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The Leap

Next week, Teddy Graubard would have graduated from Dalton—a brilliant teenager, with a mild form of Asperger’s, whose path seemed almost limitless. So what led him to the window?

Teddy stood before the eleventh-story window. Other than figuring out how to fold his large body through its small opening, what was he thinking? A family friend would later say he was “probably trying to measure the speed of the wind or the angle of the shadows,” as if the whole thing were just an experiment gone awry. People naturally defaulted to explanations from physics because Teddy was a physics prodigy, having taught himself the subject from a college textbook in eighth grade. In math, too, he was the one who could always find the quickest solution to a problem. But what was the problem he was trying to solve by jumping?

When 17-year-old Teddy Graubard landed on the sidewalk in front of the Dalton School at around eleven o’clock on a cloudy, cold February morning last year, just as fourth-graders were emerging for “playstreet” on the closed-off block of East 89th Street between Lexington and Park, no one could understand what had propelled him to commit such a terrible act. In the following days, after the ambulances and crime-scene tape and TV cameras and emergency psychologists were gone, the question hovered. Fifteen months later, most people in the Dalton community still don’t know what happened. How did a generally happy and inarguably brilliant eleventh-grader, who would likely have achieved honors at next week’s graduation had he lived, come to believe his world was over? Was it something within him a parent could have predicted? Was it something beyond him a school should have prevented? Or was it just a terrible glitch, like an aneurysm that goes unnoticed until it bursts? Certainly his mother, Carla Graubard, was frantic, amid her grief that day, to find out. And eventually she got some answers. But at the time she had none, and the people who did were not yet telling.

People who knew nothing, though, were quick to weigh in. In conversation, in the comments sections of media websites, and on Facebook groups both hagiographic and nasty (one, now deleted, was called something along the lines of “If You Were So Smart, Why Did You Jump?”), they speculated. His billionaire father had lost all his money in the stock market, someone said. He had applied to Harvard and not gotten in. He was on drugs or, because he was a fierce three-season athlete, on steroids. He was tortured by a secret gay life. Absent any hard information, the circular logic with which bystanders comfort themselves in such situations took hold: He jumped because he was disturbed, and the proof of his being disturbed was that he jumped. Suicide experts quickly asserted that mental illness was probably involved, even if it was undiagnosed, and the Post obliged with a quote from an unnamed student saying Teddy was depressed: “People were talking about him having a breakdown last week.”

But more frightening than any of that being true was the likelihood that none of it was.

Teddy was unusual, Teddy was intense, Teddy was spontaneous with both affection and self-reproach. (He gave bone-crushing hugs to almost anyone, and banged tables so hard when frustrated that classmates flinched.) But when Carla last spent time with him, when he came into her bedroom at 11:30 the night before, wanting to talk and expound his theories on the limits of artificial intelligence, he was the same excited-by-life boy—actually now a muscly six-foot-one, 220-pound man—as ever. He had recently been accepted to a summer internship in value investing at Columbia Business School, was hoping to fit in a three-day “throws” camp (javelin, discus, shot put) in July, and had just persuaded Carla to let him order new track shoes online.

She did not yet know of the foolish plan he would hatch over the next few hours, and how it would lead step by step, through narrower and narrower hallways of thought, to the eleventh-floor window that was just wide enough.

“I was happy,” Carla says of the time before she was a mother. One of only two women to graduate from the Wharton college class of 1971, she was, in her own words, “very aggressive and very successful and very career-oriented.” She steadily advanced through a series of media jobs, from a trainee at a start-up to general manager of Newsweek to president of a five-magazine outfit in Texas.

It was a good life, but she wanted a family and, as with everything else she wanted, set out deliberately to explore the possibilities. A surmountable problem was that she was almost 40 and had yet to find a man she wanted to marry. Her mother suggested that perhaps she intimidated prospects with her outspoken ways, and her friend Ava Seave, with whom she eventually helped start a media consultancy, agreed.