Rachel was recently on the cover of my hometown’s paper – in a photograph her parents held up. Murdered in 2000 and dumped in a field close to home, her death remains a mystery.
We had taken some classes together and she’d driven me home one day when I couldn’t get a ride. I was friends with some people who affiliated with her and her on-again/off-again boyfriend…her undergraduate followers…no one I think she had ever really called to hang out with or considered close. But once she was gone, man – all of those people wanted to claim that they’d been a buddy. Everyone made her mystery their business.
I, myself, had never pried. We were standing at the door before the bell rang, waiting for the signal to throw the doors open, and she had just performed a solo in choir (there was profanity coming from the CD player on the piano and our director shook his head, making some notes about the need for selected songs to abide by the guidelines) to a Marilyn Manson track. The mostly Christian group had either snickered or prayed for her soul, looking at her black attire and wondered how someone could cause such a stir.
People usually got up and sang to Celine Dion.
She looked at me after her performance and said, propped up against the door, "People have no idea how fucked up I had it, as a kid. Some terrible things happened. Horrible, unimaginable things."
I think I nodded. I think that in my mind I kind of thought (being a victim of abuse, an alcoholic parent and still never having felt the need to wear heavy makeup or spikes) "Oh, how goth" and didn’t push her to go into detail. She was absolutely beautiful, admired by many and I couldn’t really fathom someone with an active social life and supportive family to have too many issues.
One day in art class after separating from her boyfriend she walked to up where he’d turned in a Friday Sketch. She picked it up and tore it into pieces before running over and punching him several times. The blonde boy grabbed her, lessening her blows, and never did hit her back. She collapsed against him, sobbing.
A few years later she came back to visit the art teacher and stayed for the entire day, drawing, talking to the seniors about to graduate. Somehow she had a seat next to me and was complimenting some of my portrait art.
She asked if people still talked about her. I didn’t talk to many people, really, so I said I didn’t know.
"I can’t believe the way I used to be!" she recalled, reflecting on her high school years. "My mascara was so clumpy."
And I thought to myself how odd it was, that she’d chosen to say that as opposed to something about her personality or her accomplishments. Never did she add to that, either – it was simply about the eyelashes.
Then we got on the subject of her schooling out-of-state. She had gone into computer graphics, which she wasn’t sure was the best decision to make as far as focusing her artistic talents. And before we could cover any more of her academics the conversation swayed to drugs, abortions and wild parties.
With a smile on her face she talked about freedom – of being away from a conservative town and how much her life had improved. Then she explained how she’d just been to a party and gotten so messed up that she’d woken up somewhere and didn’t know where she was or how she’d gotten there.
"It was crazy," she said, smiling.
Then she talked a little bit about her career at the Vouj strip club and how she’d been very nervous on her first day.
"But once you get out there, everyone is so supportive. The other girls, even the guys…" She’d cured her stage fright after one day.
And that’s all I can remember about my last moments with her. I briefly recall the ride home – some fuzzy thing over her steering wheel and purple or leopard cloth over the seats – but all of that has faded from my memory. I remember the football team practicing beside the middle school building… I remember the warm weather.
Rachel had attended a town carnival and the last anyone reportedly saw her was when she had to walk several blocks to her car after the event. Then she was gone.
And when any one of us wanted to find out what happened, we couldn’t. The paper released no information and neither did her family. The newspapers talked about her Christianity and her love for animals.
I would say to Mandi, "Well you know. If she was messed up in someone’s car and flipped out or was in trouble, maybe some asshole just dropped her off to overdose in the dark." We had nothing to go on besides the impression she’d made. The things she’d said, the places she’d gone…
The recent article read, "Her mother and father are angered by rumors of a drug overdose" and I got a sick feeling in my gut because I was one of the people who’d suggested it, telling one of my friends who surely related information back those people in Rachel’s outer and inner circles.
I rode along with some of her people to visit the tombstone some years ago. Black marble, white etching of a cat. Sleek, beautiful, strange and intense – just as she was.
Although it might not present the perfect image of her, those final moments with her and conversations we had are things that I hold onto because they’re truthful. I don’t know what happened to her. But maybe one day, by remembering to sort fact from fiction, we’ll be able to figure out what did.