I wrote the following eulogy on December 29, 1998.
Emily Elizabeth Jacobs was killed by a drunk driver early the morning of December 27, 1998. She was 18.
For three summers during junior high and high school, I attended a so-called “program for talented youth”, Duke University’s Talent Identification Program, in Durham, NC. The summer program, ‘TIP’, was a three week island of friendship, learning, growing, and happiness for a few hundred students from all over the US and overseas. It was an escape from the structure of the classroom which all too often stifled the creativity of those who wanted to learn more than what was spoon-fed to them, who wanted to go beyond the boundaries of traditional memorization and multiple-choice tests. A few hundred of us came to the hot, thunderstorm-prone summer Duke campus and discovered that our 12-16-year-old dreams and plans weren’t all that farfetched, weren’t so unique that we’d never find anyone to share them, weren’t impossible. We were TIPsters, and we were in love with each other and the future we suddenly saw wasn’t the impossibility some of our teachers back home told us it was.
My second summer at TIP, I arrived at Raleigh-Durham International Airport with a bulging duffel bag, a name tag, and instructions to look for a tall woman wearing all yellow with a TIP sign. My flight had been delayed out of La Guardia, and so I was somewhat nervous that the ride van might have left me behind. I wandered around the baggage claim area, and a voice shouted above the din of the PA system. “TIP person! with the name tag!”. I looked around, but couldn’t find the voice in the crowded room. Pushing towards where I’d heard the caller, I finally found a shortish girl of about 11 with round silver-framed glasses, shoulder-length black hair, a t-shirt depicting the Milky Way galaxy with an arrow noting “you are here”, and a suitcase rather larger than she was.
“Hi-I’m-Emily-Did-we-miss-the-van?” her words rushed out on top of each other in a high-voiced stream.
Oh well, there went my hope for someone who actually knew what was going on.
“I think we did. I haven’t seen anyone else.”
Emily looked crestfallen. I offered to help her with her bag (it later turned out that she’d packed a pretty impressive library), and via an assortment of helpful airport people, telephone operators, and program administrators, we finally made it to campus.
Normally, Emily would have been in the first-year dorm, and I across the quad in second-year. Emily, however, had bad allergies and needed to be in an air-conditioned room, and the first-year dorm’s wiring couldn’t handle air conditioners. So later that night we found ourselves next-door neighbors; in fact, we shared a door adjoining our rooms which, while locked, yielded easily to five fellow students armed with a battering ram (read: chair).
Emily was the anti-stereotyper’s nightmare. Every bad stereotype you can dredge up about a prepubescent nerd girl with a penchant for unicorns, biology, and NASA, applied to and seemed to be defined by her. She was arrogant and annoying and loud and demanding and presumptuous and and
and quiet and sweet and dazzlingly, brilliantly intelligent and had the tendency to seek out with eerie accuracy and quickness whoever was sick or exhausted or having trouble with their studies or was emotionally crashing into a brick wall because of the sheer intensity of the whole place, the work, the play, the whirlwind teenage and preteenage romances that squeezed what seemed like years of a relationship into a week, a day, or in one notable case, forty-five minutes. She would seek them out and cuddle with them in a chair in the corner of the sunny Lilly Law Library on East Campus or would drag someone away from their books and onto a bus to West Campus to wander among the flowery trails or sit in the Duke Chapel (an odd name for a large cathedral, but that’s another story) contemplating God, life, or whether there were any intracampus buses running at three in the morning (yes, but not many). I was blessed with this treatment on more occasions than I deserved, by dint of being her neighbor.
We were of course in love. Everyone on our hall knew it except the two of us. We fought constantly over music, whether my roommate and I should be allowed to keep the door open and so share the air conditioning, wake-up times, and pretty much everything else two people in a quasidomestic situation can disagree on. And we spent pretty much every waking moment together that we weren’t asleep, in class, or pointedly not speaking to one another.
The three weeks ended too soon, but we wrote to each other dutifully throughout the year. Of course, a letter every day turned into a letter every week turned into a month, two months … and then she got a Compuserve account and we were writing every day again.
The next summer was similar. The one after that, I was in a regular non-TIP undergraduate class at Duke, but she wasn’t at TIP, having gone abroad to an exchange program in Japan. We wrote nearly every day, and I kept her as updated as I could on what was happening at TIP, given I wasn’t a part of it, but on the same campus.
Over the past 3-4 years, we wrote less and less, writing only every month or two, but always as if we’d been together just the day before.
I last saw Emily in Boston in 1997. She was passing through the area with her family, and we arranged our schedules so we could go to a concert together. We hugged and talked and smiled a lot, and argued loudly over the proper amount of sugar to put on cereal, and whether or not lining up Cheerios and calling it ‘serial cereal’ was funny.
Yes, Emily, I agree. It’s pretty funny.
My love to you always.
She spins on the quad in circles, a pair of epicycles, round her own axis and another that only she can see, kicking up peat. Nobody else watches; my classmates have not yet woken, or haven’t slept yet, studying Beckett, McLuhan, Dirac. Four AM. An hour ago I heard the click of her door, the E-sharp of the hinge, (one, two, … eight), the muffled metallic thump of the fire doors. There’s a space on the sill I can sit, legs compressed by the rough plywood of the cheap dorm bureau, and shade my eyes from the sodium vapor lamp adjacent to the window.
Her glasses fly off and she stops to retrieve them, falling to her knees and padding forward on her hands on the tangent she thinks they described. Going the opposite way. She stops, looks at the sky, a gray predawn blur to her; she crawls in expanding spirals, hands fanning out over the grass. I’ve never watched her alone; she is far more graceful in her awkwardness when she thinks herself unobserved. Her cotton nightgown sticks to her legs; her hair consists of two dozen paintbrushes. My camera has no film.
It begins to rain warm, heavy North Carolinan puddles as she finally finds her errant glasses. She stays for a while, her tongue flicking out lazily to drink, then stands, stretches, hands far over her head. She reaches out as if to pull something in - her unseen displaced center? and walks back towards the dorm.
I realize it’s locked about when she does. I must let her in, without revealing that I’ve seen. Quantum; if she knows she was observed, her wave will collapse - backwards, even - and my memory will vanish. I leap to my closet, pulling on a poncho, running down the stairs (sharp foot-echos in the stairwell).
“Oh!” I’m surprised, of course, to see her waiting at the door. “I was just going out. Walk in the rain. It’s raining. But you know that. You’re wet. Um.” I stand aside and let her in. She is blinking rapidly; whole-eye squeezes of surprise, head pushed forward on long neck, looking up at me.
“Rain. Yes.” She scampers up the stairs two at a time. I realize now that I’m committed to a walk in the rain; can’t blow my cover. Step outside, head for the library, where all-night tea awaits.