Nowadays, the thing I try to remember the most about that summer was that it was hot. Really hot. My four year old sister said over and over that she thought it was so hot, that it seemed like the world was going to catch on fire.
It couldn't have been that hot, but some days, I wasn't sure that she wasn't right. These days, that's what I try to remember the most about that summer. But there are certain things about that first summer after I graduated from college that I'll never be able to forget.
For example, that was the summer that I asked my wife to marry me. How could I ever forget that? My wife of, now, fifteen years.
And that was the summer that my brother dropped a bombshell on the whole family: that he, straight out of high school, was engaged as well.
It was the marrying season, I guess.
But that was also the summer that I saw someone die, right in front of my eyes.
No big deal, I suppose most people would say. I mean, people see other people die right in front of their eyes all the time: doctors, firemen, EMT's, cops. But for these people, death is supposed to be a part of the job. Unfortunate, certainly, but sometimes to be expected. For an out-of-work college grad, death is not one of the things that you expect to happen. You don't expect to watch someone's life slip right out from under you.
You don't expect to get involved.
"Let's go to the quarry," Smitty said. I really didn't feel like swimming that day. I was a bit depressed, not able to find that job I thought would come so easily once that college diploma was in my hands. I was actually at the point that I hated not having a job more than I hated trying to go out and get one. I'd also had a small fight with Carol, my fiancee, the night before, nothing major, but just big enough to make me think that I was a real jerk for having said anything at all. And I tried to punish her for not seeing things my way by not even telling her that I loved her when we parted for the evening. Sometimes I can be a jerk.
So I really didn't feel like swimming today. But I was really hot; it was Saturday; I had the day off from my part-time job; I hadn't gone out with Smitty for a while; and I was tired of sitting around on my duff doing nothing except brooding, so I said, "Sure. Let's do it." The quarry is this old hole in the ground from which huge machines used to pull huge slabs of marble. Now, it's just a hole, but it's filled with water. Nobody ever really explained to me how it filled up, but I have a feeling the rain didn't do it. I think it's tapped into an underground spring or something, because even after a long summer, the water's still cold. That may even be the reason they stopped quarrying from this particular hole - hard to mine a pond.
The quarry was pretty popular with high school kids. I went there when I went to high school, and I introduced the place to some of my college friends. The walls extend up from the water at different heights depending on where you're standing. At the shallow end, the water almost licks the top of the wall. At the deep end, the walls are thirty to forty feet high. That's where it gets exciting.
We would simply jump off the walls into the water. The water was deep (though nobody I knew knew exactly how deep), and nobody had ever hit bottom jumping off the highest wall. Course, none of us dove. We were kind of scared to hit the bottom and never come up. Plus, the water, though clean by anyone's standards, was dark. And darkness breeds fear. What could be living down there, we might think.
So we jumped instead. Smitty was more of a daredevil than I was, so he jumped in first. He made a spectacular splash with his cannonball, and I followed, with a tiny bit of coaxing, with my own cannonball. Once in the water, we had to swim about a hundred feet to a ladder, one of several pieces of wall that were stepped enough so you could climb them.
"God, this feels good," Smitty said as we breast stroked to the ladder.
"Yeah. I never want to come here until I'm here. You forget how much fun it is."
"And the water's perfect."
Even though it was hot that day, there was only a handful of people at the quarry. There may have been some kind of festival downtown or something that was pulling in all the high school kids. Of course, we didn't ask the few people who were there -- are you kidding? They're in high school and we're in college.
So we treaded water for a little while and just talked. Normally you want to get out as quickly as possible because people are splashing into the water all around you, causing a ruckus, and generally making conversation impossible. But all the people we could see was a group of about five girls down at the shallow end and a group of five or six boys over by the ten-foot wall, at the other end of the quarry from the ladder. So we talked.
"Any luck with a job?"
"No," I said, theatrically gloomy. "I don't think I ever will."
"Bullshit," he said.
Silence. Then I prodded: "That's it? Just 'bullshit'? No other words of wisdom or advice?"
"Come on, Chase, you know you're going to get a job. But nobody ever said that they fall into your lap."
"Easy for you to say, Mr. $30,000-A-Year-Computer-Programmer."
"Man, you're a good writer, and you're a whiz with computers, too."
"Whatever. But I don't have formal training in either. I don't know the first thing about computers the way you do."
"But you know more about different shit than I do, see?"
"Good old Mr. Doom and Gloom, tries to make the whole world feel sorry for him and when it doesn't, he gets worse." I knew he was right, and it was sort of a game I played, and I knew it was silly and fruitless, but of course I said, "I do not."
I dunked my head in the cool water, then came up. Wiping the water away from my eyes, I said, "So maybe I am. It's not easy not to, though. I want to work so badly. I'm wasting away working for a bakery."
"I know. You'll be fine. Promise. Come on, let's go up."
We swam the last twenty feet to the ladder and climbed up. That's when we saw the girl.
The way I figure it, and it didn't take much of an imagination to think up this scenario, is that some guy picked her up, a friend, maybe, I don't know, and brought her to the quarry. She'd had some beer to drink, we know that from the autopsy, and she'd been beaten a little.
She'd also been raped.
But she hadn't only been raped.
See, whoever'd done this to her was really, really sick. Not just, oh, rapists are sick, type of sick, but deranged sick. Her tongue had been cut out of her mouth for God's sake. That's how come we never really found out what happened to her. She couldn't talk.
She'd been stabbed with an ice pick about a dozen times in the stomach -- very small puncture wounds that bled, but not a whole lot. She'd also been stabbed in her palms and in her feet. Some kind of demented religious significance there, I suppose.
She was naked, and we could plainly see that she'd been raped. Her thighs were bruised, and so was the area above her pubic bone. The guy had been really rough.
Smitty saw her first, 'cause I was climbing up after him.
"Jesus Christ!" he said, pulling himself up over the edge.
"What?" I asked after him in a joking manner, thinking that his concerned tone was some kind of joke. But the urgency in his "Get up here, man, get up here quick!" made me move.
There she was, laying in the leaf-speckled sun, fresh and dried blood covering her stomach, hands, and feet, staining the brown leaves under her body. Her mouth was crusted over with brown, dried blood. A blood-soaked rag hung from her mouth.
I said nothing. For a minute. Then: "Holy Christ, Smit, we have to do something."
"Like what, man?" Suddenly, he seemed almost unaffected by the sight, and he ran his hands through his dripping hair. His face was turning an odd shade of white, and his hands were visibly shaking.
I was incredulous of his attitude, and of his question. I pushed his arm. "Like help her, Jesus Christ!"
I understand his reactions now, but I didn't then. I chose to deal with this sight by becoming very concerned and by suddenly getting an overwhelming need to do something fast. Smitty chose to deal by freaking out; he went into a sort of shock. I could see where I might have, too. I don't know why I didn't.
"Smit," I said slowly, as if to a child, "quick, go get my keys from the cliff. We have to get her to the Medical Center." He stood there for a second. Just before I was about to repeat myself, he looked down at the girl and nodded quickly, turned, and ran in the direction of the cliff we'd been diving from.
I kneeled at her side and felt her neck. I knew she was still alive (somehow still alive) because I could see her chest rise with her breathing. But the breathing was shallow and when I felt for her pulse, I thought I had missed it, it was so weak. She was just barely hanging on. I was going to make sure she made it.
I wiped my still-wet hands on her mouth to clear away some of the dried blood. I touched the rag, thinking I should take it out, not realizing at first that it was wrapped around the stub of her tongue. I started to pull at the rag, and it did not want to give way. In reality, it held dried, clotted blood, and was pretty well stuck. Not realizing, I pulled harder. I began to see fresh blood welling in her mouth, and I let go of the rag. As I did, she moved her head slightly and I looked over to her eyes. She began to open them. Just slits at first, then they shot open. The fear in those eyes was like nothing I'd ever seen before. She tried to scramble away, her feet and hands pushing her body away from me. I stood up quickly, and said "Stop!"
I didn't realize that, to her, I must have looked very large and foreboding, standing over her as I was. Yelling, causing her more pain - she must have thought me her attacker, or perhaps another "thrill-seeker."
She began to push away even harder. But she was very weak, and she stopped pushing altogether, as quickly as she'd started. I went to her and squatted down to her ear. "I'm going to help you. I'm going to help you."
She shook her head "no." At the time, I thought she meant, "No, please, don't hurt me," but as I thought about it later over those next few months, and indeed, over the next few years, right up till now, I came to realize she more likely meant, "No, don't help me. Let me die."
I started to pick her up and she resisted as much as she could. I whispered softly to her that I wasn't going to hurt her, to trust me, that I'd help. She soon stopped resisting, probably from exhaustion; I could tell, even without an autopsy, that she'd been there for quite a while. All the dried blood, how pressed down the ground was where she'd been, and the fact that I knew (from a class I'd taken) that the vast majority of rapes happen at night. Now it was about ten in the morning and twelve hours probably wasn't a bad estimate.
The point being that she was tired, she'd lost a lot of blood, and even if she didn't want my help, in her state, there was little she could do to prevent it. Besides, as I do think back, I know that even if I had understood her "no," at that point I would have refused not to help.
So I lifted her as gently as I could into my arms and stood up. As I did, Smitty came running up to us with the keys. "Let's go," I said. He didn't argue. I carried her the four hundred yards to where my car was parked, actually hoping none of the other couple of groups there that day would ignore us or not notice us at all - cleaner, faster that way. I did have to stop a few times to rest and once I was afraid she'd stopped breathing. But Smitty put his ear to her bloody nose and felt warm air. I sped up my pace.
We made it to the car and I carefully lowered myself into the front passenger seat. It was awkward, getting into a small car while carrying someone, but I made it with only a few scrapes and bumps. The girl got jostled around more than I, I think, but that didn't matter at that moment. After what she'd been through, a few more little bumps couldn't do too much harm -- I was trying to save her, after all.
The Medical Center is about a ten minute drive from the quarry. I told Smitty to just step on it and get us there.
"Chase, I'm sorry for..."
"I know, Smit, its OK. Just get us there." When we spoke about it later, we decided, quite rationally, that the one who took control, and the one who freaked out, could have gone the other way. This is just the way it happened to happen.
I looked down, and for the rest of the trip, watched her intently, looking for any sign that she might go. She opened her eyes at one point, about half way there, and I said, "You'll be OK."
Lamely, she shook her head and said "No." The "no" came out like "oh-ohh," muffled and barely intelligible, what with the rag still stuck in her mouth and her tongue unavailable for articulation.
"Yes," I reassured, "you will be." A dirty tear fell from her eye and I felt more pity at that moment than I ever had before or ever have since. So much pain, so much agony. Why? To fulfill some evil man's deranged sex fantasy? To complete someone's sick religious ritual? It wasn't fair to her, and by God, I was going to make sure this poor girl lived so that she could have a full, happy life, maybe even find the guy who did this to her, and know that justice was served.
It didn't quite work out that way. Remember, I said I saw someone die this hot summer day. And she did.
We pulled into the Medical Center's emergency entrance, and Smitty ran in to get help. I'd been watching her chest, looking for any sign that she'd stopped breathing. I looked up to watch Smitty run into the hospital. When I looked back at her, I looked at her eyes, and they were looking straight at me, "piercing my soul," the cliche goes. I smiled weakly and said, "We're here. You'll be all right now."
She shook her head again, but didn't try to say anything. Her eyes told me. At that time, I vainly thought it was a look of thanks, but I think now that it was a look of relief. She knew. She knew her suffering was just about over. She closed her eyes and her chest stopped moving.
My smile quickly faded and I opened the car door quickly, pulling her body and mine to the pavement. "No!" I screamed as I pounded on her chest, trying to imitate the CPR I'd seen on TV, but had never trained for. I patted her face gently; nothing. I gathered myself up and tore the rag from her mouth, and breathed for her. Her chest heaved with my breath, but her lungs didn't catch.
An ER doctor rushed out and tried to push me away. But I wouldn't let her. "I'll save her!" I yelled. "She's mine, my responsibility. I'll save her!"
I blew into her and pressed on her chest, but nothing would work. Smitty and a nurse pulled me away, and the doctor went down to the girl. She gave her CPR, listened to her chest with her stethoscope, and then gave CPR again. A defibrillator and some attendants were next on the scene. The doctor took the paddles from an attendant, and she tried to jolt the girl's heart to beating again. She shocked the girl three times, but she was gone.
"Make her come back," I said to the doctor. "Goddamn you, make her come back!"
"Chase, Jesus, Chase," Smitty was saying, trying to wrestle me to the ground from behind.
"Goddamn it, I said make her come back! I promised her, damn you, I promised!"
I broke down -- I sobbed into my hands for a minute and then suddenly stopped. I looked over at the nameless girl, and saw her for the last time. Her breasts splayed each to one side, her arms limp and lifeless, her thighs and pubis battered and bruised. Her face, probably beautiful the day before, was brown with blood and dirt.
First I said to myself, damn you - you failed her. Then, fleetingly, I thought, No, damn you for dying on me - we were so close. Then my whole body went limp and I slid to the ground, never taking my eyes off of her. You idiot, I thought. Was this about you? Screw you. Look at her.
Look at her, damn you, look at her.
I was interviewed by the police. I didn't know much anyway. The autopsy told us the most. She was later identified as Tracy Williams: her parents said she'd had a fight with her mother and she'd run out of the house. She liked hanging out at the local 18-and-younger club on weekends, and may have met some guy there. The bouncer said he recognized her picture, but he hadn't seen her the day she was killed.
The autopsy said she'd been raped about fourteen hours before she'd died, that she'd been raped several times, and by one man. The official cause of death was trauma, the result of multiple puncture wounds, blood loss, shock, dehydration, and exhaustion.
She was fifteen.
Though they recovered all types of marks and fluids - semen, saliva, finger prints, hair, blood, the killer was never found.
It took a long time for me to get over it. I felt like I'd failed her, that I was as much responsible for her death as her attacker was. Smitty and Carol, though, talked it through with me. They made me realize that there was little I could have done that I didn't do.
I realized on my own that in the end, she'd lost all sense of dignity and all will to live. It had been my own cavalier visions of heroics and justice and my misguided and male-minded opinion that if she lived she'd be happy again that had driven me to react so badly when she'd died.
The rest of that summer wasn't much fun. But eventually I started thinking rationally about the girl, about my feelings and reactions, and I came to terms with everything.
I try not to think about her anymore, and I do a pretty good job of that. But she changed my life a bit. I realized that my view of the world was idealized -- not necessarily bad, but I learned that sometimes when life let me down, not to take it so seriously.
That summer was hot. I asked my wife to marry me. My brother asked my sister-in-law to marry him. And a girl died in my arms.
And it was hot.
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Last Modified: 10 Mar 1999
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