A Clean Slate by Michael Ahn

When I told my shrink I was leaving the city for Cornell in the Finger Lakes area, he talked about a milestone and key psychoanalytic juncture and all that psycho-jargon bull.
“It’ll be a new beginning, Robert,” he said. “A clean slate.”
He was probably glad to get rid of me.
My parents have had me in analysis since ‘61 when I was thirteen, and I’m not sure what it has done for me. On the one hand, it’s possible his sessions have taken a little load off them, because they were certain something wasn’t quite right with me; but on the other hand, I don’t think I have problems, nothing serious anyway. True, I don’t connect well with people, but then most people aren’t worth my time.
Dr. Gannon throws out words like “borderline personality disorder” and “dysfunctional schemata.” He’s one of those Park Avenue types with degrees from Hopkins and Harvard that charges $50 an hour. Over the last few years, maybe he’s helped me figure out people. The only problem with me may be that I’m a genius. My IQ is off the charts, and getting a 1600 on my SATs was a breeze. The Wechsler Intelligence and the Stanford-Binet have placed me in the exceptional category.
When I was twelve, I was in a summer program for gifted children. It was funded by a foundation, Ford or Kaiser or something. On the first day they gathered the kids, about twenty of us, into a gymnasium. Then they gave each of us one clean sheet of paper, eight and a half by eleven.
“Okay children,” the head teacher said. “We want you to make an airplane with the paper, a plane that will travel far. Whoever comes up with a design that travels the farthest will be the winner. And you’ve got five minutes.”
I’m thinking, what’s this supposed to prove? Anyway, all the kids wanted to show that they were a whiz. They were pathetic, tense and all consumed. I’ll admit a few of the kids crafted prodigious designs, shapes and forms I’d had never seen. One kid folded his paper into a perfect missile—symmetric and balanced, with little fan-like rudders. I crumpled my paper into a ball, wadded tight, and compressed.
When the five minutes were up, the teacher had us take turns, one at a time, to throw our planes. It was no contest. My wadded ball carried across the gym and then rolled to the wall. The teachers huddled in a spirited discussion and then their leader announced, “Robert Caldwell is the winner. His extraordinary design demonstrated uncommon creativity—a true genius.”
I thought I was just bored.
The summer was filled with tedious classes, trig for sixth graders and pre-calc Boolean Logic. I don’t remember whether the classes were the real stuff, it was too easy. On the last day of the summer program, we had a party with cupcakes and A&W root beer. At the time handwriting analysis was becoming a vogue and taken seriously, and it was supposed to reveal your intelligence and even your temperament. The teacher had everyone complete a handwriting summary of their experience in the program.
Again I was a step ahead of the game. When I’d heard about the handwriting theory in fourth grade, I began to mimic pen scripts of a genius—small, upright without slant, and the letter “e” that looked like an ampersand. Along with other traits, I continued to write like a genius since then. So, when the teachers examined my writing, they declared me to be a genius.
In grade school my parents bragged about me to all their friends—how I received the highest scores on standardized tests, how I knew the names of every dinosaur from Brachyceratops to Triceratops by age three, how I had memorized every bird in the Peterson’s bird book before I could read. But when I turned thirteen, they began to be concerned. It was June and my hobby was dragonflies, those insects that prey on mosquitoes and other bugs, but use flying mechanics like no other creature. They fly with four wings with unusual pitching strokes, up and down instead of back and forth. This allows them to hover like a helicopter and even shift into reverse. At rest they don’t fold their wings like other insects but extend them horizontally as if to display their elegance.
I had about a dozen dragonflies in an empty fish bowl, fluttering and covered by a tin cap punched with holes. On my desk I would take them out, one at a time, and pluck their wings. I saw that they didn’t die immediately but crawled aberrantly as if they were intoxicated. Within an hour or two, the plucked insects would cease to move. I wondered: Did they die from physical trauma or something else? I continued the experiment with several more and received the same results. I told my mother what I had done. She was horrified.
“What you did was cruel, Robert,” she told me. “You shouldn’t torture God’s helpless creatures.”
Her words only inspired me. I obtained a large cotton ball, lit it with a match, and dropped it into the fish bowl with the remaining dragonflies. For this experiment I closed the bowl with a cap without holes. The bluish smoke rose to the top of the bowl, slowly at first, then as the cotton turned black, the smoke thickened and became opaque. The dragonflies fought for positions at the top of the bowl, their wings fluttering as if on fire. One by one they dropped to the bottom, shivering briefly and then motionless.
Around this time my mother uncovered dirty magazines in my room—Betty Paige glossies showing Betty tied up to bedposts or holding a whip over a blindfolded guy. I bought them from this kid in the neighborhood who had stolen them from his father; I paid a bundle. My mother seized them but it was easy to get more.
My mother was troubled I didn’t have friends. I had begun to play chess and had rapidly advanced to the master level by the time I joined the Manhattan Chess Club, where I spent my free hours. My mother was distressed that I would spend so many hours with old men staring at a chess board, and I’m sure she was also thinking that there weren’t any teen girls around. But chess is a compelling game. Dr. Gannon knew a little about chess, and being a partial Freudian, he told me it was a game of patricide. Fifty bucks an hour, and that’s what he had to tell me about the game. The queen, or the mother figure, was the most powerful, and the king was the weakest, though the most valuable. Two men stare at the same board for hours, not allowed to touch the opponent’s pieces—conflicts surrounding aggression, homosexuality, masturbation and narcissism. That’s how a psychiatrist and chess master named Reuben Fine explained it, so Gannon told me.
Aside from chess, physics devoured most of my time. I started off with Newtonian physics and progressed to relativity. I had learned calculus by ninth grade, and from there physics was just a matter of reading the books and journals. Since starting high school I had won several science contests, a couple of them at the state level.
I learned of Hans Bethe from the American Institute of Physics Journal, which described his Nobel Prize for work in quantum electrodynamics in addition to his work on the atom bomb. But what impressed me was that he nurtured his protégé, Richard Feynman, who ended up receiving a Nobel Prize as well. So, I was willing to let Hans Bethe help me become the greatest physicist since Einstein and the first Nobel Laureate in my family history.
I was accepted at every college I applied to, along with some I hadn’t applied to, and they all gave me scholarships. I considered Columbia and MIT, but my family encouraged me to go to a school in the countryside, away from the city.
My parents said they would drive me the 250 miles from the city, but I didn’t want an escort; it seemed so puerile. They offered to fly me up on Mohawk Air from LaGuardia, but I don’t like to fly. I don’t trust airplanes, and I trust pilots even less. The train services had recently stopped, so I took a Greyhound. It wasn’t bad. I had my physics books and dirty magazines to keep me company for the five-hour ride.
My parents also insisted I live in the dorms and have a roommate. They thought the dorm atmosphere would help me. Frankly, I disliked the idea of sharing a little room with someone else, but even Gannon supported the idea. “A roommate will help you to interact and socialize better,” he had told me.
The minute I met my new roommate, I didn’t like him. He sat at his desk in a blue shirt with a bow-tie. A bow-tie.
He jumped up. “Hi, Robert. I’m Alvin Holmes from Baaston.” Baaston. He apologized for already having chosen his bed and desk. What did I care, they were both the same. Then he spittled our little room with small talk: what was my major, where in the city had I lived, what prep school had I attended, on and on. He was trying to be pleasant but I was bored.
Our dorm was at the bottom of a long hill leading to the main campus. It was built after the war, and the boxy architecture clashed with the rest of the campus like a polka dot tie over a Madras plaid shirt—like Alvin and me. I wished I had a room to myself and didn’t know how long I would be able to last with this guy.
By the time I unloaded my suitcases and piled my books on my desk, the halls had filled with students and parents. The corridor echoed with hi-I’m-so-and-so small talk and chit chat, the wall phone ringing endlessly. It was hard to breathe. I excused myself from Alvin and set out to take a self-guided tour of campus.
There were towering elm trees all over the campus, and I admit they were striking, even more so than the ones in Central Park. I walked through the libraries and the student union building. I checked out the coeds, some who could have stepped out of The Great Gatsby carrying tennis rackets and wearing white headbands, and others swaggering like bull dykes. Women—that’s another concern my parents had about me. I was an only child; they had placed all their eggs in one basket. And since they had never seen me with a girl, they were anxious. Dr. Gannon had prodded me about that once. I told him I wasn’t a homo and that the whole idea of two men together was disgusting. But I also told to him that women were weak and inferior. How many Nobel winners in physics were women? Only one, Madame Curie. She had won in chemistry and physics, but it was really chemistry. There weren’t any female grandmasters in chess either.
In the physics building I found Hans Bethe’s office. The door was open, but he wasn’t in. The office had books on shelves, a walnut desk, and reams of papers scattered everywhere. It was so ordinary. Maybe people aren’t like objects in motion, I thought, predictable like equations.
As I continued my walk, I had difficulty imagining that ice a mile thick had covered all this land 10,000 years before. When the glaciers moved, inches at a time, the Finger Lakes were scratched out, and gorges that fed the lakes were created. One of those lakes and gorges bisected the campus. I stood on a bridge connecting the divide that separated the women’s dorms from the rest of the university. Two hundred feet below, tiny specks of students swam and bathed beneath the falls. Some were jumping off the shale ledges, while others picnicked and drank beer and wine from gallon jugs. I could never fit in with these people, I thought. I have too much to do.
Loud music blared from some fraternity houses while others had live bands on their lawn. You could see brawny guys in T-shirts rolling kegs of beer into the houses, while their frat brothers cruised the campus roads in their convertibles, the racket grating my nerves.
A ten acre lake along a narrow strip of woods fed the gorge. The timbers stood tall at the edge of the water. I followed a dirt path, tree-covered, dark and cool. A mosquito buzzed around me and began to suck through the perspiration puddled on my neck. I slapped it dead and wiped my palm of smeared blood onto my pants. Suddenly I was mindful of the silence, the campus sounds buffered. I looked up at the sky, studying the rays of light piercing through branches in vibrating shafts. Lower down, the beams trembled off what appeared to be a vertical line against tangled branches. My eyes locked on to the pendulum tied to a large tree branch, a long rope with a man hanging at its end, his feet dangling above the ground. I froze. The body was motionless, like a heavy brass plumb pointing straight to the center of earth. I had once seen a dead dog in Central Park, but there was no comparison. As the shock tapered, I stepped closer to the lifeless body.
The man appeared too old to be a student, perhaps a young professor. He was dark-skinned and stout and wore a striped shirt. Maybe an East Indian or an Arab. His head fell limply to one side, and his swollen tongue protruded from his mouth, probably forced out by the noose pushing against the larynx. I had studied the signs of death years back when I had dismantled dragonflies. The man’s tongue had turned red-black. I walked closer and twirled the body sideways, where I could see neck burns and brown scraped skin. His face and neck had darkened purple, with his jugular veins scrunched. The dried sheeny mucus pouring from his nose glistened, and his eyes were open wide, staring past me. A dark spot spread from the seat of his khakis, and I could smell the reek.
The man’s hands were tied behind his back, the rope formed into large loops like bows. His hands weren’t bound together but separated by several inches of rope. He was five feet off the ground, which meant that the weight of his falling body must have crushed the cervical spine. It must have been like the snap of a light switch, and I guessed that he didn’t suffer in the final seconds. Not that it mattered.
I slogged out of the woods to the lodge next to the lake and asked an acne-faced kid behind the counter for his supervisor. He said no one was around. When I told him about the hanging, he turned white and told me I could call the campus police using the pay phone; he handed me a dime from the cash register. It wasn’t long before three campus police cars arrived. I led them to the corpse, and then they called in the town police. A policeman questioned me, taking notes. Students began to make their way toward the commotion, but the cops turned them all back. It was doubtful that anyone but me and the authorities had witnessed the body. I was exhausted.
Later that day the police interviewed me again back at my dorm. A representative from the International Student Organization came with them. After the police departed he told me about the victim.
“His name was Kasuri, a Pakistani. He had just completed his doctorate in engineering. It will be ruled a suicide. That happens around here, but they usually jump into the gorge from one of the bridges. The police said this guy actually tied his hands in front of him and then managed to put his legs over them. He must have wanted to make sure he didn’t try to free himself once he jumped from the branch.”
“Okay, but why did he do it?”
“He had been living with an American girl. Kasuri’s friends told us he had been despondent about going back to his wife in Rangpur. They say he was in love with his girlfriend here.”
I didn’t know much about love, but that didn’t make sense to me. He had a wife in Pakistan and a new lover in America. Why not just leave your wife—she’s on the other side of the world. Why kill yourself? I didn’t get it. So I asked him. “And that was it? That was why he killed himself?”
“I’m sure it’s more than that. I don’t know Pakistani culture very well or his relationship with his wife and family. I’m told that his home in Pakistan didn’t have indoor plumbing or running water. I don’t know what was on his mind. His girlfriend doesn’t want to talk about it.”
I wished Dr. Gannon had been there. He’d have figured things out. Or at least he would have had a different language to describe what had taken place. To me it looked like this guy Kasuri could have had a new beginning in America. He had a clean slate. But maybe he didn’t. He had a wife and family back home; maybe there were reasons he had to return to the life he had started with.
But me? I’m an American. I was raised with the shouts in the westerns. “Go west, young man. Go west.” Go over the next hill and you have a new start. Just unhitch your old baggage. Maybe that’s why Kasuri messed up. Maybe he didn’t know what a clean slate was.
When I told my shrink I was leaving the city for Cornell in the Finger Lakes area, he talked about a milestone and key psychoanalytic juncture and all that psycho-jargon bull.
“It’ll be a new beginning, Robert,” he said. “A clean slate.”
He was probably glad to get rid of me.
My parents have had me in analysis since ‘61 when I was thirteen, and I’m not sure what it has done for me. On the one hand, it’s possible his sessions have taken a little load off them, because they were certain something wasn’t quite right with me; but on the other hand, I don’t think I have problems, nothing serious anyway. True, I don’t connect well with people, but then most people aren’t worth my time.
Dr. Gannon throws out words like “borderline personality disorder” and “dysfunctional schemata.” He’s one of those Park Avenue types with degrees from Hopkins and Harvard that charges $50 an hour. Over the last few years, maybe he’s helped me figure out people. The only problem with me may be that I’m a genius. My IQ is off the charts, and getting a 1600 on my SATs was a breeze. The Wechsler Intelligence and the Stanford-Binet have placed me in the exceptional category.
When I was twelve, I was in a summer program for gifted children. It was funded by a foundation, Ford or Kaiser or something. On the first day they gathered the kids, about twenty of us, into a gymnasium. Then they gave each of us one clean sheet of paper, eight and a half by eleven.
“Okay children,” the head teacher said. “We want you to make an airplane with the paper, a plane that will travel far. Whoever comes up with a design that travels the farthest will be the winner. And you’ve got five minutes.”
I’m thinking, what’s this supposed to prove? Anyway, all the kids wanted to show that they were a whiz. They were pathetic, tense and all consumed. I’ll admit a few of the kids crafted prodigious designs, shapes and forms I’d had never seen. One kid folded his paper into a perfect missile—symmetric and balanced, with little fan-like rudders. I crumpled my paper into a ball, wadded tight, and compressed.
When the five minutes were up, the teacher had us take turns, one at a time, to throw our planes. It was no contest. My wadded ball carried across the gym and then rolled to the wall. The teachers huddled in a spirited discussion and then their leader announced, “Robert Caldwell is the winner. His extraordinary design demonstrated uncommon creativity—a true genius.”
I thought I was just bored.
The summer was filled with tedious classes, trig for sixth graders and pre-calc Boolean Logic. I don’t remember whether the classes were the real stuff, it was too easy. On the last day of the summer program, we had a party with cupcakes and A&W root beer. At the time handwriting analysis was becoming a vogue and taken seriously, and it was supposed to reveal your intelligence and even your temperament. The teacher had everyone complete a handwriting summary of their experience in the program.
Again I was a step ahead of the game. When I’d heard about the handwriting theory in fourth grade, I began to mimic pen scripts of a genius—small, upright without slant, and the letter “e” that looked like an ampersand. Along with other traits, I continued to write like a genius since then. So, when the teachers examined my writing, they declared me to be a genius.
In grade school my parents bragged about me to all their friends—how I received the highest scores on standardized tests, how I knew the names of every dinosaur from Brachyceratops to Triceratops by age three, how I had memorized every bird in the Peterson’s bird book before I could read. But when I turned thirteen, they began to be concerned. It was June and my hobby was dragonflies, those insects that prey on mosquitoes and other bugs, but use flying mechanics like no other creature. They fly with four wings with unusual pitching strokes, up and down instead of back and forth. This allows them to hover like a helicopter and even shift into reverse. At rest they don’t fold their wings like other insects but extend them horizontally as if to display their elegance.
I had about a dozen dragonflies in an empty fish bowl, fluttering and covered by a tin cap punched with holes. On my desk I would take them out, one at a time, and pluck their wings. I saw that they didn’t die immediately but crawled aberrantly as if they were intoxicated. Within an hour or two, the plucked insects would cease to move. I wondered: Did they die from physical trauma or something else? I continued the experiment with several more and received the same results. I told my mother what I had done. She was horrified.
“What you did was cruel, Robert,” she told me. “You shouldn’t torture God’s helpless creatures.”
Her words only inspired me. I obtained a large cotton ball, lit it with a match, and dropped it into the fish bowl with the remaining dragonflies. For this experiment I closed the bowl with a cap without holes. The bluish smoke rose to the top of the bowl, slowly at first, then as the cotton turned black, the smoke thickened and became opaque. The dragonflies fought for positions at the top of the bowl, their wings fluttering as if on fire. One by one they dropped to the bottom, shivering briefly and then motionless.
Around this time my mother uncovered dirty magazines in my room—Betty Paige glossies showing Betty tied up to bedposts or holding a whip over a blindfolded guy. I bought them from this kid in the neighborhood who had stolen them from his father; I paid a bundle. My mother seized them but it was easy to get more.
My mother was troubled I didn’t have friends. I had begun to play chess and had rapidly advanced to the master level by the time I joined the Manhattan Chess Club, where I spent my free hours. My mother was distressed that I would spend so many hours with old men staring at a chess board, and I’m sure she was also thinking that there weren’t any teen girls around. But chess is a compelling game. Dr. Gannon knew a little about chess, and being a partial Freudian, he told me it was a game of patricide. Fifty bucks an hour, and that’s what he had to tell me about the game. The queen, or the mother figure, was the most powerful, and the king was the weakest, though the most valuable. Two men stare at the same board for hours, not allowed to touch the opponent’s pieces—conflicts surrounding aggression, homosexuality, masturbation and narcissism. That’s how a psychiatrist and chess master named Reuben Fine explained it, so Gannon told me.
Aside from chess, physics devoured most of my time. I started off with Newtonian physics and progressed to relativity. I had learned calculus by ninth grade, and from there physics was just a matter of reading the books and journals. Since starting high school I had won several science contests, a couple of them at the state level.
I learned of Hans Bethe from the American Institute of Physics Journal, which described his Nobel Prize for work in quantum electrodynamics in addition to his work on the atom bomb. But what impressed me was that he nurtured his protégé, Richard Feynman, who ended up receiving a Nobel Prize as well. So, I was willing to let Hans Bethe help me become the greatest physicist since Einstein and the first Nobel Laureate in my family history.
I was accepted at every college I applied to, along with some I hadn’t applied to, and they all gave me scholarships. I considered Columbia and MIT, but my family encouraged me to go to a school in the countryside, away from the city.
My parents said they would drive me the 250 miles from the city, but I didn’t want an escort; it seemed so puerile. They offered to fly me up on Mohawk Air from LaGuardia, but I don’t like to fly. I don’t trust airplanes, and I trust pilots even less. The train services had recently stopped, so I took a Greyhound. It wasn’t bad. I had my physics books and dirty magazines to keep me company for the five-hour ride.
My parents also insisted I live in the dorms and have a roommate. They thought the dorm atmosphere would help me. Frankly, I disliked the idea of sharing a little room with someone else, but even Gannon supported the idea. “A roommate will help you to interact and socialize better,” he had told me.
The minute I met my new roommate, I didn’t like him. He sat at his desk in a blue shirt with a bow-tie. A bow-tie.
He jumped up. “Hi, Robert. I’m Alvin Holmes from Baaston.” Baaston. He apologized for already having chosen his bed and desk. What did I care, they were both the same. Then he spittled our little room with small talk: what was my major, where in the city had I lived, what prep school had I attended, on and on. He was trying to be pleasant but I was bored.
Our dorm was at the bottom of a long hill leading to the main campus. It was built after the war, and the boxy architecture clashed with the rest of the campus like a polka dot tie over a Madras plaid shirt—like Alvin and me. I wished I had a room to myself and didn’t know how long I would be able to last with this guy.
By the time I unloaded my suitcases and piled my books on my desk, the halls had filled with students and parents. The corridor echoed with hi-I’m-so-and-so small talk and chit chat, the wall phone ringing endlessly. It was hard to breathe. I excused myself from Alvin and set out to take a self-guided tour of campus.
There were towering elm trees all over the campus, and I admit they were striking, even more so than the ones in Central Park. I walked through the libraries and the student union building. I checked out the coeds, some who could have stepped out of The Great Gatsby carrying tennis rackets and wearing white headbands, and others swaggering like bull dykes. Women—that’s another concern my parents had about me. I was an only child; they had placed all their eggs in one basket. And since they had never seen me with a girl, they were anxious. Dr. Gannon had prodded me about that once. I told him I wasn’t a homo and that the whole idea of two men together was disgusting. But I also told to him that women were weak and inferior. How many Nobel winners in physics were women? Only one, Madame Curie. She had won in chemistry and physics, but it was really chemistry. There weren’t any female grandmasters in chess either.
In the physics building I found Hans Bethe’s office. The door was open, but he wasn’t in. The office had books on shelves, a walnut desk, and reams of papers scattered everywhere. It was so ordinary. Maybe people aren’t like objects in motion, I thought, predictable like equations.
As I continued my walk, I had difficulty imagining that ice a mile thick had covered all this land 10,000 years before. When the glaciers moved, inches at a time, the Finger Lakes were scratched out, and gorges that fed the lakes were created. One of those lakes and gorges bisected the campus. I stood on a bridge connecting the divide that separated the women’s dorms from the rest of the university. Two hundred feet below, tiny specks of students swam and bathed beneath the falls. Some were jumping off the shale ledges, while others picnicked and drank beer and wine from gallon jugs. I could never fit in with these people, I thought. I have too much to do.
Loud music blared from some fraternity houses while others had live bands on their lawn. You could see brawny guys in T-shirts rolling kegs of beer into the houses, while their frat brothers cruised the campus roads in their convertibles, the racket grating my nerves.
A ten acre lake along a narrow strip of woods fed the gorge. The timbers stood tall at the edge of the water. I followed a dirt path, tree-covered, dark and cool. A mosquito buzzed around me and began to suck through the perspiration puddled on my neck. I slapped it dead and wiped my palm of smeared blood onto my pants. Suddenly I was mindful of the silence, the campus sounds buffered. I looked up at the sky, studying the rays of light piercing through branches in vibrating shafts. Lower down, the beams trembled off what appeared to be a vertical line against tangled branches. My eyes locked on to the pendulum tied to a large tree branch, a long rope with a man hanging at its end, his feet dangling above the ground. I froze. The body was motionless, like a heavy brass plumb pointing straight to the center of earth. I had once seen a dead dog in Central Park, but there was no comparison. As the shock tapered, I stepped closer to the lifeless body.
The man appeared too old to be a student, perhaps a young professor. He was dark-skinned and stout and wore a striped shirt. Maybe an East Indian or an Arab. His head fell limply to one side, and his swollen tongue protruded from his mouth, probably forced out by the noose pushing against the larynx. I had studied the signs of death years back when I had dismantled dragonflies. The man’s tongue had turned red-black. I walked closer and twirled the body sideways, where I could see neck burns and brown scraped skin. His face and neck had darkened purple, with his jugular veins scrunched. The dried sheeny mucus pouring from his nose glistened, and his eyes were open wide, staring past me. A dark spot spread from the seat of his khakis, and I could smell the reek.
The man’s hands were tied behind his back, the rope formed into large loops like bows. His hands weren’t bound together but separated by several inches of rope. He was five feet off the ground, which meant that the weight of his falling body must have crushed the cervical spine. It must have been like the snap of a light switch, and I guessed that he didn’t suffer in the final seconds. Not that it mattered.
I slogged out of the woods to the lodge next to the lake and asked an acne-faced kid behind the counter for his supervisor. He said no one was around. When I told him about the hanging, he turned white and told me I could call the campus police using the pay phone; he handed me a dime from the cash register. It wasn’t long before three campus police cars arrived. I led them to the corpse, and then they called in the town police. A policeman questioned me, taking notes. Students began to make their way toward the commotion, but the cops turned them all back. It was doubtful that anyone but me and the authorities had witnessed the body. I was exhausted.
Later that day the police interviewed me again back at my dorm. A representative from the International Student Organization came with them. After the police departed he told me about the victim.
“His name was Kasuri, a Pakistani. He had just completed his doctorate in engineering. It will be ruled a suicide. That happens around here, but they usually jump into the gorge from one of the bridges. The police said this guy actually tied his hands in front of him and then managed to put his legs over them. He must have wanted to make sure he didn’t try to free himself once he jumped from the branch.”
“Okay, but why did he do it?”
“He had been living with an American girl. Kasuri’s friends told us he had been despondent about going back to his wife in Rangpur. They say he was in love with his girlfriend here.”
I didn’t know much about love, but that didn’t make sense to me. He had a wife in Pakistan and a new lover in America. Why not just leave your wife—she’s on the other side of the world. Why kill yourself? I didn’t get it. So I asked him. “And that was it? That was why he killed himself?”
“I’m sure it’s more than that. I don’t know Pakistani culture very well or his relationship with his wife and family. I’m told that his home in Pakistan didn’t have indoor plumbing or running water. I don’t know what was on his mind. His girlfriend doesn’t want to talk about it.”
I wished Dr. Gannon had been there. He’d have figured things out. Or at least he would have had a different language to describe what had taken place. To me it looked like this guy Kasuri could have had a new beginning in America. He had a clean slate. But maybe he didn’t. He had a wife and family back home; maybe there were reasons he had to return to the life he had started with.
But me? I’m an American. I was raised with the shouts in the westerns. “Go west, young man. Go west.” Go over the next hill and you have a new start. Just unhitch your old baggage. Maybe that’s why Kasuri messed up. Maybe he didn’t know what a clean slate was.

About the Author:
After receiving several degrees from Cornell, Michael Ahn joined the Apollo 11 program to support Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon. He now reside in a small town in southern California with his wife of forty years, his garden, and his camera. In the past, he has had numerous photo exhibitions and written screenplays for local production. He has published papers for journals and periodicals, including book reviews for the Washington Times newspaper.