This isn’t the normal sports or pop culture “innings eater” blog you’re used to reading here. So ya, feel free to move it along.
It is the end of National Mental Health Month for 2020 and for obvious reasons I think less was made of it this year. That’s not meant to be a critical statement, it’d be almost calloused to not allow the train wreck ensuing around us to not supersede a slow-burn topic such as mental health. But nonetheless, I felt it was important for someone here at The 300s to say something. To #breakthestigma a little bit if you want to be cliched, bordering on antiquated at this point.
Like most (all?) of my compatriots at this fine little blog I’m actually a college graduate. Unlike (I think?) the rest of the staff I took a road a little less travelled: I was a transfer student. For my freshman year, I went to an out-of-state private school with a great program for my anticipated field. I had a lot of fun and met some awesome people. The problem was I was four hours away from home and it was a huge “suitcase school” which meant everyone was from the area and went home on the weekends. So I rolled the dice and transferred to one of the many state schools here in MA.
When I was notified I was accepted, I was also told in the same letter that I had the good fortune of being placed in a “forced triple” (more on that later). Yippee. I was given the names and contact info for the two guys I was paired up with so we could get in touch and say our “hello”’s. One guy was immediately kind of standoffish, if not a little aggressive. I should mention here he later told us it was more of a defense mechanism for living on his own for the first time and we later became friends and have kept in touch. But ya, that first conversation he really sort of tried to assert himself as the alpha male. Considering this was the first time we had exchanged words it was a very “oooooo-k” moment. The other guy was Mike. What was he like? Well all I really remember is he was a lot of energy, friendly as hell, and used the phrase “that’s a good look” a lot. I had no clue what to make of him. Or what I had gotten myself into.
I arrived in at school late August 2008. Remember that forced triple I mentioned? Well if that was at all a mysterious term to you it’s basically a double room they stick an extra bed in (or on top of another bed, to be specific). To recap: A CRAMPED forced triple, late August, Massachusetts. It was fucking hot. Like, brutally hot to the point we hated being in the room when the sun was up. Still, we made do. To our luck, on that end, we were actually placed in a section of the building with a lot of transfers (including a forced QUAD) so we made friends that were having the same experience. But to be brutally honest the whole thing would have been totally fucked without Mike. Within a couple of weeks it was like we were best friends. Not only did we just get along in general, but we both liked the same shit: crushing beers, dropping absurd lines on the girls we’d just met, crushing more beers, and wing-maning each other. God did we love that. We almost liked seeing who could get the assist more than who could get laid. He also, to his credit, made it a point to hype me up. One thing we shared was we both had gone through really rough breakups the year before. He seemed to be able to sort of just ignore his but I was literally a shell of a person. He was basically a DJ Khaled-esque presence literally in my ear, telling me how awesome I was (which clearly wasn’t totally true). I don’t know if he ever understood how much that kept me going.
Anyway, within a month he dbrought me back to his hometown to meet his family and friends. That one trip became a handful. Those people were his rock, his support system. You see, beyond the breakup Mike confided in me he had had problems with things like “depression” and “anxiety” since he was about 12. But being around these people who truly loved him, and fuck did they ever, helped him get through the bad times. It was a wonderful thing to witness just a tightknit group of like, 30 people.
That semester, my first as a transfer, was really something. We partied, we spit game to anything that walked, when it got too hot in the room we’d take beers and a tin to one removed shower stalls (“leav one empty for the holy spirit”) and pack a lip, crack a beer, and talk about that night or whatever. It was so dumb but so much fun. Towards the end of the semester, as it cooled down and eventually we started talking about the holidays, Mike, surprisingly, revealed he was probably going to transfer to another school a town over from his. He went home a lot as it was but it wasn’t enough to keep himself steady, and/or happy. I was sad, but I understood. So we went home for Thanksgiving, and then in a few weeks Christmas. I headed up to see him and his buddies and rip it up a few times. The next semester was kind of a blur. As I reflect on it now I realize I kind of had to reset my social life. The same friends we had hung out with were still there but my main man wasn’t. I probably saw him twice, including a hilarious story where in June he abandoned me at his house, where his mom and sister were sleeping, to go hook up with some chick he had met upon going to a bar legally for the first time. Thanks a lot.
Summer through fall of 09’ moved fast because I worked a ton and in general was just busy. I think the end of that summer was also when a buddy from high school moved into a house off campus at BC so you might say we had some nights. But I kept in touch with Mike and made it out to hang a couple times. He was by that point, only a year after we met, one of my closest confidantes, one of my best friends.
That semester at school, junior year, I moved into an on-campus apartment which was a huge upgrade and the best living situation you can have other than an off-campus house. It was a great year both in terms of everything we did socially (including a lot of us turning 21), sports-wise (we got the rugby team fully up and running, you name it. I visited Mike and he got me into a bar in Worcester underage and I ended up making out with a girl I wasn’t supposed too which he found hilarious. We just never fell out of step, I’m sure we’ve all had friends like that.
Later in 2010 is when I think it happened. Although now, as fucking sad as it makes me, I can’t remember the last real time we really spoke or saw each other. It had to of been that spring-ish because I know we went out at least once together legally and my birthday is in early spring. Something changed though. For really no reason. Suddenly my texts stopped getting returned as much. He had one lame excuse or another. I knew he had school, and a job now, which he didn’t always. He had a new girlfriend too who he seemed really into. To tell you the truth? I remember being more happy for him than anything else. I could have been normal me which is bitter and annoyed but I was happy my friend who had been through a lot of shit was seeing the sun for once. Who was I to be pissed off at that?
By the time senior year began, however, we had basically lost contact. I can honestly tell you I committed to never stop trying, but I could never get him to really send me anything back. I think I got a succinct message in mid-2011 maybe? Which was after I graduated? And by this time I was hurt. I remember being hurt. What the fuck had I done? And I remember being worried. After all he had told me about all the struggles he had had was this a bad sign? Should I tell someone. I think I did? We had mutual friend who I knew still so him and who I reached out to and asked how he was. I told him my concerns. He just said Mike had been busy, he had the girlfriend and school and such. He’d mention it to him to not be a dick and hit Joey back. We’d all hang out soon. It gave me some hope. I still didn’t really hear a peep out of him. I got one really odd message sometime in mid-late 2011 where he told me he had blocked a bunch of numbers or something to that effect because of something to do with a family members job (I know I’m being very vague but that is for privacy reasons, obviously. And no, this wasn’t totally a paranoid delusion more like a possibly convenient excuse). Needless to say, by the time 2011 became 2012 I was truly worried. Social media told me the girlfriend might be gone and I didn’t see anything about the job either. And I was still sad. What the fuck happened with me and one of my best friends? I moved to New Jersey for awhile and came back. I got my first “big boy” job. I had a life and friends and a lot to look forward to. I was, as a lot of people I think are when they’re 23, scared shitless. But I was overall happy. Still, there was that nagging at the back of my mind: how do I get my friend back? Or at least find out what happened?
By late 2012 I was living on my own for the first time in a non-college setting, i.e paying my own way. I had enough for rent, nutritionally-questionable food, and beer on the weekend. To ease some of this burden I got a weekend job working the door at a bar in Boston. That’s where I met Red and some of the rest of the crew here. Although it was a sacrifice to waste a weekend night dealing with people having too much of the good time you wished you were having, we had a blast with it. It was a great crew of guys and at the end of the night we’d revel in the preposterousness of our clientele’s behavior. Catching up at the end of the night having a beer after closing time was the best because we actually wouldn’t see each other during the shift itself. We all had different stations. Red and a few other guys worked at various spots inside for the most part. I worked (outside) the door checking the IDs with another (quite large) guy and so on and so forth.
One night however, I was asked to work the back door, which was just a terrible assignment. My guess is I was just a pretty steady door guy (I had done it before) and in general had decent instincts in terms of when to dive into a fracas and when to stay out. I knew when someone was too fucked up and when they weren’t. You know, normal life skills. Thinking back I believe what I was told was we worked with a bunch of, although well-intentioned, dipshits. To mitigate this issue, one of them would be paired with the other guy at the front and I would go to the back door where your sole duty was to make sure no one came in that way, which wasn’t allowed for headcount-keeping purposes. Red and someone else with a functioning brain would take the other 2/3 remaining corners of the room and we could all have a line of sight to each other and thus form an effective team. Delta Force: Faneuil Hall.
It was about 11:30. I remember that. So let’s say three and a half hours into a six hour shift. I took a quick peak at my phone as I was both not allowed and wont to do. I had a text. I flipped my phone open (you read that right) and saw the sender was Mike’s sister. And I knew. I knew it immediately. I opened the message.
“Hey Joe it’s _____. I just wanted to make sure you knew about Michael.”
So that’s how I found out. Everything went silent around me. It kind of stopped mattering in the way things do when you find out your life has been altered completely, even as tangential as the alteration was at that point. I texted a couple of his friends and confirmed how he’d died, which I’ll allow you to infer. I think I was just in shock. Standing there, surrounded by dense revelry, only at that stage considering mourning one of my best friends. I finished my shift at two and had my after work beer and listened to a couple stories and caught a cab home. I walked in sat down on the couch and it all came out. All at once.
I don’t remember much of the next few days except going to the wake, not very stoically. I remember going to my parents immediately after and losing it again. I remember the next couple of weeks just being fuzzy. Because of so many “what-ifs?”, because of an inability to focus on anything, because of the booze I repelled both with. Everything man. And through all of this I couldn’t help but, selfishly, keep asking the same question over and over again: did this kid die hating me?
I guess that’s my point in all this. I’m not going to end with some stupid, holier-than-thou fucking speech about how wrong and selfish suicide is. Because it probably isn’t, right? Mike suffered for over ten years with an excruciating illness, no matter how invisible. If someone suffered that long with something more tangible you wouldn’t blame them, would you? No, I guess my point is, if I even have one, is that we all have the potential to make the as big of an impact on someone or something as Mike did on me. Even if someone doesn’t think they’re leaving anyone behind, I’d challenge them to wonder if it’s just that they’re not leaving them behind yet? And I’d ask if maybe that’s worth sticking around a little while longer, no matter how much longer, for. I guess when it’s your time it’s you time. But maybe someone does need it not to be yet.
To end this, I’d just like to add that in spring 2015 I was invited to a cookout in Mike’s memory. I messaged his sister (having since gotten a smartphone and losing her number) (she actually never liked me much) since I hadn’t spoken to her or his family in awhile. I asked if it was cool if I came. I also asked her to just tell me: Had he, at the end, hated me? He hadn’t.