“Man, you were so fucked up on Friday,” John laughs and claps Evan on the back when they greet one another at school.
Evan stares at John in bewilderment and their friends add their agreement.
“Did we do something on Friday night?” Evan laughs.
“Yeah man, the birthday party? You jumped off the roof of the garage.” John tells him.
“Oh shit, that sounds awesome!” Evan’s face lights up. I blink at them across the table.
“Wait,” I try to make my voice sound light and inquisitive, “Evan, you don’t even remember going out?”
Evan laughs and shakes his head, “I guess not,” He chuckles, “Sounds sick, though.”
I manage to laugh but my stomach squirms uncertainly. But, I mean, it’s Evan. Why should I expect anything else?
At my high school, there was a very big drinking culture. This was especially true because we were in Europe so students could legally drink at age 18 – and could more or less drink at age 16 without anyone batting an eye – waiter, cop, parent, or otherwise. This meant there were lots of students who went our fairly regularly, barhopping downtown or else planning extravagant parties once a month.
Don’t get me wrong, Evan really is one of my favorite people in the world. Every interaction I’ve had with him has been kind, humorous, and he often looks out for others when they’re out. Evan is a great kid; I just find it unfortunate in retrospect how much my friends and I let pass us by.
He’s not perfect, either. There was a blowout in tenth grade when a classmate accused him of sexual assault – but they were both too drunk and high for anyone to prove anything. He once told me he was lost in rural France and chose to spend his money on weed instead of getting home (I find when I think back on high school I also wonder at the wealth culture prevalent in student’s weekend jaunts to other countries or reckless waste of money.) He once sat down with me after lunch to do math homework and reeked of weed (cigarettes wouldn’t have surprised me, weed in the middle of the day caught me off guard.) I think my classmates and I often brushed off student’s tendencies toward alcohol or drugs as accommodating the stress of school. Our program was very rigorous and I often joked I didn’t know anyone performing highly in the IB who wasn’t ‘real fucked up when it comes down to it.’
The crazy thing is, had Evan been one of my close friends I probably would have done something. I would have talked to them about it. But at the end of the day, we all just sort of agreed Evan was Evan. We joked about his behavior, even teachers could laugh about Evan so long as he kept his grades up (he did when it counted.) I think we all let it slide because of the school’s culture, because he was so happy and nice – he wasn’t a recluse or moody or failing classes. Even if his actions were red flags, his behaviors were not. Everyone liked Evan, and Evan liked everyone. I wonder sometimes if that was true for himself – or if his friends knew truths the rest of us didn’t. But then, his friends were just like him, fun and amicable but perhaps falling apart.
I never did anything about Evan. The last time I saw him was on our grad trip in Barcelona, in a dark apartment suffocated with weed and cigarette smoke. My classmates were all plastered, stoned, more than I had ever seen before.
In contrast, Amelia, Jameson, and I spent our trip at the zoo and the beach and walking around the city during the day. At night we stayed in to watch TV. Seeing my classmates like that left me feeling nauseated, and worried about whether they were all going to be okay. We kept telling ourselves we would be, after we finished school, after the IB was behind us, after we were out of the house. But their idea of okay seemed pretty messed up.
I saw Evan that night at the party, I saw a lot of my classmates for the last time then. He sat on the couch, university-bound with a joint in one hand and a beer in the other, still smiling. I can’t help but wonder if, despite his laughter, he was falling apart at the seams. Gasping for breath with no one to listen because – it was Evan, why should we expect anything else?
-Grace T, November 2017
*All names have been changed for individual’s privacy
*This post was originally written for a university assignment regarding bystander intervention for at-risk peers. The assignment regarded a time we either did or did not intervene. As of the time of posting, Evan is doing well but I’ve had very little contact with him since high school ended.