Spencer Miles Kimball was born on April 21, 1989. He came into the world blue: his circulation was slow to acclimate. But when he came home, he was home for good.
His hair was light red, at first, and wispy.
When he was two, our sister Laura was born. Her brain could not tell her how to breathe. She stayed in the hospital for weeks, until she had to be taken off the respirator at last. Spencer and I sat outside Laura's hospital room, working on farm animal coloring books quietly. We went into the room to kiss her goodbye. This was one of Spencer's first memories.
When he was four, Jordan was born. With red hair, too: things changed forever.
In second grade, Spencer got in trouble for daydreaming; he couldn’t stop. After school, he would design imaginary dream homes and think about wolves.
At seven, Spencer started a paper route, which we shared. Walking down cul-de-sacs, we both daydreamed; the paper route lasted five years.
High school was difficult. He was a writer. Too far ahead in math for comfort, too far behind in his classes to relax, Spencer in his junior year adopted “the vampire schedule.” He would go to sleep as soon as he returned from school each afternoon, and wake up before the rest of us had turned in for the night. He would work until morning, watching episodes in between essays. He was fond of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but he believed in Angel.
Fall 2007, he started at the University of Michigan. It was a dark fall: a close friend of his friends committed suicide. Toward winter, Spencer was briefly hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. It was only his fourth time in a hospital: birth, Laura's death; a popcorn kernel stuck in his ear as a toddler. For a dark fall, the fourth time was dark, too.
But things looked up. Spencer lived in a dorm room and learned about music. He learned about Russian literature; he wrote poetry. He wrote about his fears and his revelations. His poems drew tears of recognition. His words were naked, precise, and aching; and lovely.
In December 2008, Spencer fell in love. It was winter break; he came home in disbelief, shy ecstasy. “She kissed me.”
His fondest, most urgent hope was to become a writer. He spent the first part of 2009 sending his work in to writing contest after writing contest. On his computer, he kept a document called LIST OF THINGS I WANT. The list was only writing prizes, and contained a note to himself at the end: CHECK WIKIPEDIA LIST OF POETRY AWARDS FOR MORE THINGS IF SUCCESS AT ANY STAGE ACHIEVED. At the end of summer, he won second place in two separate contests—one for nonfiction, one for poetry.
It’s important to know that, on the last day of summer, 2009, Spencer tried to kill himself. Five days later, he died.
Spencer was a devoted underliner. He was loyal to his impulses. On a page with every sentence marked, one passage held the distinction of being underscored twice. “People call me a saint,” Paul Farmer said, “and I think, I have to work harder. Because a saint would be a great thing to be.”
Spencer was no saint: he never stopped trying.
At this impossible time, the kind words of dear friends and strangers have sustained me and sustained my family. They've made things lighter; I hold them closer than you know. Thank you.