Finding Out On Facebook

Alyssa’s death was hard because it was an accident. Deborah’s death was hard because it wasn’t.

It was about a week since I had flown back to school after going home for my first time as a college student for Thanksgiving. And about a week left until I could go back home again for Winter Break, which I most certainly was looking forward to. Not only would it be nice to take a break from all of the schoolwork and nearing-end-of-semester-craziness, but I really needed the use of my cell phone. I had accidentally left my cell phone charger at home in Michigan, but considering it was such a short time until I was going home again, I decided to just wait and not have my parents ship it out to Boston. So, in an effort to save my cell phone battery, I kept it off as much as possible, but it was driving me crazy to not be able to text and call like I was so accustomed.

So I sat at work at the Developmental Psychology Lab, bored and waiting for time to quickly pass so I could get home. It was going to be a little different than normal because people were coming in from the Science Museum to take a tour of the lab for some reason. But that wouldn’t be until later and I was waiting for a parent and baby to arrive for their appointment. Until then, I was alone with a computer with internet access. Clearly, the logical thing to do would be to go on Facebook.

I logged in and the main page loaded with much of the usual status updates. But as I scrolled down, I saw a status that read “RIP Alyssa”. What was this, some sick joke? I had just seen Alyssa a week ago, when we had all gotten together for dinner, a movie, and lots of good times. If this was a joke, it really wasn’t funny. I kept on scrolling and I saw a couple more RIP statuses here and there, but not many. I did some more Facebook scouring, but I couldn’t find anything that was solid evidence that this was a prank.

I wasn’t supposed to be using my cell phone at work, but I hurried to my bag and brought out the phone. On my way back to the computer room, I turned it on and urged it, “Come on, come on. Hurry up! And don’t die on me, please.” Of all the times that my phone had to be low on battery, this had to be the worst. Finally, it was on and the message popped up that I had several missed calls as well as texts saying that I should call because it was important. My heart felt like it had dropped into the pit of my stomach and with shaking hands, I pressed the OK button and hurried to the bathroom in the hopes that there would be nobody else there.

I could barely press the right keys as I called Tiffany, who had been one of the missed calls and who was Alyssa’s closest friend. It had been the three of us who would often hang out together.

And then Tiffany told me that there had been a car accident and that Alyssa didn’t make it.

I don’t really remember much of what happened after, except that there was another lady who had come into the bathroom and I awkwardly tried to muffle my sobs as I called my mom. And I somehow managed to compose myself enough to go back and do my work and when the people from the Museum of Science came, I attempted a weak smile before trying to subtly turn away.

I got back to my dorm and I don’t even remember how I did it, but I told my roommates and they tried to comfort me the best they could. But the fact of the matter was that I had known my roommates for about 3 months. I had known Alyssa for 4 years. Though they wanted to help, what is there to do when a new friend loses an old one? Death is hard to deal with in any situation, but though they had good intentions, they weren’t what I needed right then.

There were three other kids from my high school class going to college in Boston, though we all went to different schools. The four of us had rarely had the chance to all get together – usually at least one of us would be busy and wouldn’t be able to come. But Alyssa brought us together, just like she used to in high school.

The night was spent mostly sleepless and crying. Alyssa had posted lots of videos on our Facebook walls and so we found it fitting to post one for her. It ended up being over 12 minutes long with too-loud sound, but it was us being able to tell Alyssa how much we loved her.

Then, somehow I managed to arrange things so that I could go home early for vacation! – Except it was for a funeral.

Seeing everybody was just so so hard – we were happy to see each other, but obviously, there was the sadness pervading everything. The memorial at my high school that I missed but made a video for, the funeral which I did go to, the burial – it was all indicative of Alyssa really being dead, but I didn’t really believe it. A very fitting description of Alyssa was that she was full of life – it just didn’t make sense that of all people, she would be the one to die.

And that mixture of disbelief and just plain sadness stayed with me when I returned to school after the break. I would just wave off questions of whether I was okay. Even if I had responded with the truth, that I was hurting, it’s not like they knew how to deal with this any more than I did.

But I dealt with it the best I could (and sometimes, not the best I could) and then came one day in May.

I had been excited for that day because Chester French, a band that I had recently gotten into, was performing that day at Mayfair in Harvard Square. I had even met one of the band members, because he had been eating brunch in the dining hall the same time I was. But there was still some time before Mayfair started, so I figured I ought to go get some work done.

I went to the library where I could watch the movie I needed to watch for my Spanish class. Before I started the movie, though, I needed to address my compulsion and check my Facebook. I was just about to enter my password when my cell phone started ringing.

I ran into the hallway, opened the phone, and hissed, “Tiffany! I’m in the library! I can’t talk!” But then, she said it was something important in that tone of voice that made panic rise up in my throat.

She asked if I had heard that Deborah had committed suicide. No, I hadn’t...and I couldn’t believe it. That would be ridiculous – we had already had a death this year. It just couldn’t happen that there would be another one. And Deborah? No...She might have been stressed and overworked, but never would she be so depressed that she would commit suicide...right?

But then after multiple calls, the outline of the story began to form. The movie definitely was not going to get watched. I just went back to my room, told my roommates, and told them that right now, I just wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening. I even went to Mayfair and enjoyed myself.

Things were different in so many ways this time around. The other three girls from high school that went to school in Boston weren’t around for some reason that I can’t remember. There wasn’t a memorial at school. There wasn’t a chain text message asking to light a candle for her. Information had to be extracted from gossip piece by piece and distinguished from the rumors. And there wasn’t even much gossip to pick from – I hadn’t been able to make the funeral, but people weren’t talking about it. This time, I didn’t even cry until much much later.

Alyssa’s death was hard because it was an accident. Deborah’s death was hard because it wasn’t.

Deborah took a bunch of pills, drank a lot of alcohol, AND locked the door and let the gas of the car run. Three different ways – to ensure that she would die. She didn’t give herself even the slightest chance to live – and it terrified me how purposeful it all was. I couldn’t imagine being at such a low point that I would even think I could go through with killing myself.

And then I just didn’t know how to feel. I would feel angry – how could she do this to us when we just lost Alyssa five months ago? I would feel hurt – how come she didn’t come to me or to anybody else that she was in pain? I would feel guilty – how come I didn’t make the effort to talk to her more? I would feel defensive – people were saying Deborah was selfish but I felt that there was no point in vilifying the dead and that we should just focus on remembering her and loving her. And then sometimes, I would feel like laughing – it was just too incredible that here I was, nineteen, and having to deal with the second death of a close friend in a year. But mostly, I felt confused. There was just so much I didn’t understand about what was happening and all these conflicting feelings just perplexed me.

I still don’t know how to feel. I worry that I’m grieving wrong, though I know in my head that it’s not like there’s a set protocol on how to grieve. Both one-year-anniversaries have passed and I don’t think about them all the time anymore. It’s easy to do so since they both went to school in Michigan and I go to school in Massachusetts, so our communication had lessened when we had entered college anyway. But it’s still hard when you have a face that springs to mind when you hear the words car crash or suicide or death.

For me, the faces are smiling, forever eighteen.

Alyssa, Deborah, I miss you.
I love you.

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