I remember the day my friend shot himself in the head.
He got into an argument with his girlfriend at the time, put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
He wasn’t a good friend per se, but he was a friend. I liked him, cared about him, and remember always having fun joking around with him. I always remember thinking when I saw him I wanted to say hello and see what he was up to.
I remember sitting next to his girlfriend in class talking to her about what happened and how she was doing. It was a genuine conversation that I never shared.
I remember knowing that no matter how I felt about all of it, a lot of people were hurting a lot more and I should listen more than I talked.
I remember having a soccer game at Wartburg college right after and sharing with my coach what happened. I wasn’t sure I could play. He convinced me to anyway.
It wasn’t long into the game I asked to come out, the ask was met with contention. Eventually I was allowed to sit down and leave the game.
I remember the feeling of not wanting my friend to die and feeling sick with how I felt people would look at him if he lived.
I remember not caring at all about the game. It was the most important part of my coaches day, but not mine. I remember going home and being ashamed to tell my father I didn’t want to play, so I lied and said it was all fine. I don’t fault either of them for this but I remember struggling with the right way to communicate and could only find the words I can’t.
This was the tail end of a long series of difficult things. A few important women who helped raise me had just died from cancer and it was a confusing time. Decades later I still remember wondering if everyone I cared about was supposed to die. It was a peculiar concern I wasn’t able to shake for years. I couldn’t tell you the exact day but I know I was in my mid 20s before I made peace with this.
I ended up having a long discussion with my friend John about all of this. After talking to him, I felt infinitely better. John died last year of a drug overdose and I shut down. I emotionally and physically folded when it happened and it was an uncomfortably familiar feeling.
I’m still heartbroken for my friend. For both of them. For all of them. I miss them greatly. I still pick up the phone to text John once in a while as a habit, forgetting the reality of the situation.
When I say “I can’t” I use it and mean in the same way that I meant when I told my coach “I can’t play, today”.
When someone says “I can’t” I always try to listen more than I talk and appreciate it for what it means.
These few words can mean something very real beyond an apparent unwillingness.
Sometimes things get pretty fucked up and it’s ok not to be able to do something. Let yourself, and let other people.
When someone says I can’t, it’s probably best to assume they mean it. It’s important to use these words selectively. They carry weight.