Thinking of You

When I originally thought to write this particular post, I thought it would be a little out of the blue, that it wouldn’t really come with good context, aside from the date.

But somehow, shockingly, the world has given me context. And it is the worst context for which I could have asked: The UC Berkeley family recently lost two Golden Bears: Tarishi Jain during the terrorist attack in Bangladesh and Nicholas Leslie during the terrorist attack in Nice.

The writing that follows isn’t about losing someone to acts of terror and violence, but it is about losing someone in a way you’d never expect, in a moment that’s far too soon.

My heart goes out to everyone who has been affected in any way by any of the recent events, anyone who has lost someone, and most importantly — anyone who also lost this wonderful person.

Photo by Courtney Cheng
367 days ago, one of my friends committed suicide.

I only found out about a week later, in late July 2015, on Facebook. I don’t know what algorithms were at work that day, that allowed me to see the Like of a Facebook friend with whom I have zero interactions, but… I did.

I remember exactly where I’d been sitting at the time — on my then-partner’s bed in his apartment in the middle of the day on a weekend. I remember exactly what I’d been doing at the time — looking for something to better to do with my time than go in circles on the Internet.

I remember not believing it. That this post, about the death of a woman who was only 22, just didn’t make sense. Especially not for her.

I didn’t speak to anyone — not any of our mutual friends, not my partner, not anyone — about this for another hour. I couldn’t believe it, and somehow, I thought if I didn’t mention it to anyone, I could still find some evidence that would deny the implication of the post that I’d seen.

I sat on Google for a long time. I’ve Googled some pretty morbid things for the purpose of writing, but it’s an entirely different situation to sit there, Googling your friend’s name followed by the word “death” to find out if, or how, they had passed away.

It didn’t take too long to find the evidence.

There was her obituary, listed by a funeral home down in SoCal, with her full name, date of birth, and date of death.

Photo by Courtney Cheng
Everyone I asked in the following days was just as stunned as I was. I think it was the most I’d talked to some of my high school friends since we’d all left campus. All of us were in complete shock. There was no way this could be true.

It was only several days later, that I finally found out, through the grapevine, what had happened.

She’d commit suicide.

That was the first moment I cried since I first heard.

She was the first person I’d lost this way — and I hope that she’ll be the last — but she was also the last person I ever thought I’d lose this way.

We’d been close in 7th grade, and continued our friendship during my first three years of high school. (She’d been a year older than me, so I’d always lose touch with her a bit in those final years of middle and high school because she was off at a different school.) We overlapped in leadership class in middle school, and then in all our math classes in high school.

Chelsea was one of those people who I knew, from the moment I met her, I wanted to befriend. At an age where we were all incredibly self-centered and immature, Chelsea was always sweet and generous and just good. She was selfless and talented and able to do anything she set her mind to, one of those people everyone knew would succeed without stirring jealous veins because she, of all people, deserved it.

In early August, when the news slowly started proliferating out into our small town community, people began leaving notes on Chelsea’s Facebook wall. It took me a couple days to compose mine, and my sentiments haven’t changed —

Chelsea, in the few brief years of middle and high school when we overlapped in classes and friend groups, you made me feel so important and so loved. As the older one, you made sure to look out for me, succeeded in cheering me up, supported me through whatever was ailing me at the time, and always, always, always had a smile, both ears, and more than enough time for me. It’s been — sadly? tragically? I don’t even know what to write here — years since we last saw each other, but I think that only speaks even more to how much you impacted those around you. While other memories have come and gone in the past 3.5 years, you have always remained a memory, a friend, and a presence who I always came back to think of. I am so grateful that I had the privilege of knowing you, Chelsea. And thank you, so, so much, for your friendship, your love, and your kindness. I miss you loads.”

This past year, I’ve found myself thinking of Chelsea on a regular basis.

The thoughts are fleeting and come at unpredictable moments: sometimes in the middle of the day as I walked across campus, other times at night when I was procrastinating on my thesis, and most recently, while I cleaned out my childhood bedroom and uncovered school projects I’d completed during that year we’d first met.

I wonder what would have happened if I had doubled back, three springs ago, when I could’ve sworn that I’d seen her walking down the pier in Santa Monica. 

I wonder how she would’ve been then, how she would’ve been now; and I wonder how she is now.

I know I’ll never have an answer for these questions.

And I know, I’ll never quite be okay with that.

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