Angela is a 17-year-old from a small city called Palo Alto that has a bowling green and an airport, but no movie theater. In addition to writing, she enjoys graphic design and playing the flute. She is currently working on making her dreams and the dreams of others come true.
May 9th, 2009. A day that will forever live in infamy. To most, it is the first day AP testing—two weeks of grueling two-hour tests that are often back-to-back. The culmination of an entire year’s worth of curriculum combined with stress and test-taking anxiety. AP tests are the standard that colleges, parents, teachers, and educators use in order to make decisions that could change the lives of students all over the country.
At my school, it is two weeks of living up to expectations. Full scores (a five) or a four are average. A three means you weren’t taking the test seriously, and a one or two can probably be attributed to sleeping through the test. Intelligent, talented, driven, and cocky, students at my school think they know it all. And if you look at our high scores, our rankings, our statistics it could be true. It wasn’t until May 9th, 2009 that we were all proved wrong.
The announcement was made over the loudspeakers.
“This morning, a student chose to step in front of the Caltrain crossing on E. Meadow and take his life. We cannot disclose his identity until his family has been notified, but we understand that this will be a hard time for everyone…”
Everyone started talking at once, wondering who it was, how it could have happened. My friend who was sitting across from me had tears running down his face.
“I know who it is,” he whispered, in a voice that sounded old and broken. It was the first time I ever saw him crying. Suddenly, the rumors that were floating around that morning came back to me: a breakup, a name, a crowd of police at the crossing.
“It was—-?” I asked, looking fearfully into his blank, emotionless eyes.
Tears mingling in an ocean of grief, the warmth of bodies pressed against mine, and a silence that pierced the heart. It’s all I can remember from the rest of that awful day. In the end, I didn’t go home until it got dark. I had an AP Bio practice test to take at school and home offered no comfort. My head pounded, my eyes were dry and sore, and a painful emptiness throbbed through my body. As I tried to comfort my friends and his, one question repeated itself in my head. Why? Why? Why would he do such a thing?
I remembered walking to school with him in middle school, playing badminton with him, doing math homework together. He was in my stat class that year, and we had often traded jokes and shared laughs. Now, it was like living in a different world, one made up of disbelief and confusion. Time seemed to stand still, but nevertheless, we moved on. We didn’t have a choice. There was still school, college, after-school jobs, and most importantly, two more AP tests to take.
Brushing away my tears, I sat down with an emptied mind in the familiar AP Bio room, a practice test in front of me. It all seemed so irrelevant now, these tests that we strove mercilessly to ace, the grades we fought to earn. But there was a certain amount of relief as I mechanically filled in bubbles. At least these questions I could answer. At least these questions had an answer. That was how I coped, by relentlessly flinging myself into an artificial world of scantrons, grey lead, and lined paper. After all, it’s always easiest to pretend that nothing has changed.
Yet things had changed. The events of May 9th forced us—students, parents, and faculty—into perspective. Life was so fragile, and yet taken for granted in the privileged community I lived in. Reality was cruel and cynical. Still reeling, many others, and I realized the significance of love in an age of ruthless competition. The morning of his suicide there had been a grim note on his Facebook status. “By the time you read this, I won’t be here anymore.” Those who saw it thought it was merely lyrics to a depressing song. Never would we be caught unaware again. Death was no longer something to joke about.
In one month, the two thousand students at my school came together to create a memorial of gifts and flowers. Chalk drawings and encouraging messages covered the ground as we walked from class to class. Our teachers spoke with tears in their eyes, begging us to come to them if we ever needed to talk. For days afterwards, many of us chose to wear black. Talk to me, everyone said, talk to me.
I attended my first funeral in May 2009, decades before I thought I would ever need to. The large framed picture at the front of the church was a picture of a young boy, my age. A classmate. A friend. Yet, a question needed to be answered. Why? The answer to this question was vital, especially as in the next month there was another teen suicide and an attempted suicide. Six months later, a week before school was set to start, our community was shocked by another suicide. This time, it was a freshman girl. Why?
We don’t know and probably will never know. The blame game does nothing to help. Parents say there is too much academic pressure. Teachers push for more guidance counseling. Counselors tell students to be more aware of the signs of depression. The administration cautions against glorifying suicide. So many questions, so few answers. Yet, I have watched my community come together these past months, and I am grateful. The comfort and support we have provided for each other—students and faculty—has been stunning. For the moment, we are united in one cause, and in the end, that is the only real answer: we can never let such tragedy occur in our community ever again.