Thoughts on the Suicide of Alexander Gray, OC ’98
I’m an alum and I’m writing because another former Oberlin student committed suicide. This is the third alum suicide I’ve heard about in the last year. He was sensitive and creative like many Oberlin students, and was also shy and socially insecure. The worst thing I remember about it is that he and I were both friends with people who instructed us on who at Oberlin was “cool” and “not cool” and who was “crazy.” And we bought all this heresay. Hostility and violence were in fashion. This student was cheered on as he cut himself with a broken record at a concert in Peters. His friends had more respect for him after that. Oberlin may have changed a lot since then, but I am so frightened that it hasn’t, and that things like this will continue to happen, that certain people will be known as “cool,” and people who endorse that will find themselves being depressed or hostile, toward others who might start to think they aren’t “cool” enough either. These are all paranoid delusions, of course, and replicative of middle school, but they can be very real and painful feelings, in childhood, in college and in adult life.
This cannot be the ultimate cause of my friend’s death, but I have to think that it was a factor. I’m sending my account with the hope that anyone feeling these feelings at Oberlin will dispel those feelings and be kind to everyone, and do what they want to do, not what they think other people want to see. Each person is precious and it is horrible to compromise yourself or withdraw because you need to be approved by the “cool” people. Please, please treat everyone well.
Please do not include my name. I have changed the names in the journal entry.
Thoughts on the Suicide of Alexander Gray
Or Letter to a Dead Boy
The strangeness of insecurity. Like I can’t even sit here in my own body. Like Margaret Owens told me in high school. “I sort of wish I could just not be in my body and float around everywhere instead,” she said. Calculations and tech work for theater. Not the actress. Not the director. Physics.
How Alex must have felt. How Alex must have felt. I knew he was insecure. I knew he was paranoid, like me. Imagining people dislike him when they did not care either way. Passivity and social fears. Why leave your girlfriend? Why leave your ship and jump in the ocean? You might be floating for days, or you might drown. Life was okay the way it was. It was so dull and so comfortable. The VCR works.
Alex, in the airport that night I was so happy. You made me feel happy. You liked me and that wasn’t even why I liked you. I liked you because you waited for the punch line. Not like most people, who cut it off prematurely. Passivity lends itself to humor, a type of delayed gratification. Playing around the abandoned phone bank, it was the same as I remembered two years ago. We knew we were weirdoes and that’s okay.
I hate all this bullshit, all this accountability of college and jobs. Alex, I don’t know what to say. Maybe we only shared hate; I don’t know. Sometimes hate and humor synthesize, like hate can encircle us, some bizarre cocoon of trust. God your hair was so bright. It fell perfectly. You looked so nice on a skateboard when I saw you, even though you ignored me and it hurt. That was after we kissed that time. I forgave you. I wanted to see you. I even called you, remember?
It was my birthday the night we kissed. We hung around and hung around in your room in Noah. I almost felt something. You listened to me. We stood and felt awkward. I let the door swing back and forth, a form of fidgeting. I was making the awkward space just as much as you were. There was nothing to say. Only something to do.
“Do you mind if I –– uh — kiss you?” you asked. And then I began to play games, to gain power. I was feeling vulnerable and trusted nothing. I was a dope, had lost some of my feelings. I had to make you defend your motives. Making you be accountable may be the worst thing I’ve done.
“Wait –– can I just ask why?”
“Because I like you,” he told me, as though unbelieving of my density.
“And we had those awkward moments.” He liked me? He liked me.
“How long has this been going on?”
“Since that first time I saw you with Mark.” Mark was a jerk. He didn’t mean to be. But he put me on a pedestal and slowly kicked me off. I settled for him and I liked Alex better. I liked you better, Alex. I did. I even told you that later, when we were kissing on your couch.
“I don’t think you’re stupid. I think you’re cute,” I said. I don’t even know if you believed me.
You knew how to kiss. After the interrogation I don’t remember as much because it felt like being out of my brain, into a better, comfortable place. It didn’t feel like you wanted to take my body away. My life was so poor back then that I remember emotions as negative space. Sitting in your small arms on that stupid couch was like the nicest negative space. Any time I saw you it was like that, like you were relief in all this confusion. You had trouble looking people in the eyes, except if it was funny. This isn’t funny Alex. Your death is not funny. I wish I’d looked you in the eyes before I left New York.
I remember seeing you standing in that house in Oberlin last year. You were standing like I remembered you, standing on the side. I felt at home talking to you again. I remember thinking we could still make a good team. Your shyness made me less shy.
Your paranoia made me obstinate toward my own. You even told me that you left Oberlin because you thought everyone hated you. Or they were talking about you.
Who cares about them anymore. I like you, Alex. Please, please don’t care about them.
Hang out with me only, because it’s always fun. I like you so much. I like you so much.
Remember that time you played in that stupid band and you cut yourself with a broken record? That’s sick, Alex. It’s black humor, and sort of funny, but that’s your body, Honey. Don’t do that. I accidentally sliced off the tip of my finger last week. It didn’t hurt that bad because I’ve learned how to not feel painful things. But I still know it’s bad. Perusing pain is bad, though I’ve done it so many times. Scratched at something I knew was doomed, just to get to the bottom of it. Like when I wouldn’t leave my old boyfriend, even when he had a bastard baby and was still sleeping with the baby’s mom. Anyway, Alex, we’ve all done it, but you did it worse than anyone I know.
And I guess I’m mad at you.
But I’m sorry I dragged you to that stupid party. When I would have rather just hung around with you. Talking to strangers about nothing or stupid things and leaving you in an uncomfortable corner. You were with your girlfriend and it wasn’t my fault you two couldn’t have fun, but I could have had fun and included you.
You were the most fun thing to me. And before I knew about your girlfriend, I wanted you so badly. Even if that want was temporary, it was still real; I felt it, in times when I had trouble feeling anything for anybody. At the airport we slept and cuddled up. I even kissed you once or twice. I felt something for you, poor redhead.
Why the fuck couldn’t you just pull yourself together?
Alex, I’m pulling myself together. You’ve destroyed yourself and become a lesson.
It’s true, living isn’t worth it unless you get into every moment. This social anxiety crap is crap. I need to treat people well while I have them. I need to treat myself well too. And my parents; I’m not good enough to them. I used to want to “show” everyone, prove them wrong. Now I’d like to be gentle with them, teach them gently, treat them gently. Alex you were too harsh on yourself, and maybe on everyone else.
Maybe you hated me before you died. I hope not.
I liked you so much.
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on the Suicide of Alexander Gray, OC '98