Another not so happy memory of my college days.
I met DM in the first class of my Junior year. He sat next to me and introduced himself. He had transferred from another university. Having the same major we had the same classes except for electives. Like me, he lived at home and commuted to school. We connected immediately. We had similar personalities and interests, and were very comfortable with each other.
Very soon we became almost inseparable. I should modify that. We became almost inseparable on campus. Although we knew where each other lived, I never entered his home, nor he, mine. Neither of us even knew the other’s phone number. We never saw each other during school breaks or summer vacation. But on campus when we had common breaks between classes we would meet, usually in the rec room of a dormitory and play cards, shoot pool or play ping pong. We always had lunch together, and would study together. We conversed easily about almost everything: news, sports, music, movies, our classes and our professors, etc. – everything but personal stuff. At the time I thought we were fast friends. In retrospect, however, I realize that if it was a friendship it was rather different from the norm.
Something odd occurred on the last school day before the Christmas/New Years break of our Senior year. We had lunch together and on the way to the library to study he said he had to get something at the campus bookstore, which was in the basement of a building near the library. As he was entering the store I told him I would wait outside. He said: “OK, I’ll only be a few minutes.” So, I sat down on the floor, my back against the wall and started to read from a textbook. I got engrossed in my reading, but eventually I sensed that more than a few minutes had passed. I checked my watch – it had been almost 20 minutes, and no DM. I got up and went into the store to look for him. He wasn’t there. I thought maybe he had misunderstood me when I’d said I’d wait, and that he thought I would be waiting in the library instead. So I went to the library – he wasn’t there. I went back to the bookstore – he wasn’t there. I was a little annoyed but went back to the library to study alone. I figured I would find out what had happened when we were back at school after the holidays.
On the morning of January 3rd I was sitting at the breakfast table with my mother, having coffee and reading the sports section of the newspaper. My mother was reading another section. Suddenly she said: “Isn’t DM the name of your friend at school?” I said: “Yeah, what about him?” Her response: “He committed suicide.”
I was stunned! I grabbed the paper from her and read the article. On the morning of January 1st his younger brother discovered him dead in their attic. At some point on New Years Eve he had gone up to the attic, attached a rope to the rafters, made a noose, climbed up on a chair, put the noose around his neck and jumped. He’d left no note. He was 21 years old.
I had a long talk with his father a few days later. We each wanted to hear from the other something, anything that might give a clue to why. There were none. He never, ever, gave the slightest indication at home, or to me at school, that anything was bothering him or that anything bad was happening in his life.
Many years have passed. I rarely think of him anymore, except obviously at New Years, or when I read or hear of a teenage suicide. But, whenever I do, I can’t help wondering why. I can’t shake the thought that that minor incident at the bookstore was significant – that something of great import had happened while he was in that store. I wonder if anything would have been different if I had gone into the store with him. I’ll never know.