Monday, March 31, 2008

brain jetsam 1: the mystery is lost with telling

The following is brain jetsam, pay it no mind:

It was my Sophomore year of high school and the sophomore slump for me involved being absent more days than I went. To be fair, it wasn’t my fault. I was sick. With what (I vote malaise and sinus problems, but the pundits still debate) doesn’t really matter, but needless to say that two surgeries and two … other hospitalizations (one in-patient and one out) kept me away from the hallowed halls of my local high school for quite some time.

It was between my two hospitalizations (after the in-patient one, before the out-patient) that I was sitting after school catching up on math homework. My math teacher was a fellow by the name of Mr. Williams. He was tall, lanky and balding and irredeemably nerdy. It had something to do with the fact that he was genuinely excited about high school level math and teaching it.

I know it’s judgmental of me, but I can’t help but look down on that. Sure, be excited about anything else, practically, but math? Algebra II, at that? Goodness, talk about a hollow pursuit. But then, he might feel the same way about literature, so let him.

Regardless, he had left me to do some sort of work at his desk while he did whatever it is teachers do after school gets out but before they go home (hours that are longer and more interesting than you might think) that I decided to glance along the papers on his desk.

I’m not a snoop, but there’s only so many polynomial equations I could do then before my eyes went funny and my thoughts turned murderous (now that number is a total non-entity because at the first polynomial my corpus callosum grows teeth and starts devouring my prefrontal cortex in a fit of envy). So I looked.

Near the top, under a calculator that I accidentally nudged aside when I moved my book, was a note. This was one of those “Please excuse student” notes that I was growing more and more familiar with. And on it was the following message:

Please excuse from class from xx/xx/02 until further notice. He has been hospitalized following a suicide attempt.

I could sympathize with the poor guy, though I don’t remember his name and probably didn’t five minutes after I read the note. Just back from my own limited engagement among the committed and incarcerated youths of the mentally hospitalized I knew that those were rough shakes. I certainly was never suicidal, but there were plenty of people I saw there who were.

However, the note tugged at my brain a little. It’s been my experience with notes that explanations don’t need to fall that specifically and that far down the ladder. My own excursions into the world of patients and pills was fairly discreet and disclosed only on a need-to-know basis. Mostly because nobody needed to know, mostly, and when I had been gone so much with doctors notes for all of them it wasn’t hard to believe that something was truly wrong with me. Hospital would suffice, as I imagine it would to anybody.

Being in a hospital is specific. Specific enough, anyway. They’re expensive and verifiable. So it should be enough. Nobody ever played hookie by going to a hospital. Going out of your way to specify the exact reasoning, especially in a perfunctory note like that, seemed overly honest. A kind of embarrassing, shameful honesty that bordered on contempt for the kid in question.

Did his parents hate him for doing what he did? Or did he simply not care that the world knew? If that’s the case, I’m unsure if that would classify it as a cry for help or the serious suicide type. Hard to say.

Then again, it could have meant nothing at all. As I was soon to find out, I was apparently still crazy. Pundits still argue as to with what.

1 comment:

Sarah Hurst said...

Having been a resident assistant in college, I can understand why the teacher was notified about the nature of the incident. I'm surprised it was done via a note, to be honest, for the exact reason that such documentation is easily found by students. But it's probably important for individuals in any sort of care-taking capacity to know so they can watch for signs. Yes, it's embarrassing and awkward for everyone involved, but the more people you have looking for signs the better.

Even when people are trained to look for that sort of thing, it's sometimes impossible to see. One of my former residents committed suicide the semester after she moved out of my hall, and I could never have known there was anything wrong. I've looked back and tried to see where I might have missed a sign, but she hid everything very well. Had she survived her attempt, you can bet that every RA in her building would probably have known about it.

It's not just the individual you're protecting in this type of situation. The community surrounding someone who commits suicide suffers, too. I understand the desire for privacy, but I think the emotional and psychological well-being of everyone in connection with someone in that situation outweighs the comfort factor.

No easy answers on that one. Sorry for the lengthy comment; just felt I had something to add to the conversation.