Content warning: suicide
I remember you were in my section. In a room with people goofing off or just getting through the class, you were one of those that was actually listening and actually wanted to learn. Which is always appreciated.
(I was your TA, not your classmate.)
I remember you and your friend helped each other with the exercises. Or maybe she wasn’t your friend, just the person you happened to sit next to that first week.
(Not entirely a coincidence, with the number of women taking even intro CS.)
I remember you were usually smiling.
I remember you were cute. I remember regretting a little that I wouldn’t be able to ask you out.
I remember asking how to pronounce your name with tones, and promptly forgetting.
I remember you said recursion was so cool, a few weeks into the course.
I remember your grades started to slip a few weeks after that. The material no longer came naturally—something hardly unique to you, but perhaps harder for those who weren’t planning to be CS majors.
I remember you smiling less than at the beginning of the semester.
(I actually remember this. I mean, I remember all of this—this is all true—but this detail seems particularly fabricated, and it isn’t.)
I wonder if I could have helped, as your TA. Should I have asked you to come to office hours? Should I have gone over the material with you?
I don’t remember, but I don’t think you passed the course that semester.
I remember seeing you across the room at the infosession for my theater group the next semester.
I remember being surprised.
I remember being flustered.
I remember trying to decide if it was better to acknowledge it and say hello, or if a student would rather not interact with a TA for a class they did poorly in, or join their theater group.
I remember deciding to stay across the room instead. I’d be fine to talk to you if you did join the group.
I don’t know if you didn’t make it past auditions, or if you never signed up at all, but you did not join that semester, or any other semester I was in it.
I remember seeing the article in the college newspaper online, on the bus during my morning commute.
(I had graduated a year and a half earlier. Had gone abroad, had come back, had gotten a job. You had graduated too; I had forgotten you were only a year younger than me.)
I remember being surprised.
I remember reading the reactions, from peers who were also surprised, who spoke highly of you, who would miss you.
I remember being both sad and appreciative that you had joined another theater group instead of the one I was in.
I remember thinking that I hadn’t seen any of your shows…or if I did, I had already forgotten.
I never asked any of your friends. It never even really occurred to me. What good would it do?
I didn’t know you. You were at the barest fringes of my life, I in the background of yours.
And there was really nothing I could have done. And to even say that is ridiculous. I wasn’t even in contention. We had no remaining connection.
And yet. So much lies on a flip of a coin.
If I had said hi, would you have joined a different theater group?
If I had offered help, would you have passed the class?
Would that have changed the course of your life? Not as a saving act, but as simply another path in the infinitely, endlessly branching set of choices in the multiverse.
What would have happened?
It’s not the anniversary of the day you committed suicide.
I don’t know your birthday.
It’s not entirely random that I ended up thinking about you last night, but nevertheless there’s nothing particularly now about it.
It might help people to see this.
Maybe your friends.
Maybe my friends who never knew you.
It doesn’t exactly matter. It’s a true story; it deserves to be written down.
(Please, indulge me in the combination of overthinking and ego. I’m sorry for the things I could have done better, whether or not it would have changed this.)
And thank you. Thank you for brightening up the classroom. Thank you for encouraging me as a TA with your comment. Thank you for all the lives you touched at Berkeley, as evidenced by their quotes.
It’s probably been months, years, since the last time any of this came back to me. For others, maybe longer. You’re no longer on eyes, ears, tongues every day. But despite there not being any more, all of us continue to carry what is. You are remembered.
You are remembered.
National suicide hotline (US): 1-800-273-TALK. There are also specific hotlines for those with AIDS, seniors, trans people, gay people, and many other categories, if you want someone who’s familiar with particular issues. Despite the site design, http://suicidehotlines.com looks like a very thorough resource for this.