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The Promise

by Derek Savage, age 14

Derek_MoonA True Story
(Some names have been changed to respect the individuals’ privacy.)

Every year I look forward to going to my church youth camp, Pilgrim Pines.  With all the new people I meet and the friends I make, it’s always the highlight of my year.

Kate was a new friend I made this year.  At camp she was cheerful and happy.  After camp we texted and talked, and I found out she was quite the opposite.  Her happiness and cheerfulness was just a mask.  In the past, she had told someone close to her about her problems and she ended up in counseling.  Ever since this incident, she has had trust issues.

I tried to get Kate to trust me, but to no avail.  She only told me that she is insecure and had been actively self-harming.  She never told me why.

Kate made me promise to never tell anyone, no matter what, and to never turn her in.

I began to fear she would bottle up her feelings and one day explode.  That’s exactly what happened.

Monday, August 3, 9:00 P.M.

I am in my backyard, texting my friends.  It is a private place where I often go at night because my parents have already gone to bed. I don’t want to disturb them.  I get tired and begin to walk back inside through the back door and go to my room.  I throw myself on the bed and instantly begin to drift into dreamland.  Right on the edge of sleep, my phone beeps.  I try to ignore it and turn over to go to sleep.  I get curious and roll back over to pick up my phone.  It is a text from Kate. The message says, “I need your help.”

“What’s wrong? You can tell me anything.” I text back.

A long pause.  I get another message that says, “I almost killed myself today and I need someone to talk to.”

“I’m here.  I’m listening.”

“I almost hung myself today…and I tried to drown myself.”

My heart drops to the floor.  I become frozen and still.  All the words drain from my brain.  Finally, I text, “Kate, I need you to take a deep breath.”  I was attempting to use psychology to calm her down.

“I can’t,” she texts.

“Just trust me, please,” I reply in desperation.

“It’s hard to talk over text. My mom will see it. Or if I phone you, Mom would ask why I called you.  And I would have to lie.”  She pauses for a moment. “I will say this, though, I am a liar. Liar. Ever since I was a little girl.”

“Why have you lied since you were a little girl?” I ask, hoping to get her to talk to me.  I wait.  Then abruptly, she texts, “I can’t do this… Bye, Derek.”

My hands begin to tremble, but I don’t cry or feel fear.  I attempt to keep a calm, clear mind.  I put down my phone with my shaking hand and begin to think. I’ll text her back and keep her talking, I think…maybe she will come back for more.

“You can do it, Kate, you just have to believe you can,” I text.  “It’s called ‘Fake it ’til you make it,” I add.  “Welcome to the field of psychology where it is possible to manipulate your brain into doing whatever you want it to do.”  Then I begin to explain the Placebo Effect.

While I’m texting I receive a notification.  Kate sends a message in a group chat containing most everyone from camp.  I read the first line of the text. “You might all know me as the laughing girl with the smile on her face, but this shall be no more.”

I didn’t need to read the rest to know where Kate was going with this.

“You don’t have to do this,” I plead. “Think about your family…think about your friends.” After a few moments I realize this wasn’t going to stop her, or buy me time.

One of my best buddies from camp is in the chat.  I text him privately.  “I need to call you, Gabe.  I can’t type fast enough to tell you the whole story.”

“I can’t, dude, my parents are asleep,” Gabe texts.

“We need to think of a plan, and fast.”  We begin brainstorming.

11:57 P.M.

As we are talking, I see notifications showing me a small percentage of the messages in another chat.  Kate posts a picture of a pill bottle, then a separate picture of the pills laying on a table.  “If you tell an adult I will hang myself,” she writes.  Then she shows a picture of a rope.

I begin to shake more and more as I see each message.  Talia and Emma, girls from camp, are in on it now.

“Talia says, “If you eat those, I’ll overdose, too.”

“I agree with Talia,” Emma says.

“I already swallowed them,” Kate replies.

With each new message, chills go down my spine and I begin to shake more.   Did she really take them?

“We can’t talk her out of it, there’s just no way,” Gabe says.

I realize Gabe is right.  I reply, “If words won’t help, then we need to do something physical, now. Maybe we could call one of our counselors from camp who drives?  Or just go to Kate’s house?”  It was just talk.

I know what needs to be done.

“Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline,” I say out loud.  I was looking at an added screenshot of Siri giving me the hotline number.

“Call it,” Gabe says.  “My parents are asleep, I can’t.”

I had made a promise, and in this moment I have to make a decision.  Keep the promise and she dies; or break the promise and she lives.  But there are downfalls to both.  I put my phone face down on my bed and I weigh it all out.  I think of the consequences of breaking my promise, and the consequences of not breaking my promise.

I finally make a decision.

Wednesday, August 4, 12:01 A.M.

“Welcome to the Suicide Prevention Hotline. This is an automated message.  If you or someone you know is thinking abou— *Beep*”

I press “1” before the message finishes and walk outside.

“Hello. This is Rob.  Are you or do you know someone considering taking their own life?”

With hesitation I begin telling him about Kate.

“So, your friend…is she a war veteran?” He asks with slight confusion lingering in his voice.

“No,” I exclaim, realizing my mistake.  “I must have hit the wrong extension.  Can you still help me?”  I begin to pace back and forth.

“We take every case seriously here; of course I will help you.”

He sounds calm and very understanding.  I didn’t expect that at all.  His voice rings with sincerity and I know he genuinely wants to help.  He feels like a friend.  We are in this together.  I begin to tell Rob everything.

12:17 A.M.

I post in the chat.  “I need information about Kate, and I need it fast.”  Does anyone know Kate’s last name or where she lives?  How about her phone carrier?  After a long pause, the information comes:  “She has AT&T.”  Then, after another long pause: “Her last name is Pazzie.”

Finally, we have enough information.

12:49 A.M.

“Paramedics are on their way,” Sarah says.  Sarah is another volunteer at the Prevention center.  I am connected on a phone call with her and several police officers.  Everyone cheers and celebrates that help is on the way.  Then the police officers leave the call.  I type in the group chat and give them a number to call if they want to know how Kate is doing.  “Ask for Issue 12,” I text.

Talia replies, “Wha…What’s that?”  Gabe explains it to her.

Rob is still on the line.  “I’m just going to ask you a few more questions before I leave, okay?”

“All right,” I reply.

“Are you currently dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts?”  It sounds like he is asking for legal reasons.

“No.”

“Do you know anyone else who is thinking about suicide?”

“Well, yes. When Kate claimed she swallowed pills, Talia and Emma  claimed they were going to overdose, too.”

12:55 A.M.

“Police are talking to my parents now.”  This is Talia’s last message of the night.

Rob cuts back on the phone.  “Just so you know…police have been sent to Talia’s house.  They’re just going to talk to her.  We still need to check on Emma.”  Rob seems relieved, but ready to go on.

“Could we call Sarah first, please?  I’d like to know how Kate’s doing.”

“Absolutely.”

I hear a series of beeps and the dialing tone.  Then Sarah comes on our connection.   “Hello again, we are just wondering how Kate is doing,” Rob says.

“Well, the police and the paramedics went to her house and Kate told them she was just having a really, really bad day,” she replies.

B—S—-I think to myself.  “Could you please get her stomach pumped anyway?  I have a feeling she was lying.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” Sarah says.

2:00 A.M.

I’m out in the backyard again. My mom hears me talking and comes outside wondering what the noise was.  I can tell she is very upset.

“It’s two in the morning. What do you think you’re doing out here so late?”

I put my phone back up to my ear. “One second, I need to bring my mother up to speed,” I tell Rob.

“That’s O.K.,” Rob says.  “We’re done here.  I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”

Wednesday, August 4, Noon

I wake up, absolutely exhausted with flashes of what happened the night before pounding my head.  I look at my phone to see a barrage of messages.  Some in different chats…some were personal messages.

“Who the &%$# called my school?” Emma yells at me.

I feel guilty and horrible as I read on.  I read through all the chats that I missed the night before when I was talking to Rob.  Right before the police were sent to Talia’s house, she wrote:  “I’m so sorry for all you guys.  I just realized how scary this has been for all of you and I will never do this on purpose again.”

Days pass, then weeks.  Months even.  Occasionally I pick up fragmented pieces of what happened.  I was told that Kate’s stomach was pumped and she was put under house arrest.  Emma claimed that she swallowed the pills but then threw them up afterwards.  She also was put in school counseling.  Talia had to be checked out at the hospital and she isn’t allowed to talk to anyone about what happened.

Monday, September 5, 4 P.M.

After walking around the neighborhood I get a message.

“Were you the one?”  Talia asks.  I know exactly what she is talking about.  This is the first time we’ve talked since the incident.

“Yeah,” I say, not quite knowing how she would react.

“You scared me so much…but I’m glad you really care.”

Wednesday, September 7

Two days after Talia texted me, I am outside sitting in the sun.  My phone rings and I pick it up.

“Did you call them?” the voice asks.

“Did I call who?”

“Don’t play dumb with me,.  Did you call the suicide prevention hotline?”  I begin to make out the voice to be Kate.

I get nervous and blurt out, “No, I think I was asleep when it happened.”

“Cut the BS. Why did you lie to me just now?”

My heart sinks further than it ever has before. I don’t know what to do or say.

“I did it to help you!” I exclaim.  I am shaky and nervous…I hang up the call.  Kate calls back and I answer.  “Just listen to me, please,” she says.

“All right,” I reply.

“I was really pissed at you at first…and I still ‘kinda’ am…just wanted to thank you.”

“Wait, what?”

The doctor told me today if you hadn’t called…I haven’t told anyone this yet…that I wouldn’t be alive.”  I feel a chill run down my spine.

“Partly why I’m not mad is…I like you…more than a friend.”

__________
Previously published in Vision & Voice, the newsletter of The Table:  United Church of Christ of La Mesa (CA).

Photo by Shirley Savage

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