If you asked me when I met Wendy Chang, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. All I know was that I met her before the age where one could even fathom the idea of cool. But it is because of her that I came to realize what exactly that word meant, because to me, my goodness, Wendy was the epitome of cool.
Every time my mother and her mother sat downstairs chatting and drinking tea, I would race upstairs, nervously to her room. I always knocked quietly, as if fearing the disturbance to whatever cool thing Wendy must have been doing.
And as usual, she was studying, but she never failed to take a moment from her workload to give me a bit of attention. See, Wendy was 3 years my senior and focused on her path to college, for her mother had moved to the US, leaving her husband working alone in Taiwan, for the purpose of making sure that she got the best education possible. At that point, I began to notice a reoccurring pattern: her room was always filled with textbooks and homework, her AIM bar was always blinking with a billion messages from her plentiful friends, and her eyes were always red. I remember thinking, wow, that’s how hard she studies every day, that her eyes are always red with exhaustion.
I entered high school, awkwardly. Yet Wendy-fashionable, popular, genius Wendy-was not afraid to be seen taking this awkward little 13 year old out to lunch.
A year later, Wendy left for Harvard. We were all so proud. Her mother, having proudly accomplished the deed of sending Wendy to the best school possible, packed her bags and moved back to Taiwan.
Every time Wendy came home to visit, I watched her for signs of the pretentious haughtiness that I had heard Harvard students had, and every time, I saw the same calm, cool, collected and red-eyed woman I had always admired who never failed to ask me about how I was and how my life was.
Finally, it was my turn to go to college. I remember seeing her the day I found out that I had gotten into UCLA and excitedly telling her about it. I was so ready to run off, so ready to become a cool college girl, leaving Irvine behind me.
I don’t remember the last time I saw her; it's all blended in my mind, but I think we were eating pastries. I do remember exactly where I was when I received the news.
It was close to the end of my freshman year and I had grown into a cocky almost-sophomore who believed herself to be already so darn independent. I was standing right outside of the Bruin Cafe when my mother called me. I remember hearing the words, “Wendy is gone. She killed herself.” I remember the disbelief, the numbness, the confusion. I remember not understanding what that meant.
She hung herself in her room. There was no note, no message. She was 22 years old. Turns out, she had planned it. She had deactivated her Facebook about a month before hand and had gotten a temporary cellphone. She had just completed and turned in her Honors thesis on Edith Wharton. She had been saying good bye to her friends around her, but everyone had just brushed it off to the fact that she was graduating. Her mother had just flown into Boston to see her graduate.
An article on her death states that “Friends remembered Chang as a warm and engaging woman who combined academic excellence with a love for painting and cooking”. Warm. Engaging. Love. These words barely touched the tip of what Wendy exuded. Nothing I say can demonstrate to you the way that Wendy never once forced attention on herself, yet you wanted to listen to her anyways. Or the way that Wendy never once tried to prove to you how brilliant she was, yet no one could be surprised that she went to Harvard. Or that Wendy never complained about anything, but that she would always be willing to listen to me complain.
So why would someone so wonderful, brilliant, and promising, take her own life? She’s been gone 3 years, and still, I wonder. I know now, that there was a deep and overpowering pain within her this whole time. I know now that her soft smile did not necessarily mean that she was happy. I know now that I should have asked why her eyes were always red.
Today is not the anniversary of her death or her birthday or any day that has any sort of significance about it. But today, I am thinking of her. Today, I am reminding myself to solve the pains in my heart in a healthy manner, not squashing my problems nor lashing out. Today, I am reminding myself to not just look at the people around me, but really try to see them. Today, I am reminding myself to hug my friends and family, and to make sure that they are okay
Today, I am reminding myself of everything I ever admired about Wendy, and to try my best to embody her qualities.
Wendy, you probably have no idea the impact you have had on my life and who I am. You never knew how much I admired you; I was too shy to tell you. But because of you, I will go out and try to do something in my life that I love. I will not allow a moment to be wasted or let unhappiness pull me away from this life that I have been so lucky to have. And I will always aspire to be as gosh darn cool as you. So thank you. I am lucky to have known you. I hope that one day, be it in the afterlife or another life, I will see you again.