When I reflect on my time at Yale, I will divide my education into equal halves: the universe that included my friends Luchang and Tyler, and the universe that no longer does. For me, their deaths form the deepest fissure in the contiguity of my life in New Haven, my unwilling relocation to the wrong side of a temporal chasm.
Campus is not the same for me anymore. Sometimes, while biking past the Taft apartments — the locus of my knowing Tyler, and the place of his passing — I’ll get the sensation that my bike gears have been turned all the way up and I’m struggling to pedal. A breeze on Science Hill might touch me in such a way that reminds me of the wind during a walk we once took. A silhouette on Elm Street in the evening from the corner of my eye may look like Luchang’s gait. Familiar places are loaded with unexpected meaning: classrooms turned into “classrooms Luchang had occupied” or doorways now “doorways where I waved goodbye to Tyler.”
When I pass through these spaces, the air is heavier, the atmospheric pressure apparently greater, as though the molecules have taken upon them the weight of my memories and my grief. Sometimes I see this heaviness in a friend’s face, or the shifted slope of her shoulders, and I know she is feeling the same.
How do we go on? The question seems less a belated extension of my grief than a permanent fixture of this new Yale, the inevitable challenge posed to a community disrupted by loss. The façade of normalcy bestowed upon campus by the arrival of the newest class belies the many ways in which we have yet to recover.
Among the bereaved, and pervading even in circles that did not know Tyler or Luchang, is an ethos of fragility, unique perhaps to those young people whose sense of invulnerability was so abruptly shattered. We worry constantly — for ourselves and for each other. We chalk up neuroses to our having “dead friends.” We are hesitant at bridges and tall buildings. We ask frequently of one another’s mental health, alcohol consumption, support systems. If we had the luxury before of believing only our grades and our graduate school prospects were predicated on our well-being here, it now seems that our lives, too, hang in the balance. Friends take note of my moods with quasi-parental vigilance. In many ways, my relationships seem closer, safer, than they did before.
But there is also something unnatural about treading so delicately at all times. True, this cautiousness — a muddled expression of our sorrow and our anxiety — breeds a remarkable kind of compassion and intimacy. Yet it also perpetuates an existential edginess: a desire to qualify our own joy with reminders of grief, lest we be guilty of forgetting the departed; an omnipresent, repressive sensation of death’s proximity; a false ideal of heroic responsibility for the well-being of others. I’d like to believe that we can maintain this same warmth and concern for our friends and our neighbors even as we attempt to shake the world-weariness we have inhabited these past months. To do so, rather than to bind ourselves in the anxiety of tragedy, would be a far more fitting monument to the lives of our friends. To offer our attention and concern is a kindness that reaches beyond our own community of loss. It is not conditional upon collective grief. It is a kindness worthy of their memory.
I’ve come to believe I was wrong about the air — that the heaviness is not grief, but my mind’s best attempt to convene my body with moments and people dearly missed. Though these instances are difficult, they are wondrous. They bring me briefly closer to Luchang and to Tyler. In this new, lesser universe, they will be cause for celebration.
Caroline Posner is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .