It used to be that when I’d tell people I’m from Brooklyn, they’d get a certain image in their minds. This is before Brooklyn became a hotbed of hipsters, bands, artists, and generally an extension of Manhattan. People would picture violence, run-down buildings, mobsters, and everything else they’d see in movies.
I’d correct this image, telling them of prospering immigrant communities, of old-school neighborhoods, of a childhood as idyllic as it would be anywhere. Mostly.
The truth is, I’ve known way too many people who died young. Starting in my teens: Billy, heroin overdose. Omar, accidental self-inflicted gunshot. Dora, always said she would die by 25, drunkenly ran into traffic at 21. And so many others, overdose, overdose, overdose, murdered, overdose, brain aneurysm, car accident, car accident. It happened all the time.
I went to high school with Chip but I can’t say that we were really friends. He was a grade or two behind me in school. Still, it was a tiny school, no more than 150 people, if that, in grades 9-12. And he was Russian, and I was Russian so we had that. I remember him as a teenager, floppy blonde hair, smoking cigarettes out on the driveway with everyone else.
He looked me up on Facebook, maybe last year. I didn’t recognize him at all. He had shaved his head, lived in L.A. and nowhere on his profile did he call himself Chip. It took a few back and forth emails for me to put it together. It’s funny, sometimes you become Facebook friends with someone you were really close to, exchange a few emails to catch up and that’s that. And sometimes you become Facebook friends with someone you don’t know all that well but end up talking to them far more often than you’d think.
Chip and I figured out we had several friends, and a poker habit, in common. He’d tell me about bad beats, and how our mutual friend Phil has owed him 13 dollars for about 20 years now. We discussed hanging out when IC+I went to LA, but never ended up meeting up. When Chip was home in November, we played poker together at another friend’s place, and he gleefully collected his 13 bucks from Phil.
We’d speak from time to time on Facebook and a few nights before my daughter was born he texted me asking if I’d delivered yet. Were we friends? I think then I would’ve said yes. Now I don’t feel like I knew him at all. How does that happy blonde kid from high school update his Facebook status to “bye bye all” and then kill himself?
I’ve thought about him more than I’ve thought of any of the other people I knew who had died young. I’ve never known anyone who killed themselves, it is beyond my comprehension. I feel actual guilt; I didn’t always respond to his chat, I didn’t have his number in my phone so responded to his text with “who is this?” I wasn’t there for him. I know it’s crazy to think that way. I know. I was a ten month pregnant woman, who barely knew him, living on the opposite coast. But I’m still haunted. Why’d he do it? Why? It’s just not enough of an explanation for me that he was depressed, that he was troubled. He was a person with friends, with family. How did he end up so alone?
I’m sorry to depress you all, it always helps me to write about things that are so deeply on my mind. Hope you’re in a better place, Chip, hope there’s less pain there.