Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide.
There’s a route that winds through Riverside Park that I find particularly challenging to run on: Its steep hills invite buildups of lactic acid in my legs that even speedy, subsequent downhills can’t eradicate. The soreness that accumulates in my body lingers beyond the confines of the park: onwards, achy, chemically, and slow. I first started running along this route when a chain of student suicides hit campus during the winter of my sophomore year. Grief was the only thing powerful enough to push and pull me through to the path’s end—it was just that physically demanding. So much so that I resolved only to attempt it when tragedies like these struck.
When I received news of Kirk’s passing last Thursday and found myself moving through inclines and declines once again, I thought about how by this point, I’ve run along this path so many times that it all has started to feel familiar. Tragedy at Columbia has become somewhat of a routine in itself, too: The days get colder, the wind runs alongside us through the leaves above, the impossible happens, and campus spins. We move through postscripts of shock, hurt, and guilt in a way that resembles something of an ambulatory scramble. Among all of this, normalcy returns just as quickly as it left: Life is supposed to move on, and caught in the forward busyness of campus life, we have no choice but to move along with it.
I originally wrote this column as an attempt to bring me closer to a resolution of what I’ve processed in the last week. In the past, I’ve relied on words as dynamic actors to lead me to conclusions I had yet to reach; I’ve never had trouble finding the right words to say. Last Thursday, I texted my editors that I was scrapping the piece I’d originally prepared to run in this week’s column and that I wanted, instead, to write about Kirk. I envisioned that wholeness would come to me like words usually do, ideas cohering into themselves, like water into water. I’d move through a nuanced portrait of loss on the page; I’d exit, 800 words later, with a full sense of resolve.
But what I was trying to write was akin to capturing the impossible. Every draft I composed and subsequently trashed cycled me deeper and deeper into a feedback loop of type-and-delete. First, I wrote about fond memories: Kirk and I had deeply bonded over the fact that we’d both lived in Pasadena and that nobody ever lives in Pasadena, et cetera, but my attempts to translate our conversations into the flatness of two dimensions read gaudy at best and heavy-handed at worst. Next, I wrote about the New York Post: How dare the publication capitalize on the gore of tragedy like this; how dare it reduce this into something close to clickbait? Finally, I tried blaming things: Columbia’s stress culture, the lack of proactivity around comprehensive mental health related policy initiatives, the wispiness of the Jed Foundation’s presence on campus, myself. Mostly myself, for not knowing, saying, or doing enough.
In moments like these, I have realized that nothing will ever be enough. Not the emails, the copy-pasted condolences, or the litany of phone numbers thrown our way again and again for us to call. Not even my own words will bring me the “The End” that I desperately crave. Such is the nature of pain like this—it begs us to be still. It stops us midway through hills with an ending hardly in sight.
So instead of trying to move, do, or say through the days ahead, I’m simply trying to be. Be with. Be here. Be here for others. To stake space in stillness and to give myself permission not to think of immediate solutions, to accept that pain isn’t processed linearly, to refuse to move through loss as a finish line. Perhaps I’ll never reach it, but it’s the closest to enough I’ll get. I’ll let myself be sore; I’ll find the way wind moves through trees, familiar and slow. Chemically. Achy. Onwards, even.
The other day, I called my friend Mari and asked if she wanted to grab dinner. It was raining outside, and we didn’t say too much on the way. We walked deliberately and after we ate, we sat on the floor in her room and watched the way her fan blew over loose things and made them rustle. We decided to look at old messages that Kirk had sent us, and laughed so hard our ribs began to ache. In the elevator ride down from her room, I leaned my head on her shoulder, and as we watched the numbers fall, we didn’t need anything else.
Please consider donating to the Kirk Wu Memorial Fund here: https://www.gofundme.com/kirk-wu-memorial-fund
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