As I was walking into the shop this morning, a customer who lives two houses down stopped me, to chat and also to ask, whether I'd known the 18-year-old who lived next door to him, a girl with red bangs from whom he'd once bought girl scout cookies. I told him, I didn't.
"She was murdered two weeks ago," he said. "They found her body downtown."
I tried to absorb this, which took the form of my asking more about what the girl: what she looked like; did I know her; do I know her parents, who live sixty yards from the shop. Beaumont is a small neighborhood. Who was she?
He told me what he knew; that he played basketball with the dad and the little brother in their driveway. That the girl, in the past year, had gotten into online modeling that turned or was always nude, and that the 37-year-old man who ran the site on which the photos appeared had already been charged and sentenced; he'd strangled the girl. That she had red hair, and was...
Wait, I said. Did she dress sort of, provocatively, and more lately? He considered, and said, maybe; she'd been wearing a lot of sundresses, sort of revealing, but I could see he was having a hard time knowing whether this girl to whom he'd lived next door for eight years had in fact changed so very much; she was just the kid next door...
And I knew, then, who it was. Early in the summer, there had been a girl we'd see walking up the street. Sometimes, she did not have on shoes, not in a forgetful way, or as some sort of hippie statement, but because, maybe, she had come to a point in her adolescence where, if she didn't want to wear shoes, she didn't have to, and see, she didn't want to. She moved languidly, sleepily. This languidness extended to her clothes; they seemed to be falling off, crawling up her legs, sliding down her shoulders. She sometimes seemed high, which was pointed out to me by
two of my daughter's friends, boys of eighteen, who sit in front of the shop to have their coffee, one of my buddy Ryan, who manages the nearby Pizzicato, who nodded at the girl last May in a way that made him seem like a father.
"She's trouble," he said. He did not mean, to himself, or to the world, but to herself. She wasn't paying attention. She would sit on the sidewalk as she waited for the bus, looking dreamy and asking you to watch her dream. She was, if you'll pardon the expression, in full sexual bloom, and she knew it, but only by half. I recognized this because I've been there; I've been the teenage girl who sees how men are looking at her, and liking it, and sometimes playing it. But not playing as this girl did; she did not see that she needed to take more care.
The neighbor told me, he'd gone to her funeral; he'd brought flowers to her doorstep. He didn't know what else to do -- what should he do? I told him, as I've gotten older, I learned it's good to acknowledge people's pain, or illness, or tragedy. Not to impose yourself, but to ask, how are you? What can I do? I remembered, too, that today is September 11th, and the debate I had with my father, after three people we knew were killed in the Trade Centers, about how he had to, was obligated to contact the widows, and he said he would, but did not, because he felt inadequate to the task. But we're all inadequate; we just have to do it anyway. And I am wondering, today, what I should have said months ago to that girl.