A few months back, a young man named Alec contacted me. He'd read Apophis: A Love Story for the End of the World on Wattpad and thought the story would make a great comic book or graphic novel. I didn't know much more about Alec at the time except that he was 15 years old and an incredibly talented artist and illustrator.
Over the next few months, Alec offered me a small window into his world through concept art and sketches of my characters and their environs. We communicated about color choice and shade and typography. It was exciting witnessing Sam and Nora come alive through someone else’s eyes in vivid inks and colors.
He and his design team even created a book cover for the comic and the first panel of the Prologue. I was consistently impressed and in awe of this young man's maturity and his talent.
Most recently, Alec emailed me for more details about Sam's tattoo—a bird on a string—as he'd begun to sketch it.
I received an e-mail a few days ago from someone on Alec’s design team telling me that Alec had committed suicide. He apparently suffered from depression and anxiety and could no longer endure the bullying in his life.
I've been sitting with this news for a few days, not sure how to respond or react, but knowing that I needed to do something to mark Alec's life and his potential. I couldn't just file away his e-mails and his art as if they—or he—had never existed.
We’ve all been touched by suicide or an unexpected death. For many, the death of a childhood friend is often our first experience with death and mortality. According to the folks over at DoSomething.org, two-thirds of people who complete suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths. Depression that is untreated, undiagnosed, or ineffectively treated is the number 1 cause of suicide. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds and 2nd for 24 to 35-year-olds.
This blog post is for Alec. It’s a place for his art and his potential to be memorialized and preserved. And it's for any of you reading this who are presently enduring a challenging time. I see you, and I'm here for you.
One of Alec's final sketches was of Sam's tattoo—a bird tethered to a string.
"Sorry. Did I wake you up?"
She shut her eyes and shook her head. Her loose blonde hair fluttered around her face. "No. But you should get some sleep, hun."
I felt a tug inside my chest at the small endearment. "Maybe I just want to watch you sleep."
"Creeper," she teased.
My eyes fluttered when she traced her fingers along the tattoo on my hip. She dragged the pad of her index finger along the dark lines.
"Tell me about this."
I would have been content to let her keep touching me without need for conversation, but she clearly had other ideas.
"It's a bird on a string," I said. My breath hitched when her fingertips traveled dangerously close to a more intimate area, but then they returned to their previous innocent spot on my hip.
"I can see that," she said, lightly swatting at me. "But what does it mean? Why did you get it?"
"It's stupid. I was 18," I said, as if that answer alone would satisfy her. I should have known better by now.
Nora frowned and removed her hand from my hip. "You're not very good at telling stories."
I grabbed her hand and put it back on my tattoo. I'd tell her whatever she wanted to know as long as she kept touching me. "It represents the need to be free from constraints."
Her fingertips resumed their dance along my skin.
"I love my family, but I was never able to be myself around them. They never would have accepted me if I …" I trailed off.
Nora's hand paused, but she didn't remove it completely. "If you what?"
I bit my lower lip. I had never said the words out loud before. "If I had told them I was gay."
Nora didn't blink. "You should have. Maybe they would have surprised you."