Montelongo’s story worth telling

David Montelongo flexes with friend Corey Helsper at the Newton YMCA.

I remember seeing a kid with long hair lifting weights at the Y on a fairly regular basis.

His face blended into the background with the 100 others I saw as I huffed and puffed around the track.

I put a name to that face two weeks ago after I saw it staring out of my email inbox. The face belonged to David Montelongo,who took his life at age 21.

I knew nothing of the kid at the Y in life. I have spent the last two weeks getting to know David Montolongo in death. I have outlined that in the story we published this week.

There’ve been stories I’ve spent more time reporting on, or that have had more risk involved.

But I can’t recall one that I’ve felt as much responsibility for, nor asked as many ethical questions about.

Suicide, child abuse, the foster care system, gun access; All topic brings forth complex beliefs and complex emotions. And all those pieces wrap into the story of a very complex young man.

Despite me questions I felt the story needed to be told.

Jason Miller , David’s adoptive dad, decided that issue for me when came into the office with the obituary he written for his son. He had the simple request that we’d publish it as is. The obituary laid out the facts of David’s life, facts supported by events and by a foot high pile of paperwork Miller later showed to me.
Miller wanted to be open and honest, to highlight the challenges his son faced and to highlight the challenges he overcame.

He wanted to be open about issues that affect so many of us in our community.

The openness he and many of the other people in David’s life shared is uncommon. They all wanted to talk about who he was and how his life and his actions affected them, in good ways and bad.

Some news organizations have policies established relating to the discussion of suicide. At Newton Now we do not report suicides as news stories unless they involve a public figure or in a public place.

In part, we don’t want to romanticize an act for others struggling. In part, we don’t because such an act is incredibly painful and hurtful to those who knew the person. We don’t wish to compound that.

But suicide needs to be talked about, as does child abuse, as does the state foster care system and so many other issues we walk by on a regular basis in our community.

Almost all of you reading this have dealt with one of the parts of David’s story in your own lives.

I think we often keep such struggles to ourselves so as to not appear broken. We put on a smiling sheen or tell people it will be OK.
Sometimes people are not always OK. Sometimes they need help.

As I talked to David’s friend Corey about all the times he had tried to talk David down from suicide I just nodded my head.

I’ve taken such phone calls where I’ve tried to talk someone through the thoughts they’re having or out of what they want to do. I’ve debated calling the police or doing something about it. I’ve went to bed wondering what I would find out in the morning, or hoped that I’ve guilted the person to think about the people who love them more than the pain they wish to go away.

That’s part of being human or a friend. That’s part of an understanding we must have. People do struggle. Everyone even the happy looking kid in the gym.

I didn’t set out to romanticize David’s actions or to paint him as a hero or saint. His tale isn’t necessarily a story about a kid who could have been reached “if only we knew.”
Plenty of people knew David’s struggles. Plenty of people tried to help David. In the end he made his decision. His decision was one informed by his past. Still I don’t think that past makes the hurt any less for those who did care about him and who loved him.

I’ve found myself crying with a good number of those people over the phone or in person.

I don’t know in the end what to make of the story of David. But I’ll share this thought I had lying awake thinking about the story.

People might be a bit like tuning forks.

We always carry an echo of our formation our childhood our tuning.

Some echo love. Some echo pain and hurt. Many of us echo both.

We can find things to harmonize with our note. We can find ways of quieting our note. But a strike hear or collision there there causes us to resonate with our past.
David resonated his past in so many ways, through the humor and irreverence he set up as a defense and through his coping mechanisms that the people around him experienced once they penatrated his defenses. He found harmonies at times with the people in his life. People around him sometimes changed their notes to match with his. And those harmonies at times created a lot of joy and a lot of beauty. And sometimes those notes echoed the earlier dissonance.

David was given a note to struggle with and he did struggle and now that note is silenced.

Outside of that, I’ve been thinking a lot of my walks in the YMCA now. I wish somehow I would have known the random face lifting weights and struck up a conversation with him. I would have much rather gotten to know David Montelongo alive than dead. I think I would have laughed a bit more and cried a bit less. That’s all I got.

-Adam Strunk is the managing editor of Newton Now