Trey Moses recently completed his senior season for Ball State men’s basketball. No Cardinals player has played more games for the school than Moses. But his impact extends well beyond the court. He’s dealt with depression since middle school and in 2017 endured the suicide of his best friend and Ball State teammate Zachary Hollywood.
This is a letter Moses wrote addressing his battle with depression and coping with loss, with minor edits and the addition of information at the end about how to identify persons at risk.
I look back at my childhood and can only thank my parents for everything they ever did for me. My childhood was filled with many great memories from both parents, although they were separated. They both did their best to always get me what I needed and most of the time what I wanted… some called me spoiled (they were probably right).
But underneath all of those smiles and great memories were secrets being hidden, that could have cost a life.
At 12, a suffocating sadness
“You’re not a bad person for the ways you tried to kill your sadness.”
Seventh grade was the first time I experienced sadness. This was not just normal sadness. I was a 12-year-old boy, not sad about losing basketball games, not sad about getting bad grades or even losing friends. This sadness was unexplainable. This sadness was scary. This sadness took control of a once happy boy and completely destroyed him. The sadness belittled me, suffocating me like a python, completely taking my voice, my breath and my feeling away day by day.
How could any 12-year-old feel the way I did? To wake up and go to bed with one thought on my mind — death. For so long I had thought what everyone’s life would look like without me? Would it be better? Would it be easier? But I told no one and no one could see.
It got to a point where I became too scared. I was finally forced to let someone know.
A friend tries to help
I was known as a person who had a lot of friends and someone that everyone wanted to be around. This girl was the opposite. She was shy, struggled with self confidence and had few friends. But somehow, we became friends — two complete opposites. I was this big African-American kid. She was a scrawny white girl. I played sports. She may not have ever been to a sporting event. But for some reason, she was who I was closest to.
We got to pick our own seats, so we sat next to each other in class. It seemed easy for us to be friends, for us to talk, for us to relate. So, I told her. I felt like I had to. I wrote her a note and passed it to her, describing how I felt sad all the time, the thoughts going through my head and that I wanted to take my life. How does a 12-year-old deal with hearing that? I do not know what I expected in telling her, but I did not expect her to tell someone. I mean I trusted her. But she did. She told our school counselor, and before I knew it, I was called down to the office. I made up stories on what I was feeling, I had felt so embarrassed. She did what she felt was best — what was needed — what was right. But at the time, I made myself a promise to never tell anyone ever again.
High school brings burning, cutting
The thoughts that consumed my daily life continued in high school, only growing worse. I started to harm myself — burning and cutting. But for me, the thought behind it wasn’t for the harm aspect, but to simply feel pain other than the pain going on inside my head. I felt so weak, so ashamed to be who I was. I was a star athlete and pretty popular. I still felt so alone. I still felt so sad and still wanted nothing more than to not be here. I kept to myself, I told no one, and I hid the scars. Very few people knew.
Pain follows him to college
. A change of scenery meant nothing. I left everyone back in Louisville to go to Ball State in hopes of starting something amazing and leaving behind all of my baggage — the baggage that weighed me down, baggage that crushed my body, mind and spirit. How could a God so powerful let me go through something like this? From age 12, I had wanted to be dead… now at 17, starting college, nothing had changed. Two times that year I was hospitalized for feeling unsafe, wanting to end it all.
My sophomore year, one late May night in 2017, it all almost did. I decided to try to end my life. I took pill after pill, hoping to end that pain. The only way I felt I could end the pain, was to end my life. I felt guilty, as much as I wanted the pain to end, I was scared. I had taken the pills, wanting to take more but not knowing what or when anything will happen. Once again, I felt I needed to tell someone. I called one of my close friends, Taylor Pooley, to admit to her what I had done. She immediately took me to the hospital where I spent the next two days. I told few people about this incident. One of those people was Zachary Hollywood.
“For those we love can never be more than a memory away…”
Zachary Hollywood was a tall, lanky white kid with a smile that lights up every room and the goofiest personality. He was a kid from Bourbonnais, Illinois, and our lives were very similar. Both huge mama’s boys, doing any and everything for our mothers. They weren’t just moms but best friends to us. We both had tough fathers who demanded the best from us on and off the court. They were tough, but we know they loved and cared about us at the end of the day. Zach was what you call a hometown hero. He was a multi-sport athlete, involved in the community, someone you wanted your son to grow up to be like. As soon as he stepped on the Ball State campus we quickly became best friends. Zach and I shared a passion for children with disabilities, as he had always worked with Best Buddies back home just as I did. We both wanted to change the world for children with disabilities.
I host camps for different Down syndrome organizations… I have done camps in Louisville, Indiana and as far away as Hamilton, Ontario. Zach’s first weekend on campus, I happened to have a camp back home in Louisville and Zach agreed to go with me. That weekend was the starting point for our friendship, we shared laughs, we made memories. Memories seem to be all that’s left.
That same summer we were in the same lifting group — the “Get Big” Group. We got big all right. One day I remember us both getting personal records on different lifts and him saying after “Let’s take a picture, bro, I’m feeling big.” So we did. That lanky, goofy kid was slowly becoming a big, strong confident man, and he was ready to show it all off.
We shared the same musical interests, TV shows and passion for the game. We became brothers. We were inseparable.
The day after my attempt of taking my own life, I felt the need to tell Zach. We were so close, I felt he deserved to know. He said to me with the love he had always given me “Why didn’t you call me, bro… You know I love you.”
He called me — four times. But I was asleep.
August 21st, 2017
The first day of classes in 2017 was my birthday. And no better way to celebrate a birthday than by having all of your closest friends over. So that’s what I did. Everyone from Zach to my other best friends, to my teammates, to my girl. It was one of the best nights of my life. I remember seeing Zach smile and thinking to myself, “I have never seen him happier.” Zach had started to struggle after the loss of his mom. (Susan Hollywood had ulcerative colitis that flared in the summer of 2016. Zach was in her Chicago hospital room on Aug. 1, 2016, when she died, at 49.) He loved her so much, I saw and felt the pain he was going through. But this night, was the night that I thought was going to bring change — the night that I would remember forever, not because it was my birthday, or that I was surrounded by all my friends, but that It was the first time I looked at Zach and said he is genuinely happy. Zach left that night, told me that he loved me, and gave me a hug.
I woke up that next day to get ready for my 9 a.m. class and saw I had four missed calls and two voicemails from Zach. Scared to listen or even acknowledge, and in a rush because I was running late, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I texted him, I called him and no answer. Maybe he was just asleep. We had stayed up late.
We had a team meeting at 1 p.m. My second class ended at noon, and I still had not heard from Zach. I asked our teammate Kyle (who was Zach’s roommate) to take me to their place to check on Zach. I walked into Zach’s room. I walked into a nightmare.
What I saw was unimaginable. The last time I had seen Zach, just the night before, he had the biggest smile on his face, he had hope. What I walked in on was devastation. I saw the body of a brother and a best friend. “He’s gone” is what I screamed to the others in the living room. I called the police, hysterical. “Check his pulse…” they said, knowing my best friend was gone.
“Zach took his life,” I said to my mother after calling the police. I didn’t know what to do, how to feel, what to say. I needed to be around my mom, but to drive the three hours back home in this condition wasn’t safe. Little did I know I wouldn’t even get that chance.
I had texted our coaches, to tell them we wouldn’t be at the meeting and that I would explain later. The police finally arrived and talked to us all individually. I remember being on the third floor, a floor above where Zach lived, talking to the lead officer. Coach James Whitford kept calling. I asked the lead officer to talk to him. “Coach, I am sorry to inform you that your player Zachary Hollywood has passed away from apparently taking his own life… We have Trey Moses and Kyle Mallers here, we’ll take them to the police station.”
The police took us to the station, where they kept us isolated. Being in a quiet interrogation room by myself, hearing nothing but my thoughts only made the situation worse — feeling as if I could go crazy any minute. The lead officer had asked of anything that I knew, any signs, text or calls. I mentioned the voicemails. I couldn’t listen yet, so he did.
We were finally able to go, where we were met by one of our coaches and the athletic director. I hugged my coach, for what seemed like eternity — the best hug I had ever received and the hug I needed. They took us back to that team meeting, where our other teammates had been informed. We all came together, in a group hug, crying for 15 minutes? 20 minutes? 30 minutes? No one knew, no one kept time, no one wanted to let go. So, we didn’t.
“… For as long as there’s a memory, they live in our hearts to stay”
A quote Zach had used after losing his mother quickly became a quote I used for the both of them. I hadn’t known his mom really well, but I knew he loved and cared for her more than anyone else. So, because she meant so much to him, she meant just as much to me. He was finally reunited with her. I keep a picture of the both of them in my wallet, to remind me every day of the love he had for her, and the love I have for them.
I was scared to listen, but I needed to know what was said. I gathered my three closest friends, simply for support, and we listened. I heard the pain in his voice, the same pain that I had felt four months prior. It was hard to listen to it, him telling me how I was going to accomplish everything that we had planned, from basketball, to changing the world for people with disabilities. He told me how proud he was of me for everything I had accomplished. But most importantly hearing him tell me how much he loved me and how I was his best friend. He thanked me for it all. I sit back now and question why he thanked me. It wasn’t hard to be his best friend. He was easy to love, and he loved just as hard as I do… So, no Zach, thank you, for being my best friend and my guardian angel.
Life without Zach
Life since August 22nd, 2017, hasn’t been easy. Life kept moving on, people moved on and people forgot. But I didn’t. For so long, life stayed still for me. It was hard to get up, it was harder going to class, and it was hardest working out, knowing the teammate I spent a whole summer training, bonding with, making memories with and getting the closest with was gone just like that. I asked his family for permission to wear his number 24 jersey. They said yes — there wasn’t anyone else they would want to wear it to honor Zach. So, I made the switch from 41 to 24. I wanted to do this to honor Zach and his family. I felt a big weight on my shoulders, wanting to make it for everyone involved: myself, his family, my teammates. I also honored Zach with two tattoos. The first, on my ribs, was the quote he had used for his mom. The second, the number 241 on my finger. My mom and I got this as matching tattoos. It was her idea: 241, putting his number 24 and my number 41, together as one, because from now on that is what we are — always one together. 241 was also the exit number my mom took to get to Muncie from Louisville. It all sort of made sense.
It wasn’t easy for our team moving forward, but we got support from people all over the country. We grew closer as a team and for the first time, I was able to say we were a family. There’s not a moment that sticks with me more than when we played at Notre Dame. We traveled to their place; they were ranked No. 9 in the country. We were 4-4 heading into that game — a game most people picked us to lose. It was my first real game back from injury (I pulled my hamstring before the season started), and I was finally off of minutes restriction. We won that game on a Tayler Persons’ buzzer-beating 3. That 3 gave him 24 points — Zach’s number, and the one I was wearing now. I shot 3-for-3 from the field and 3-for-3 from the line (I’m a terrible free throw shooter) including two made free throws with fewer than 3 minutes left and a layup with less than 2 minutes left. With all of the adrenaline wearing off, we go and greet our families after the game, but what I didn’t know was that Zach’s aunt would be there.
She was his mom’s twin sister. My first time talking to her was at Zach’s viewing. She told me how much I meant to Zach. I hadn’t seen her since then. From that day we became close. She became a person I considered family, along with her children. She became a person I could call or text at any time. I saw her after the game, not knowing she had made plans to be there. She surprised us. and I saw her and started bawling. I cried because of pure emotions of the game, seeing her, missing Zach and knowing he was the reason we won this game.
I dedicated my last two years of college basketball to Zachary Hollywood, my best friend and my brother. I wanted nothing more than to be successful for him.
I had always been a follower of Christ, though I was never baptized and wasn’t the most devoted Christian. After Zach, I was furious with God. How could he let someone dealing with depression, someone who tried to take their own life, not only just lose a best friend to suicide but to see the body of that best friend? To have to call the police and check the pulse of that best friend? I was furious and upset with him, but I needed answers. In the next couple of months, I met with Christopher Glotzbach, who worked at an on-campus ministry. I got the answers I wanted and needed. We met every week. He started as a local minister but quickly became my best friend. I ended up getting baptized by him December 10th, with all my friends and family in attendance.
That next summer, I got the opportunity with Athletes in Actions to go to New Zealand. Athletes in Action is “an international sports organization focused on equipping athletes, coaches and sports-minded individuals with Jesus and multiply their life into others.” This was a life-changing experience for me. We played eight games in 10 days, in two cities while also sharing our love for the Lord…
We started off in Auckland, where we played four club teams and one university team in five days. At halftime of each game, we got to give our testimony to the fans. I gave mine to the university team. I was nervous. How do I tell more than 500 people, people that I have never met nor will ever see again about something that will have a forever lasting impact on my life? I made it through, and I saw the impact that it made on people. New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. I knew my story had the chance to make an impact on someone.
We traveled to Dunedin to play three more games. I did not expect to give my testimony again, but I did. I got the chance to give my testimony to Ottawa University to more than 200 people. I met a kid we played against, who heard my testimony. He had lost his best friend and teammate to suicide as well. I also got to sit down with my host mom, who lost her father to suicide. I once again saw the impact that my story had on others, and I came to the realization that I have this incredible story. Although I had gone through so much in my life, if I can help just one person, my job is done.
I realized that God places people where they are supposed to be, no matter what circumstances they may be in.
Zach dying by suicide opened my eyes in a lot of ways. I learned to love like crazy because you never know what can happen to someone. I lost someone in the worst way possible, but people die of car crashes, cancer and other deaths that they cannot control. So why waste time? Why not tell your family, friends and significant others that you love them? Why not take chances? Why not spend time with loved ones? You don’t want to live with the regret of losing someone — or live with what ifs. What if I hadn’t let him leave my party that night? What if I had answered those calls? I have come to peace with all of it. ,
Most important, I learned that it’s OK not to be OK. Because that’s better than not being here. The world loves you, the world needs you and the world would not be the same without you,
In Loving Memory Of Zachary Hollywood
February 7, 1998 — August 22, 2017
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.