feuds last minutes or sometimes months but eventually, the “differences” are worked through or glazed over and you’re right back to throwing your arms out the sunroof blasting the whitest of white girl pop and smoking a bowl while laid out in the middle of the street. These are the people you expect to be in your life forever. Growing up means changing and sometimes you move states away or go weeks without talking but you know they’re not actually far. The moment you suddenly remember the blade you left in your pocket all those years ago, you know it’ll be just minutes until they’re on the other end of the phone reminding you of the day they placed it in your palm in the first place, reminding you of their trust in your strength. They do more than support you, they teach you how to support yourself. They live through it with you. They hold you up and drag you along beside them to be sure that you get to live your life as fully as they do. They understand and they help.

These are the people you expect to be in your life forever. When you remember that blade and you know they’re on the other end of the phone to talk you off the ledge. When you meet a cute boy and you’re dying to send eight thousand pictures and every single detail you can find back and forth with one another. Growing up means changing, but growing up shouldn’t mean standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, frantically trying to toss your items on the conveyor belt and quickly glancing at your phone to be greeted by a text reading “I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you this…” It shouldn’t mean holding your breath while waiting for your taxi and trying to keep up the small talk with your driver for the entire nine minute drive and then longer as he helps you carry your bags into your apartment. It shouldn’t mean accidentally smashing all the eggs and your new wine glasses and it shouldn’t mean collapsing on the tile floor, unable to breathe or speak. You never expect to find yourself attempting to scrape together what few acceptable items you have for a memorial service and hop on a plane to Boston in the middle of the first week of a new semester. You never expect the weeks of “I’m so sorry for your loss”s or the “how are you doing?”s or the numbness that suddenly takes their place in your soul. You never expect having to watch other friends shatter as they try to come to terms with something that some of you aren’t sure you ever will. You never expect to find yourself drunk in the parking lot of a church at three AM because you just wanted to drop by and say hi or clutching a stupid Red Sox sweatshirt every night in hopes that they’re really laying beside you, watching Rapunzel and inhaling chips. You never expect to lose the ones who were supposed to be in your life forever.

These people knew about your darkest parts but they’ve felt darker. They trust in your strength but it’s because they have to. If they don’t trust in yours then how can they trust in their own? They know you aren’t ready to give all the way into the darkness. They know you still have some light in there and they see it and they reach for it, but theirs is buried too deep inside of them and although to us it’s so bright it’s nearly blinding, someday they just stop seeing the tiny flicker. Someday they just give into what they believe they’ve become. They trusted you not to let the darkness escape out of your veins and into their lungs, but they never promised to do the same. You breathe in the darkness and you walk over nails every single day and remember their trust in you because you owe them that.You breathe in the darkness and you keep that blade in your pocket and even when you find yourself in a personal volcanic eruption, you keep the promise you made to your friend years ago. You breathe in the darkness and you take solace in the fact that now, they are only just light.