“Garrett died, man. You haven’t heard?”
The atmosphere turned into lead and time into molasses. That silence dragged on and on. I looked from Mikey to Eddie and back again too many times to count before I asked, “What happened?”
We were sitting in a Chic-Fil-A catching up on life. Several years had passed since we were in cleats and playing on a pitch together. We traded stories about life after the team: college, graduation, and careers. And we caught up on news from the little we knew about our other teammates. Garrett was one of them.
Mikey looked at Eddie with a hard stare before turning back to me. He took a half-breath and said, “Garrett killed himself, man.”
The memories flooded back in.
We were driving down the road from Zach’s house. We twisted and turned with every bend on the windy streets. It felt like a roller coaster ride home back from the team’s poker night. I looked over and remember the lights on his dash illuminating his face as he smiled and reached for the dial. “This is my JAM, man!” He turned it up, and we rolled down the windows. With the stereo blasting, we sang at the top of our lungs the whole way until we got back to the school.
We were in the final game that would decide our district championship. We were playing the best team in the league, and they had a star player. We knew him as #10. He could blast a shot from forty yards out and leave the goalkeeper dumbfounded. He was their go-to-player for scoring goals. Garrett stayed on him the whole game. Slide-tackling, shirt-pulling, shoulder-charging. That night we were crowned district champs. I remember the quiet confidence he had walking off the field that day because even though he didn’t score the game-winning goal, he was the reason we won.
As a team, we spent a lot of time in the locker room. We watched tapes of our old games, talked about school and life and girls, and killed time together. I remember Garrett and his red solo cup always laughing and joking between spits. He had as big of a presence off the field as he did on it.
Many days have passed since our life together on the high school soccer team, and I lost touch with most of my former teammates. I hadn’t talked to Garrett since my last day on the team. Honestly, I almost forgot about him entirely. But when the news came that he killed himself, I cried. And every time I’ve thought about him since, my heart gets heavy knowing he’s gone. It makes me wish I had done something different, reached out sooner. It makes me mad that no one else did either. He wasn’t even 20.
I wonder what brought him to that place. I wonder what must have happened to him after high school. I wonder why. And I cry. For a guy I barely knew outside the team. A guy I hadn’t talked to in more than five years.
I wonder how much more devastated the people that knew him best would be. I wonder the guilt, the anger, the sadness they feel. I wonder how often they think about him, think about his laugh, and ache that they can never hear it again. I wonder the emptiness they feel when they think of him. I wonder how long it will take that emptiness to go away. I wonder if it ever does.
I know for Garrett, suicide probably felt like it made the most sense. He grew up in a rough place: no dad, abusive mom. He ended up in jail before he left high school, and he felt like he didn’t have much going for him. He never let anyone get close enough to him to leave him like his dad did. He covered his pain with drugs and alcohol in hopes that getting high would lift him out of the hole he was in. He felt he had no hope and nothing to hold onto and nothing to live for. He was convinced that no one would care if he lived or died, and so he felt like he only had one option to end the constant numbness and pain he felt.
But he was wrong. And I wish he was around for me to tell him that. Because when a tree falls, we all hear it.