Content warning: suicide. I wrote this in January of 2014.
We don’t often notice the difference between one day and the next in our memory. A year blends together. As you get more distance, a block of similar years become a single unit, characterized by a specific flavor of scenery, people, and feelings.
The cracks in the sidewalk that I’d avoid stepping on as I crossed the bridge over Fitch street on my way to class. The girl I smiled at walking over that bridge, and the months of passionate sex and breakups that smile unleashed. The cheap limitless terrible food at Conn Hall. The drudgery of debugging printers for professors so I could pay my rent. Winters where stepping the wrong way on a sheet of ice plunged me ankle deep into brown slush. The insufferable New Haven towing racket and incredible pizza.
And then, in a flash, the channel changes.
It’s blatant in hindsight, but I usually don’t see it coming. Some changes are complete and total, marking a brand new lifetime with each transition. I’m not sure I’m the same person as a few versions ago. Every line has been edited, every vision altered.
This most recent shift, though… I saw this one coming. Or at least, I saw one side of the book mark.
I prepared the transition to be as smooth as possible. I recruited allies, and trained a successor. Now was the time. I didn’t know what exactly would be showing on the new channel, but I knew that a change was coming, and I wanted to make sure it’d be good. This idea of book marks was going to be my Pastry Box contribution. I had thought it all out.
I had no idea.
On Christmas eve, I sat in a thai restaurant with my friend. Luke, who makes jokes, and travels the world, and works on npm. By the end of 2013 we hung out about weekly or more, to eat and chat and laugh. We had met at Taco Conf a few years prior, where he told me that he wanted to move to Oakland to hang out with the Node people. He did that. We clicked well. He watched my cats once. I recommended him to Yahoo.
The day before that dinner, Luke had written a note. We complained about the holidays a bit, and shared Kao Nam Tod. It didn’t seem weird to me that he was in town. After all, I was also. I knew he was from upstate New York, but he didn’t ever talk about his family there. I don’t know if I ever talked about my family much either. Just never came up. We reminisced about New England winters and how much nicer California is. We talked about how horrible the holidays are, and about business and dating and the future.
A few days later, I went out of town to visit family. The trip was too long by a day. At the end we were all eager to get back to our lives. I came back on New Year’s Eve. I sent Luke a message the next morning, telling him that relatives had given me some cat toys, because they don’t know how fat and lazy my cats are. Maybe his kitten could attack them, instead of attacking his face, like it usually did.
It was still early. I figured he’d get it when he got up. I could bring them by. I was working on npm that day. The new startup. The Book Mark. Everything was going great. I was looking forward to telling him about the latest developments.
I got a message from Luke at 4:15 in the afternoon. Before seeing what it said, it reminded me that I hadn’t had lunch yet, and hadn’t seen him in a week, which was a perfect coincidence. I was going to suggest Xolos. His message asked, “Could you share this publicly or privately in a few hours or so?” A link to the note that he wrote on Christmas Eve Eve.
Oh no. Wait. Where are you, I’m going there now. I’m coming to your house. 911. Call Mikeal. Call Dustin. Tell Marisa to bring the car back home, we have to go, now.
We met the police at his apartment. The key was where he said it’d be, and there was food and water for his kitten. Calling, again and again, it rings 4 times, and then voicemail. iMessages delivered, but no response.
5:09, another buzz in my pocket. “I’ve finally built up the courage to do it. Thanks again.”
Calling. Straight to voicemail.
He said he’d been hiding for years, that he was tired of pretending, tired of masking his pain. It wasn’t a statement, it was a choice, an expedient escape from his medical problem.
We didn’t know where he went. Searched everything, everywhere. Yahoo hired an investigator. The police were beyond useless. Clues pointed to a bridge, most likely the Golden Gate. Coast Guard didn’t have any John Does.
He slipped through my fingers like smoke. He’d reached out to me. I didn’t save him.
That week, I learned a lot about Luke’s history, things he never told any of us. I learned about his family, his past, his friends. I talked to his mother and sisters. Eyeballs deep in other people’s shit, the unexpected executor of my friend’s farewell. I frantically invaded his privacy, tried to find anything that could give me some hope, some clue, some rock I could turn over that he’d pop out from under.
For a while some hoped that he was faking. He’d fled to Asia or Africa on some manic adventure, played a joke on all of us. At 5:09 on New Year’s Day, I lost my hope. He wasn’t joking. Luke’s jokes are funny, and clever, and often offensive. His note was calm, resigned, touching. If he had been crying for help, we would’ve been able to help him. He was smart. He knew what he was doing. He was doing it for himself, not for anyone else.
I waited for permission to grieve. I told everyone else that we can’t give up hope until they find a body. But that was a lie, and I wasn’t fooled. I passed along the flyers, in a gesture of mourning.
In December, I’d hoped that this phase shift would be marked by the change of job roles, and in the fullness of time, maybe it will be. But overlaid on that is the turbulent border between the part of my life where my friend Luke existed, and the part where he was abruptly and permanently gone.