8. the first 48.
I was 11 when I experienced a friend’s death for the first time.
It was Labor Day weekend. We were in Florida on our annual summer vacation when my mom walked into the bedroom I shared with my younger sister. The look on her face made me quickly recite in my head a list of things that I could’ve possibly done to disappoint her. Nothing came to mind as she squatted in front of the bed and spoke to me.
My friend Bitsy.
A homemade tire swing.
A weathered tree.
A Natural Disaster, of sorts.
Butterfly clips in her brown hair.
Her fragile, tiny body.
Her bangs mashed against her forehead.
Her body beneath the fallen tree.
Back to Jen. That’s why you’re here, right?
Wednesday, the morning after we found out Jen was missing, some details started to come together. Jen’s boyfriend received a call from her around 4 am early Tuesday morning. She told Kofi that she was walking along the West Side Highway and had no way home.
Why was she alone?
She asked him to pick her up. Kofi knew it was too late for him to leave his parents house with a car, so he told her take a taxi to his house and he would pay for it. Then Jen told him a man was following her, offering her drugs and a ride.
Kofi could hear the man speaking in the background, unable to make out exactly what he was saying.
Then the phone cut out abruptly.
He tried to call her back but the phone was turned off.
That was the last time he spoke to her.
Kofi called her parents a short while later, telling them about the phone call. Jen’s parents thought she was sleeping at his house, unaware that she actually spent the night before in the City with a friend. No one knew who she was with because all of her school friends were accounted for. Myspace wasn’t very popular at our school and Facebook hadn’t yet opened itself up to people outside of college, so we couldn’t check photo posts or comments to see who she was with.
Someone heard that Jen’s parents didn’t want us to venture around the City out of concern for our own safety so we had to navigate things from our homes. In my head, my bedroom became my Command Center. It was where I made phone calls, shared information, and scribbled notes of new developments that could be helpful to her parents or the Police.
Still, Jen’s phone was off.
Another 24 hours lapsed without anyone knowing where she was.
Another 24 hours wondering if she was alone, if she was hungry, tired, cold, scared.
Was she hurt? Was she lost and confused?
In the back of my head, I felt like I was involved in an episode of Law and Order SVU. This couldn’t possibly be real.
By Thursday morning, the search was over. 48 hours later, it was all over.
The Police found her body in a suitcase in a dumpster in Weehawken. She was beaten and strangled. My heart wouldn’t let my head wrap around the fact that her body was small enough to fit in a suitcase.
How did she end up in Weehawken?
Someone confessed. There was a witness. A man, maybe also a girl.
Was her friend involved? Was it an accident?
What the fuck happened?