November 19, 2018

Ashtrays and Diet Coke

You did it even though we told you not to. That you would hurt too many people just to make yourself happy. We would miss you. And causing other people pain wasn’t good. That you had to be patient. The medicine would eventually work. But you finally gave up paddling through life and let the waves take you out to sea.

I remember mom telling me when she found out you were gone. I had never cried so much over a person; but you weren’t any other person, you were my brother. She said you hadn’t answered the doorbell at your apartment. And the police had to come and knock down the door. And when they came inside to find you, all they found was an empty body. You had left. Gone away to a better place, they told me. But I don’t know another place. And even before you died you weren’t present. Your body walked around and was active but you were nowhere to be found.

I remember you smoked. And that we had an ashtray for you in our garden by the pool. And you wouldn’t stop when I asked you to. I told you all the bad effects that could come from smoking, but you didn’t care. I remember all that Diet Coke you drank had ruined your teeth. They were aged teeth, too old for you. And you barely came to visit. You only came sometimes, and you never looked happy. Your hearty laughs were rare, but you could always make me laugh. You gave me happiness even when you were deprived of it. When you did laugh, I was never sure it would last. Your contentment could withstand time or be gone in a second, just like you.

But when you left you hurt everyone. I remember flying to your house in Israel. The tiny rooms were aching to release the masses of people who had come to cry over you at the shiva. And that park across the street that I wouldn’t go to because I thought I shouldn’t play. As much as the swings and slides cajoled me to come play with them, I didn’t leave the house. I thought you would be mad if I had fun.

But when all of your family went around in a circle to say what we missed the most about you: I was stuck. Maybe if we had spent more time together, and maybe if you hadn’t gone so soon I would have had something to say. I just said that I loved when you visited us, while other people had real memories with you. But I didn’t have those, and I never will. You made me grow up too soon. I was only eight when I learned that people could and would end their life. You had the power, and you used it to leave us. And when you took your life, you also took away a part of me: my innocence.

Anjoum Fried Agrama is a ninth-grader at Marlborough School. Anjoum’s brother would have been 35 on Nov. 12.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the December issue is Nov. 15; deadline for the January issue is Dec. 15. Send submissions to