Note: This post will likely only be relevant to certain Yale classmates.
It’s now been a year since Cameron killed himself, and it’s an event that’s on my mind often enough that I would be remiss should I not bring it up here sooner or later.
I was never close to Cameron. We were at ICLP in Taiwan together two years ago, and at the time he struck me as both self-consciously rich (he was the only one not there on a Light Fellowship) and standoffish. But there are two reasons why I identify so closely with Cameron – or, if not with Cameron, at least with his death.
The first (bad jokes about the effects of my company aside) was a one-time coincidence: I had lunch with him on the day he died. I had missed my alarm in the morning and therefore also missed my Chinese class, so I went to the later class; afterward, Rewon, Jack, Cameron and I headed to Commons. What has always struck me most in retrospect – besides the fact that nothing out of the ordinary could be detected in his demeanor, something remarked upon by everyone who knew him – was that he pointed out his younger sister to us as she passed by in the crowded aisle between tables. A few hours later, he was on the train to New York (at least I imagine that’s how he got there); that night, he jumped from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. The next morning, we were notified about his death by e-mail; I can’t explain this very well, but given the lunch of the day before, I simultaneously completely believed the news and also found it entirely indigestible.
Yale students are pretty wired: I think most of us knew by the time our first class rolled around. But in case our Chinese teacher already knew (she didn’t) and had chosen not to dwell on it during class, no one said anything out loud, and we had the only relatively normal Chinese class of the day.
The second reason for my identifying with Cameron’s death is that, in a few ways that are important to me, he was me – or at least, he was what I wanted to be. He was an East Asian Studies major, a year ahead of me, with an interest in China and international relations; we were at ICLP together, though he was in a faster-paced class; when he came back from PKU in the spring he took the same level of Chinese as me, and was one of the best in our year. We were in the East Asian Capitalism seminar together; we shopped either Game Theory or Modern China together, I can’t remember which; and when we were both shopping Jessica Weiss’s course on China and the world, I remember being impressed when I noticed him listening to the BBC Mandarin news podcast, a feat that I had attempted around the same time and mostly given up on by then. We were acquaintances – if friends, then barely – but from the admittedly poor vantage point of where our lives intersected, he seemed just where I wanted to be.
So I think about him sometimes. Usually it’s nothing in particular: he just comes to mind, unbidden, a few times a month. If I’m not already feeling pensive or melancholy then it will have much the same effect on me as any conundrum that I have long since given up on as insoluble – though I find this particular failure to comprehend more disturbing than others. He’ll come to mind; I’ll remember; and then I won’t think anything more about it. Once in a long while – like now, going through old e-mails and news reports, and remembering – the whole ineffable sadness of it all will make me cry.
But such is life, and we all move on. “Out, Out – ,” Robert Frost’s poem about a boy who bleeds to death after accidentally severing his own hand with a buzz saw, ends with these lines:
No one believed. They listened to his heart.
Little – less – nothing! – and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
- - - - - - - -
The night after Cameron died, those of us who had spent summer 2009 together at ICLP held our first full reunion – minus Cameron. A get-together had been planned countless times over the past months, but, as will happen at Yale, everyone had been too unwilling to compromise on his or her own prior schedules and the whole thing had invariably fallen apart over and over again. The last e-mail on our failed dinner-planning thread is from Cameron, who had been CC’d in when he got back from Beijing in January:
“thanks for bringing me into the fold. are you guys really having this much trouble just scheduling a dinner?”