This story doesn’t have a happy ending. But it’s one that I have to tell.
The last year of my life was one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I hate to make the claim that it definitely was the most difficult, but honestly speaking, it probably was. I won’t go into all the reasons why, or the details, but a year ago this very week I was in a much different place. I had been struggling to find a job for some time, sending my resume to dozens of churches all over the place. After experiencing rejection after rejection, I broke protocol and sent some e-mails directly to a couple of the ministers from different churches that had rejected me as a candidate. They were kind enough to respond. It was pretty simple really – I wasn’t married. It’s too risky these days for a church to invest in someone in their thirties who isn’t married.
Side note: this whole Christianity thing was started by a man in his thirties who wasn’t married.
But that doesn’t really matter these days, because most churches (according to my calculations) are looking to get two for the price of one. That’s just how it is. Pardon my digression. I’ve since found a wonderful church that has never brought my singleness into question at all.
The point is – a year ago I was struggling. It got pretty bad. At one point my car was even repossessed. Then my dad moved to another town about an hour away. And I found myself alone, living in the crumbling house I had grown up in, no job, almost all of my closest friends very far away, in most cases living in other states and other countries. I had never lived alone before. There were a few times where I went an entire week without seeing another human being. Toward the end of the summer I came down with a bad case of pneumonia and there were several nights where I had to sleep sitting up in a chair so that I could breathe. I had a fever for an entire month. I honestly felt like dying. I’ve never been that depressed, that broken down, that hopeless. Climbing out of that pit was a miracle. It began with a simple prayer, “Lord, help me live.” And it continued from there, one small step at a time, generous friends helping me get my car back, seeing a doctor, getting a hold on my health situation, finding a new church that accepted me almost immediately, and beginning the process of moving out of my parents’ old house – a process that didn’t end until a month ago, when I finally moved out.
During this past year, through all of my ups and downs, I had one friend who was close enough to spend time with me on a regular basis. He was from my old youth group in Indianapolis. He was the oldest of all the students I had spent time with at West Park Christian Church during the two and a half years I was there. When I first met Billy he was 15, but we connected immediately over our mutual appreciation of video game history, comic book heroes, Star Wars, and junk food. He was a great student. And he was a great helper. And in time, he became a good friend. If I was Doc Brown, he would have been Marty McFly.
A constant struggle during my time at West Park was never having enough volunteers to help with the kids, but Billy was always there, along with his younger brother Mitchell. They lived just across the street from the church, so they were always on hand to help out. There were many things I couldn’t have gotten done without either of them. Billy had just graduated from High School a year ago, and then moved in with Rob Wilkes (the senior pastor of West Park) and his wife Sue. Billy loved to hang out and watch movies, so about once or twice a month during this past year I would go pick him up. We would go to the movie theater, buy frozen pizza or rotisserie chickens from Wal-Mart, and then go back to the house to fight zombies in Call of Duty. He helped me sort through and pack away tons of stuff from my family’s old home. Every time he came to visit, I would put him to work, having him pack boxes and move stuff into the garage, or into the back of my car. He never complained. Not one time. Of course he tested my patience a few times, including an incident last September where I woke up in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke in the house. I soon discovered that Billy, who liked to stay up at all hours of the night, at some point had put tater tots into the oven and then fallen asleep in a chair while watching Dragon Ball Z or something. The house smelled like burnt tater tots for two weeks after that. But I couldn’t stay mad at the kid. Sometimes I would pick him up from where he worked at Penn Station East Coast Subs, and he would come out to the car with a huge smile on his face, along with a Philadelphia Cheesesteak and a diet Pepsi for me. He came over a couple of times in May as I was getting closer to moving out, and even though there was a ton of work to do, we still found time to watch all seven Star Wars films with online commentaries from Collider. You have to be a really special kind of nerdy geek to watch Star Wars while listening to commentaries of other people watching Star Wars… we had that in common. On Memorial Day I spent the entire afternoon and evening with Billy and his brother Mitchell – as we had done many times before, we went to the movies, and then followed up with a trip to BW3’s and Starbucks to top it all off. When I dropped them off that night, Billy gave me one of his signature smiles and told me to take care.
A couple of days later I got the call that he was gone. He had taken his own life.
I knew that he struggled with being depressed at times, but I didn’t know how deepIy it ran through him. I know that there have been a few times in my own life where I felt the darkness around me too much, and the only thing that pulled me back from the edge were those four words, “Lord, help me live.”
I don’t really know why he decided to do what he did, but I wish he knew what a good friend he was. I wish he knew how much I appreciated all his help. I wish he knew how rare it is for people to have a heart as big as his these days. I wish he knew how much we all loved him. I wish I had told him all these things. I wish a hundred other things had happened – anything that might have kept him alive. I wish most of all, I had told him how God used him to help me live.
Billy was one of the good guys.
Rest in peace brother. Thank you for being my friend.