I am not a philosopher, nor am I a writer. When I set out to transcribe this story into countless rows of words on a page, I had no intention of crafting a murder mystery or a crime novel. Maybe it seems like it, but that’s not how I felt. As I write I am only trying to understand something that cannot ever be understood – so it may be futile, but I am doing it anyway, so here I go. The section that follows contains all of the interesting facts surrounding Taiga’s death that have stood out to me over time.
In the days that followed, the biggest immediate question was that of suicide or murder. The community jumped to murder. For most people, the idea of Taiga killing himself was a complete impossibility. He was too perfect, too good, had too much going for him – and besides, they’d found me, an infamous good-for-nothing perpetually-drunk party-goer, standing over his dead body. Murder, clearly. Case closed.
But the thing is, I don’t think it was that simple. At this point in my life, if you were to ask me murder or suicide? I’d probably say both. I don’t think there’s such a clear-cut difference between the two. I might say, maybe he killed himself, but even then it’s murder, because society drove him to do it – but is that taking out his agency, his rationality? Is that too quickly framing a potential murderer? We tend to think that all questions must by nature have answers, easily explainable, rational answers. That’s not always the case.
If it was straight-up murder – that is, another person entered the basement, shot him, dropped the gun, and left before I got there – then who did it? It may as well have been me, but it wasn’t. Taiga and Isabella were having roommate problems – so was it Isabella, who upon his death almost instantly disappeared, never to be seen again? Maybe. This was another possibility that it seemed the community had failed to consider. But I honestly don’t think it was her. She was too strong-hearted – by which I mean, if she and Taiga had really been having such a significant issue that couldn’t be solved through words, she would have just moved out and found somewhere else to live. I don’t think she would have snuck into the basement of the library and shot him. To this day I wonder what happened to her, where she went and why. More unanswerable questions. Maybe a third party for whatever reason shot Taiga, kidnapped Isabella, and vanished. Maybe that third party killed her, too, and her body was just never found. But why this, why now? Who was that third party – someone from work, the guy he was dating, the drunk who slashed him across the thigh that one night? Why would they take both of my roommates – and not me? Maybe, after Taiga died, Isabella just up and left completely on her own volition, as part of her own way of processing the event, and she just never came back. I hope that she’s okay. I believe that she is. Perhaps one day in the future she’ll contact me and all these questions will be answered – but I am also equally prepared to accept that I’m just never going to know.
And what if it was suicide? Granted, I have no authority to speak on this subject – but as an outsider looking in, I’ve come to believe that most people driven to commit suicide actually go through with it not because of one singular reason but the buildup of many. I will never be as eloquent as Taiga was, nor do I hope to be – seriously, I haven’t changed that much – but if I really had to say it, I firmly believe in this very real metaphor that Taiga slipped through the cracks. Not by being invisible, but by standing out in a way that made it so nobody paid attention to him. I suspect that too many people, including myself, forgot that Taiga was himself a complex human being, that he had his own life, his own backstory, his own relationships, his own emotions. It took his death for us to remember that.
A lot of bombshells dropped in the weeks following. For one, Taiga Tatekawa wasn’t his real name. His ID was fake; he had a lot of money but nobody knew where from; the questions of how he passed his job interviews and even enrolled in a university, in a time and place where identity is so rigorously scrutinized, may never be answered. And why the fake identity in the first place? But all of this was covered up or overlooked in favor of the Taiga Tatekawa that we had known – or that we thought we had known – and I had no objection. The fact that he had lied about his name, and possibly his family and his history, didn’t make him a bad person. This is another thing his death taught me – people are more complex than we think. We can be simultaneously survivors and victims and perpetrators, and that doesn’t take away from who we are. I, for one, believe that Taiga’s deceit wasn’t out of malice. Maybe he was undocumented. Maybe he was a runaway. Who knows? Does it matter?
It might matter, depending on the paths and possibilities that we are brave enough – or paranoid enough – to entertain. I hadn’t mentioned this before, because it wasn’t important, but all of this happened around the time when our country was going to war. And it wasn’t one of the countless quiet, censored, professional-army wars. The draft was coming, and for once in our nation’s history, it was coming equally. There were no college deferments, no buy-outs, no substitutes, and up to a certain level even politicians were being put in uniform and shipped to boot camp. I couldn’t have cared less about all of this – I had such a bad track record, I was pretty sure I’d either be straight-up rejected or my superiors would get fed up and discharge me within a week – but I think it was scaring Taiga more than any of us knew. He never said a word to me about it, but I suspect he was stressed at the idea of being forced to participate in a war, maybe even being forced to fight, as a pacifist who espoused human love. And if the officials from the War Department one day walked in on one of his lectures and chose his side of the room to enlist, his fake identity would have automatically, unwillingly, come to light. Can our imaginations now even come close to the reality of how he was feeling at the time?
And what about me? I was just one of many. It may not seem like it, given that everything I’ve written has been from my perspective only, but Taiga had a whole line-up of classmates, juniors, and hopeless folks like me that he’d been trying to help. It’s not to underestimate his emotional strength and resilience, but I think that he’d been trying to take care of too many people, shoulder too many burdens on top of his own – and in the end, maybe drowning people, like me, pulled him under. I still remember that night when he’d first written the four characters of his fake, chosen name to show Isabella, and I can’t help but think: standing gracefully in a river, drowning in it. Like the stories of people who walk into the sea and never come back.
It’s easy for people to look at everything I’ve written and say suicide. It’s also easy for people to look at all the evidence and say that I killed him. As survivors, victims, and perpetrators, we are arrogant. We think we could have seen the signs, we think we can understand all the facts, we think we can look into a dead person’s heart and mind and deduce the simple reasons why they killed themselves or why someone else killed them. But after all this time has passed, I have to ask – do any of these questions even matter anymore? Does understanding the circumstances of his death matter more than understanding the circumstances of his life, the people he saved, the people he changed? Accepting the things we will never know is difficult, but hasn’t it always been more productive to focus on the things we actually do know, the memories we have, the emotions that can never be taken away?
When I first sat down to write this tale, I was incredibly determined to kill myself once I’d finished. A satisfactory, understandable conclusion – write my life story, put it in the paper shredder, and then die. But as I reach the closing of this chapter it occurs to me that this work, this stack of several dozen sheets of paper filled top to bottom with my completely unreadable scribbles, is not my life story. It’s someone else’s. At this point, Taiga’s death makes sense, but not mine –
So then what else can I do but go on living?