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To Josh.

The brown carpet of the leisure center is itchy, but we all sit on the floor, talking and giggling with each other as we wait for the studio to open so we could start our evening rehearsals for Nutcracker.

“Hey did you guys see Josh’s bulletin on MySpace? It was like ‘goodbye call 911 I’m going to do something dumb’ or something and he put his address. I can’t really remember but it was like weird kind of??”

The girls with internet on their flip phones pull them out and try to look. A few other friends had just texted us inquiring about Josh’s bulletin.

He’s a joker; he likes attention and he pulls so many pranks, it’s hard to keep count! 

One of the girls with us at the moment lives down the street from Josh, as does her cousin/his good friend. In that moment, she decides to call her cousin to go over to Josh’s house and check up on him. Yes, the bulletin sounds dumb but… you never know.

We did our part, so it’s back to talking and giggling for us.

Suddenly, her cousin calls back. Josh isn’t answering his phone or the front door — no one is home. He’s going to climb up the side of Josh’s house to his window and see what’s up.

We all became a little uneasy, and we don’t reconvene in talking and giggling; instead, we nervously look down at our phones and wait for an answer.

He’s a joker; he likes attention and he pulls so many pranks, it’s hard to keep count! 

The phone rings.

“He shot himself.”

The rest of the night is a blur. Half of us stay at ballet rehearsal; we hear that he is going to be okay, and there is no need to worry. We hear that he isn’t doing very well. We hear that he is perfectly fine and would start recovery soon. We hear his chances are looking slim.

These answers that are provided to reassure us that he’ll be okay are just noise in a cacophony, playing the sounds we want and need to hear.

“He passed away.”

We all reconvene at a friend’s house after rehearsal, where we cry uncontrollably about something we don’t really understand; the only thing clear is that our friend is gone.

I cry myself to sleep that night. I cry so hard that I exhaust myself to the point where my mind, body, and soul have no fight in them, forcing me to pass out.

Sunlight hit my eyes; it is clear that I had missed at least the first two periods of school. Did last night really happen? Was Josh really gone or was this just a joke?

He’s a joker; he likes attention and he pulls so many pranks, it’s hard to keep count! 

I roll out of bed, wondering if I was going to go to school that day; my sister, a senior and my ride, had already left, and it seems that I’m home alone. I go downstairs and my sister comes in through the front door.

“You really should go to school today. It’s like… yeah you should really go. They put all of your friends in a room to talk and stuff but like… you really should go.”

Fine. I’m sure being with friends will keep my mind off this; I’ll probably just go to class, honestly.

My sister drops me off at the front of the school, just as everyone was passing for 4th period. I begin to walk towards my English teacher’s class, where I usually walk with my friends, but it feels weird. I feel weird. I see a familiar face, one of my best friends’, and inexplicably, I break out into tears, to which she catches me and holds me tight.

To this day, I can’t quite explain what happened, but I guess emotions don’t always have reasoning you can mold perfectly into words.

She walks me to a room that we’ve never really gone to; it is a spare room for art elective classes. I find tons of my classmates there, in my grade and grades above. All day we sit, we talk, we cry, we think of other things and break out into relieving fits of laughter, and at some moments, we are uncomfortably still.

As the day ends, it feels like it would be the end of the grieving; by the time you enter high school, your brain and your body are conditioned to connect the start and finish to an activity with the hours of a school day. The day was done, and this whole Josh situation was done too. As we walk out of that room at 2:45pm, we leave our feelings there too.

That type of thinking was slapped in the face with reality.

Hard.

As the days and weeks go by, we are just a bunch of high school students trying to figure out what this all means; why did he do it, was he unhappy, did he leave a note?

The media, as inconsiderately as possible, delivered the story in the most cliche and unsympathetic manner, to which we are outraged. Weeks go by. We hold a carwash for him, we dedicate a yearbook spread to him, we all write “H” on our chests at the football games in honor of him.

Yet none of these actions answer any of our questions. Who was he, really? Why did he do this?

He’s a joker; he likes attention and he pulls so many pranks, it’s hard to keep count! 

That year, we lost two more friends to suicide; one, a good friend’s sister in Josh’s grade with an absolutely beautiful soul and another, a friend of mine since middle school who had just told me he like liked me over the phone a few hours before he killed himself.

Even up until this day, whenever someone jokingly says they’d like to kill themselves, or even specifies shooting/hanging themselves, I can never quite laugh genuinely; there is always that pang of sadness that hits me hard, that I physically wince at the thought of it.

I may not understand depression, I may not understand whatever my friends were going through, and I may never feel what they felt, but what I do know is that Josh would have turned 24 this year. I know that he didn’t graduate high school, or even get to endure the bittersweet stress of applying for college, if that’s what he was into.

I know that his parents bought him a casket instead of a car for his sweet 16. 

De mortuis nil nisi bonum.

Of the dead, nothing unless good.

Never Fade Away, J.J.A.

Feb. 25, 1991 – Nov. 8, 2006. 

Though he cut his journey short, his bright personality and youth will be preserved in his soul and in our hearts.

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2 thoughts on “To Josh.

  1. Denise Austin says:

    Thank you so much for your beautiful memories of Josh. He did leave a note on an 8×10 piece of paper in orange hi-liter pen that said….IM SORRY
    He was in a fowl mood when I picked him up from school and was being a brat. He asked me to take him to church but I was taking food to a friend and he had Ice Hockey…it was just too much for a school night and he was being a brat or I might have tried harder to take him to church and ice hockey…when I left the house with Randy, he didn’t want to go to The Hathaway’s house with us he said “Don’t forget I have Ice Hockey at 8” I said “Your dad will be home any minute and I will not be gone long so one of us will for sure get you there on time!”
    The little black girls that lived around the corner on 30th were the last ones to see him…they knocked on the door and he answered…they said he acted weird and watched them until they left the driveway…minutes later all the calls happened….I still remember following the ambulance all the way to my house….

    • It’s crazy that even after all of these years, you’re able to paint such a vivid image in my head. Things happen in life that are so logical or so confusing, and I feel like this tragedy was something that wasn’t necessary whatsoever. However, the way in which you especially as a mom can look back and reflect on it and keep true to Josh’s character is just truly amazing, and I know I’m not the only person who has continued to keep you and your family in my thoughts! ❤️❤️❤️

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