Image result for 13 reasons why

I knew a few classmates who committed suicide when I was in junior high and high school. While they were earth-shattering events at the time, I can only name one of them now. (Though, to be honest, most of those years are blur for me now, I couldn’t name more than a couple teachers or tell you my locker number or recall the name of any secretary, guidance counselor, or football captain.)

R.B. was sweet, handsome and mercilessly picked on because he was most definitely gay. This was the ’80s and it wasn’t “cool” to be gay yet. One day, he hooked a hose up to an exhaust pipe and died in his parents’ garage. I think about him every time I drive by his former house. I wonder if his mom still lives there. I wonder if she still parks her car there. I wonder if she grieves every day or if it’s gotten better with time.

I wish he would have stayed. I wish he were here to have witnessed the turning tide of public opinion about homosexuality. I’ll bet he’d have had a happy life. Maybe he’d have contributed something cool to the world. But, unfortunately, he checked out early and missed the revolution.

If there’s one thing I hope to impress on my teenage daughters, it’s that nothing is permanent. There is nothing in this world that doesn’t get better with time and nothing that can’t change.

*****

I heard my daughters, 13 and 15, talking about Thirteen Reasons Why, and knew they were watching it on Netflix. I didn’t think much about it until I read an article about the controversy surrounding it: some say it’s suicide fantasy and it glorifies and romanticizes self-harm.

At first glance at the plot summary, I agreed.  A teenage girl commits suicide and leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes that she recorded, one for each of the people who drove her to slit her wrists.

Then, I watched it, and I changed my mind.

******

While I don’t remember many details of H.S., I vividly remember the overwhelming feelings — every. single. this. was. a. big. effing. deal. EVERYTHING was monumental. If some friend didn’t talk to me in study hall, it ruined my whole night and possibly the next day and entire week.  So I can understand the main character’s reaction to seemingly innocuous offenses against her (some were, of course, very major, but…).

But I can also relate to many of the kids on the tapes and why they did what they did, and that, ultimately, they probably didn’t mean to hurt her. They all had their own shit they were dealing with.

What seemed like a cut-and-dry story — suicidal girl gets revenge on kids who bullied her (and they deserved it) — with obvious villains and heroes was not that simple.

Nothing ever is. Life, people, the world… it’s full of gray, layers and layers and layers of it.  Thirteen Reasons Why did a great job of illuminating those layers. You think you know something or someone….you think you know how something is, but… do you? Do you ever?

In the book (yes, it was a book first), Hannah kills herself by swallowing a bunch of pills.  But the producers of the Netflix series chose to change that and make it more brutal and horrifying, not for “ratings,” but to show the harsh reality of suicide and the avoid romanticizing it with a character who just “goes to sleep.”

The suicide scene was graphic. The mother’s reaction to finding her daughter is something I could have seen myself doing — trying to “fix” the situation, comfort her kid, deny the obvious reality that it’s too late. As a parent, it was absolutely gut-wrenching to watch. It’s the stuff of real-life nightmares.

*****

In my family, Thirteen Reasons Why provided an opportunity for some serious conversations with my daughters. We’ve talked about the series — the characters, why they did what they did, why Hannah did what she did, what she could’ve done instead, how Hannah gave up the chance to ever have a relationship with Clay, how there is nothing in life that doesn’t get better with time.

Were not for that series, we’d probably never have discussed these things. Several mom friends I’ve talked with have said the same.

I’ve read that the series has given some students pause in their daily interactions with peers. They’re thinking more about how they treat people and how even the slightest gesture can destroy (or totally build up) someone.  It’s not easy to teach empathy and compassion to self-centered, social-climbing teens who lack impulse control or the wisdom adults have acquired over decades of living and learning, so I’ll give the series props for that.

On the other hand, I can see how some may not feel so positive about the series. I can see how some kids may see this as a damn good way to go out and leave behind a giant “F-you.” I can see how it could cause anxiety in some teens.  And, those are the reasons inspiring the well-meaning warnings to parents, letters from superintendents, and suicide prevention tips from school counselors.  I suppose it can’t hurt.

Ultimately, I think every person views the series differently. We all see it through our own filters and experiences and judgements.

Just like life…and relationships….and politics…  There is an awful lot of gray.