When I was twelve or thirteen years old, my brothers and I stayed up late watching horror movies in the family room. I don’t remember what movies they were, nor does it matter; what matters is what happened afterwards.
I slept on the floor in my parents’ bedroom most nights. For some reason, their room was free from the demons that lurked in the shadows of mine, and it had the added bonus of very, very comfortable carpet (let’s just ignore the fact that they had the same carpet in their room as mine).
That night, after the horror movies, Justin–who was 15 or 16 at the time–insisted that I sleep on the floor in his room. He grasped my shoulders and held me close. “Whitney,” he said. “Mom and Dad won’t always be here to take care of you. I will be. You need to get used to that.”
The thought that my parents would be dead and gone from my life made me more desperately want the comfort of their floor, but Justin was unrelenting–as he was with most things.
“Whitney, please,” he begged. “You need to learn to not lean on them all the time. You can lean on me. You can always lean on me. Sleep on the floor in my room.”
His room was a dirty teenage boy’s room. The thought of sleeping around his gross athletic clothing and smelly socks was enough for me to push back to the point where he let me out of the half-hug I was in, so I could run upstairs to the safety of my parents’ floor.
That was the kind of teenager I remember him being. He was always fiercely overprotective of me, and in return, I always tried to soothe our father’s anger that was directed at him for seemingly inexplicable reasons.
As we grew up, that relationship continued. There was the time I talked him down from a desperate depression and a kamikaze car ride where he didn’t think he was going to make it home. There were all the times he enthusiastically disapproved of each of my boyfriends. There was his visit to celebrate my 18th birthday with me my first semester of college. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the most comforting hugs I’ve ever experienced.
But he was damaged by what our father had done to him, and ravaged by the disease of addiction. As he grew older, he grew angrier, and when he was no longer sober it was a struggle to find the person I loved in the expressions on his face, the words that he said, and the actions he took.
I haven’t been able to write about this. There are no words for it, no humor for me to add in to spice things up and make it bearable. Because it isn’t bearable. I will survive it, undoubtedly, but I cannot bear it.
On July 7th, the week after the anniversary of our father’s suicide, Justin killed himself.
Sharing those words with the Internet doesn’t begin to encompass the disbelief and despair my family has been feeling the past three weeks.
I love you, Justin.
If you or anyone you know is suicidal, please, please, PLEASE reach out. Your pain can be lessened with time and help. The pain you leave behind if you choose to end your life may never lessen for those who’ve loved you their whole lives. It just becomes something they have to live with, along with the memories and the what-ifs and the shoulds.