Not A Good Friend
Junior was over six feet tall with a good physique and a winning smile. Although he was a nice looking young man, I did not like him. As a matter of fact, few people in Juvenile Hall liked him. He had no friends among the other residents and he stretched the patience of the staff to the limit.
It is very common for an adolescent boy to be obnoxious at times, and in Juvenile Hall, the population of obnoxious boys is often higher than normal… but Junior out did them all.
I had watched Junior from a distance and had little desire to know him. When he approached and asked to talk with me, I groaned inside because I knew that he would demand a great deal of my time.
When I sat down to talk with Junior, he began by venting his hatred for his father who, after getting his mother pregnant with him, disappeared. He then expressed his hatred for his mother who also deserted him and left he and his two sisters to be raised in institutions. He went on to described how much he hated Juvenile Hall and its staff and residents. He hated everybody and railed against his life which had been so painful and unfair. Finally, he got around to why he wanted to talk to me – He even hated God.
I sat quiet and listened, refusing to react when he said that he hated God. He was surprised when I did not rise to the bait because he was very good at saying things to get people riled up, but I had refused to buy into his game.
I met with Junior frequently after that and the same tirade was repeated many times. Occasionally he would be vulnerable and verbalize his pain in a calm and rational manner but most of the time he just spewed hate and anger at everybody and everything.
Because Junior insisted on controlling the conversation, and had little desire to interact with me on a deeper level, I did not see our relationship making much progress. He just took up more and more of my time until it became difficult to get away from him.
I knew there was much pain and hurt in Junior but he seldom let me see beyond the surface. I had no inkling that he was suicidal until Juvenile Hall called and said that Junior had just tried to take his life.
What had frightened the staff was that Junior had made no prior threats or gestures to warn them that he had been thinking in these terms.
“You had better come down here Chuck,” the staff said. “Junior has left a suicide note addressed to you.”
The note read as follows:
“I just wanted to thanx you for all the talks we had. And let you know that your one and probley the true fried I have (had) so it’s only right to say my goodbye’s to you. Since I know I’m no going to even see you in God. But please don’t be mad ant me Chuck. I’m sorry. It’s just to much to take not have but one person like you in this whole world. I lost the will to live. So please forgive me Chuck.”
I felt rotten after reading this letter. I had spent time with Junior out of duty rather than compassion. If I had cared more I might have been able to see the suicide attempt coming and help prevent it. What really haunted me was the fact that our time together meant so much to him when it had meant so little to me.
Alex Lazzarino and E. Kent Hayes, in their book Find A Safe Place, wrote:
“He (the delinquent) doesn’t think in terms of volunteer relationships… or caring on the part time basis. To him, just like any other kid, you don’t care halfway, you don’t like just a little bit. The way kids see it, if you become friends, you are friends for a lifetime… if you love you love for a lifetime… and if you give him anything less… you will destroy him.”
Junior liked me because he thought I liked him. He trusted me because he thought I cared. I did care in a general manner but not to the extent that I should have. I had pretended to care much of the time and he was not sophisticated enough to see through my rouse.
My mistake was in seeing Junior as obnoxious. He was not obnoxious, he was just needy. I was the one who was obnoxious, because I was more interested in my own comfort level than in the needs of a hurting young man.