I met Caroline in junior high when she was assigned to sit next to me in Art Class, my least favorite class of the day because I was about as artsy as a tree-frog on meth. I thought this was fantastic as she was far artsier than I, and I thought the skill might pass through the air via osmosis, and if not, maybe I could copy off her or something. Cheating was wrong and stuff, but so was making me try and pretend to be an artist when I clearly only made paintings that resembled cat pee on plasterboard.
She and I hit it off pretty well and I remember when we were assigned to make and record a commercial for a product we designed (El Famous Hott Burrito) she was the person who helped me get cleaned off when a bucket of water was dumped on me for the commercial. The burrito was hot, you see. Hence the WATER to cool me down. We were obviously budding marketing geniuses.
I ran into her again in high school when we had study hall together and we used to sit in the back row and gossip while everyone else actually studied. A couple of months later, we started riding to school together and we’d hold contests like: Who can smoke the most cigarettes on the way to school? And how can we avoid getting detention for being late AGAIN?
Of course I was thrilled when we had our first period government class together our senior year in high school. I remember that I had a particularly rough morning and Caroline gave me the advice to get up earlier, eat some grapefruit and relax while listening to my Grateful Dead albums. Always the hippie, Caroline was.
She decided that I needed some more Vitamin C in the morning. And it helped: not being much of a morning person, I found they were more tolerable this way. This became my new tradition.
After graduation, we lost touch, as usually happens when people go opposite directions. She was staying around to work and I was headed to Loyola in Chicago.
In the winter of 1999, I got a frantic phone call from my friend Stef. She was in complete hysterics, sobbing to the point of being incoherent. Once she calmed down, she told me the news:
Caroline had been killed earlier in the week.
She’d been in the shower at her mom’s place when her stepfather tried to force the door open, presumably to force himself on her. When she put up a fight, he went into the kitchen and grabbed a knife. He came back and broke the door down.
The coroner stopped counting the stab wounds at 100.
She was 19 years old.
My friend Caroline was laid to rest in a closed casket ceremony.
She’s gone now, and I still can’t believe it.
Every time I hear “China Cat Sunflower” or “Ramble On Rose” or smell the fresh scent of citrus, though, I can feel her around me and I smile. Because she would have wanted me to.