1991. That was the year I spent my days lingering about the English Department at the University of Hawaii – after I had decided to major in marine biology, but before I chose to major in French. Outside Kuykendall Hall there was a large courtyard with round stone tables and benches; a kiosk with an awning sold snacks and coffee. When the weather was dry the vague conversation of students coming and going served as relaxing white noise: a serene backdrop for studying or daydreaming.
That’s where I met Randall Jay Ching. (I don’t think he will mind if I use his real name.) He was a good-looking Chinese guy, about 3 years older than me. Tall and slender, with his signature worn jeans and leather jacket, he always held his motorcycle helmet in one hand: he could secure the helmet onto his bike, he said, but that wouldn’t keep people from emptying soda cans into it.
Randy was a country boy, an only child who grew up on Rice Street in a quiet neighborhood on Kaua’i. His first job was in a tofu factory. (He hated tofu.) I liked his half-goofy, half-philosophical outlook on life. I liked how he held himself to a high standard of behavior even when nobody was watching. He was a stickler about motorcycle safety, and if he didn’t have two helmets when he took me around, he would insist that I wear the helmet. He respected other people’s property, never taking so much as a shortcut if it meant that he would tread on a space that was not his. He valued respect of all things; and he treated me with great respect. He had ambitions for his life, goals and plans, or so I thought. I loved all these qualities about him, and I fell in love with him.
But he would not date me. No matter how many afternoons we spent studying behind Kuykendall Hall; no matter how many times we kissed or held hands; no matter how many times we went to Legend Restaurant for their dim-sum and melt-in-your-mouth look-fun, he would not concede to being my boyfriend, nor offer any explanation why.
He finished his course work that year, and returned to Kaua’i after he graduated. We corresponded by mail; I still have a few of his letters. He got a government job on Kaua’i, and, as is typical with the passing of time, we lost touch with one another.
I moved on with my life; got married in 1996; continued with my French studies; and moved into an apartment within walking distance of the University. I would always pass near the apartment where he used to live and would think of him, wonder about him.
As it happened, one day, in about 1998, I stopped in at the 7-11 behind his very same former apartment, and bumped into him. It was so pleasurable to see him again, looking the same as ever. He had decided to quit Kaua’i for the big city life of Honolulu. I had missed him, and I gave him my phone number and told him to give me a call, and let’s go have lunch or something sometime. He gave me his phone number too.
A week passed, and I didn’t hear from him. I called his number. It was disconnected. I tried again later. Same thing. I looked up his parents’ number in the phone book and called them. The mother answered. Or was it the father? I honestly don’t remember anymore. Hadn’t I heard? Heard what? Randy had committed suicide just 3 days earlier. I called his best friend Erik. Randy had shot himself in the head on the couch of his living room. He had imposed this scene for his unfortunate roommate to walk into.
I don’t believe I ever really got over his death. The timing of it – 3 days after I bumped into him – what did that mean? What had he meant to communicate by leaving such messy brutality to be cleaned up by those he loved? And as an only child, how could he possibly justify this cruel act to his parents? He left no note; only plans for a new bike that he had wanted to purchase. He was 32 years old. No one had any explanations for his actions. I have only painful suppositions.
I really want to see him again in the afterlife. I want to hug him and tell him I miss him and ask him why he did what he did. I might scold him, or, less judgmentally, just reflect with him over the course that our lives took. Or maybe we could just visit Kuykendall Hall and let the sights and sounds and smells of it exhume long lost memories and feelings. It doesn’t matter really – I would make any excuse to just spend time with him again.
I do not normally think about where I will go after I die. So it is surprising – a rare event indeed – that I would turn so reflexively, so involuntarily, toward religion to console my grief; because I am absolutely not a religious person. But the emotion that I felt – that I still feel now sometimes more than 10 years later – makes me want to believe in God almost against my will. How did the existence of God, so irreconcilable in my mind, become such a comfortable, easy safety net for me to fall into? How did a notion that I once considered completely implausible become such a temptress to resolve the unanswerable questions about life and death?
But whenever I think of Randy, I desperately hope that there is an afterlife.