Blake Tagget leans forward in his chair at the Barnes and Noble Café, but his eyes dart from the study group occupying a nearby table to the mother placing an order at the counter as she holds her squeamish child’s hand. I struggle to keep his attention. Standing over 6 feet tall, he looks too large for the small round table at which we are seated; his legs sprawl out onto the other side. Typically grinning and surveying his surroundings with alight eyes, it is strange to see his baby face suddenly dim.
Blake Tagget sits back soberly, bracing himself to discuss his sister’s suicide. His older sister, Katrina Tagget, died by suicide in 2008 at age 21 while attending Michigan State University. Although people who do not know Blake Tagget may just see someone that is a little immature and full of jokes, his identity is closely tied to his sister’s death.
“I don’t care if people kill themselves. I care that they know exactly what they are doing.”
To Blake Tagget, those people are giving up and refusing to see their value in the world. He does not pause before saying he is mad at his sister. He gazes down pensively, admitting he wishes he had known about her problems before her death. She left him a note rationalizing the decision to end her life; however, he does not think she truly thought about all the lives she would impact. His eyes go dark as he voices his resentment.
While their parents founded the Katrina Tagget Memorial Foundation following her death, Blake Tagget says he does not know how to honor his sister’s memory. The tattoos littering his body say otherwise. The slightly faded, black Latin words “sapere aude” on his upper back translate “dare to know.” Katrina Tagget had the words listed on her IM profile for as long as he can remember. Covering his entire right side is an intricate, black eagle holding a scroll in its talons that reads “love it or leave it.” This was a phrase he and Katrina Tagget joked about in regards to politics. Regarding the eagle, he says, “I’ve always wanted to fly.” The bright green dragon descending from his left shoulder symbolizes all that he carries with him. On the left side of his chest is a less noticeable turtle comprised of two geckos: one for him and one for his sister. “In Hawaiian the turtle means longevity which is kind of ironic, because she’s dead,” he says. The Michigan State Spartans warrior logo on his calf with “Kara” written underneath speaks for itself. The only tattoo not related to his sister is the “Batman” logo on his ankle.
The “Batman” logo emphasizes two of Blake Tagget’s passions: superheroes and movies. His favorite movie, though, is “Inception.” “I can relate to being in a conscious dream and having a dream inside that dream,” he says. Blake Tagget spends most evenings after work watching movies and television shows. “It’s an escape from reality,” he says.
Twenty-five years old and still living in his parents’ house, Blake Tagget ponders his reply when I ask if he considers himself a success. “How do you define success? I’m functioning,” he says. To people in his community of Ellicott City, Md., who know of his past, he is a success. He is a college graduate with a well-paying job; he is more than functioning.
Blake Tagget says his sister’s death taught him “that people suck.” Katrina Tagget had a lot of friends, but the relationships were not giving her what she wanted. Blake Tagget believes his sister’s death taught him to recognize the importance of friendships. Now he knows what things are and are not important in life. “It is important to be a nice person and not to always live for yourself,” he says.
Perhaps what Blake Tagget finds important is what inspired him to join Compassionate Friends, a support organization started by bereaved parents whose children have passed. He is part of the sibling group, which focuses on not being overshadowed by the sibling’s death. Blake Tagget finds friends and solace within the group. As a member, he does not feel alone in his pain. Group members do not expect him to put words to the feelings he cannot verbalize; they understand his grief in a way no others can.
While his sister’s death taught him what it feels like to be sad, Blake Tagget’s demeanor is far from gloomy. He most likes that he is not a serious person, knowing when to be childish and how to have fun. When I first ask where he sees himself in ten years, he smirks and says, “At a Barnes and Noble Café continuing this interview.”
His favorite food is pizza, or “za” as he calls it, because the topping combinations can never get boring. After having experienced scuba diving and skydiving, he now hopes to travel. He wants to see the world outside his boring bubble.
His sister’s death is a topic Blake Tagget keeps at bay, but her death was not always so easy to avoid. Right after her passing, his life was a daze full of drugs. He laughs a little as he confesses, shooting me a coy smile. However, he then straightens and considers his present life; he says, “And now, it’s not full of drugs. It’s full of something. For the first time in a while I actually feel I have a life and a foreseeable future now. I didn’t know if I was going to make it before.”
To find a middle ground between his future and past, Blake Tagget does his best not to dwell on his sister’s death. “Time heals all,” he says. As for his future, he just sees himself being alive. And that, to him, makes him a success.