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SAT Saturday | The Groncho Literary Page


(Originally written in 2017 in reaction to the suicide death of a Torrey Pines High School student, SAT Saturday speaks to the turmoil teens internalize, that goes unrecognized. That sentiment resounds moreover now - as teens grapple with schools still in closure.)


I never thought about suicide when I was in high school, but I was miserable. After waxing euphoric from the great expectations set at freshman orientation - with the oodles of choices of sports and activities and classes, the endless bounty afoot - I slowly sunk back to the former self I was desperate to break from. Still shy and wondering who I was. Still ignored by girls, now with them gorgeous and looking like women. With each of my friends and me privately, awkwardly, abashedly feeling his own way through, we separately stumbled this road alone. And some fared better than others.


Tight friends who held sleepovers and midnight walks through their neighborhoods for years and just the summer before - my likeminded Axis & Allies board game marathoners - now made cuts for football or soccer or baseball - and then they were gone, hitting their stride, finding their place, getting girlfriends, beyond what I was capable at the time.


That was my lot. I struggled. I felt more like a placeholder for myself. Give me five or 10 years and I might turn into something. Until I grew into my lanky body, until I gained confidence and found my voice, until then - whenever that was - I existed in my silent, paralyzing tomb. In an almost out-of-body way, I became a passive observer - which made me easy prey. I was shy and didn't fight back, and in high school that’s blood in shark-filled waters.


It was the smart-ass black denim, jackboot and trench coat clad upperclassman - for starters - coasting to graduation in freshman math who recited Rocky Horror Picture Show scenes and who homed in on me, proclaiming, “It speaks!” when I finally did raise my hand - his circus and lampoon about exactly how quiet I was. This was how my great high school experience unfurled, how my expectations, once soaring, now sank. The place where everything was possible began to be more and more impossible to exist in, and I was already counting it down. Four years to graduation and an eternity in getting there.



High school was rife with oxymorons and contradictions, the time when I was most in need of advice from my parents, but also when I was most inclined to refuse it. At once doe-eyed and too old, there I was, adrift and drowning, alone in my thoughts in the midst of all of "them". Sorry Mom. Sorry Dad. I know you tried.


I thought about doing something stupid, say, running crisscross through the football field in the middle of a Friday night game, my recurring dystopian daydream. Crash my marching band cymbals to no end, madcap and crazy, a spectacle of idiocy to halt the whole damn production. It never went further than that, just a thought, but there it was, that need to seize control, getting everyone’s attention, when everything spun the wrong way for me.


And this so-fond-a-stroll takes me to now. Early last Saturday, a Torrey Pines High School freshman outside San Diego called police to him at his school’s parking lot just after 3 a.m., ominously and ambiguously for a welfare check. It would be just a few hours before other students would be streaming in to take their dreaded SATs.


And so the story goes, the boy brought a bb gun and pointed it at the police who, rightfully, thought it was real. The kid wouldn’t drop it, he kept pointing it at the cops and kept moving forward. So the story goes, and perhaps as the boy pictured and wished it, the police shot him dead, now with theories and notions emerging of suicide-by-cop, with a suicide note found in his pocket afterward.


If he set out to command a madcap moment, he wound up with police tape, makeshift memorials, classmates he never knew and friends with eyes welling, all in the school parking lot on SAT Saturday, with him gone, by the way - never mind two cops confronted into taking a confused boy’s life.


I make no allusions that I knew this kid, not what he dealt with specifically, or what was in his head, but I’ve been through my own incarnation of hell in high school, with a long roster of others before me and since. Now classmates and teachers and parents here all want to make sense of it, or get answers, or figure out where to point fingers, or a little bit of all the above.


It’s a tragedy and gut dropping, it’s a lot of things and it’s a reminder that young minds lug unwieldy thoughts. Me, I just want to whisper, to a kid like this, maybe someone like I was, in the moments before, hopefully way before. In calculating the sum of your life, just keep your shit together. Stop adding things up now, you’re eons away from being done - and more than anything else, don’t hit delete. Or else they all win, the ones who stepped on your head or left you behind or bullied you or beat your spirit down or just ignored you altogether… I’m reading from my list now, just so you know.


The secret, at least for me, was that pushing myself through that sludge pipe part of my life kept me pushing forward, even to now. And while some of my classmates succeeded fast, they mostly piddled out early and went on to punch clock and turnkey lives. I kept pushing further on, not wanting again to be last or left behind, and that kept me pushing beyond pretty much everything I set out and did.


I know about the cold restart. The do over. The clean slate. Just don’t hit delete. Know that you’ve got a basis and a place to reboot - but you’ve got to still be here. I know listening through the dulled downtrodden noise when the worst comes at you is never so simple. In that ear-buzz and haze when you can’t hear or see or even think clear, do just one thing. Stay still. Don't crash the cymbals, don’t point a gun. Crouch down and stay still. Let the storm pass. After it’s gone and you can catch your own breath - find your footing, pick up your head and start up again.


Jason James Barry is an award-winning essayist and journalist. Follow his work on TheGroncho.com and at prattlon.com.


SAT Saturday was named as 2017 Shortlist Winner Nominee for Best Essay by Adelaide Literary Magazine, and was later published in an anthology of essays.

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