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?