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The Forest That Haunts Me After My Friend’s Suicide

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

My feet crush the flame-colored leaves deeper in the auburn of the Georgia clay as I sprint towards the creek in the back of my house. I am pursuing the boy who weaves through the forest before me. This is our routine. He comes in the dawn to collect me, and when I follow, he flees to the river with me in his wake. The crisp fall air pulls back my curls, lacing each platinum strand in the chill of October. My face flushes with heat. Ducking under the bough of the trees thriving in the damp soil next to the stream, I push myself to match his pace. Running parallel to the creek, I come to a stray root bursting from the bank and cascading out over the creek bed. With both feet I push off of it, landing on all fours against the hill at the other side. The dank, earthy moss huffs its scent up at me as it flattens under the force of my landing. I scramble up the embankment and peer up at him. I scan his silhouette in the barely lit forest as my love for him flutters its light wings against my chest. He glances over his shoulder and smirks at me, teasing me, taunting me; and it is this face that haunts my dreams the night I hear of his death.

I can hear the young, hearty laughter of my playmate resounding against the cliff at the far side of the larger river my creek feeds into. My heartbeat hiccups as he pauses to turn to me and wave me forward, faster. He is older than me by a few years and so is easily able to outrun me. I hear his sister, my dearest friend, calling in the distance for us and I smile. The sun has just risen and its rose-pink bleeds onto my cheeks as I chase him. I dig my heels in deeper against the forest floor, elating in the crunch of the fallen leaves and sticks as they cry out at my passing. The colors of the world bleed together in artistry as I push further into the forest.

He is tall, fair-skinned, with charcoal hair that cascades lightly in front lively, playful eyes. His sister is younger than me, though only slightly, and her chestnut braids dance in the wind as she races across the flatlands to beat us to the river. I slow as I come to the concrete bridge. It crosses the polluted pool of stagnant water, full of decaying brush and covered in the rainbow of discarded oil. Then, as it takes a sharp left, it passes over the waterfall connecting the creek to the river. Later, I will learn these concrete skeletons we run across are part of a water mill that used the current of the Big Cotton Indian River as an energy source for the surrounding area, but at this time, I only know that following them will get me to the river.

He laughs at my slight hesitation when navigating the 2-foot wide concrete bridge, but all I see is me falling 30 feet to rocks below with the water, so I slowly make my way athwart it. As my foot touches solid ground I break into a sprint, sliding down the hill, jumping over the thistles, and the brush begins to clear as I near the river. He’s already met his sister on the rocks in the middle of the river as I break out from the forest onto the bank. I begin hopping from one rock to another and make my way to them, landing finally next to her. I embrace her. I see him over her shoulder and notice he’s lacing his fingers through the slimy hairs of moss as it flows with the water. It is in this place, on these rocks, that I come to find myself.

The line of rocks is a simple one. Most of the rocks barely peek out of the water by more than a few inches, but they are close enough together so one can easily make one’s way to the middle of the river. A cliff of ferns rises up on the opposing side of the water, high enough to block out the sun after four in the evening. On our side of the river there is just the bank, the mouth where the creek’s waterfall feeds into the river, and the flatlands with the bushes of thistle that pop out from the ground every 2 feet or so. Then a hill rises sharply and eventually fades into the grass of his backyard. My house is around the corner and cannot be seen from these rocks.

In my teens I follow him still, though more slowly, through the brush and we come out to these rocks and place our feet in the river. We talk about our lives as the water pushes time past us, its babbling singing the song in my heart. Sometimes, as we make our way home deep in the evening, his fingers find mine, and I flush in the darkness.

We come out to the rocks and talk about his life. His sister, with whom I am very close, often joins in our endeavors, but other times it remains just the two of us. We talk about his school, his family, his music and his games. We regularly reminisce on all the dangerous things we did as children and how we’d managed to survive. We remember how we’d swing from branches on the cliff and drop into the river, never knowing just how deep it is. We recall our naivety in how we’d swim, speeding down the river with the current, and how we always manage, by some strand of luck, to pull ourselves out. We talk about how we ruled as children, king and queen of this majestic forest, full of make-believe adventure and never-ending wonder. We talk about many things on these rocks. I laugh at his jokes, learn from his wisdom and keep his secrets safe. I gain reverence for his gentle soul and romantic nature. Through the years, the crescendo of resentment for those who abuse this quality grows with every word he speaks.

I loved him for over half of my life. He loved me too, sometimes, and sometimes he loved others more.

We bring food to the woods and find nooks to hide in and he brushes my hair from my face and loves me, until he goes home to call his other and I go home to struggle as the scent of his cologne fades from my skin. When they hurt him like I never will, I go to his house and hold his hand as he confides in me. I cry with him in his sorrow as I chase away his demons with comforting words, and I play with his hair until he falls asleep. I stay with him through the night and do what is needed to make everything beautiful for him again. When my life grows difficult he whisks me away into a world of peace as he holds me in his arms. He leads me to the forest where we watch the seasons change the leaves from our hideout, lying on the damp forest floor, where time can’t find us and life’s troubles can’t quite get through the brush. Sometimes, as we lie together under the stars, he muses about marrying me, because I am the only girl who never lets him down.

I was away when I heard of his death, but as soon as I could, I went to the forest, searching for something to prove to me that he was still here.

The forest is empty without him. The leaves no longer orchestrate my symphony and the babbling of the river is only noise now, with no more lyrics to the love song it used to sing.

I don’t go to the woods very much anymore.

When we were young, we didn’t notice the snakes and the currents and the heights and the ivy. Without him to chase there, it simply isn’t worth the risk. But sometimes, as my mood follows the sun in its set, I find myself wandering to the river, remembering him. I cross the creek, lightly stepping on the outreached root; I can cross it with one step now. I lightly tread across the industrial skeleton of the watermill and slowly make my way down the rocky hill to the flatlands. I weave between the thistle bushes and balance my way down the line of rocks, to the middle of the river. And I sit. I sit, and it kills me to know that he killed himself. In his suicide note, he spoke to me; he told me he wished he could be happy like we were when we were children in the forest, and I wish I could be that happy too. The wind sighs its sympathy for me, and the frogs and crickets wail in my sorrow because the woods are desolate now, and they don’t sing pleasure anymore, just pain.

Rice, K. (2014). On the Forest that Raised Me: Literary Non-Fiction Essay. Cygnet, 2014. Clayton State University, Morrow, GA.Rice, K. (2014). On the Forest that Raised Me: Literary Non-Fiction Essay. Cygnet, 2014. Clayton State University, Morrow, GA.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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