I feel like I don’t deserve to be typing this, because I really barely knew you. But there are so many things I want to say. You were an extraordinary person. “Extraordinary” is the best word I can think of to describe you, because you embody everything that word implies. There was always something about you that was different from everybody else- whether it was those colorful shirts and pants you wore, that goofy grin, or the almost crazed look in your eyes that suggested the mind behind them was going a million miles a minute, dreaming up some wacky invention or other.
I remember the nights you would come down to our room and play drinking games with us—whether it would be cranium or kings or any other variation of college-kid tomfoolery. You were flirty with girls and didn’t hide it—I remember all three of us, Jane, Erin, and I, competing to flirt with you because you were the only good-looking dude in the room full of our geeky friends. We played kings and you drew the truth or dare card that we appointed during a previous “make-a-rule” round, and you had to say who you would fuck in that room, and in which position. You chose Erin, doggy style, which I would never admit at the time but kind of injured my pride. From that minute on I resolved I would catch your attention.
I remember that silly note that Ken wrote and slid threw our door, pretending to be you, because he was jealous of all the attention we gave you. It was a dumb thing, but I freaked out about it for a full two days wondering if possibly it could have been meant for me. Then, of course, we found out the truth, but that didn’t dampen my fascination for you. The next weekend, my friends came down from Princeton and I got really, really drunk pregaming with them. When they left I went up to your room and after a while we were conveniently left alone. You showed me some Russian animation videos of a bear called Cheburaska, which you adored, and a crazy screen you invented which would display in neon lights whatever message you input into it on the computer.
I remember standing next to you and smiling down at you, thinking, this guy is so brilliant, as you told me about the schools you transferred from and drew me that goofy world map of the places you went to all your life, with penned-in lines bouncing from country to country like those maps you read in en-route airplane magazines. We looked at each other and next thing I knew we were kissing, and you picked me up by my shoulders and threw me on your bed, against your wall, you climbed on top of me and I could feel the little prickly hairs on your chin and around your mouth. We did this for a while, you on top of me, sliding your hands under my shirt, and then I had to pull away and I had to stop. I climbed off your bed and smiled sheepishly and said I had to go. You didn’t push me. You said I could come back whenever I wanted. And I left.
I remember thinking after that that was one of the hottest makeouts of my life. All this was before you became famous.
Shortly after that I knew it was me who made it awkward. I felt strange when I would go up to your room for whatever reason, and you would be standing there with your shirt stained red from whatever crazy experiment you had just conducted, and you looked at me and winked at me. I looked away because I didn’t know how to conduct myself, and we never really did hook up again, but you didn’t blame me for being weird.
You even came down to my room once, after, to talk to me about privacy. I still remember how passionate you were about these causes that you knew so much about. I was blown away by your energy and your intelligence, once again, even though I was too young and naiive to fully appreciate what you stood for. I remember you saying “If we don’t fight for our privacy now, we’re going to lose our chance.” You had so many ideas. You wanted to save the world. I believed that you had the power to.
After that I told Jane about our conversation. She said, “I really don’t see what you guys see in him, I really don’t think he’s that smart.” Boy, did you prove those haters wrong. After that semester, I went to London, so I didn’t see you again, but when I heard about you next it was already in the newspapers. When I read that New York Times article, I smiled from ear to ear because I knew you were finally making a name for yourself for what you believed in. You took your dream and you actually made it happen—how many people have that kind of drive, nevermind ability, at the age of 20?
I know Diaspora was a four-person project, but there is no doubt in my mind that most of the vision behind it was yours and yours only. I know that from the conversations we had, from the look in your eye, from the conviction and passion that guided everything you did. Even when we were hooking up or before that, when I was interested in you, I was always firmly aware of how much girls were a secondary priority to you compared to the things you were passionate about. You were such a man, in that way.
I remember boasting like an idiot to all my friends: “I hooked up with someone who is now famous!” I was so proud for sticking my tongue into your mouth that one drunken night. I was so proud that I knew you—even though barely—because that article confirmed to the world how extraordinary and talented you were. I think I thought maybe some of your shine would rub off on me too. You inspired me to think that maybe I could actually be somebody. I remember how reading about you made me so happy to be at NYU- getting to know people who could actually be, somebody, who could actually change the world in the future. I felt so confident in the youth of our generation and so proud to be young that day.
And now you’re gone. It’s hard to imagine, impossible to accept. I still remember your look, your laugh, the way you talked and walked and acted. I was far from your close friend—maybe not even close enough to you to be an acquaintance, but you can be sure that you made a big impact on my life. I wish you could see that. I wish, before you made the decision to die, that you could see how many people were touched by you and inspired by you, who were cheering for you to succeed. I had been imagining the day when you would become the next Mark Zuckerberg, albeit an ethical, even more brilliant Mark Zuckerberg, and I could pat myself on the back and say, I knew that guy. We even had a little thing. But now, that day will never come. You had so much potential. You were so one of a kind. Why, why did you have to cut everything short? You could have made the world a better place. You were already in the process of doing so. 22 years old. You had the whole world in front of you, Ilya.
I know I will never understand why you did it, but even to an unassuming almost-stranger like me, you will always live in my memory—all the snippets of moments I can string together in my head of fall semester sophomore year, of which you were a definite highlight. Ilya, you were brilliant, kind, funny, one of a kind, extraordinary. And definitely one of the best kissers I have ever known.
The world is going to miss you.