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June 3, 2004
She is crying. This is not so unusual: she is seventeen.

But this is different. A friend was found dead. The same age. Did his parents find him? I don't know, she says. I don't know anything. Tom was crying. We don't know. They think it was suicide.

She sits on the edge of the bed. I can tell that she doesn't want to stay and she doesn't want to leave. I stroke her arm sometimes, her hair sometimes, tentatively, unsure of a welcome; one never knows. We talk about the funeral on Friday. What do they do at a funeral? She's never been to one.

Well, there are prayers and readings. And a Eucharist, usually, depending on what faith he was. Some churches don't do that. And sometimes people talk about the person. And the pastor talks about the gift of life and about heaven. Unless he wasn't religious, and then I guess it'll be in a funeral home and it might be different.

It will be anguish. There will be hundreds of people there. Stunned teenagers will weep in front of people and not care about how they look doing it. There will be an impenetrable bubble of pain around the parents and the brothers and sisters. For the rest of their lives, some of their friends won't know what to do with them. What to say. Not ever again.

There are always some. About one a year, in high school. A boy in my school killed himself with carbon monoxide in front of the math teacher's house. There are more in college. A Columbia student jumped out a window. So did somebody at NYU.

She's worried. About her boyfriend. He cried, she keeps saying. And about her sister. Suicide makes you question everything. Is there a desperation I can't see strangling the life out of someone I love, and I don't know it? And later, when they ask me if I was aware of any problems, will I hang my head and say No, I was not.

Were you aware of any problems? I ask.

No, she says, tears spilling down her cheeks, smearing her careful black eye makeup.
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