[Content note: youth suicide, mental illness]
One chilly morning in my Junior year of high school, a boy who sat a few desks behind me in my AP Calculus class came into school early, parked his car in the student lot, set up a video camera, recorded himself saying a few words, and shot himself in the head.
The following days saw the usual pattern associated with the premature death of any student: the official morning announcement, the outpouring of grief from students and faculty, the presence of grief counsellors on campus for those who needed to talk. In our Calculus class, the mood was bleak and subdued, our former classmate’s empty seat serving as a discomfiting reminder of what had transpired.
And then, as it inevitably does, high school life seemed to move on. The recent tragedy faded from conversation. Our Calculus teacher reshuffled our seating assignments, and the empty seat was filled. It had been too late in the year for our classmate to be memorialized in the yearbook; that June the yearbooks were issued with a loose photocopied page behind the back cover. Or at least I think they were–my insert seems to have disappeared at some point over the years. Or perhaps it was lost the haphazard process of circulation and signing our yearbooks were subjected to in the last week of school.
Like that insert, my own memory of my classmate’s suicide somehow slipped away over the years. But as I was reading this month’s Atlantic cover story on high school suicides in Palo Alto, the students’ experiences kept ringing little bells in the back of my mind, drawing the past into the present like the smell of petites madeleines.