TW: suicide

It’s confession time again. Are you ready for another one? Here it is: I was not a very good teenager. What I mean is that I was a total failure as a teenager. And when I say failure I really mean that, as far as typical teenager behavior goes, I did not conform to stereotypical teenager behavior hardly at all.

I was eighteen years old the first time I tried alcohol, unless you count the time I accidentally took wine at communion. I was raised in a church that only served grape juice; when I was invited to perform a musical solo at a neighboring church, I didn’t realize that one line served grape juice and the other served wine. That was an unpleasant, unwelcome surprise. And I have never smoked a cigarette or marijuana, never experimented with illegal drugs.

I was a teenager in the 1990s when grunge rock took over the airwaves. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains. If you were to ask me, I could probably only name a few of their songs. I was even in attendance when Pearl Jam was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 and honestly couldn’t have cared less. (I was really only there to see Journey, my favorite band with the greatest vocalist of all time, Steve Perry.) After all the fabulous rock music made in the 1970s and ’80s, I have to say that I felt totally ripped off by the music of my teenage years. It’s supposed to be the music of my generation, but I personally could not identify with it at all.

If you’re not familiar with grunge music, the name implies a lot about the genre. Filled with angst, its raw sound and dark undertones delve deep into trauma, neglect, social and emotional isolation, and a desire for things to be completely different than reality. Perfect music for the typical teenager. Unless that teenager is someone like me.

I couldn’t understand why the music had to sound so angry and unhappy. And what are they saying? I could never understand the lyrics, either. The singers’ voices sounded whiny to me and the guitars were harsh. As someone who has received extensive musical training, grunge music did not resonate with me at all and I made no effort to dig deeper into its underlying messaging.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I discovered the meaning behind Pearl Jam’s 1991 monster hit Jeremy. I had no idea what that song was about until I stumbled upon an article recently and discovered the song was based on the real-life suicide of Jeremy Delle, a 15-year-old who shot himself in front of his English class in Texas. Suddenly the song had an entirely different meaning and gravitas to me.

At home drawing pictures
Of mountain tops
With him on top
Lemon yellow sun
Arms raised in a V

And the dead lay in pools of maroon below

Daddy didn’t give attention
Oh, to the fact that mommy didn’t care
King Jeremy the wicked
Oh, ruled his world

Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today

Clearly I remember
Pickin’ on the boy
Seemed a harmless little fuck
But we unleashed the lion

Gnashed his teeth and bit the recess lady’s breast

How could I forget
And he hit me with a surprise left
My jaw left hurting
Dropped wide open
Just like the day
Oh, like the day I heard

Daddy didn’t give affection, no
And the boy was something that mommy wouldn’t wear
King Jeremy the wicked
Oh ruled his world

Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today

Try to forget this (try to forget this)
Try to erase this (try to erase this)
From the blackboard

Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today

Jeremy spoke in
Spoke in

Jeremy spoke in
Spoke in
Jeremy spoke in class today

Although inspired to write the song after reading about Delle’s suicide in the newspaper, lead singer Eddie Vedder also drew on his own personal experiences in the lyrics. The video below includes an interview with Jeremy’s mother, Wanda, where she tells more about the boy behind the story.

What in the world does all this have to do with autism? In all the information I read, there was no indication that Jeremy Delle had ever been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and I’m not suggesting he might have been on the spectrum. On the face of it, this story has no relation to autism whatsoever.

However, it did trigger something in me. Living with autism every day creates a heightened awareness of social isolation and its effects that others might not see. One recent study found that people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder are three times more likely to attempt suicide than the those without autism.

And, just like Jeremy’s mom, I have a fifteen-year-old son, although mine is on the spectrum. This beautiful, kindhearted, brilliant young man of mine who loves knowledge and nature, but has never – not once in his entire life – had a friend over or been invited to do anything with anyone his own age. This boy who rarely leaves the house except to go to school. He seems happy enough at present. He says it doesn’t bother him, but yet I still worry.

I worry because I know what it’s like to experience social isolation. I know what it feels like to sit alone in a cafeteria full of other people my own age, seemingly invisible. I know what it’s like to feel like there’s not one single person in the world that I could relate to, especially during my teens and early 20s. I know what it feels like to not know how to engage with others socially, to feel like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole, to feel like I was dropped off on the wrong planet. To live in a world that’s made for social people where I don’t belong. And I also know what it’s like to have my son come to me and say that he’s having thoughts of killing himself.

I try to end my posts on a positive note, but unfortunately reality has shown us that life doesn’t always give us the happy ending we want. Not for Jeremy and his family, and not for countless others who, for whatever reason, feel that their continued existence is too much to bear.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, help is available by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

My son at a wildlife refuge near our home.

3 thoughts on “Jeremy

  1. Love ya Liz! I wish I had known more of your struggle when we were in high school. I always enjoyed spending time with you! Your son has a big advantage, a family that understands what he’s dealing with, that’s huge! Hang in there mama!

    Liked by 1 person

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