I have to tell you about Roland.
I met Roland in my third and final year of seminary. For my final year, I went to North Carolina to the main campus for a month-long crash course. At the seminary gym, Roland introduced himself to me.
He was tall, a bit desperate, with shifty eye contact, the sort of good-looking guy who probably wasn’t so handsome in grade school.
He followed me around the gym, offering to spot me, copying some of my exercises. We exchanged shallow pleasantries between sets, and at the end, he said, “Maybe we can, uh, like have coffee this week.”
“Sure,” I said, unsure if I wanted to offer my number. I take longer to make friends. Trust issues, I suppose. “I’ll see you at the gym tomorrow?” I said. “Then we’ll make plans?”
Roland grinned, a really sheepish, aw-shucks sort of grin. “Yeah, yeah!” he said, practically clapping. “Okay!”
I didn’t see Roland the rest of the week, and the crash course ended. I went back home to Florida and forgot I had ever met him.
A few months later, one of the professors on the Florida satellite campus made an announcement at the start of class:
“A student named Roland committed suicide this week.”
Roland’s girlfriend had broken up with him. The break-up had happened months ago and he was too lonely to go on. He had swallowed a bottle of pills and went into a coma. His parents decided to withdraw life support.
I remembered Roland’s puppy-dog shout: “Yeah, yeah, okay!”
I understood why he had tailed me at the gym. Why he was so quick to find a friend. Why he wanted to meet for coffee.
After class, I ran to a restroom and threw up everything inside of me.
I could’ve … I should’ve … I didn’t.
I let someone die.
For years, I felt responsible for Roland’s death. I’ve blamed myself over and over, seconds before my head would hit the pillow, remembering his dark-encircled eyes, replaying his voice on mental vinyl, losing sleep and softer dreams.
Could I have done something?
Should I have done something?
Every time someone talked about “reaching out” and “little acts of kindness” and “you never know who you’ll help,” I’d want to throw up again. The regret ate me up.
I’ve tried, since then, to learn the difference between reaching out and being responsible.
I’ve tried to learn the fine line between doing all I can and knowing that all-I-can is not always enough.
I should’ve reached out before it was too late—but I’m not sure I was responsible for what happened. Maybe I write that to absolve my own guilt, or maybe there was really nothing I could’ve done anyway.
It’s such a precarious balance, to feel a responsibility for the safety of those who are depressed, while also maintaining a balanced boundary for your own self-care.
Maybe I could’ve saved Roland.
Or maybe it was never up to me.
I only know that if I could go back, I would have had coffee with him. I would like to have tried. I am not ultimately responsible—but I still want to reach out when I can.
I’m sorry, Roland. I’ll try to hear you next time.
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