Hazy Gray and Hints of Haley
Part 2) To the younger version of myself, after experiencing the death of a fellow student and best friend.
By ARIANA AKBARI
If there is one thing that I remember from taking SLS20 my freshman spring, it is that every time you recall a memory, you recall it a little less perfectly. In the end, all of your favorite memories – the ones that you have recalled the most – are just blurs, with their details filled in by your imagination. My freshman fall was a really sweet time for me, so I have recalled the memories a lot. The outlines of the images are gone now, but the colors involved remain, like smeared blotches of paint on a canvas: Haley had a purple backpack. I wore a yellow dress. The sky was bright blue against the red brick. We met in the fall, as the leaves turned from green to orange.
Haley Rue was a student here, whose name, if you said it on campus a couple of years ago, would trigger both recognition and sadness in the eyes of anyone who heard you. In 2013, she was an incoming Harvard freshman from Tacoma, Washington. She excelled across a variety of academic and extracurricular disciplines – from economics to English and musical theater to debate. She was a devout Lutheran, who loved her mom and talked to her every day on the phone. She nerded out over Stephen King and Coldplay (the “Nickelback of pop,” she called them), obsessed over the clothes at Anthropologie (until she got a job there), and had a uniquely curious way of being simultaneously dorky and elegant (Like Audrey Hepburn…but if Audrey Hepburn had once been a chubby, mixed-race kid with braces and frizzy hair…who also made impromptu music videos with her friends, dressed like superheroes).
Haley Rue was also one of the best friends I made my freshman fall, who eventually turned into one of my blockmates. We clicked immediately when we first met and afterwards got up to all sorts of shenanigans: We sang and danced to Bastille in Annenberg, enthusiastically supported the Harvard Men’s Basketball team at their games, and created our own nonsense romantic philosophies in the basement of Canaday. Regardless of what we were doing, when we were together, we were smiling.
Haley passed away in the summer of 2014, after our freshman year. She was travel-blogging for Let’s Go, a student solo-travel publication, in Germany. The circumstances around the event are still poorly understood. Because of the accidental and sudden nature of the tragedy, it is likely that they will remain poorly understood.
That subsequent fall was strange and depressing for everyone on campus, I think, but especially so for those who were close to Haley. My boyfriend at the time remarked to me that her loss felt “gravitational” among the student body. It was like a strong pull had existed and then suddenly snapped, causing a ripple that hit those who had been closest to her the hardest with her absence. Me among them.
When I try to recall memories from that fall, the color of everything is a hazy grey and hints of Haley. In person, online, and on my phone, I was receiving so many messages from people who knew Haley: I would receive emails from Harvard administration about Haley. People would message me online about Haley. In person, everyone who talked to me, talked about Haley. The result was that many people found their own closure or connected to one another through speaking with me about Haley. However, in this process, they hurt me even more.
As a result, in order to heal, I have not said or written the name Haley Rue in years. However, I know more than most just how short the institutional memory of Harvard is, and I think that remembering the unique joie de vivre Haley brought to the Harvard campus and to world beyond is still important. I also hope that in writing this, that if a tragedy like Haley’s should happen at Harvard in the future that students will have a catalogued resource of one woman’s experienced advice on how to react.
To the younger version of myself, after experiencing the death of a fellow student and best friend, I would say:
- Do not go on a vigilante international journey with the secret agenda of potentially being smited by the universe for the same reasons for which Haley was smited. That would be a very silly thing to do. Haley did nothing wrong and was a beautiful person, inside and out. Depending on what you believe, it was either “just a freak accident” or “just her time.”
- Make your parents understand that it is important for them to be there for you at this time, even though they are fighting their own battles. Maybe give them a book that teaches them how to do this.
- Temporarily delete your social media accounts. Change your phone number – you made way too many “friends” freshman year – and text only those closest to you. Be with your family and talk to your parents. They have known you and loved you the longest.
- When you come back to school in the fall, do not go through punch, even though the little wax-stamped letters are so enticing. The experience of schmoozing with older students just to gain superficial social acceptance will make you sadder.
- Try to remove yourself from non-essential extracurricular and social organizations for this time. Choose easy, interesting classes with the friends you like and trust the most. Find a cool campus job. Do not worry so much about declaring “the right” concentration.
- Although your relationship with Haley was special and amazing, you only knew her for less than a year. She did not define your life while she was living, and although she changed it briefly for the better, she does not need to define it while she is not. Learn to define your own life as soon as possible.
- Lastly, a quote used by Haley herself when she addressed her high school student body at her own graduation: “Cherish [every moment, every person you meet], because when [it’s, they’re] gone, you’ll wish you had.”
I loved Haley and still do, but her name over the past few years has brought me substantially more pain than happiness. If this article moves you, you are welcome to toss a heart my way, but if you care about my wellbeing or have fundamental respect for my wishes, do not talk to me or ask me about Haley unless I prompt you on the subject first. Instead, I recommend you speak to Haley’s family.
Over the last few years, Haley’s mom and aunt, Janet and Kate, respectively, and the rest of her family has done a great deal to carry on her memory. They set up a scholarship fund for her at her alma mater, formerly Mount Rainier Lutheran High School, now Concordia Christian Academy, and also created Haley’s Place, a temporary home for parents suffering from the loss of a child. They are currently not taking donations, but welcome those seeking more information about Haley or Haley’s Place. It is best to contact them @haleysplace.org.
Ariana Akbari ’19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) regrettably, cannot change her own past, but she writes to her younger self with the hope of positively influencing the futures of fellow students.