It was the last Bank holiday in May, a Monday morning, 8am, and I received a text from one of my closest friends asking if it was okay to call.
I got that sinking feeling.
Firstly, because close friends don’t ask permission to call. Well, not mine anyway – they wake my ass up at all hours for things ranging from nail varnish colours (anyone who knows me knows how ridiculous this is), to juice recipes, needing my AA cover to get towed home or just to say hi.
My first thought – are the kids ok? My second – is she? My third – what the fuck’s wrong! I don’t recall the beginning of the conversation, or if there were any pleasantries or formalities. I don’t know if she heard the panic in my voice, that I always try to play down, and is often mistaken for nonchalance, when I really do care.
I just remember the softly spoken voice of a usually cheeky and often loud friend saying, “David passed away.”
Huh, what do you mean? What David? My David? What are you talking about? No. No. No. He texted me a few days ago. What. David, David? David David? Then silence, followed by some inaudible mumbles, before bursting into tears and hanging up. I don’t recall the minutes that followed. Or if even if my recollection of the conversation is accurate. I just know that David died.
Black men are more than 5 times likely to commit suicide than black women.
Men as a whole are 3-5 times more likely to commit suicide, compared to their female counterparts.
Those are statistics that you never want to knock on your door. Especially when you haven’t returned the person’s calls, in weeks. Or replied to the text that they sent a few days before. That sinking feeling has been visiting me daily. It keeps me up at night asking questions like, “Why did he do it?” “Did he really want to go?” “Could I have made a difference if I called him back?”
It makes statements like, “Why do you care now, it’s too late.” “What kind of friend are you, you put yourself first,” “Why are you crying, you don’t deserve to be sad.”
Your mind starts playing tricks on you – well mine does. I keep hearing his voice and I constantly replay the 15-second call from the first bank holiday in May, the last time we spoke, just weeks before. I was having a bad day, so it was short and I answered – quite abruptly. “I’ll call you back, I’m in the middle of something.” The sigh before he hung up, the tone he used when he said, “okay, cool.” I don’t think that will ever leave me – the sound of someone I care about wanting to talk, and the sound of me not wanting to listen.
My mind ticks over about what he wanted to say, the fact that honestly, at the time, I didn’t care. The fact it took me two weeks to call him back and I didn’t try again when I didn’t get him, even though he always did. I’m all twisted up inside because when he texted a few days before he died I started writing a reply, twice, maybe three times, and deleted it.
Apologies are always hard for me – not because I don’t like to give them, but because I’m not good with heart to hearts. Saying that I’m not okay and sometimes things get a little too much for me is even harder. That text was the hardest thing I never wrote; never sent; never got to tell him. Even though I didn’t know what was to come, I still can’t stop the fact that guilt is literally eating at me every day. Months on, not much has changed.
Guilt is such a pointless emotion, because it serves no purpose, only discontent. And feeling guilty about feeling guilty is probably one of the hardest things to rationalise in a mind running wild with irrational thoughts and flawed logic. Over the years I’ve become really good at convincing myself that I’m fine, even when experience has taught me that it’s not the best way [for me] to deal with things, and all the signs point to me not being ok.
Like the fact that since that call I’ve cried more times than I care to remember and spent more time in bed than someone who is not sleeping could ever need. Then I go to the other extreme, and I’m fine, great in fact! There’s loads to do and I’m full of energy – busy, busy, busy… But it doesn’t stop me from bursting into tears after a seemingly productive morning of pretending to do something constructive.
But then I have lots of good moments too – the memories of things that I hadn’t realised that I hadn’t forgotten.
Like the time we decided to buy crab for dinner and I didn’t want to sit with them in the car because they were still alive. What kind of teenagers were we? Sous chefs in training. I actually said to my mum a while back that you make the best steamed veg ever. Still sweeting me until this day!
And the way you’d purposely provoke my pops and put his slippers on when you came over so he’d come home from work and see you in them, because you found yourself funnier than anyone else did. Or when I passed my driving test and kept stalling and you were cracking up at me – then I drove to yours and bumped the car behind whilst reverse parking [and waving to your mum]. I blame you! Your big gob and loud laugh distracting me!
And where would I start with the college stories?
Damn. Spongebob. I really wish you didn’t have to go like this. I’m writing this last bit directly to you because I still haven’t found it in myself to write on the wall of your Facebook tribute page. Not because I don’t care, but because I feel like if I do, then it makes it all final and I’m not ready to say goodbye yet. Are you reading this now? I can hear your voice telling me to stop crying.. I will.
I don’t know what led you to make your decision. I won’t speculate over the specifics. I may never understand why you didn’t keep pushing, because you always landed back on your feet. What I will say is, David, I love you, and I’m sorry if my actions didn’t always reflect that or if you ever questioned if it was true. You’re one of the smartest guys I’ve met, funny [even if it was only you laughing most of the time], strong – I watched you help raise your sister, support your mother and guide your brother. There’s so much more I could write.. But there will never be enough..
So I’ll end with this.. That time that you called me and asked if you could sing, and gave me a taster.. I think that was the only time I lied to you, sorry :)
A final word. Suicide is becoming a great concern amongst men, young men. We often think that they are stronger than us [women]. They are less likely to ask for help and support. There aren’t always signs, but let’s make it #OkNotToBeOk and provide a platform and support network.
Editor’s note: Suicide is the biggest killer of young men in Britain, with three men under 35 ending their lives every day. Suicide claims more young male lives in England and Wales each year than road accidents, murder and HIV/AIDS combined, according to statistics. If you need support, UK charity CALM offer a free, confidential and anonymous phone line and texting service, open 5pm – midnight, 7 days a week – visit thecalmzone.net for information. Alternatively, help and advice is available from the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention.