Student Journalism at San Rafael High School

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

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Hunter

You never know what people are going through, so treat them with kindness and listen
Hunter

The sound of my alarm ringing next to my ear sprung me awake. The sky still dark, the musk of my room that I had barely left for the past year, the quiet hum of my fan, the headache from little sleep due to late night gaming sessions all signify just a normal weekday for me. Only 5 minutes until my zero period class, I thought as I slowly gained consciousness. I probably slept through that zoom class with the camera off again, but that doesn’t matter. This school day was nothing out of the ordinary. Classes went by that I would only half pay attention to. The blue light began to strain my eyes as that was all I looked at for twelve hours a day. There was nothing off about this day; everything felt incredibly normal. In between classes I would call with friends and play video games. After the school day was over I went to baseball practice like always. The natural golden light of the sun and the cool breeze carrying the smell of grass clippings and dirt was a stark contrast to my life at home. As I wrapped up practice, happy to get through another normal day, I got the news. 

When I walked in that stuffy shipping container we called our baseball locker, the smell of dust and sweat filled my nose. I could care less about the smell as I was happy to be there with my teammates, finally outside again. All of this bliss would soon leave as I opened my phone. A few text messages just read “Are you ok?” or “Did you hear what happened?” Confused, I ignored those texts at first, thinking I’ll answer them when I get home, and called my mom to pick me up. She picked up the phone in tears and as she spoke reality started to fade. I can hardly remember my initial reaction or emotions at all. My friend Hunter had just taken his own life. A kid that was always smiling, laughing and constantly cracking jokes, he seemed as if he was always happy. No one expected it. I wasn’t as close to him as some of my other friends, but they couldn’t see this from miles away either. I didn’t even cry then, I just wanted to make sure all my friends were alright or had someone to talk to. I feel bad that I didn’t cry until the next day. The situation didn’t feel real. At home, the small group of friends I had been talking to on the daily decided to join a group call, and we couldn’t believe that this had happened. The talk is foggy in my memory but this usually cheery group was silent, we just sat in each other’s company trying to individually process the news. I don’t think Hunter realized how many people were there for him at every moment, even when he was alive. After my small group called, the larger friend group joined together, and about twenty of us came together that night to just talk. We eventually arrived at the conclusion that we needed to be there for his parents, so we decided that tomorrow we would walk to his house with flowers and cards. 

As I walked to that same school that I had attended for the last three years, the familiar sights and smells had brought back memories that were happily forgotten. The same electronic billboard was flashing news from months ago that never changed. The new science building looked untouched as the school had been vacant for almost a year. The bland color of tan buildings with copper green roofs added to the melancholy atmosphere . The dead grass in front of the school didn’t help either. The cold welt cement was usually pleasant to me, but today it held a different meaning. The only source of color around me was the bouquet of flowers my friends and I had brought for his parents. Each one of us had our own relationship with the school, but today we were all brought here for one reason. None of us really slept the night before, some with puffy pink eyes looked as if they had been crying for hours. It was awkward, quiet, and no thought in that circle of teenage boys was positive. 

I will always remember this quote, the first words to break the ice were, “It’s sad this is how we got the gang back together.” We hadn’t seen each other for about a year. For some reason this quote will always stick with me, though I don’t quite understand why. We all just kind of nodded and chuckled. As we waited for the last few kids to show up, nothing more was said. 

We walked for two long miles in the rain, and the cold droplets didn’t faze anyone, as we could only think about Hunter. We reminisced, shared funny stories about him, and remembered the good and the bad. To hear genuine laughter in a moment like this was refreshing and confusing. I thought, shouldn’t we be sad, why are we making jokes? But looking back on it now, what good would that do anyone. This was the best way we could express ourselves, we found something with heart out of a tragedy. We wanted to stay strong for his parents and for each other, everyone came together and wanted the best for each other. It was an amazing feeling, in retrospect. 

When we got to his house we all stood outside for a minute to prepare ourselves for what was about to happen. The wood stairs groaned under our collective weight and the small front deck barely held all eleven of us. Ringing that doorbell was one of the scariest things I had ever done – I wasn’t ready and no one else was either. The door opened slowly as a family friend answered, eventually both his parents came to the door. His mother first, and as soon as she saw us she broke down. She was going through the worst moment of her life and seeing us made her drop to the floor and cry harder than I had ever seen anyone cry. Crying isn’t even the right word to describe it, sobbing isn’t even close to what was happening, there is no word for the sound a mother makes when she has just lost a child. No one here knew what to do. I mean, what could you do? We were freshman, and death was an unfamiliar concept to most of us, especially me. It broke my heart to see her like this. We all started to tear up. Then his dad came to the door, a tall bald man who was always smiling and had something positive to say. A real strong guy who always had this very intimidating masculine energy around him. I could tell he was trying to stay strong for his wife and for us, he wanted to engage with us as his partner couldn’t. He couldn’t do it though as eventually tears started to stream down his cheeks. The memory of this still chokes me up. I just can’t imagine the pain they felt in the moment, and I know we gave them a relief of knowing that more people loved their son than he knew. Writing this made me cry, remembering both of them. It’s a scene that will always remain in my memory. 

At the end of all this, they somehow managed a quick smile as they thanked us for coming. We gave our cards and flowers to them and went on our way. I was shocked for the rest of the day, no words could come to mind and I know there was more said and done on that deck but I can’t remember it now. After we left the house we stopped and got some food, but I couldn’t eat. Some of my friends were still able to laugh after that encounter, which I now realize was how they coped. Good on them to stay positive in a time like that and I know that’s what Hunter would have wanted. 

The part I often leave out of this story is that during all of this I was definitely at the lowest in life I had ever been. I didn’t want to live anymore, my life felt empty and meaningless. I was surrounded by friends but I still felt alone and worthless. I’m sure many of my friends had similar feelings as well. This event in my life has shaped the person who I am today because in ways I feel that in Hunter losing his life, he saved mine. Maybe that’s over dramatic or narcissistic but that’s not intended, I truly feel that way. When I watched his parents crumble in front of me and sob as I had never seen before, I imagined my parents in their place. I realized the effect on my family, friends and community a single death could cause. 

A week or so later we had a reception for Hunter and more than a thousand people showed up, all happy to celebrate his life. The amount of people that showed up was powerful and it made me realize that more people care about you than you think no matter how hard it is to see. This whole event gave me a new perspective in life and from that day on I made a promise to myself that I would get better for him, for my parents and for anyone who is going through something similar. I wanted to use my experience to help others and really be the listening ear that Hunter didn’t have. I felt that I had let him down, and should have been there for him- I know we all felt like that at the moment. This event was an essential part of my life and made me into the person I am today. I still think about Hunter almost everyday and he motivates me to be the best person I can be. You never know what people are going through so treat them with kindness and listen.

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