The Prince article on the death of Tobias Kim does not speak about him as a person so much as a story pitch, someone whose meaning was apparent in the story he could provide. “Argentina”—Where? Why? To say it was sensationalist would defeat the purpose; I am not here to write about what the Prince did wrong, nor am I here to correct it.
I will say this: We tend to know most people in fragments. We know our friends in more contexts, characterize the deepening of our relationships through the amount of circumstances in which we have experienced their emotional selves. We are often “close” with people because we have seen them without their makeup, with their families. We experience other people like patchwork. I only knew of Tobias from the pieces I collected.
I will not pretend to have known him for more than I did—we spoke more during frosh week than we did the duration of the year; as I spent more and more time outside our building, he stayed in, the music through our flimsy wood floors my only evidence of him being there at all. Like all unseen neighbors, he was as much of an odd myth in life as he is now. “The cause of death remains unclear.”
We collide with people more than we happen upon each other. We don’t plan to interact with certain friends more than others, and we can’t control the cast of characters that end up influencing our life trajectories. The perfect accident of birth reflects the same. (So many things have to go right for us to even exist at all; how could we ever not be happy?) I collided with him in a similar way. We made no effort to know each other, but we did. He is someone I knew. I know people who knew him better than I did. I know a girl who kissed him, the men who shared his suite. I proxed him into his building (my building) once at the beginning of the year. I live in an eight person suite directly above his eight person suite. Our bathrooms shared a vent as well as the echoed conversation that travelled between the steel gridded square. I have two pictures of him on my phone. In both, he gleefully flips off the camera. (I say “flips” because in these pictures he is something other than the person I knew (not well), the person whose name has been the subject line of emails from Dean Caswell-Klein). I didn’t go to the memorial service. I told myself it was because I didn’t really know him at all.
There is one more week left of school. The trees bloom like teenagers who are stupid in love and hold hands loudly on the subway. Everyone seems to be wearing sundresses. It is spring and we are all alive. We tell each other we are dying oh god we are dying from this demon rain and lack of sleep and if it doesn’t get warm enough already we will throw ourselves out of our small, small windows. We are all dying but right now we are alive and we can break things, climb buildings and get belligerently drunk enough to believe in having fun at Charter Friday. We can dance outside our dorms to songs with too many saxophone solos, we can still become disappointed in people, we can still fail all our classes. This is also not an article to compel you to carpe diem. I have no intention of using someone’s death as an impetus for action. Tobias Kim was the first person my age I know to have died. It seems cliché to question people dying in the spring but I will do it anyway.
I spoke to someone recently about how, over fall break, he was stranded outside his dorm without his prox or phone. Just as he walked past a building (which later turned out to be my building), a cell phone fell from the fire escape right below mine. My friend offered to return the student’s cell phone as long as he could use it to call P-Safe first. He agreed, and they never encountered each other after that. I don’t know if it was Tobias on the fire escape or not, nor will I try and force meaning out of something that was more an accident of gravity and good timing than anything else. I will not try and force a story about something that doesn’t make sense. That would be an insult. Only the image (not mine) of a phone dropping soundless from a white fire escape. I see it fall. It drops to the ground under the tree (my tree). It hits and no one can find it.