34. I stayed on the bus

“Years ago I had a friend who just couldn’t take it any more. We were all quite young really, not all that long out of high school, so really who of us at that time knew anything much at all? Later he was going through some tough times in his life, and it wasn’t all that long since his parents had split-up, so Mike had just been through that and the pressure of finishing high school (I used to ride to school with him on the bus), and you know how some people have a harder time at that, well Mike was one of them. Also his dad really put some hard expectations on him, a really ignorant old-school ‘toughen-up’ type attitude. We all noticed, and when the topic came up we all kind of thought it was the dad’s putting his own shitty life dealings, which were all his own doing as far as we could tell, on to Mike.

“And there was that whole young-and-on-his-own insecurity thing going on with Mike, and at that stage of things I suppose we were all going through this to some degree… but Mike got the short straw with all that. It was so obvious that he was at a loss and not really doing fine, and he was smoking a lot of dope then too. He was the only one of our group who really got into that.

“It seemed like Mike was trapped. He really didn’t have the capacity, couldn’t shoulder all of the extra weight that was being dished out. And this from people who should know better, who should care and worry and take steps to do what they can to make it easier…. not make it harder.

“No one really expected that his mental health would crack like that. But I suppose being loaded up with the extra crap from everything else wouldn’t have helped. And maybe I shouldn’t say crack, because he seemed to slide into that state, like it was too steep, and gravelly, to hold on. Mike lost it and ended up at a psych hospital. I’m not even sure how he got there. I went in once and his younger brother was there, and I remember him sitting there complaining to Mike about how their mum was treating him… like Mike could deal with his problems. The brother was talking like they were still at home and the parents might be able to be reasoned with — he was so oblivious.

“Now, looking back, it seemed that we were actually no help. Mike’s family, his friends, us, we must have been so inept and stupid about what was needed, about how we could have helped. We just didn’t know, we were all so thick. It would be easy to lay the blame for his ending it all like that on Mike’s state of mind, but then again how did that come to be… there’s a cause and effect thing happening too, isn’t there? Even at the time, and especially just after what he did, which would haunt us forever, I know that a few people had the dilemma to grapple with about what to do or not do, and all that amounted to was a whole lot of inaction. Someone, or all of us, or me, should have stepped up. But no one did. I used to ride to school with Mike on the bus. Now it was like I kept going, but he got off. I think afterwards there was a lot of passing the buck around.”

Ever since, or at least when Benny was of a mind to remember his friend Michael’s predicament and the conditions the preceded his suicide, Benny recognised that there could definitely be an unevenness of distribution of responsibilities, or duties, or expectations — and that with the people he knew out there, not every set of shoulders is built to take the same weight. Offloading a burden on to someone else may not always be a solution — this was something to remember. And I hoped Benny would remember too that he was also one of the ‘people’ I’m talking about, and that an eye needs to be kept on how wide or otherwise his own shoulders are too.

(Don’t transfer the ox’s load to the cow)
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