On the Death of a Recent Graduate

This morning, I woke up and habitually surfed the internet.  I looked at the news from Santa Cruz, and happened upon a story of the death of a girl who just graduated from UCSC.  She was about my age, and was driving her stuff from her Santa Cruz home back to her parents’ home in Riverside, where she would also be looking for a job, because job prospects are better in Riverside than in Santa Cruz right now.  This is very relatable, to say the least.

I, like so many others, know intimately the experience of packing all that stuff I’ve managed to accumulate, despite not trying to accumulate anything, tightly into my car and getting out on the highway, homeward bound.  I can even picture, vividly, how she drove through Santa Cruz one last time on her way to the onramp, knowing that this was, at least for now, the end of the lush, green haven that we Santa Cruz students have come to internalize, and maybe take for granted.

Maybe she, like I often do, thought of the first time she came to Santa Cruz, driving up and up and up and finally seeing the redwood trees so tall through the fog.  The chilly air was the perfect, sharp sensation against her skin, and in her nose there was the particular scent of the forest mixed with the ocean.  In the afternoon, the fog broke, and the sun warmed her body gently.  Coming from smoggy Riverside, she might even have finally felt… clean.  “And this,” she must have thought, her mind in communion with the hundreds of thousands of new Santa Cruz residents before her, before me, “is where I’m going to live.”

And now she’s dead.  On the highway, near Bakersfield, she attempted to pass a slower car, and hit a produce truck head-on.  Her body was ejected through the back window.  She wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.  She died instantly.  Santa Cruz and her friends were so far away, and they didn’t know that her body was laid there on the pavement.  They couldn’t have known what it was like to fly past all that stuff that she had accumulated and packed into the backseat, and die.

And Facebook.  Thanks to Facebook, I didn’t have to rely on comments in the obituary about what a good and caring person she was, and I didn’t have to only see the pictures that the newspaper editors chose as the most affecting representations of her when she was living.  I got to see her as she chose to represent herself on Facebook.  She liked snowboarding, she listened to Broken Social Scene and one of her favorite movies was Dazed and Confused.  I got to read her last status update about how annoyed she was with the problems that she assumed that she’d still have the next day.  Her final update: “Alright Universe you win, I give in.”

I don’t know what kind of meaning there is to life.  I’m not sure if I understand the value of life.  I try.  Can looking through a dead girl’s Facebook profile, and reading her words in the context of her recent death help me to better grasp the nature of life and death, of living and dying?  Do these things exist outside of abstract conceptions?  Or is there only light and the things it bounces off of?  And their shadows.

I am 23 years old.  There was a time when I was in Santa Cruz, California.  I am now in Brighton, England.  It’s sunny outside.

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~ by Matt Latham on July 13, 2009.

2 Responses to “On the Death of a Recent Graduate”

  1. Hopefully people who have been in her orbit in Santa Cruz will also be touched by the similarity of the experiences they shared with her and be inspired to create expressions of this in some way like you have.

  2. thank you for writing this.

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