We met through an online site when I was 18.
I couldn’t remember how our conversations started, but after messaging one another back and forth for quite some time, we left the site and started emailing one another more frequently.
He was around my age—at times bold and rebellious, other times mellow and deeply curious about life, and always in love with reptiles the way people are in love with a purring kitten. Our friendship flows through words and thoughts, bursts of emotions and lines of secrets, alphabets, symbols, and pictures—these were the things that form our alternate universe.
We sometimes wondered how amazing it was to keep such a long-lasting friendship with a stranger: with someone who lives in another part of the world, someone we have never even met, someone we have never even had any phone conversations with.
But ours is the kind of friendship that blooms naturally, in a genuinely platonic manner, and lasts for another 16 years after our first online encounter.
I don’t check my Facebook messenger unless someone sent me something there, and told me to have a look. Just like a few days ago, when I opened my messenger only to check a message left by a friend. As I hovered around to find it, my eyes caught a message from unknown contact.
Usually, I would disregard the message without opening it, but that day, somehow, I clicked it.
Hanny, we never met, but I’m T’s Mom. It is with great sadness that I have to inform you of T’s death. He left me a small list of people he cared about and wanted them to know. Again, I’m so sorry.
I needed to read this message over and over again, each time with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I knew what it meant, but I just couldn’t grasp the cold reality of it. I couldn’t even cry because I couldn’t digest things properly at the time.
T left me a message about a week before.
It was one of our casual what’s up messages.
In the middle of my workloads and hectic business trips, I decided to save my reply for the next weekend, when I would be more chill and have the time to write longer. This wasn’t something strange in our friendship.
In 16 years, there were times when T would reply to my email two months later, or I would respond to his 2-3 weeks later, and there were also times when we did not write to each other for 5-6 months altogether. Nobody would chase anybody for a reply, apart from leaving some lines like hope-all-is-good or happy-birthday or congrats-for-that-thing.
We know that no matter how infrequent, we would always get back to one another with longer updates and replies and intense email marathons. It’s like an unwritten rule: we will always get back in touch—no matter how late.
But maybe, this time, I was late.
I know that T had been dealing with depression his whole life.
A month into our friendship, he told me about the things he sometimes saw or heard, and when I responded to this story with more questions and curiosity, he said I was probably the only person that didn’t label him crazy.
Probably it was this trajectory that enables us to talk about T’s depression, medication, and his ways to cope up with it openly—along with other things in our lives: like the movies we watch, the song we listen to, our passion, our dreams, our current crush, our heartbreaks.
We didn’t have any agreement on this, but somehow we knew that if he emailed me saying, I-want-to-talk-to-you, this would be his way of reaching out during his lowest days. I would know to respond right away, and we would be emailing each other back and forth until he dropped our email intensity: a sign that he already felt a little bit better.
But what did I know?
The thing is, I know nothing.
We know nothing even about our closest ones.
What if I responded to T’s casual what’s up right away a week ago? Would things change? Would we talk things out? Would he still be alive? Was that even his usual and casual what’s up? Why did I come to that conclusion? What if that was his signal of reaching out, instead of the usual I-want-to-talk-to-you? What if, in reality, there was nothing casual about what’s up, ever?
These were the things that came to mind the first few hours after I heard about T’s death. I spent a few days after receiving the news of his passing by rereading our old email exchange, trying to bring back the feelings and memories of our friendship.
Maybe, I was looking for a clue.
How did I miss this one? How did I miss him? The day when he left me his last message, did he think about leaving? Did he make up his mind already?
I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare. | Ned Vizzini,
My partner told me that sometimes he wondered if people choose to leave to ease their pain or to free their closest ones and family members from the pain and trouble they thought they are causing. I sometimes wondered, too. And still, I didn’t know the answer.
However, this is what I know.
I know that T had the dream of coming to Asia and Australia, working with reptile researchers and conservationists. He used to send me pictures of his snakes and the baby alligator he’d been working with at a reptile hospital. He believed that reptiles were kind and gentle, but they were generally misunderstood.
I know that T decided to stay home after his sister moved out from their family house because he didn’t have the heart to leave his mother alone—although staying means putting his dreams on hold. “What if something happened to her and I didn’t know about it until hours or even days later?” he said.
I know that these are two of T’s happiest times: 1) when he worked with reptiles and 2) when he went to Hawaii and got to run through a rainforest barefoot.
A few weeks ago, I just wrapped up the writing of a book: a self-healing journal about nursing heartbreak and dealing with loss. At the time, I didn’t know that I would need this book for myself this soon.
Maybe, subconsciously, I wrote this book for myself, for the memories of T, and for those who have their hearts broken by depression every single day, struggling to survive another day.
I see you.
I hear you.