Last weekend, 17-year-old Carlos Vigil of Albuquerque, New Mexico committed suicide. He had dedicated his teenage years to being an advocate against bullying, a subject he knew all too well, as he'd been mercilessly bullied most of his life for his weight, his acne, his glasses, and mostly, the fact that he was gay. His suicide note came in the form of one final message posted to Twitter.
It's difficult to even express real outrage or feel real heartbreak anymore if we're not closely, personally impacted by an event that might induce it. In the Internet era, we're so inundated with causes to fight for and offenses to stand against and people to raise up onto our shoulders or tear down and kick hard because they've done good or bad; after a while it all becomes a blur and we become cynical and desensitized to what years ago would have stuck in our brains or hearts and stayed there for longer than a news cycle, what would have had a truly lasting impact on us. If you want to stay sane these days, you have to learn to detach at least somewhat and not let everything get to you for the simple reason that there's just so much out there to get to you now.
Tomorrow there will be a thousand new tragedies we'll read about, a thousand new traumas strobed at us that someone somewhere expects us to be angry about or grief-stricken over. There will be names our culture will latch onto, common enemies it will abhor, victims it will rally around. They will preoccupy us for a time then be gone to make way for the next fascination. No matter how sincere we are in our emotional effusion, it's an evanescent thing that can be transplanted onto a new host over and over again, often without our even realizing it's happening. As long as we're connected to an entire world well outside our front door, we'll likely never run out of things to concern ourselves with even if each is only temporary.
I suppose what I'm saying is that a couple of weeks or maybe months from now there will be another kid something like Carlos Vigil for us to embrace in a cleansing outpouring of cultural compassion. There will be someone new to offer up as an example of a world gone insane and to mourn as a needless victim of senseless violence and a lack of understanding that led to a complete loss of hope for the future. We'll see this kind of thing again. We'll see another young person bullied to the point where he or she feels like the only recourse left is to lay down and die. There will be more suicide notes. More devastated families. More friends left behind to ask why. There will be more expressions of anguish and frustration from those who somehow survived the lifetime of abuse that claimed that latest kid, that kid who decided that he or she simply couldn't survive it -- didn't want to.
There will be more.
But today, even though those other young people -- those children -- are already out there, the dead walking among us, there is only Carlos Vigil. There is only his story, because his story is the story of every one of those kids. The tortured life he led is in so many ways the same life those who came before him suffered through -- the ones who gave up too soon, perhaps convinced not only that things would never get better but that they didn't deserve for things to get better -- and it will ultimately be the same life those who follow his path into the darkness suffer through. The existence they feel they desperately need to escape because even not existing would be better. The life that already feels like death.
Carlos's mother tells a story about how when he was eight-years-old he had a lunchbox with a big smiley face on it. The kids would tease him about it. They'd call him names. One day, they grabbed the lunchbox and smashed it against the ground, breaking it apart. That was how it started, she said, and it never relented from there. Carlos was a little boy with a smiley face lunchbox -- and that's why he deserved to be made fun of and abused. Carlos was a chubby, awkward kid with glasses -- and that's why he deserved to be made fun of and abused. Carlos was a teenager with acne -- and that's why he deserved to be made fun of and abused. Carlos was gay -- and that's why he deserved to be made fun of and abused. He wasn't like everybody else -- but in reality he was exactly like everybody else. He had a mother and a father, and friends, and a future, and dreams that could have come true.
He had so much. He had so much to live for.
Carlos was loved. He deserved to be loved. He deserved to grow to realize that. He deserved to live. He deserved to be who he was, because who he was was incredible, even if he went to his grave never knowing it. That is far and away the biggest tragedy in all of this, in the untimely end to his far-too-short life: that he had no idea how great he was. How great he always was and how great he was always going to be.
He was special.
There will never be another Carlos Vigil.
But there will be too many more like him.
Unless we find a way to finally stop this madness.
Unless we remember Carlos Vigil.