I’ll never forget sitting at an outdoor bar in Cancun, Mexico with you. I was 17 and you were 18. We’d just graduated from high school, and the whole world was out there, waiting for us. I was heading to college at the University of West Florida, and you’d be off for basic training in the Navy soon.
Chatting excitedly about our futures, we imagined where we’d be in five, 10, and even 20 years down the road. After finishing our drinks, we roamed the outdoor markets, checking out handmade goods from the local artisans. Just the two of us, excited about the next chapters of our lives. You purchased two sterling silver dolphin rings that day, for your sisters. I remember being impressed with your negotiation skills. How did you even know how to talk those guys down on the price? I wondered. You always amazed me.
It’s twenty years later now, and here I am: typing away on my keyboard and thinking of you as the summer rain pitter-patters on my rooftop. I woke up early this morning with you on my mind, naturally: it’s been 20 years to the day since you left us. Twenty years since you decided your life was no longer worth living.
I’m not mad at you for the things you didn’t know, Brad, even though it still hurts me today. You didn’t know that life does get better. You didn’t see what we all saw… the value of your beautiful existence. You must not have known how much we all loved you. You couldn’t have possibly known the way your death would affect us.
Or maybe you did know some of these things, but the knowing wasn’t enough to keep you here. I get it. I’ve felt this way too. I was diagnosed with clinical depression after you died, and I used to think that God made a mistake: that it should have been me, not you.
I don’t feel that way anymore, though. Now all I want to do is fight for the kids we once were… for the kids who look in the mirror and hate the person staring back. I want to help them shift their perspective and realize their self-worth. I want them to see that mental health conditions can be managed in the same way physical health conditions can be managed, with help. I know this is true because I’m a living, breathing example of it.
I wish you could be here, too. But we never even talked about how much we were hurting back then. If we had, then maybe things would’ve been different.
On that fateful day in Cancun, when we dreamt of life’s possibilities, I never imagined your future would be so short-lived. Now, 20 years later, I’ve finally accepted what is. I’m no longer resisting what happened, because clearly, we can’t change the past. But we can pave the way for a brighter future.
I now share my story in the hope that by speaking my truth, I can help others learn to love themselves, reach out for help when they need it, and choose to carry on.
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