I’ve tried writing this piece in my head for days. (Warning: this entry is about debt, depression, and suicide.)
I remembered something that happened to me that I never told anyone. I never even told my husband this story (unless Mr. Hippo reads this, hi honey!).
All the names in this story have been altered like in all of my life stories. The identity of those behind my life stories is rarely as important as the takeaways that makes them worth sharing.
This blog post is part of the Suicide Prevention Awareness Month blog tour in partnership with Debt Drop. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.
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I don’t know why it took me so long to remember “Brodie” when his story resonates with every aspect of debt and suicide.
I met Brodie when I was in my 3rd year of university. He was a 2nd-year graduate law student at a well-known “T-14” school. For those that do not know: “T-14” is the slang, they give to the top consistently performing law schools in the country. Essentially, if you graduated from any of these schools with a law degree at the top of your class, you’re set for life.
Brodie was super smart to say the least and his father was a big shot Los Angeles lawyer before his sudden death.
One hot summer afternoon, being my usual self, I locked myself out of my dorm on a 98 degrees day. I was sitting down on the bench cursing myself when Brodie found me. He was visiting the campus because it was his father’s Alma Mater. He told me walking around the campus, although he has never attended himself, made him feel better. I was touched by this bluntness and we struck up a conversation.
Brodie and I started hanging out more and more as things progressed. He drove in on the weekends to hang out. We took hour-long walks around the campus from one end to another. It took him several hours of driving each way in the bursting heat because we went to different schools.
I was surprised there was even any time to even hang out with him. Law school’s a total butt kicking from what I know, so imagine a T-14 school! I remember I asked him if he had papers and he always replied yes. He always seemed to have school work but never did any school work. When he came over, we binge watched Hulu for the entire weekend until it was time for him to drive back to school.
He was a huge film & TV buff and not surprisingly, he used it as a form of escape. Reflecting back now, I was a form of his escape too. He gets to leave for a weekend to a different place and hang out with someone else’s friends. I am good with vibes and his vibe always had a somberness to it.
1) He’s intelligent and intelligent people are rarely happy.
2) He’s in law school – that’s pretty formulaic for depression.
3) He’s also super deep about a lot of stuff. You can touch on a topic and he could go on tangent rants between philosophy, religion, law, and science.
I remember visiting his apartment a few times since San Francisco wasn’t far away from his campus. Once after we came back from lunch, he flat out told me he had a lot of problems.
I was like “yeah dude, I knew that. I can see it from a mile away.”
He smirked at me.
(For the record, I thought he was cool. He was dark, intelligent and brooding – why else would I hang out with him so much?)
He was an exotic, good-looking guy with dark almond-shaped eyes and camel length dark eyelashes.
I found him to be the definition of bohemian.
Anyway, he told me he had almost flunked out of the first year of law school but didn’t because of his father’s wish. But there’s a good chance he would be stuck there for an extra semester.
Money was tight.
He had hooked up with a few older women around town for money, he confessed.
He then looked me in the eye and said: “I am $160,000 in debt.”
I didn’t know anything about finance at the time but I knew 160,000 was a whale of a number!
Obviously, I didn’t exactly want to make him feel worst so I gave my best cover-up:
“That sounds about right, law school is super expensive!”
He could tell I was sugar-coating and I was.
I immediately traced my thought to a casual acquaintance of mine who had finished law school last year (although not T-14). She was about $85K in debt and having a hard time getting her foot through the door. The legal industry was going through oversupply. A lot of new law graduates didn’t find those big paying lawyer jobs they had hoped for and took on their massive student loans for.
There was a lot of heart-break surrounding the stories I heard and I’m sure he was just as aware of the employment outlook as I was.
He never spoke of any school work when I asked and he diverts the topic to something else almost immediately.
He needed a summer internship (common for 2nd-year law students) but he wasted the weekends with me watching South Park. I was a 3rd-year undergraduate so I had much less on my plate, plus my classes were a breeze compared to his.
Because I didn’t understand finances at the time, I decided to shrug it off and we never brought up the $160K again.
The last weekend we met up, I told him we can try to make spam musubi at my Polynesian friend’s house next week and he was excited to join in since he was part Polynesian too.
The next weekend rolled around but he didn’t show up…
I called him and he didn’t pick up.
I feared a car accident on the highway when my calls to him went unanswered. He has never done this before and our last contact (3-4 days ago) was positive.
I wouldn’t necessarily say we were dating because we were at this weird twilight in between hanging out as friends and what I call “complicated life stuff.” Our first conversation was about his deceased father for goodness sakes. (I wasn’t uninterested in him, I liked him a lot – but I had no intention of rushing things.)
We both had life stuff…
I was getting over a toxic crush on someone who neglected to tell me he was married and I was still hiding out from an ex-friend turned stalker.
Brodie had depression, hook ups and a lot of student loan debt.
Anyway, I left him a voicemail about the spam musubi my friends and I made. I asked him to call me back when things were “OK.”
He never did.
For the next month, he didn’t return my phone call. Strangely…I wasn’t mad (and I’m not very patient usually!)
(Sidebar: I would be lying if I was said I was never ever mad. There were 2-second flashes of red a week after he stopped showing up and talking to me. I thought “Brodie, whatever is going on with you snap out of it.”)
I followed my gut and said he’s probably going through some bad stuff internally. Now as a friend – I was supposed to show support. I called him once a week to leave him happy messages about the most interesting part of my week. It usually took a few voicemails.
I told him I went to seaworld with my friend and a seal barked at her. My professor gave me a pat on the head for a job well done. The taqueria cafeteria woman remembered me because I’m the only weirdo that orders spinach burritos with spinach tortillas.
Dumb things like that I sent to him hoping to cheer him up…
I was very naiive. I was a couple of months away from my 20th birthday and up to that point I had only kissed one guy.
(Aha – laugh, this loser here got her first kiss from a boy at 19 :P)
I thought to myself, what could I do to make him feel better?
There wasn’t much. If I head over unannounced, it would definitely make things worst.
(Sidebar: most of the time on this blog, you’ll notice I talk a lot of smack about myself. I don’t really like myself and it’s not hard to see why BUT this is something I’m proud of: I’m a great blabber. YES I AM! I can yap about the silliest things in the silliest way and you’ll feel better because goofball charms and dorkness seeps through on its own.)
That is something that I can do with the limited amount of humor I have. Sometimes I’m dumb, sometimes I’m smart and sometimes I’m accidentally smart.
Sending the voicemails was me being accidentally smart. I had a good gut feeling it would help so I kept doing it.
Ha! It finally worked. After 1 month of silence, he called me back!
He said he was going through some things (as I expected). He wasn’t doing anything but dragging himself to class in his PJs and crawling back into bed for the entire month. He’s on his last $20, his credit is shot and he is addicted to pot again. He also said my messages helped cheer him up because they were so happy to listen to.
Oh, oh, oh I was so relieved to hear from him! And I was so delighted he found my messages…not annoying!!!
I was just giving him tidbits of my good days since I figured if I brought up the great and silly things then he would slowly peek out again to know there is happiness, life, and joy outside of his blankets and a life beyond debt.
I kept up my messages about the silly stuff but soon enough, he went silent again.
Depression and debt are two horrible demons and I was not naive to think my cheerful ramblings would have cured him so easily.
But if it helped and it only took a few minutes of the day to transcribe him some Happy then I’ll do it.
I did it for another month. New recordings every 3 days instead of per week, including weekends! My own podcast of happy on a voicemail box!
During the months following, my life went on swimmingly. I met & started a friendship with Mr. Exectuive in between the end of the school year and the start of summer. We weren’t dating either as of then (eventually we did but it took us a while too).
I was still thinking about Brodie during summer. He was still silent and I became more and more worried all the same just like before. I recall him texting me something, almost cheerful, before summer vacation and then going silent again.
Then I remember something else he told me a while ago – he kept an online diary!!!
It was password protected but I sort of knew his password. He gave it to me once in passing because the boy uses the same password for his Hulu, Rakuten — everything and was lazy about it. I had to try a few guesses but got in eventually.
(OK some may think it’s creepy but yup, that’s what happened.)
It was either Blogger or Blogspot – I can’t remember which one it was or if there’s even a difference.
There were journal entries were about his high school swim meet, Polynesian culture club, a society of something-something etc. but the most recent entry made my stomach drop:
“I hate myself. I pray vehemently for death so I’m going to kill myself tonight.”
-Sucks in air.-
If it was just “I’m going to kill myself” I wouldn’t have freaked out as much but he added “tonight” which SOUNDED LIKE PLANNING.
AHHHHH. LILY WHAT NOW.
I was like “OK this isn’t a dorky voicemail solution, this is a big-big issue and he needs help!!!!”
(OK and some of you may think I’m even more creepy now…but here I go…)
I went on his Facebook and found his mom through the friend’s list and I sent a message to his mom. I can go back to my Facebook and scroll through the messages of all these years but it went something like this:
Hi Mrs. Brodie,
I’m a friend of Brodie from school. He has been very distant lately and I didn’t think it was a big deal but I just read his private online journal and he is contemplating suicide. I know there’s a good chance it’s just angry talk because he’s under stress from school and stress from debt but I wanted you to know at the off-chance he could be serious to please help him.
Thank you – sorry to bother you. I didn’t know what else to do but I wanted to let you know.
After I sent it, I didn’t think any more of it. I had already started burying it in the back of my mind closet.
Brodie’s mom replied back to me in the evening:
Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I was not aware of these serious emotions Brodie was having. I just finish talking this over with him. He reaffirmed to me that he was not serious about killing himself but that he was very angry with himself when he wrote it. What he did was irresponsible so he will be coming by next weekend to thank you in person.
(That I didn’t expect – he was from Southern California which meant getting on a plane. His mother was intelligent though, that I could tell. I didn’t see the need for him to come see me but it wasn’t about that. As a mother, it’s important to teach your child to face and correct mistakes head-on.)
The next weekend, I was getting ready to go out for dinner with some of my friends when Brodie rang the doorbell. Jumping up, I opened the door and said sarcastically “yay, you’re not dead!”
I don’t really remember what we even said to each other after that, it was so long ago so the following is a similar reenactment of what transcribed.
I remember him sitting on my mom’s kitchen counter and telling me he was very embarrassed about the whole situation. His mom was very worried and he had to confirm with her again and again and again it was just an angry rant. He thanked me for caring enough and thanked me again for leaving him cheerful voice mails.
I was like “what’s embarrassing?” (clueless babe right here)
“My mom and I had to talk about all sorts of stuff and it… to let your mom know you’ve had these thoughts with you tattling…”
“OH. That’s silly, I knew you were going through stuff and I just wanted to make sure you were OK.”
We hugged, talked some more and I watched him leave.
His mom got him into therapy I believe. It was a good ending in my eyes. His mom was aware of his struggles now and I have full faith she’s a brilliant mother to be able to handle it. I wish I thought of contacting his mom earlier. There wasn’t much I could do but I was too silly to know that. I had handed him over to a much more powerful figure now, the mommy. Really, I felt cleansed and free after that.
I tattled big time and I violated a lot of things. I can’t change any of it now, I did what my instinct told me to do. If I screwed and I’m disgusting then you are absolutely allowed to think that.
But it wasn’t out of malice. If Brodie was my child, I would have wanted someone to tell me no matter how embarrassing it was.
I think my friend Valerie was a part of this as well. She might be able to recall more detail. We were (and still are) best friends and I must have told her something about this. She could testify for me. In my heart, I know I acted out of concern, especially towards the end. I was naive and I didn’t know what I was doing but when push came to shove, I think I made the right choice to tattle.
He’s this brilliant guy with a bright future. He was going through a lot of adult things in his life. His father left their once well-off family in a questionable financial state and he himself in a lot of financial debt and that compounds on emotional turmoil.
None of it changed who he was though.
If you want to know who is going to stick it out with you until the very end, you do it as a poor man first ;).
Debt is nothing to be ashamed of and I never once thought less of Brodie. I wanted him to be OK as a friend. If anyone you know is dealing with suicidal thoughts, TATTLE. Tattle big time to the right people even at an off-chance – for every suicide, there are 25 attempts1. All suicides start with a flicker of a thought.
Debt doesn’t change who anyone is – if anything – it can accentuate the best in us and the best in others especially when we fight it together as a group. Check out the resources below and get involved 👇
Project Creator: Dear Debt