Thursday, April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech, Too--A Personal Indulgence

All the focus on Tech dredges up old memories, tragedy on a personal rather than regional scale.

My best friend went to Tech. Andy and I met when we were stuck together on the same team for an equestrian competition. We immediately recognized ourselves in each other, kindred spirits whether pushing our horsemanship to new levels or dragging sabres and armor up an icy mountainside to duel at the castle on the summit.

With our rampant imaginations we created worlds in which to run amok. We were writing a book together, and crashing around in the woods would act out scenes as the storyline spontaneously evolved. I was home on a quick break from a marine biology field program when we got into our only fight ever through long years of friendship over some inane and long-forgotten plot twist.

A few weeks later we got the phone call that she had been whitewater rafting with friends, climbed up to the road ahead of everyone, and disappeared. The next few months were a torture of futile efforts and endless waiting. My sister hollered us into her room one night--she had been channel surfing and came across Unsolved Mysteries. That episode was about Andy.

They faithfully regurgitated all we'd been through that summer. The frustrating encounters with law enforcement, the hope-filled leads slamming into dead ends, the locals, the pyschics, the psychotics, the suspects, the desparate grasping for anything that might lead to something.

The actress playing her on TV-- she was just an actress. Andy herself was just a character. It was all sterile, all surreal. Until the actress walked down to the pond, the night before the staged disappearance, "to write a few chapters in a book she was writing with her best friend." I don't know what shifted in that moment. I do know I left the room and didn't write again for well over a decade.

A hunter found her remains in the woods that October. I remember getting the phone call. I remember hanging up, turning to Drew, who'd been hanging out, and saying, "you may want to leave. I think I'm gonna cry for awhile."

I'd seen death before, had brushed close myself, but I had zilch tools to build something good out of this horror. Most of my friends, not finding me in the shell that remained, turned their backs. "There's nothing you can do now," they shrugged, "get over it already." Away they'd drift, blissfully oblivious not only to my sorrow but even more hugely, this sudden world of terror and torture and raw evil now close enough--and real enough--to touch and to tear and to take with finality.

All my inner demons invited their friends over and threw the party of a lifetime.

That was about 17 years ago. No, you never "get over it" but you do get through it. You dig around for the treasure buried somewhere in the sordid scenario. You find a new faith, a new courage in the blackest face of a fear you never knew until that moment. You polish the unexpected gifts you receive from the experience, and pass them on to ease someone else's agony, to hasten their healing.

Senseless loss. The crap luck of being in the wrong place at a very wrong time. Monstrous aberrations, evil imprisoning their forgotten human hearts, feeding on the perversion and destruction of life's brightness, because that is their only threat--and their deepest desire.

My heart goes out to Cho, as it does to Andy's killers, and evildoers everywhere. I don't let myself imagine what abuses shaped their twisted spirits, what unspeakable torment created a mind that justifies such horror. Something in them was killed, and their instinct is to lash out and destroy in turn.

A piece of us dies, yes, when we are among those ravaged and left behind. And then the carrion eaters close in: rage, futily, terror, bitter hatred, toxic self-righteousness. But when we can chase them off, the once-dead spaces give birth to a living like never before. Where death sought desolation, now relentless life, fierce love and unquenchable courage gain strength.

I was in Blacksburg a few years ago, overnighting with horses I was hauling down to Florida. The town resounded with her absense. Did she eat at this restaurant? Did she laugh down these streets? I'm 99.999% sure that the farm my horses stayed at was her "home barn" but never did ask the kind-hearted, garrulous owner. If it had been, he'd have known her well. That night, my own memories were enough.

When Andy was murdered, I grieved alone. Now, a nation grieves with me.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Damn. You werent' kidding when you said you had some writing to do...