A Bullet Hole In The Tree House

BY: BRANDEN RAULSTON

There are those times when life brings down the hammer. When it tries to crush you and keep you down. Most of us have been there. I have been there a few times.

It was a Friday night, and I had just been through one of those trying times. I survived the longest writing assignment of my college career, tackled a daunting midterm and put in extra hours at work because I missed a shift for my grandmother’s passing the week prior.

I was physically and emotionally drained, but I endured. It was time for some ice cream and video games. Just as I was about to scoop my guilty pleasure, the phone rang. It was a high school friend.

“I’ve got something to tell you. Stanley committed suicide today. They found him in his tree house.”

I dropped my spoon. Life’s hammer rang again, as a sickening sensation filled the pit of my stomach.

Memories flashed through my mind of late night Xbox chats, rolls of toilet paper flying through trees and brainstorming ways to score booze. One of my best friends from high school had taken his life with a gun. I was having trouble catching my breath.

Stanley was the kindest and most caring person I knew. The kind of guy that would throw a birthday party for himself, stay sober enough to take care of everyone when they got too drunk, and then have breakfast ready for everyone the next day. He was the glue that held our group of friends together– the organizer and the planner– always trying to get everyone together. If it were not for Stanley, high school would have been boring for a lot of people. He always made sure that no one was left out.

It was surreal for some time, and details were scarce. I was in denial and struggled to cry or mourn. After we learned that the family would not be holding a public service, we decided to organize a memorial bonfire on the beach to celebrate Stanley’s life.

We spent the afternoon catching up and reminiscing old times over drinks and games. We shared where we were in life and where we thought we were headed. I had not seen many of these people in years. It made me think about how seldom I had seen Stanley after high school. Our group of friends had gone to different schools and lost touch.

A lot of questions plague your conscience when a friend takes their life. Why did they do it? What could I have done? As I stood staring into the flames with tears rolling down my cheeks, I knew what I could have done. At the very least, I should have stayed in touch. A quick text every month or a phone call here and there may have been just enough to save his life. I will never know.

They say, “It’s not your fault” or “There was nothing you could do.” But, I still take some of the responsibility for his death. How could I not? When you go out into the real world the only people you have are those from your childhood. Often they move far away, but they are the only ones that truly know and understand you, the ones that can help you in your darkest times.

I should have been there for him. Sure, he never called, but neither did I. He was one of my best friends, and it seems I had forgotten about our friendship when I moved away for college. I was busy, but not so busy that I didn’t have time for an old friend. My life was great. I had no idea his wasn’t, and I will regret that for the rest of my life.

People and their emotions are delicate, but most will never let you know just how delicate they are. Your friends that you haven’t checked on in a while may seem happy on social media, but who doesn’t? When they are thrown into the real world, they may not swim as easily as you, find happiness or stay in good mental health. Stanley wasn’t, and I had no idea. Don’t be me.