Today is a special day. It's my old friend Paula's deathday. It's been nine years since she died, and every year on or around March 8, I try to honor her with some words.
I met Paula when we were both 11 years old and in sixth grade. We were both in the same GT (Gifted & Talented) classes, and we both took Theatre Arts as an elective all throughout junior high. We got to know each other quite well as we made our way through those awkward junior high years. Because we had so many classes together, we ended up hanging out together a lot.
Paula was a beautiful young girl. She had this silky, thick, dark brown hair, big brown eyes, and olive skin. She had a cute figure too. She was intelligent and quite a good actress.
Despite her good qualities, my feelings towards Paula were very conflicted. I felt like she tried too hard, so she got on my nerves quite a bit. She didn't have many friends because other people thought she was annoying as well. She also had a lisp, which I'm sure was hell to deal with, and people constantly made fun of her for it. I felt really sorry for her, and part of me truly liked her. My evil adolescent self often won over, and I would talk behind her back or be mean to her. And the evil adolescent Paula could be very mean and spiteful as well. We were just two young girls who didn't know how to really treat each other with respect.
We still had some great times though. I remember this one weekend afternoon when we went to the movies to see Aspen Extreme. In the middle of the movie, Paula laid down on the seat and rested her legs up against the back of her chair so they were in the air (think of a pin-up girl's pose). I was so mortified that she was sitting the wrong way in her chair. Later on she told everyone who would listen that I was the one who sat the wrong way in my chair. Oh, the humiliation!
Being the Theatre Arts geeks that we were, we would often attend and perform in local competitions. In 8th grade, Paula and I (along with several others) performed a record mime to Monster Mash and had an absolute blast (and even advanced to semi-finals!). We also competed in the group interpretation category and performed a Shel Silverstein poem.
Later that year, the little group that both Paula and I were part of decided overnight (in true girl fashion) that they didn't like me anymore. They stopped speaking to me, and our silence lasted all throughout high school. (I'm sure that this was mostly due to the fact that I went to a different high school and didn't see any of them for all those years.) I don't think I saw Paula once during our high school years. I heard about her though. She developed a certain reputation, and to this day, I don't know how true it was. (Honestly, it doesn't really matter anyway. None of us are saints, not even the dead.)
During the spring semester of my second year of junior college, I began to see Paula around. She had a class across the hall from my political science class, so I would always see her before and/or after class. One time I ran into her outside of the building. She bummed a cigarette off me, and we exchanged a few superficial words. That day it became clear to me, without saying a word about it, that everything that happened in junior high (whatever it was) was over with. We were adults.
Paula had a boyfriend named Geoff who she'd been with for a couple of years. Apparently, he was the jealous type, and eventually she got tired of it. She broke up with him on a Sunday evening, and the next day she went to work as usual at the local monogram shop called Initially Yours. Geoff showed up to see Paula and was allowed into the back where she was working.
But Geoff wasn't there to talk. Instead, he pulled out the gun he had concealed and shot Paula point-blank in the head. Right afterwards, he shot himself. It is my understanding that both died instantly. Paula was 20 years old.
It is surreal when someone you know dies. But murder? I just couldn't wrap my 19-year-old brain around it. Even now, at 28, I can't really comprehend what happened to Paula. On one hand, it's very simple. An obviously unstable and troubled person took her life in a very violent way. But on the other hand, she was there one minute - and gone the next. The fact that we are all so fragile is probably the most scary thing in the world to me.
When I heard about Paula's violent death, I was in a state of denial and shock for awhile. I couldn't cry. I went to her funeral, and there were so many people there. The church was completely filled. I saw people I hadn't seen in years. It was like a big reunion under the worst of circumstances. Our little town was horribly shaken up by the murder-suicide.
I will never forget seeing her parents walking down the aisle to the front of the church that day. They were literally leaning on each other; it was so obvious that they were completely filled with despair and totally emotionally broken.
And yet, I still couldn't cry.
At school, I kept expecting to see her before or after my political science class. And every time, I had to remind myself that she was gone, that I would never see her walking briskly down the hall again, that I would never see that half-smile of uncertainty again.
A couple of years later, a gun store opened up next to Initially Yours, the place where Paula worked and was killed (by a gun, no less). I hated that so much. I often imagined her parents driving by and the terrible shock they would experience at seeing a gun store so close to where their only child was killed. I couldn't believe the insensitivity of opening that gun store. Frankly, I still can't.
Nine years have passed, and this is the first year that I've had a few lonely tears fall over Paula's death (while writing this, incidentally - I think this is the deepest I've gone into telling the story of the Paula I knew). Her passing still shakes me to the very core of my being. I just can't believe that the girl with all that beautiful hair and that endearing lisp, who loved to dance and act and be silly, is gone. I just can't believe it. She will never finish her college education, get married, perform in any more plays, have children, travel, or die peacefully. Her life was cut way too short by someone who might've actually gotten over it had he not acted on impulse less than 24 hours after being broken up with. Who knows what might have happened if Geoff had just given it time?
It is all so senseless and tragic. And every year on the anniversary of Paula's death, I write a few words for her and try to make sense of what's left behind. I write to atone for the shitty way I treated her when we were young. I write to help myself understand the reality of death and the horror of violence. I write because she cannot speak: her voice is forever silenced.
Somewhere in my mind, I still remember that voice, especially as she read that Shel Silverstein poem that we performed for competition:
“Listen to the mustn'ts, child.
Listen to the don'ts.
Listen to the shouldn'ts,
the impossibles, the won'ts.
Listen to the never haves,
then listen close to me...
Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.”
RIP, Paula Christine Green
October 1978 - March 1999