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Why I’ve Struggled to Write About My Friend’s Suicide

Monday, April 18, 2022

By Mark Massaro

My friend died by suicide nearly ten years ago.

We grew up together in a small town in Massachusetts, constantly getting separated in our high school classes for chitchatting. The poor teachers would eventually surrender and move us back together, since being separated did little to stop our antics.

During our senior year, we both managed to be tardy every single day. When we’d recognize each other from across the school parking lot, each gripping Dunks’ coffees, we’d laugh and play Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who got to check into the main office first. We went to junior prom together and interfered in other relationships on the dance floor, just for fun.

Once, a few of us tried to break into her grandparents’ house to throw a party, thinking they were out of town. She climbed on my shoulders to pry open their window and a soft, elderly voice behind the lace curtain asked, “Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Grandma,” she said, falling down, laughing.

Despite all of us being inordinately stoned and drunk, her grandmother invited us in and fed us, entertaining us with stories about growing up during the 1940s. We were utterly transfixed and felt as if we were all her grandchildren that night.

After graduation, I moved to Florida but we’d still talk once a week. The whole time I knew her, she had openly communicated that she was battling mental illness. She had panic attacks and manic periods, shifting between paralyzing depression and tremendous heights of pleasure.

But she always sought help. She was institutionalized, jokingly referring to it as “the bin.” She traveled to China to study meditation, spirituality, and yoga, ultimately getting certified and opening her own wellness studio. Throughout her emotional peaks and valleys, she passionately stated that she loved her life and didn’t want the disease to distort her thinking. And she voiced her fear that one day she wouldn’t be strong enough.

She called me the day before it happened. I was at my retail job on Sanibel Island, dealing with tourists demanding discounts and ranting about traffic and prices, despite their tourism being the cause of both. I was at the register giving my opinions on potential suitors for a co-worker’s online dating site when she called.

“Mahkus!” she yelled when I answered the phone, like she always did.

“I’m working,” I replied. “Can I call you after?”

“Sure buddy. Love you!”

“Love you.”

It lasted for eleven seconds, at 11:38 a.m. on July 25, 2013.

After work, I called her back on my way home, but she didn’t answer.

The next morning, my Facebook feed had many people complaining about backed-up traffic; I thought nothing of it. Finally, a random guy from high school, one that we hardly knew, publicly stated that she was dead, that “heaven had another angel,” and to “Rest in Peace.”

I chuckled, calling her to let her know there was a rumor circulating that she died.

She didn’t answer.

I called again.

No answer.

More friends from home started to post online about the loss. I fell to my knees panicking and only rose to make it to the toilet in time to vomit. Still, I impatiently waited for her to call me back to explain the misunderstanding.

My fiancée found me on the floor when she got home from work. She held me, consoling me as I sobbed. I had just proposed a week earlier; the magic of the engagement was suddenly suffocated under the burden of the loss. Not every woman dreams of celebrating her engagement by watching her new fiancé sit catatonically at the dinner table.

I was able to get in touch with a mutual friend who explained the hazy details that were not on social media. She also found a keyring with a heart from our friend’s childhood bedroom and mailed it to me, so I had something of hers to keep and hold. Friends started to email me photos from high school. I had, and still have, voicemails saved on my phone from her.

At work, I struggled to focus on what was in front of me. I kept thinking about that phone call that I rebuffed. Clearly, I thought, I could have saved her life if I would have continued the conversation. Hell, she probably called me so I could talk her out of it. Or maybe she just wanted to say hello.


I knew about the five stages of grief, but I felt like a cliché actually going through them. I experienced them all in order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. One day, I finally felt okay. My busy life swallowed me up and before I knew it, time dragged me along.

As I often do, I tried to write a short story to process what happened but I found myself mentally subdued when I started. The blank page was too small for her. Words were never enough — a story cannot explain the feelings or make sense of my friend’s death, and an essay cannot capture the life that disappeared. And yet, words are all I have to articulate the memories and impressions she made on my life, which are profound and appear at random.

She was wild and unpredictable, but that was the essence of her charisma. (She once got out of a speeding ticket by flashing the cop.) She wanted to beat up a girl that broke my heart. She escaped to Maine every fall to work on her father’s property, constructing wreaths from pine trees. In middle school, she boldly pointed the ketchup bottle at me during a game of Spin the Bottle so we could share one passionate kiss without any consequences.

She was so painfully human.

She often claimed that she was scared about not being strong. Sometimes I think about the day that she left us, and how she fought for each and every day that preceded it. She shouldn’t be remembered for that one moment of weakness, but for the decades of strength leading up to it.

She deserves better, more than I can create or explain. But most importantly, she deserves to be remembered.


Mark Massaro received a master’s degree in English Literature from Florida Gulf Coast University with a focus on 20th Century American Literature. He is a Professor of English at Florida SouthWestern State College. When not reading and writing, he can be found at a concert or with his wife and son. His writing has been published in Dash, The Georgia Review, Litro Magazine, Rain Taxi, Jane Austen Magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Sunlight Press, and others. Follow his literary adventures on Instagram at @bostonmahk4