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Happiness is an Elusive Goal Compared to Making All-State Choir

alec vanderboom

(The boy I invited to my junior prom, David, died in 2002. His death was sort of tied to the Dot Com Bust. The recent Wall Street news brought an old essay I wrote about David into my head again. Please pray hard for all the Davids on Wall Street this week.)

“We were charmers, and no one doubted our potential. Others were the truants. The fighters. The drunks. The pregnant teenagers. These were the kids that people worried about in high school. No one worried about us. We were the smart ones with straight teeth who grinned easily in prom photographs.

Despite the dowdiness of the gold auditorium curtains, David and I look good in our 1992 “You Look Wonderful Tonight” Prom Picture. He looks comfortable in his tux. My ivory brocade dress is sophisticated and unique. We look well matched. If not exactly high school sweetheart material, then we looked like comfortable friends who would one day swap photographs of our children at a high school reunion.

My wallet now contains grainy pictures of two newborns.

David doesn’t have a wallet anymore.

The details of David's death are sketchy. First, emails were forwarded throughout my father's college staff community asking for prayers. The prayer request was vague. "David's been hurt in an accident. He's in intensive care." It sounded like a car accident. It sounded like David was getting better.

Then, I heard about his death in a Dublin airport. My mother told me- in her typical flat, non-nurturing voice. She just laid it on me. My junior prom date, David, had died.

It was a suicide, not a car accident.

I could come into town the next weekend to hit David’s memorial service. She was sorry. That was all.

I felt clammy while on the 6-hour plane ride back to New York and numb on the drive home.

Two years later, I’m an unemployed writer who graps with failure. I’m good at the trivial and clumsy with the critical. I can win an oral argument at the appellate court, but cannot voice disagreement to my mother. I quit a job that slowly poisoned my unborn son with stress and carbon monoxide. Yet, I worry that children’s services is going to take away my son because I cannot remember to clean his scrotum. I’m a proud artist, but uncomfortable with financing my art through credit card debt. I wrote a brilliant business plan, but I can’t muster the courage to make a simple sales call.

I can’t see myself through my own eyes. My view of myself is all distorted through my parents, through old prom date’s parents, the crabby high school English teacher who thought I ‘d never make anything of myself and the hardnosed church community who insisted that I certainly would. Happiness seems an elusive goal compared to making All-State Choir or placing in the International Science Fair Contest.

When David committed suicide, everyone said it was strange because he had gotten a new job as a math teacher in the fall. They didn’t understand how empty a space could seem from May to September. If vindication comes finally at a high paying job, what happens when the entire industry goes bust and you are deposited in the basement of your successful brother’s Brownstone?

For an unknown reason this son, with a physician mother, refused to take anti-depressants. He climbed up five flights of a parking garage in downtown Boston and leapt out.

He lived painfully with every bone broken in his face for eight days.

He lived to tell his Mother that he was sorry. He lived to hear his family say that they loved him.

Then David died at Mount Sinai Hospital of a staph infection.

I miss the way it was in high school, back when we knew the ending of everyone’s story before it began.