Thursday, April 16, 2009

Deborah in free fall

Deborah Digges, a longtime colleague, killed herself by jumping from the top of a sports stadium in Amherst, Massachusetts on Friday, 10 April 2009. There is a category of friendly colleagues, people you know only through work and see seldom, but enjoy running into whenever you do. Deborah was in that category for me and it makes me sad that I won’t ever have that small pleasure again. My husband was the first at the university to learn about her death when her son, a former student, called on Saturday. The grim details came a day or two later. At a hastily organized memorial service, students and colleagues, stunned and sorrowful, read poems and talked of her warmth and talent and passion for language, and some cried as they described her teacherly embrace. Afterwards, everyone talked about how spectacularly she had died. I make no claims on knowing how or why she came to her resolve – I didn’t know her that well and it seems kind of prurient to speculate – nor do I know much about the physics of free fall. It occurred to me that if you really mean to end it, it’s a good idea to be sure you’ll be dead and not just badly messed up and alive to suffer. But more haunting is an image I’ve concocted of Deborah (who was a babe, though that’s not a thing obituaries mention) in mid-air, hair flying up like in a cartoon, arms stretched wide to the wind. And I keep wondering what was in her mind in the moments after she stepped off that edge and before she landed.