9. the last call.
Nearly every newspaper in the Tri State area covered the Funeral. Family and friends were told to arrive early to avoid unwanted media attention. As soon as my mom took a left onto East Saddle River Road, we could see the news vans surrounding the entrance to the Church.
Seated in the back of my mom’s black SUV, my stomach began bubbling up like a geyser. Waves of emotion washed over me, resulting in alternating heavy sobs and isolating silence. It served as icing on the cake that I would have to face all of my bullies once again, this time without Jen to protect me.
Not one for punctuality normally, my mom made sure to arrive early. As we reached the stairs of the Church, a reporter stepped in front of us.
She flooded me with a bunch of questions without giving me a moment to respond. Then she landed on her last one, “how does it feel to be here today?”
I blinked, hard. Blood moved quickly from my head to my arms, to my hands, to my legs.
Tightness enveloped my chest.
“How the fuck do you think it feels?”
Her eyes got big as my words made their way to her ears. My mom wrapped her arms around my shoulders and pulled me inside the Church. My mom and sister took seats close to the back as my mom noticed and gestured towards a section reserved for Jen’s friends.
Wiping my eyes with the back of my hand, I immediately recognized Megan’s strawberry blonde hair draped over the seat.
Don’t turn around.
I made my way forward.
Don’t turn around.
Don’t turn around.
The brunette next to Megan turned her head. Lisa.
Her eyebrows dipped down and her face changed from soft to sour.
She only looked at me long enough to say “don’t think about sitting here.”
My head hung low as I found a seat near the back of the Church.
Then Jen’s mom saw me. She pointed toward the front pews, mouthing for me to take a seat up front.
Puddles formed in my eyes.
I stood in shock as this mother turned her attention to helping me when she had every reason to only care about herself.
I moved forward toward the Reserved Section, aware of the eyes that were still lingering on me. In that moment, I knew that Jen would never truly leave my life.
Over the next few months, some details started to emerge about Jen’s final night.
Jen went to the City with a friend named Talia. Talia didn’t go to school with us, though some of us knew of her.
They went to a club called Guest House on West 27th. Although 18 at the time, Jen was able to get in to the Club using her older sister’s license. When the girls left the club, they noticed their car had been towed. They had parked it in a ‘No Standing’ space for hours. From there, they hailed a taxi to to the Tow Yard on West 38th and 12th Ave. Once they arrived at the Tow Yard, the Attendant noticed that both girls were intoxicated. The Attendant refused to release the car to the girls, prompting an argument and Jen walking away.
Then came the phone call to her boyfriend and the mention of a man on foot pursuing her.
The Man was actually a pimp named Dray who was living in a seedy Motel in Weehawken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River with his prostitute* girlfriend, Krystal.
A security camera captured Jen and Dray entering the Motel. It also caught Jen standing alone in the lobby. But then she was quickly escorted back upstairs by Krystal.
At some point, Dray struck Jen in the face, beating her until she could no longer see. He found time through all of this to rape her. While still alive, he put her body inside a suitcase. When she started fighting to get out, he removed her, placed a laundry bag and a trash bag over her head and strangled her.
Then Dray and Krystal purchased Bleach and Nail Clippers that they used to rid Jen’s body of evidence before putting her back inside the Suitcase. Later, they disposed of the Suitcase in a nearby Dumpster. At some point, Dray used Jen’s phone to call his ex girlfriend and his mother. Police used Jen’s phone to catch her killers.
But the more information that came out, the more questions I had.
How did Dray convince Jen to get in a taxi with him?
Why didn’t she run or scream or ask the Motel employee for help?
The Dunkin’ Donuts across the street could’ve provided her with the safety she needed. Why didn’t she head there?
Then there were rumors that Jen had known her killer. Had they spent the night together at the Club? Did her friendly disposition give him the wrong idea so he got angry and snapped?
Who was the other girl and why the fuck didn’t she do anything to help Jen?
Why and how did an athlete from a well to do family in Connecticut end up a prostitute* on the streets of Manhattan? And then involved in a murder?
About two months’ later during my first month in College, I went on a trip to NYC with a school Club. The Club set up a trip to a Comedy Show in NYC. It would be my first time back there since Jen’s death. Swallowing my fear, I signed up for the trip. At the Comedy Show, one of the first jokes was a rape joke. I walked out.
And there I was, alone on the streets of NYC, just like Jen had been a few months earlier. I tried to envision what she saw that night: the darkness around her as she attempted to find a way home. The bubbling in her belly as Dray followed her along the West Side Highway. Her head spinning with panic as she was drunkenly transported in a taxi from New York City to New Jersey. The pain of her life coming to an end.
Through college, more bullying and relationships, Jen rested in the back of my mind. So many questions still nagged at me.
As time passed, I vacillated between wanting to know every detail of what happened and wanting to block it out.
In 2010, after almost four years of delays, Dray and Krystal were sentenced. Dray was sentenced to 50 years in prison for Murder. Krystal was given 25 for Kidnapping and Hindering Apprehension.
In 2014, a few months’ before I came out to my family and friends as transgender, I wrote a letter to Jen’s mom.
In 2016, I wrote letters to Dray and Krystal. A week later, they each responded.
*I am telling this story in the way that it unfolded and not with all of the information that I know now. I understand the connotation behind words like “prostitute”, but the reason why I’ve used that word is due to how she was continuously described as well as how she self identifies in conversation with me. All of this is part of my journey to learning more.