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Fellowship Story Showcase

Buzz

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This story was produced as part of a larger project led by Jessica Seaman, a participant in the 2019 National Fellowship.

Other stories in this series include:

The Denver Post launches project to investigate teen suicides in Colorado — and we need your help

Qingfeng Li, 18, from Laramie, Wyoming, at the open space of Green Valley Ranch in Denver, Colorado on Jan. 14, 2020.
Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post
Denver Post
Tuesday, January 28, 2020

By QingFeng Li

Editor’s note: This essay was selected as the second place winner of The Denver Post’s teen essay contest as part of an ongoing Crisis Point project on youth suicide in Colorado.

I still sometimes hear the laughter from that night in June. My debate team had been looking forward to nationals all year and we were ready to prove ourselves. But we weren’t just there to compete. We weren’t going to get another chance to hang out together a thousand miles from home. I’ll always remember the atmosphere of sheer giddiness as we headed back to our hotel, and how quickly it all ended.

Buzz. Jane casually glanced at her phone. She paused and giggled, “Hold up guys, let me reply real fast.”

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Jane’s expression morphed into confusion, and then horror, as she struggled to keep up with the endless bombardment of messages. There was nothing but anger within those messages, but Jane was used to it. The bombardment came from one of her best friends, John, a 16-year-old kid with bipolar disorder. And during his depressive episodes, he often lashed out at the world, and at Jane.

“Oh my God, not now,” Jane said.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. I knew John but I could never have known the extent of his troubles.

“Let’s just get back to the hotel,” She replied as she hastened down the sidewalk.

As my teammates and I filed into Jane’s room, she quickly explained that John was having a breakdown but it was under control since she knew how to talk him down. Not wanting to bring the rest of us down, she composed herself and slipped into the hallway with her phone.

For the first 20 minutes, it was bearable. Jane didn’t explain the full extent of the situation but we understood it was worse than she let on. We distracted ourselves with jokes, YouTube, everything that came to mind. But our fake chuckles were snuffed out as a mutual understanding settled over the room.

Finally, one of us broke.

“Shouldn’t we check on Jane?” my teammate said as she looked around the room. A couple of us nodded but nobody spoke up. She got up and opened the door. Jane was crying.

“He’s not picking up,” Jane sobbed.

“What happened?”

“I called him and he just got more and more upset and just refused to listen no matter what I said. Then I get the tiniest bit impatient, and John (expletive) hung up. He’s in such a bad place and I’ve been trying to call him — PICK UP!” she screamed violently as her call went to voicemail again. Gently, we ushered her back into her room. I reached for words of comfort, but all I could offer was a meager suggestion.

“Maybe we can call his parents?”

“I don’t have their number.”

“The police?”

“John would kill me if he got committed to the ward again. He hates that place. Plus I don’t think he’s home or sober.”

Out of ideas, all we could do was sit in silence. Two minutes passed and Jane finally mumbled, “I really tried. I have been trying so hard.”

“I promise it’ll be OK,” I said, hating myself as the empty words came out.

Jane continued: “Man, just last week, I told our counselor and our principal that John was suicidal and needed help. You know what they said? He’s probably lying. And do you know why they said that? Because he’s been truant four times this year. WHAT KIND OF LOGIC IS THAT?”

I was mad. It’s been endlessly drilled into us: if you see something, say something. The first time I heard that was at an airport because our nation was fearful of a terrorist attack. How did that become a slogan of our school system? I was confused. What good is speaking up if we are repeatedly dismissed? We are dismissed for being naïve, for being over-dramatic, or for having an imperfect history. Has it ever occurred to anyone that kids who need the most help will always have an imperfect past? I was also scared — for John’s life and for Jane’s well-being. That this will never change.

But as I sat there contemplating, I also hoped. Maybe one of these days, authority figures will begin to trust us. Because the reality is, there has never been a suicide that wasn’t preventable. We’re far from having a foolproof support system but the first step is more effective communication. I hoped that adults would start to listen as intently as all of my teammates were listening for a text or a call — any sign that John was still alive.

Buzz.

QingFeng Li is a graduate of Laramie High School in Wyoming who lives in Denver.

Health reporter Jessica Seaman is investigating how Colorado’s mental health systems address youth suicide. To read more essay contest entries and learn more about our investigation, visit youthsuicide.denverpost.com.

[This article was originally published by the Denver Post.]