by Hailey Hudson

Freshman year we had lunch period together.

He was funny, charming, had a devil-may-care attitude that effectively belied his soft and caring heart. He was alive—the most alive person I think I’ve ever known. You couldn’t be around him without smiling. You couldn’t be around him without catching his infectious passion, for animals, especially; sometimes he’d run home during lunch to check on the bunnies he bred. For a somewhat quiet girl who’d been worried about keeping up in high school math and science classes—neither of which were my best subjects—he made it a fun year.

We were in the same biology class, and then lunch just the two of us, and then algebra. He was infamous for his lunches—he’d reach into the refrigerator in the mornings, grab whatever his hand touched first, and toss it in his lunchbox. He was also infamous for leaving all of his algebra homework until lunch period, so after we’d finished playing basketball outside and snapping each other with wet dishtowels in the kitchen, and eating while he teased me about the classical music I made him listen to (I was a dedicated classical pianist with dreams of Juilliard), he’d sit down and scribble out the entire week’s answers. I planned and color-coded my homework each semester at a time, so I watched in fascination and with a bit of disgust as he continued to make decent grades.

The year wore on. We began to wear sweaters to biology in the crisp fall mornings; we had a Christmas party where he made it his goal to appear around every corner and drive me nuts. That seemed to be his life goal, anyway—driving me to distraction with incessant teasing. But I didn’t mind, not even when it made people peg us as a couple. I gave it right back, maybe too much, I thought later. Spring came and we shed the sweaters. We spent biology outside, doing fun projects like making smoke bombs. His bunnies had babies and it was all he could talk about. He continued to bring haphazard lunches, to do his math homework at the last minute, to push the limits by annoying people during class discussions. In a blink, it seemed, the year was over. Freshman year faded—almost without my noticing—into a summer of pool parties and watermelon and concerts with friends. Our paths didn’t cross; except for the kids in biology class, our friend groups were completely different. I missed our lunch periods and the nettling remarks he’d make that would get under my skin, but weren’t mean enough that they didn’t make me laugh.

Sophomore year he changed schools. I didn’t talk to him much, but I heard stories occasionally, filtering back from mutual friends of ours. It sounded like he was his same old funny self, pulling pranks and terrorizing teachers and most of all loving his animals underneath everything. No matter how crazy the tales became, I believed every story. Except one—the one that came at the end of the school year that said he was dead, he’d killed himself. I didn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. How could I?

The most alive person I’d ever known, and now he was dead.

Junior year I had lunch period alone. Senior year I went through a period of deep depression. For the first time, I understood his choice. For the first time, I wanted to make that choice as well. For a month, I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t even eat lunch. I texted crisis lines; some nights I cried myself to sleep. Others, I simply stared at the dark shadows on the wall, sleepless. People—parents, friends, the counselor I began to see—told me that this too would end. I would get through it and I would be okay. I refused to believe them. I couldn’t see the way out of the pit; there was none. I’d mourned his choice, spent late nights staring at the obituary online unable to believe it; I’d had my cap and gown picture taken with the crushing knowledge that he would never cross that stage. The most alive person I’ve ever known, and now he’s dead. It scared me to no end that now, I was contemplating the same fate.

I couldn’t see the light until one day, I was blinded. My parents, friends, counselor—they were right. Eventually, without noticing that I was free until it happened, I emerged. My body was deficient in vitamin B12 – and those supplements as well as my faith in God, brought me back. I still missed my friend. But I was so grateful that nobody would have to miss me.

When I emerged, it was with a new goal. One that wouldn’t eclipse the suffering—his or mine—but would maybe help to heal others.’ One that wouldn’t bring him back, but that would make others stay. One that would never negate his memory, but that would create memories of my own, because I am here to stay.

I want to be the most alive person you’ve ever known.