Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I Once Knew A Girl

I once knew a girl. 
She had long curly blonde hair and a tall forehead. 
When she was young, her face was sprinkled with freckles. 
As was my own. 
We had the same name and we were friends from an early age. 
As our age progressed, we became distanced. 
New friends and new hobbies took up our time. 
But, during high school we always had time to say hello to one another. 
Our friendship continued into college. 
We could always sit and chat about life. 
The two Jennifers were always friends, if not close friends in the end. 
In the end. 
In the end she was murdered. 

Jennifer and I met in grade school. 
And we went to junior high and high school together. 
I went to state college while she went to a private college. 
But the private college was five minutes from my school. 
She was, by far without a doubt, the smartest person I have ever known. 
She didn't have the best common sense, as would be shown in the end. 
Her common sense persuaded her to be friends and lovers with some people who weren't always the best influence on her. 
She would be found alone in the end. 
Well, not quite alone. 
Her two cats saw the whole thing. 
The violent end to a brilliant life. 
A violent end that shocked her friends' world. 
An end that dissolved her parents' world in an instant. 
An end that haunts me to this day. 

The Netflix documentary Making A Murderer has been on every media platform lately. 
Everyone has been debating whether or not Steven Avery is guilty of murdering a woman. 
Or if he's sitting in prison when he should be at home. 
It's funny, as I'm writing this blog post I'm not remembering the name of the victim. 
I remember the name of the accused. 
And as I remember my friend Jennifer, it seems her accused killer became a sort of star himself. 
Because the man who was accused, tried, and sent to prison for committing heinous acts to her is not in prison. 
Not anymore. 
Because of many factors...sloppy police work and a group of lawyers who like to free people that they think got an unfair trial. 
They call themselves the Innocence Squad or something like that. 
Yet, Jennifer is still in the ground. 
Her grave sits in the cemetery next to my house. 
And while I enjoy a good true crime story, I don't think I want to watch Making A Murderer. 
Because what's a story to some people is real life to others. 
Real life to the victim's family. 
Real life to those who go to their friend's funeral, where you stop and think "this doesn't happen in real life."

Jennifer was found strangled and stabbed on an August morning in 1993.  
She hadn't been seen at class. 
The fall semester had started and she had transferred from the private university down the street to finish her journalism degree at Illinois State. 
My cousin had called me that weekend because she had seen a report on the local news that a body had been found in an Illinois State apartment. 
I had a semester left in college. 
I had an apartment at Illinois State, but  was visiting my parents that weekend. 
We were having a 50th wedding anniversary party for my grandparents the next day. 
My cousin was calling to see if I was okay. 
Some of my friends were having a party at Illinois State that night, so I called to see if everyone was alive. 
"Yep, we're all here and kickin'!" was the response I got when I called. 
It wasn't until the next afternoon when the call that forever changed how I viewed my world came through. 
A friend, who was very close with Jennifer as we had all grown up together, had become curious about this news report and went to see if she was okay. 
My parents phone rang and I answered. 
There was no chit chat from my friend. 
Instead, hysterical screams reverberated through the line. 
"It was her!"
"It was Jennifer who was murdered!"
She had walked up to Jennifer's apartment only to find police standing outside and yellow tape covering the door. 
I immediately drove away, to be with our group of friends. 
I don't remember much after that call.

The funeral was observed by the police. 
A camera taped everyone as they silently pushed their shocked bodies slowly down the funeral home carpet to pay respects to Jennifer's parents.
Her mother had no idea who anyone was.
She seemed to be heavily sedated, yet still was somehow standing. 
The Catholic church service was hard to sit through. 
I had been to funerals before. 
A boy had killed himself during high school and I had gone to the funeral home to say goodbye to him. 
But this was different. 
I couldn't get past the fact that my friend was lying in the box that was at the front of the chapel. 
I couldn't get past the fact that she had been brutally killed. 
How she had been violated. 
I sobbed openly during the entire service. 
But, the one thing that WAS noticed, was who was absent. 
He was absent. 
The boy who said he loved her the most. 
The boy who had often come to our beloved 916 Hovey home at Illinois State looking for Jennifer. 
Looking for her in a drunken, drug induced stupor. 
Looking for her as if she belonged to him only. 
Even when we would tell him to "get out of our house, she's not here, she doesn't even live here" he would try to push his way in. 
He wasn't there to say goodbye to her at the cemetery. 
And the police noticed. 
And we thought justice had been fulfilled.
It later all fell apart. 

I moved to Chicago after college. 
I married and had two children. 
I returned to my hometown with my new family. 
I inherited my grandparents' house which has a cemetery right next door. 
A cemetery where my friend Jennifer forever rests. 
I put flowers on her grave every Memorial Day. 
I used to see her dad at the library. 
He was a proud patron there and he greatly valued education. 
He donated money and items to the summer reading program. 
We would pass in the parking lot. 
Or I would see him leaving as I was shuttling my little kids up the stairs to the children's floor of books. 
Me, the other Jennifer, with her two daughters. 
He would smile lightly to me. 
But never stopped to talk. 
I don't know if he remembered me. 
Or if he did and was trying not to remember. 
Thinking of his own Jennifer. 
Who wouldn't have children. 
I thought of it. 
And I had a sense of guilt during brief these meetings. 
Guilty somehow that I was alive and had gotten married. 
Had children. 
Had the life his daughter could have had. 
If it hadn't ended that summer in August. 

I once knew a girl...


  1. Omg, totally brought tears to my eyes. I read about her murder about a week h&r ran her obit, I just moved to Milwaukee and was visiting Decatur. Mom saved the obit. I hadn't talked to Jennifer since we had "broken up" sometime in senior year. Thank you for the reminder of a lovely prison who had a tragic end.

  2. (crying)
    I am so sorry.
    Thank you for sharing.