When my sister called me, I responded with my usual answer: “Hey, I’m writing; I’ll call you back.” And when she jumped in with “Wait, no, this is important,” I rolled my eyes because important in our world could mean one of the Real Housewives is getting a divorce. But, when she told me Robin Williams had died from an apparent suicide, I knew she wasn’t shitting me on the significance of what she had to say.
After the news, I sat on my couch in a general daze. I scrolled through Twitter where I read a stream of tweets mourning the legend’s death, praying for the solace of his family and reminiscing on all of our favorite movies in which he starred. But, it didn’t take long for me to read several tweets saying, in some form or fashion, that committing suicide is selfish. I’ve heard this logic more times than I can count and I could not sit back any longer without sharing my story.
Roswell and I met in 7th grade. He was the new kid that year and it did not take long for him to grace the halls of Cockeysville Middle School with his signature charisma and charm. The middle school years were a bit of a blur, but in 10th grade, Roswell and I had the same lunch period. We ended up sitting together with a cast of other sophomore characters where we would crack jokes and muse about whatever 15 and 16-year-olds care about. Toward the end of the school year, I told Roswell I had a crush on this one kid and he deemed it his god-given duty to set me up with that kid. That kid became my boyfriend the following year and is still affectionately known as my “high school boyfriend” to this day.
Roswell and I sat next to each other in AP Psychology during our senior year of high school where we would cut up until Ms. Piccinini forced him to sit in the back of the class. Somehow he always won her over enough the next day so that he could return to his original seat. I’m also pretty sure I gave him more than a few answers to our exams that year, but it was all in good faith. (Sorry, Ms. Peach.)
College took us to separate parts of the university world, but we kept in touch fiercely. He always made sure I wasn’t dating anyone too scummy and I listened to him relay countless tales of the women he met. He was one of the few people honest enough to tell me when I deserved better and audacious enough to call me out when I tried to justify my the presence of losers in my life. I tried to return the favor to him.
The last time I saw Roswell, it was our senior year of college. He visited University of Maryland on a whim and showed up at my shared apartment with a bottle of Patron and a demand that everyone in that apartment would go out that night. As we all walked to the bars on Route 1, Roswell and I hung back from the group and he joked, “My mom said you and I are gonna get married.” I laughed, my mind already too fuzzy from mixing Patron with Simply Lemonade or some other beverage that should never, ever serve as a mixer.
That was not supposed to be the last time I saw my friend. But, it was. Four months later when my sister said Roswell was missing, I first brushed it off, thinking his phone probably conked out or he had taken some impromptu trip. But, the days during that weekend in August 2011 stretched and stretched. I still figured he was gallivanting somewhere fun on a spontaneous trip. I wasn’t worried. After all, it was Roswell; that is what he would and should be doing. I sat at my desk that Monday and at 4 p.m. I mindlessly checked Facebook where I saw someone had posted a status praying that Roswell would rest in peace. Around 6 p.m, our mutual friend Darius confirmed that it was true. Roswell was gone. The universe had shifted. My heart had a gaping hole. And life would never be quite the same. Just like that, the person I called with my good news, the person I called on my bad days, the person who rooted me on and heckled me and humbled me, would not be on the other end of the line. It did not seem right. It did not make sense. I could not understand. Most days, I still don’t.
When I hear someone say suicide is selfish, I want to shake them. When I hear someone say suicide is selfish, I want to ask if they have ever lost anyone remotely close to them to suicide and if they would ever reduce that person to just being “selfish.” When I hear someone say suicide is selfish, I want to know if they have ever felt the weight of the world on their fucking back and if that weight ever crushed them so much that they believed they could not go on. When I hear someone say suicide is selfish, I want to stop them dead in their asshole tracks. Because my friend was not selfish. My friend was smart and lovable and selfless and protective. My friend was charming and charismatic and funny as hell. But selfish he was not. He will never be reduced to selfish nor will I let anyone talk about him like that. I will vehemently defend the beautiful person he was. When I hear someone say suicide is selfish, I think about my friend. I try to smile. Most times, I cry. And I’m reminded that this world is never quite as black and white as some people want to make it seem.