The call that changed Alex’s life*

The Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska

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By Julie Rattey


Too much drama, Alex thought. There was too much drama going on, especially when it was only Tuesday morning, and Alex, 14, was tired of dealing with it. There was drama with her boyfriend — correction, ex-boyfriend — drama with her friends, drama with the hurtful rumors that she had been unfaithful. Alex had a few ideas about how to make it go away. This wouldn’t be the first time. But maybe it would be the last. Everyone would be better off without her. She would be better off without herself.

Wouldn’t she?

You’re so awesome!

She could hear the words of her friend, Raz, in her head. Raz, 25, was one of the few people Alex really trusted. It was Raz who, when she’d first joined a friend at an event hosted by the Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption Center, had sat down and introduced herself. It was Raz who told her she was awesome and praised her when she came up with great ideas — which, Alex reminded herself, was all the time. Raz lived differently from most of Alex’s friends — she wasn’t homeless, she didn’t dress goth (though she did have awesomely colorful hair), and she had a job, as a youth outreach counselor at the center. But Raz seemed to understand her. She was cool. And Raz apparently thought Alex was cool, too.

Do I really want to do this? Alex stared at herself in the bedroom mirror. Her hair was bright purple, the latest color she had dyed it. She hadn’t put on makeup yet today, which made her look closer to her real age. Most people thought she was older — 17, maybe. Partly it was the attitude. Didn’t she always say she had the maturity of a 25-year-old? “I practically raised myself,” she’d told Raz the day they’d met.

Thinking about the past made Alex feel tired. Life seemed to drag on with nothing to look forward to. What was the point? She thought again about all the ways she could make it stop. How easy it could be. Her heart thudded.

What am I doing?

She reached into her pocket for her cell phone. She held it for a moment, debating. The phone felt comfortingly warm in her hand.

Not giving herself time to think further, Alex flipped it open and dialed Raz’s office. She could talk to someone else: Her grandmother would be home later. Her mother was home right now. But still, it was Raz she wanted to talk to.

“Hello?” Raz’s cheerful voice answered.

“Raz, it’s Alex. I don’t know what to do. There’s too much going on right now.” She paused. “I don’t feel like life is worth living.”

Raz didn’t freak out. She didn’t yell or dismiss her or give her a lecture. Her response was quick and to the point.

“Where are you? I’m coming to pick you up.”

***

It was about a month later when Alex walked back into the center’s doors. It was her first follow-up appointment with her counselor, Anne, since the day Alex had called Raz. A lot had happened since then. Raz had taken her to the hospital. Her mother and grandmother had showed up, bringing along her baby sister Maddie. It had felt good to hear their concern for her, to hear them telling her they loved her. And Maddie, well, she was a little blonde bombshell, a mini Marilyn Monroe with a bubbly personality, huge blue eyes, and a big smile. Just being with her had made Alex start to feel a little bit better.
   

The next day Alex had been flown to a treatment center in Anchorage for two weeks, where she took classes to help her cope. She’d learned a few tricks, too, like how instead of cutting herself to release pent-up emotion, she could clench a cube of ice. It actually worked.

Alex was expecting a cheerful welcome at the center. But the smile on Anne’s face was strained.

“What’s going on?” Alex demanded.

“There’s been some news just this afternoon,” Anne said gently. “About Brandon.”

Brandon was a guy Alex knew from the center. Friendly, tall, and older than most of the other kids, he seemed like an older brother to many of them. He and Alex had spent some time hanging out, talking, and playing video games.

“What happened?” Alex asked.

At Anne’s reply, Alex began to sob. For reasons they would never fully know, Brandon had slipped away from a gathering of friends and committed suicide the night before. His friends had found him the next day. Right now, Anne said, people were gathering in a nearby park to grieve and comfort each other. Counselors would be available. Alex wanted to go.

When Alex arrived at the park, she was shaken by what she saw. Her friends were in anguish. Some were sobbing. Some were yelling in anger. Some were trying to comfort each other.

The awful finality of death crept in. She and Brandon would never have another talk, never play another video game. No matter what happened after this, good or bad, Brandon wouldn’t be here to experience it. He was gone.

I can’t believe I almost did this, Alex thought. If she had, these people would be crying for her, hurting because of her. I thought everyone would be better off without me, she thought. Maybe I was wrong.

 

***

 

About a year later, Alex walked into Raz’s office and prepared to let loose some of her awesome ideas. Raz had said she wanted to pass something by her, and that usually meant some brainstorming was involved. Alex sat in a chair and made herself comfortable.

She’d visited the center on and off since Brandon’s death. It hadn’t been an entirely smooth ride; life wasn’t like that. There were always bumps in the road. But Alex was feeling pretty good about things. She had plans: Move closer to the city. Finish school. Get a job. Go to college. She also wanted to help the center somehow. “How” was the key question, though.

“So we’re applying for this award,” Raz was saying. “If we win, we get funding to organize a youth-led summer service project. I was thinking of a simple fundraiser,” she continued. “We could bake pies and sell them to raise money for the center. We can use every penny.”

Alex nodded. She knew Raz could only work part time at the center because of a lack of funding. More money would do a lot for the center. They’d be able to develop more programs to help people who needed it. People like her. People like Brandon.

“So that’s the service project end,” Raz said. “Now we need to fill in the youth part.” She smiled at Alex. “Interested?”

“Are you kidding?” Alex sat up in her seat. “I’m totally interested! That would be awesome.”

“I’ll need your help writing the proposal, then, and you’ll need to recruit another young person to help with the organizing.”

“I’m on it.” Alex’s mind was already whirling with ideas — what kind of pies they would bake, who she would ask to get involved, how they would publicize. Eager to begin, she pulled her chair closer to Raz’s. “Let’s get this started.”  CD

Since the writing of this story, Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption was granted the Youth-Led Summer Service Project Award.

Managing Editor Julie Rattey

Julie Rattey is a Boston-based writer and editor. She is the author of If I Grew Up in Nazareth, available from 23rdPublications.com.