The saddest of university events in September are the suicides of sensitive, displaced, and troubled freshmen. To a new school and city they bring an old weight of personal grief.
Like Allan Oakley Hunter of NYU, their deaths are the impulsive dramatic gestures of the young, rather than the considered, quiet exits of the old. A failed love affair becomes the final intolerable thing, and they jump off of a roof. A fight with their father pushes them over the edge, and they leap from a window.
At UD's own urban university, as at the very similar NYU, there have been an unsettling number of student suicides over the last few years, with all of the sorrow and self-scrutiny among people on campus that attends them. How can we improve our psychiatric services? Can professors and students be taught to develop an eye for the signs of impending suicide among their students and friends? Is there something about our urban setting which contributes to a sense of alienation?
Hunter was "fascinated with morbidity," a friend says. In his suicide note, he cited Kurt Cobain. He was "a loner type with a wild look in his eye." Musical, bookish, independent, he'd missed classes and become disheveled and absent-minded... But none of this is particularly abnormal for an artistic freshman in an intense academic and urban setting, and UD doubts she would have made anything of it... She wouldn't in any case have known Hunter well enough to detect variations, which is what makes September so risky. An uptick in vulnerability combines with a setting full of strangers.
"Part of suicide's pain is the elusiveness of any easy answers," wrote NYU's president about Hunter in a letter to the campus community.
His words reminded me of "The Suicides," a poem by Donald Justice. It ends like this:
When the last door had been closed,
You watched, inwardly raging,
For the first glimpse of yourselves,
Approaching, jangling their keys.
Musicians of the black keys,
At last you compose yourselves.
We hear the music raging
Under the lids we have closed.
Justice's suffocatingly symmetrical final words in these two stanzas suggest the entrapment by the self, the sense of no exit, that, despite its elusiveness, the suicide conveys to the world.