Gayle Forman: Getting to Know Suzy Gonzalez

Gayle Forman: Getting to Know Suzy Gonzalez

Through the stories her loved ones told and the photos they shared, I could viscerally feel the tractor beam of Suzy’s intelligence and charisma. It was hard to reconcile this dazzling young woman with the girl who, one early spring day, drank industrial poison in a motel room. It was easier to understand why her friends and family had been so blindsided by her death. Suzy shined so bright, whilst hiding her darker secret, which was that she had been suffering a deep, clinical and ultimately fatal bout of depression.

The disconnect between the dazzling and depressed Suzy was mind-boggling enough. But what added another gruesome layer to her story was the suicide support group she had turned to in her time of need. It wasn’t a typical support group, the kind that offers help and suggests therapy and medication – which are very effective in treating depression. Rather, this online group encouraged her to take her own life. One man in particular told her suicide was her ‘God-given right’ and offered specific instructions on everything, from how to order poison to how to craft a suicide note (a time-delayed email, which was what Suzy did). Among the many what-ifs Suzy left behind, was this one: What might’ve happened had she received the right kind of help? The answer to that, tragically, must go unanswered.

Five years after I wrote that article about Suzy, I was still thinking about her. One day, I was imagining how it would have felt to be one of the people who loved her, who thought she was one of the brightest stars in the sky, and then to receive that out-of-the-blue suicide note.

I regret to inform you I have had to take my own life.

I imagined a young woman opening such a note. She was tough and angry and heartbroken, reeling from the unexpected death of her best friend. This was Cody. Her best friend, Meg, became my stand-in for Suzy. This was the start of I Was Here, which evolved not into a book about Suzy, or even Meg, but about the ones left behind, grappling with the tragic mystery of suicide.

Since I Was Here came out, I’ve talked about Suzy a lot. I’ve got to know her remarkable parents, Mike and Mary, who rather than being sunk by this great heartbreak, have become outspoken advocates for suicide prevention and mental health awareness. They travel the country talking about Suzy, about who she was and who she might have become had she not kept her depression secret. They urge people not to hide their depression in shame – because why should anyone be ashamed of having an illness? – but to expose it to the light of day, and to get the right kind of help.

A few months after I Was Here came out, I had the honor of joining Mike and Mary and novelist Jay Asher, whose book 13 Reasons Why is also about a young woman who takes her own life. They spoke beautifully about Suzy, introducing her to a whole generation of young people who would never know her, but who might be helped by her. As her father Mike said, in life Suzy was always trying to help people. So too in death.

To learn more about Suzy Gonzales, visit www.suzyslaw.com.