What I am telling you now is a secret I have carried with me for at least 8 years. I have gone deeper into helping kids than most teachers do. I became experienced in helping kids with suicidal depression. Four different kids didn’t kill themselves because I found a way to help them. Two of them I sat in the emergency room with. Two kids, three emergency room visits, three hospital stays complete with regular visits by me. Another kid, a long night on the phone because he called me instead of the suicide hotline. That could have ended in the hospital too, but he made me promises and then kept them because he didn’t have a father and his mother neglected him, but I was willing to talk all night one Friday night. And another one was headed for suicide because her mother had committed suicide, and this I knew from the school counselor, but she had no hope and no connection to the world, and this I found out when she screamed it at me in the classroom, and then explained it to me in private conversation later in the classroom when no one else was there to hear. And I told her the stories of the ones I had helped. And she said, “If I had known them, I would’ve been their friend.” And sometimes the ability to cry in front of someone who understands is all it takes to save a life.
But this post is not an ego boost. I am not bragging. I am not batting a thousand. This is a crying post.
Up until this point I have not told you any names. Those kids have a right to keep their secrets, or tell their stories themselves when appropriate. But I will tell you Ruben’s name. He deserves to be remembered.
Ruben was a small eighth grader. He was rail thin and not very imposing. But Vernon was a gold-glove boxer, not a huge kid, but he had champion-sized muscles. And he bullied Ruben relentlessly. Ruben was in the same grade as his younger sister, a result of failing a lower grade. Vernon made numerous comments to make him feel stupid. And because Ruben was not athletic, Vernon pushed him around and told him he was gay.
“I will tell the principal what he has been doing to you in my class if you will back me up and tell the principal too,” I told Ruben after class.
“No. Don’t tell the principal nothing. You can’t fight my battles for me.” He made me promise not to tell the principal. I didn’t know at the time what a mistake that was.
The next year his sister told me that he had gone back to the barrio in San Antonio. He joined a gang. They were called the Town Freaks. They would later become the Latin Kings, an extension of the LA gang known as the Bloods. It made me sad. But it was not the end of the story.
Later that year I heard a news report from San Antonio. Eight members of the Town Freaks had stolen a pickup truck and taken it for a joyride. The police had chased them, the chase ending in the pickup crashing and rolling over in the ditch. All six of the kids in the back of the truck were killed. You know already how this story ends, don’t you. The name of the last kid killed they read out on the news was Ruben Vela.
I have cried for Ruben at least once every year since 1982. He was the first child I lost. And he was the one that made me committed to never let that happen again. Somehow I had to learn how to save a kid.
Of course, there was another loss as time went by. Suicidal depression can take them even after you think they’ve beaten it. I can’t tell you J.J.’s story now or I will not sleep tonight. But I was more of a surrogate father to that boy than most of the others I ever mentored or helped. And he ended himself by getting drunk, racing the train to the crossing, and then losing the race. He left behind a young wife and two little daughters… and a teacher who feels like a loser because one loss overshadows all the other wins.
I am not a hero. I would give anything not to have this particular story to tell about being a teacher stupid enough to give a damn. But when faced with the dark night of the soul, no matter whose soul it is, the only thing you can do is stand up and face the dragon. And you are likely to get burned. But what other choice is there? There’s only so much crying you can live with, and beyond that, your head dries up and turns to dust.
4 responses to “Depression Confession”
The formative years are not only difficult but the most enduring. Our young people suffer from all kinds of negativities that fill our world today. You are angelic. 🙏
Thank you for believing in your kids when others may not.
Thank you for lovingthem when they so desperately need the help.
May the universe give you blessings.