Twenty-five years ago, my friend Tina was stabbed to death walking home from school. They never found the killer.
I was a freshman in high school, and it was after that I wanted to become invisible, much more so than the other times.
I wanted to be invisible because I was afraid that I would be next. I have a strong hunch that I knew who her killer was, or that I knew the people involved. I told the police all of this, and gave them many leads, but the mystery remains unsolved.
I was afraid that there would be someone waiting in the bushes for me, with a knife, as had been outlined through out my freshman year in varous forms of threats, including the one time two girls really did jump out of the bushes as Tina and I walked home from the bus stop, and the long way, I might add, to avoid pending violence. They’d been waiting for us.
“Would you like us to kick your ass today?” they asked. “Or do you want us to get the gang?”
I opted for the gang, and of course they took that the wrong way, and accused me of being a smart ass, and it was only through gentle negotions that Tina and I were able to make it home that day unscathed.
In hindsight, I resent them for such an accusation, when I was trying to preserve my life. I mean, seriously, fuck those people for thinking wanting to live is such a bad idea.
I bring this up today for two reasons. The first is that last night, I had my Annual April Nightmare, which goes something like this: a couple of people are explaining to me that they are going to kill me and it’s going to be painful, and while they can offer no rationale for it, it’s going to happen, I’m not going to like it, but I’m going to have to deal with it. They have to be violent about it, because getting a person’s heart to stop beating is highly labor intensive, so it’s going to get physical, I will want to resist, as that is human nature, but it’s not going to work.
The scenery changes from year to year. This year, I was chased by a gang of Cadillacs and gold chains and knives.
The outcome is the same. I wake up in a sweat, and once awake, I have to go to the bathroom badly, but I’m too afraid to walk down the hall to the bathroom because someone might be around the corner. It takes several minutes of breathing, and the sound of my cat running around the room attacking invisible flies, meowing at me to get her her treats, to remind me that I’m not in Pleasanton anymore, that I live downtown, and the sun’s going to shine tomorrow or at least in a few days.
The other reason is that today is Easter Sunday. It is a pagan holiday fused with Christianity to celebrate the rebirth of Jesus, bunny rabbits, and hardboiled eggs. It coincides with the beginning of spring, when the flowers come back into bloom, when the leaves come back to the trees. Women wear spring dresses in ghastly yellow and pink combinations, but this is forgiven, because it is understood that today, we celebrate rebirth, starting over.
Today, Easter Sunday, I rode my bike around what we call the “Paradise Loop”. If you ride around it enough, it’s easy to grow numb to it, because it’s a local ride, you can take it for granted, but if you pay attention, you notice that it takes you through downtown Tiburon, with its boutique shops on “Arc Row” — the buildings were literally once little boats — and take in views from its harbor of San Francisco and Angel Island across the San Francisco Bay. You can stop at the Italian bakery there for a pastry and espresso, then head around the back side of town, and along the bay, up and down rolling terrain, ’til you fly down a hill to the final sprint under the bridge at the Montesorri School.
I thought about Tina today, on my ride, about why am I still here, and she is not? What would she be like? What would she think of me? Would we be friends? Would she laugh at me on my bike?
After she died, I wanted adults to notice me. I wanted someone to jump in take me out of there, move me to a new school, or a new town. I tried getting bad grades, I tried getting good grades, I cut off all of my hair, I wore black, I wrote dark poetry in English class, I painted spooky pictures at my Boppy and Grandma’s house, just to get someone to notice, to ask me what was wrong.
No one noticed.
I thought about Tina, and how I got here, to this beautiful place. Swimming got me here. After Tina died, I swam. I was not very good at it. I was the slowest one on my high school team. My senior year, I joined the year round swim team, so I could finally swim varsity. For two hours every day, and then three and four, I put my focus underwater. It was quieter there, in the pool across town. There was no talk of knives. The kids on this team, all years younger than me (I was too slow to swim with kids my own age), liked me. They thought I was funny. I got to relive junior high. The coaches didn’t know where I had come from. I swam from Pleasanton, to Hayward, Bakersfield, and even Prague. I was even voted captain of the women’s swim team at Cal State Bakersfield. My rebirth. Nobody knew about Tina, or that what got me there wasn’t a scholarship, a goal, or a dream.
Nobody knew I was swimming away from my nightmare.