Julia was going to be a part of the combo blog project that’s still struggling to get off the ground.
She was brilliant. A math genius and computer programming whiz whose work had caught the attention of some fairly prominent folks. One of her favorite activities during classes seemed to be making fun of me/my interpreting: “I can tell when you understand what you’re signing and when you don’t!” She was a tease – besides loving to poke fun, there were these moments of pure delight when some mathematical concept would click into my head (“matrices are three-dimensional!”) and enable a much more accurate interpretation. Our pleasure in those moments compounded: my glee at getting it, hers at seeing my lightbulb go off, and mutually as the learning process was facilitated.
I’ve missed working with her this year but continued to enjoy texting. We’d developed a weekly check-in, often to celebrate the end of another work/study week. These messages were light contact, a “hello I’m still here how are you” touch. I was unaware her internal emotional struggles had gotten so incredibly worse. Always there was stuff – she had one of the most difficult lives of anyone I’ve ever known well. She managed herself and all that stuff with incredible poise. I never realized she was at risk.
Of course I knew it was bad when I got a message from a colleague asking for me to call because she had “some news.” As we played phone tag for the next few hours my mind skimmed through the people we knew. I assumed an accident or health issue; I was unprepared for the reality. “Julia took her life.”
It’s been more than 24 hours since I learned; she died early last week. The initial numbness is wearing off. I keep having flashes of her body, inert.
There’s no making sense of such a choice except to respect it. Yes, the timing is rough as we learn new pain was recently added to the old and lingering. Damn, I know I am going to miss her. Yet, long talks with a friend who did her dissertation on the presentation of suicide in the media have changed my level of judgment. I am terribly sad. and…
I recently began re-reading Octavia Butler, Dawn:
My own experience reminds me that pain does keep coming ’round. I think some pain is restorative: necessary to experience in order to shed harmful or adverse effects in the present and future. Most pain is probably palliative, offering temporary relief for an underlying or ongoing dynamic. Some pain is progressive – reinforced by cycles that can be exacerbated by systems/patterns of interaction (with people, with institutions).
From the outside, as it were, one can imagine all the reasons why Julia should have stuck it out. Are they all selfish? Mine are. I want to be teased by her again, to learn with her, for her to be a part of one of my pet projects, for her to open a door for me to other exciting projects that she would have developed or contributed to, for others to get to know her and benefit from her talents. I don’t want to feel the pain of her absence, the loss of her friendship, the gaping hole where once she was. It always felt great to get a surprise text message from her in the middle of when&whatever! Now, no more. I am sad.
Julia knew what she was doing. Respecting her decision does not take away my sense of loss, but it is all that I know to do, now, to show my appreciation for her life.