On September 15th, 2011, an amazing young woman took her life. I was lucky enough to call this woman my friend and my mentor.
I’ve been trying to start– and write– this letter to you for a couple of weeks now. My motivation to write to you started just over a month ago, when I had my Student Teacher Orientation. It was an emotional day for me, as the orientation symbolized so much more than the culmination of my GSE experiences thus far. Not only did I realize that student teaching would soon begin and I would be one step closer to being a “real adult,” but I also realized that it would also soon be the one year anniversary of your death. To me, that revelation was mind blowing.
As the weeks have passed since this mind blowing revelation, I have realized that I’m in a weird place. I’ve begun the process of student teaching, or at least acting as a teachers aide during my transitory period, and I’ve also begun to question my own identity in my school. My blog, GingerSass, has taken off, and I’m a national finalist to become a Verizon Ultimate Insider. As my blog has gained popularity and a sassy identity of its own, I’ve been pondering about the intersection of my blogging identity with my queer identity with my teaching identity. How can I combine all of my identities and remain truthful to myself in both my personal life and my professional life? When I ran into you not too long before your death we made tentative plans for a Brower date where we were going to talk about the juxtaposition of queer and teaching identity. I know you’d encourage me to be out and proud wherever I go, but I still want– and need– to have that conversation with you. You were my mentor in so many ways, and I’m so conflicted about not having you here.
The Fall Reception happened the other day, and it was a tad overwhelming. Not only were there so many baby queers I didn’t know (I’m getting old!), but your lack of presence was extremely noticeable, just like it was last year. I remember thinking how odd it was not to see you at last year’s reception, and how I, along with so many others, justified it as you being too busy with student teaching and grad school. I think part of the reason I attended the reception this year was to almost prove that I was still around, and not shadowing your footsteps/ disappearing with the start of my own student teaching. It was also surreal to think that on the day of last year’s Fall Reception you were living your last full day on Earth.
A gathering was put together on Friday for anyone who needed to come talk or be with others in light of the one year deathaversary of your suicide. I thought I had been okay with your death, but I realized that I’ve really just been keeping myself busy to avoid thinking about it. I started crying at the gathering, and it hit me that it was the first time I’d cried about your death in almost a year. I thought I got all of my tears out of the way when you first died, as I allowed myself a week of being upset and crying, but then, in true mother hen fashion, I felt it seemed necessary to be strong and take care of everyone else…crying was a sign of weakness. I think I cried at the gathering because I allowed myself to think about your death and verbalize my thoughts for the first time in a long time. I also cried out of guilt because, for the first time since your death, I felt anger towards you. It was easy to blame a lot of people when you killed yourself, but you know what? At the gathering, I was- and still am- kind of pissed at you. We’ll never know why exactly you killed yourself, and I’ve come to understand that was, in a sense, a very brave decision you made. However, I’m pissed because, a year later, I’m left with more questions than answers. Why aren’t you here? Who can I turn to for advice and wisdom about being queer in the education world? Did you know how loved you were? Did you know your death would cause a chain reaction and help get so many of your friends to start seeing therapists to cope with your death and other issues they’d neglected? Did you know you would shake up the sense of security in the queer community? I mean, you were the beautiful, confident, strong, outspoken queer leader on campus that so many people looked up to. What happens when a role model kills herself? Everyone who looked up to her is left unsure and questioning if the basis of their admiration was built on unstable grounds.
I managed to get through most of your first Deathaversary without being a hot mess. When I got home at 1:30 am, I found myself crying and thinking about you, unable to sleep. The nightmares I had when you first died returned this week, and I just knew if I actually went to bed, despite my complete and utter exhaustion, I would only be able to picture you and your death in my head. I finally fell asleep around 4am, and I went about my day, trying to ignore the fact that an entire year had past since you were alive. For the most part, I was oddly okay. However, it was driving around by myself that did me in. I was running a few errands, and it seemed as if the radio gods were determined to make me cry. First, Mariah Carey was playing. One, who the hell plays Mariah Carey anymore?! (Sorry, but it’s true!) She was one of your faves. I remember that one time Nick Cannon stupidly said their home phone number on the air, and when I told you about it, you wouldn’t stop calling until you got through. (You got their automated answering system, as they were in the process of disconnecting it.) You were excited at the mere prospect of potentially having Mariah answer the phone… it was fabulous. I got teary eyed when Mariah’s voice started filling my car, and I felt as if it was some sort of sign on your deathaversary. Later that afternoon, another song I hadn’t heard in awhile came on: “Who Knew?” by P!nk. I lost it. Many people thought this song was about a lost love when it first came out, but I saw in an interview that P!nk wrote it about her friend who had committed suicide. Ever since your death, I’ve been unable to listen to this song without bawling my eyes out. Ugh. The rest of the day was filled with distractions and friends, and, minus a moment at a party where someone asked me how I was doing, I was able to not talk about it. I’m a fan of bottling things up, and that’s probably why this letter has turned into an explosion of emotions.
I don’t know what else to say. It still doesn’t seem real that you’re gone, and I miss you terribly. We were growing a lot closer when you killed yourself, and I was left confused and hurting. You were my mentor, and the sort of person I wanted to be. You were so incredibly talented in so many aspects of your life, and I hope you know how loved you were. It hurts that you’re not here to steal food from the dining hall or respond to my frustrated moments of crazy as I grapple with my queer educator writer identities, but I hope that, wherever you are, you know how much you are missed.
All my confused emotions and love,
A memory from the dining hall memorial dinner we held for Lauren last year.
Join me in the fight for Suicide Prevention.
I will be joining with thousands of people nationwide to walk in AFSP’s Central New Jersey Walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The walk is happening on September 30th, 15 days after the one year anniversary of Lauren’s death. It means a lot to me to be able to walk in memory of my friend so close to where she spent so much of her time, and I hope you’ll consider joining Team Lauren with me.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is at the forefront of research, education and prevention initiatives designed to reduce loss of life from suicide. With more than 36,000 lives lost each year in the U.S. and over one million worldwide, the importance of AFSP’s mission has never been greater, nor our work more urgent.
I hope you will consider supporting my participation in this event. Any contribution will help the work of AFSP, and all donations are 100% tax deductible.