Early on Sunday, July 26th, a young man struck a tree and was pronounced dead at the scene; his name was Riley.

Our school opened less than 15 years ago and it has seen seven members of its community perish: five students and two teachers — mostly the result of motorist accidents. Our school is young and our community is small; so when tragedy strikes, it practically knocks us out: shocks us, saddens us, and shatters us. When you go to a small high school with less than 500 kids, everyone knows everyone to an extent. For the most part, you’re able to match a name to a face and if they’re in your grade, you’ve probably had (or will have) at least one class with them at some point.

I didn’t know Riley well, and in fact, the only word I probably ever said to him was, “Hello” — at the most — and therefore I’m not going to assume the position of speaking on his death as if we were close or shared any more of a connection than we did; to do so would be to insult the relationships he formed throughout his life. Rather, I’d like to focus on the fact that the loss of his young life was a tragedy and encourage those who were close to him (and are mourning him) to rely on each other for support.

We entered high school as anxious, puberty-stricken teens who were crossing the threshold from childhood to adulthood. Proudly, over the course of four years, we trampled the threshold with our friends and family and we grew up — quickly. Indirectly, we’d all experienced a lot together. We built up strong friendships, tore down toxic relationships, tried to be who we are while simultaneously finding ourselves, and tried to learn and work and succeed and live. Just as my friends were there for me throughout high school and vice-versa, Riley was there for his friends as well. We had our own world and talents to find and strengthen. I may not have been friends with Riley, but we grew up in the same area, were surrounded by similar people, and were exposed to a similar environment.

At graduation, we stood in our robes and received our diplomas — smiling. We all knew we would be parting ways and we knew that, for the most part, we would never see or speak to some people again. Maybe we’d bump into each other at some obscure location like the superstore or the park ten years from now, but probably not. We were going off into the world and I thought we’d all be safe and happy and healthy; frankly, anything else never occurred to me. I thought that was the last time I would see the majority of my classmates — I was wrong.

At the visitation, people, those close to Riley especially, looked so disheartened and tired. Those who normally smiled didn’t, and most looked like they’d aged a good thirty years and hadn’t slept for a week: their eyes were droopy and their lips seemed stuck in a permanent quiver — this is the last memory I’ll have of a lot of my classmates, unfortunately. Although he wasn’t my friend, he was a friend to someone — to lots of people.

We’ve relied upon each other for four years, and I urge us to rely upon each other now. We’ve looked toward one another in times of distress and we’ve suffered emotional turmoils together. Over the years, we’ve strengthened our friendships by turning to people — friends and family — who understood us; I urge all my fellow classmates who were close with Riley to do so now. We’ve built networks and systems of support over a span of four years; now, we need to employ them. We need each other now more than ever.

Lead Image Credit: Gratisography