I have keys
I was your counselor in the psych hospital. Where the doors are locked you in with your demons at night. I had keys. I had the keys to open your bathroom, to open your door, let myself out at the end of my shift. I had the keys to help you. To counsel you. To console you. To mentor you. I had the keys to make you better.
But sometimes, we get the keys we need just way too fucking late.
You were 17 and you looked up to me. We bonded over the love the same shitty emo music I loved when I was your age. You had a past that I couldn’t fathom. I was working against years of abuse, and learned behaviors that sometimes hurt those around you. This is how you learned to survive. This is how you made it to 17 years old, in spite of a world against you.
I remember two days before you left us.
I wouldn’t let you change the channel on the TV. You called me a stupid cow. I cried in the break room.
I’d been called much worse in the past. So why did you make me cry? Why did your words in a moment of frustration, anger and desperation, did your words feel like a kick to the stomach? Why did those two words make me call my dad, question my career choice, and want to go home?
I had the next day off. I wondered how you were doing. I knew your personality disorder made you volatile, but also caused a storm to rage inside of you which caused you more pain than you could ever cause anyone else. You were gentle inside. You never wanted to hurt anyone. But sometimes your pain spilled out of you and onto the people who were there to care for you. I know now that this isn’t your fault. I know now that it wasn’t about me.
I remember the day you left us. I came to work dreading my shift, afraid of my own emotions and why they were able to get the best of me two days before. You walked up to the desk as I was clocking in and handed me a note.
I still have the note.
You took care to write it in script that seemed much too beautiful to be created by that of a 17-year-old boy. You took care.
“You’re one of the only counselors I feel like I can talk to. I feel terrible about what I said to you and I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
…I’m so sorry.
That night I had to counsel one of your peers in a separate room. Right before I began my session I helped you try to call your Mom. She didn’t answer. She never fucking answered. You took your towels and you went to take your evening shower.
I went into another room to do a family session, leaving my coworkers during the busiest time of the shift. Why did I schedule a family session for that time. Why did I do that. Why. Why didn’t they give us more staff. Fucking why.
I’ve asked these questions a thousand times to myself since that night. Since I walked out into the hallway, feeling uplifted after a very positive family session with one of your peers. Since I saw the paramedics in our hallway. Since I saw the code team standing around. They never just stood around.
I knew it was you.
I knew you decided to leave.
A “Sentinel Event,” is what this is called in hospital terms. Something that should never, under any circumstance, happen. Something that could have been prevented. Something for which blame can be placed on someone, something, anything. Blame had to be placed.
I cried like I’ve never cried before. I hated myself. I blamed myself. You trusted me. I had the keys and you trusted that I’d use them to help you.
We called the Tribe to tell them that you’d gone. “Oh, he finally did it,” they said. He finally did it… he finally…did it. These words have stuck in my head like an invasive song for the past two years.
You finally did it.
In the days after you left us, we found your journals. You talked about the abuse, neglect, and thousands of cracks you had fallen through before coming to us. We were working against 17 years of being told you were worthless by everyone who you thought you could trust.
I still think about you. Not every day anymore, but I feel you when the wind is blowing. When the sun is shining. I feel you and the decision you made. I remember being so angry. Why would you do this? Why would you leave us all here to blame ourselves? But those thoughts rapidly turn from resentment to sadness, loss, and regret.
I had the keys, but opened all the wrong doors.
You are free now. You are no longer in pain. You can listen to music and live in the wind just like you always wanted to.
Do I still have the keys? Sometimes I drink and the words echo in my mind. “It was my fault. It was my fault. It was all my fault.”
But I have keys.
I have countless friends and family on the other end of the phone who know what a late night “It was my fault” text means. It instills panic. It is an emergency. I am still not okay.
But now I understand. I will always have keys.