Four years ago today a teenage boy named Cory Welch committed suicide. I remember the first day I met Cory. He was a freshman in my Spanish 1 class and it was my first year of teaching. Cory had bleached blonde hair, baggy clothes, and eyes that showed maturity beyond his years. I had him in my first period class and he sat in the front row, near my desk. Everyday Cory struggled to keep his head off his desk, he was clearly not a morning person. Sometimes I would tell Cory to go get a drink or splash some water on his face so that he would wake up.
In class, Cory was easily liked by all his classmates. He was gentle and sweet and very tender-hearted. Cory laughed a lot and always made everyone else laugh when he performed in group skits. He was always silly, and although I would characterize Cory as shy, he had a confidence about him and he didn’t really seem to care what other people thought.
One day Cory went to the bathroom and after 10 to 15 minutes I noticed he was still gone. My room was right near the bathroom, so I opened my door and peaked around the corner to see if he was in the hallway or at the water fountain. When I didn’t see him, I asked the male teacher across the hall from me if he would go into the bathroom to see if Cory was there. After a few minutes the teacher came out and told me that Cory had locked himself in the stall, he was crying and he would not come out. At that point administrators got involved, as well as the police officer. I didn’t see Cory for the rest of the class period. During the passing period I gathered Cory’s stuff and took it to the conference room where I found Cory, his dad, and a counselor. I had no idea what was going on at the time, but Cory, a student I barely knew, came up to me and gave me a hug and thanked me for bring him his bags. This was the beginning of a unique student-teacher relationship. One in which Cory confided in me.
Cory’s family had problems just like any other family. I learned that Cory had a twin brother with special needs that absolutely adored him. I had the pleasure of meeting all of Cory’s family at one point or another. I remember a specific incident when Cory had stayed late after school so that he could retake a test. I remember walking him out of the building and his brother being extremely angry with him because he and his mom had been waiting for quite some time. I later learned that Cory looked after his brother a lot and that they were pretty much inseparable. Cory told me a lot of things in confidence about problems with his parents, his brother, his friends, and even though he’s not here anymore, I won’t betray that trust by revealing any of that information. I did what I could to help Cory, but more than anything, I just listened.
I was lucky to get Cory in my Spanish 2 class the next year. I actually had Cory and his girlfriend in my class. I hadn’t talked to him since the year before and I could tell he had changed. I don’t really know what he was into or doing, but something was different. He seemed like he didn’t really care as much, like life had beat him down and apathy had set it. The thing is, it’s not unusual for teenager to act apathetic about everything, in fact, it’s totally normal. Cory missed a lot of school and during my class his girlfriend was in a pretty bad car accident and missed weeks of school. My class was right in the middle of lunch, so when Cory’s girlfriend wasn’t at school he always asked if he could just stay in my classroom and sleep during lunch. Sometimes we would talk, if he felt like it, and other times he would just sleep while I ate lunch at my desk and worked. I tried to encourage Cory as much as I could and give him advice and mentor him. I’m not arrogant enough to think that anything I did impacted his life in a positive way, but I tried to just listen and help in whatever way I could. That’s not to say that if I ever thought that Cory was in trouble I would have immediately told his parents and the school councilors. I don’t really know if Cory was depressed, but I fear that he was. All I know is that after that year Cory dropped out of school and started working with his dad.
One of my volleyball players, Michelle, was one of Cory’s close friends. It was through her that I found out about Cory’s death. She told me about him picking out a shirt and telling his family that they would never forget that shirt. She told me that he had hung himself in his backyard, and we cried. I was so upset and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I was supposed to be teaching Spanish, the remainder of that week I talked with my classes about depression and teen suicide. I found resources on the Internet and true stories and my classes shared their thoughts and experiences and we had an open dialogue about all the difficulties and stresses teenagers face. We also talked about the responsibility that friends have to other friends to do something when they see signs of serious depression and hear their friends talk about suicide. I told them that even if they think their friend is kidding, they should take it seriously and discuss it further, and if needed, tell an adult.
Cory didn’t have a funeral, but instead there was a memorial service held in his memory. All of this happened during volleyball season and the memorial was on the same night as my team’s first tournament. Anyone that knows me at all knows that I am a complete wreck at funerals. It doesn’t matter if I knew the person really well or never met them, I don’t handle it well. I had recently been to a funeral of another former student that committed suicide and I was such a mess. It was, hands down the worst funeral I’ve ever been to. Going to a funeral of someone that dies is hard, but going to a funeral of a teenager that committed suicide is in a league of its own. In the end, I chose to coach my team and just try to forget. I admit it, I didn’t want to think about it. That night was the best night of my coaching career. My team played out of their head and beat a team that was clearly better than us. The difference was, my team played with heart, and I definitely had some serious emotion that night. On the bus ride home I told my team about Cory and I broke down crying. I told my team how much they meant to me and how they turned a horrible day into an amazing accomplishment. I felt so torn that day. I was so sad, but so proud of my girls. Whether they know it or not, they helped me get through it.
I think about Cory all the time. I wonder what was going on his head. I wonder if I could have said or done something more. I think about how devastated his parents and his brother must have been. I pray for his family in their loss. Even though it’s been four years, it seems like just yesterday Cory was sitting in my classroom and I was walking by his desk with my hand on his shoulder asking him if he was okay. I wish he wouldn’t have lied to me, I wish he would have asked for help.