Dear College Peer,
A few Wednesday mornings ago life started off as any other: the sun was out, the sky was blue, and I’m sure most of you now are thinking back asking yourselves; what did I do this Wednesday. For most, it was probably an average day of the week, another in the month of March, in the second semester of college.
For Boston University students; this was not the case. At ten in the morning, the lobby of my dorm was swarming with policemen, both BU police, and Boston police, as well as investigators. But we went to class because there had been no BU alerts and everything seemed totally not okay, but also fine. No one was posing an immediate threat, we later learned.
The day went by without much more information. Other classes almost seemed normal. Mid-afternoon an article came out in our college newspaper, BU Today, stating that a “male freshman [was] found dead at Kilachand Hall on Bay State Road Wednesday morning.” A general buzz spread throughout campus; who was he? But the identity remained private out of respect for his family.
Later that afternoon the residents of Kilachand Hall received an email inviting us to an update on the investigation with the police chief.
I got to the meeting early. So did my suite-mates. When I went over to their table and started to say something, one of them said: “don’t don’t don’t.” I didn’t know what she meant or what was happening. I turned to my other roommate, Martina, who was not sitting at the table, “they’ll tell you later,” she told me. “What happened?” I continued to press. Finally, she broke, “they knew him,” she whispers.
My stomach does a backflip and tears are welling up in my eyes. I can’t breathe. I knew him too. I don’t need to look behind me at their table to know exactly who is missing.
Jai Menon was a freshman at Boston University studying economics. He was from Briar Cliff Manor, New York. Online there is a memory book where family, friends, teachers, and people who didn’t even know Jai have shared their warm thoughts on the wonderful person that he was. They described him as peaceful and calm, as a shining light, as someone, they will never forget.
“Jai was a smart, hard-working, and kind student,” said Paloma Pueyo, his teaching fellow in Spanish class. “His classmates and I will sorely miss him and his wonderful presence in our class. Our hearts and thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”
Jai was involved on campus, he was a member of the Escort Security Service; he walked students back to their dorms late at night to ensure they felt comfortable getting home. Jai’s job speaks to the kind of person that he was: caring, kind, and an active community member.
Jai was also a third-degree black belt in karate, something he loved. He was also an instructor or a Sensei.
His best friends at college described him as easygoing, goofy, and kind.
That Wednesday night, we stayed for the meeting to hear what the police had to say.
What they had to say was not much at all. In fact, there was no new knowledge because the investigation remained confidential out of respect for the family. It was confidential but we knew. I turned around to look at Cooper, Amy, and Christopher.
They were his best friends.
That night my suite piled onto one bed. We cuddled and ordered way too much takeout. We tried to fall asleep but sleep doesn’t come to those with racing minds. Not even episodes of Friends or The Office could clear our heads. Our heads were and still are filled with questions. Questions that as of now seem will never be answered.
Finally around 2 a.m. Cooper asked me if I wanted to go for a walk to get some fresh air. We took a long and leisurely stroll down the block and back around. We asked each other all the questions we had. Each question was followed by more questions; that’s what happens when you don’t have answers. Nothing makes sense; it still doesn’t.
One question resided over all: “how did no one see anything coming?” Cooper had had dinner with him that night. “Everything was normal, we joked around, ” she told me, “everything was normal.”
On Thursday, it was hard to concentrate. Cooper and Amy didn’t go to class. At around 3 that day my friend Rebeca and I went to return a vacuum she had borrowed from the Residence Life office. We walked into the room to find Jenn, our Area Director, hugging two people, a man, and a woman. I knew who they were in a heartbeat. “Do you want to meet them?” Jenn asked me as they began to walk out. I nodded, “Raji,” she says, the woman turns, “this was another one of Jai’s friends.” This is the first time I’ve heard his name out loud. It becomes real and even more real as his father immediately wraps me in a tight warm hug. It feels safe. I turn to his mother, her hug is just as warm.
I look at both of them and I tell them “I didn’t know him very well, but we had dinner a few times. He was best friends with my suite-mates; I know how happy he made them.” His mother takes my hands on her own, her brown eyes are hollow and sad.
“Make sure you call your mom and tell her what’s going on, ok? Call her often and tell her how you really are. Call her so she knows how you’re doing.”
“I will,” I promise not only her but also myself. I hug each of them again.
We can all do this.
I urge each and every single one of you reading this article, take a minute out of your day and call your mother. Do it right now. Tell her hi, tell her how you are, tell her what’s really going on.
Jai played video games with his eleven-year-old brother Neel every night. He was in constant contact with his family and yet there was not even a glimpse of a clue.
Jai talked to his parents every day of college. He told them that he loved BU and that this was where he was meant to be. At the memorial service, his Dad told a story of Jai’s love for BU. He told us they were at a family dinner trying to persuade Jai to choose a cheaper college but he wouldn’t budge. Then, out of complete anger, Jai left the table and ripped the BU sweatshirt he had been wearing into two pieces right off his chest. His Dad laughed after he told this story, it was a perfect illustration of how deeply Jai wanted to go to BU.
We can be in a place we love, with people who make us happy and yet still not feel right. Jai’s life is a testament to this. He had wonderful friends and family and yet something deeper must have been just below the surface; something none of us will ever understand.
But what we can understand is that we will never truly know another’s story. As well as we think we know someone, there is always more than meets the eye.
No one saw Jai’s death coming. Not his mom, not his dad, not his brother, not his best friends, not his teachers, or advisors, or family friends. No one. He left no indication of what was wrong and thus he’s left his loved ones lost to question what was really going on in his life. We may never know Jai’s full story but we can use it to better ourselves.
Smile when you pass people going to class.
Ask that girl in your physics class to get lunch.
Say hi to people by name, it makes them feel recognized.
Regularly ask how your friends are, and truly care about what they say.
Don’t hesitate to reach out for help; silence helps no one.
Most importantly, let us each make a promise to call our moms and tell them how life really is.
Image via Anna Schultz