[Please note: This was originally posted on 4/11/14. Due to some technical difficulties, the original post was removed. I am reposting it now. I still miss her.]
Time…it’s too fleeting…and too hard to push through its clouds, dark thick clouds, a dense fog that keeps you unsure of what was real and what wasn’t, of what was intense, and what just an inconsequential event. I am not sure I trust time, sometimes. I’m not really sure I trust memories. But I trust this. This is a very simple story, very short, very sweet, and very long-lasting. Some details fade. But I lived this. I still live it. However brief it was, however small it was then, it has been a big part of my life. In fact, it has permeated every aspect of my life for the last 31 years. Sometimes it’s a dormant hum. Some days it’s a loud symphony crashing in my brain. But what it really is is the color red.
I was in college. I don’t remember which year, which season, which day or hour or minute or second, but I was in college, and I was back home and I went to one of the local malls one day. I’m not sure why I went, but that trip to the mall changed my life. I went into one of the book stores.
And there she was. I didn’t usually go into stores, or any place of business, to pick up someone who works there. I wasn’t the guy who goes to the restaurant or bar and then flirts with the server and asks for her number. But I was stunned, and she had red hair, really red. I always had a thing for red hair. I still do. There was something gentle in her eyes, and yet a wise countenance that had seen everything, probably too much.
Again, time and memory intervene and ruin the details of this story. I don’t really remember what we said, or if I bought anything that day, but I remember that I made a note to myself that I had to find out who she was and talk to her and get to know her, And on subsequent visits back to my hometown, we did talk, and we became friends, mostly in the bookstore, but we corresponded and talked on the phone.
We were never a “couple,” never lovers, never more than friends, though I told her once I wished we could be, on one of the only dates we had. It’s funny the things you remember. We went to a theater to see “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” not one of the greatest films of the Star Trek franchise, but one which I had been very happy and lucky to review for my college newspaper, and in spite of some of its flaws, including a slow pace, when I saw it again with her, it moved along at warp speed. And I remember going back with her to her apartment, and talking, and telling her that I liked her. I don’t remember exactly what she told me, but it was basically telling me, in a very kind way, that we were friends and at that time, that was all it could be. I remember being okay with that, strangely enough for me at the time. I was not used to taking such news with such ease. But it was her, and I knew I loved her, and I knew it was okay; I knew I was okay with what it was. And I remember giving her a big hug.
That was, as I recall, our one and only real date. We saw each other and hung out together when we could, but I was away at college and then graduate school, including a year out of the country, and she had her own life, her own work, her own loves. And that was all very well and good, and beautiful to me. I accepted that. My feelings never changed, and I experienced many other attempts at love, mostly unsuccessful, but she was always there, with that incredible flaming red hair, to talk to, to check in with, to smile at me, to tempt me, and to comfort me.
And so it went, and in the spring of 1983, my parents were visiting me in graduate school. And we were at their hotel, and we were walking through the hotel garage, going back from my car to the hotel, and my mom told me that Dorothy had been killed. I had experienced death before, the death of family members, the death of friends, the death of celebrities whom I greatly admired, but never something like this. It was an incredible numbness, a great cloud, a great weight, an anvil tied to my soul. I understand how Wily Coyote feels when chasing the RoadRunner, because everthing I had been carrying in my soul suddenly fell right in on me, and I still had to get out from under it, and live another day. And I did live. I went through some difficult transitions, but I lived.
31 years later, on this day (April 10), the anniversary of her death, Dorothy Gipson’s murder has not been solved. It was a horrible crime, both in its result and in its intensity. I’ve tried to learn everything I could about her life and her death. But there’s so much I don’t know. So much I can’t know, and some details, especially about the way her life ended, that are much too horrible to deal with, but I still know them anyway.
And again, we were not lovers, we were not married, we were not a couple, but I am angry.
I am angry that someone stole from her life and the opportunity to make an ever greater impact on the world than she already had. Whether we could have been together, would have been together, or SHOULD have been together, someone stole that opportunity from me, from us.
Someone stole the opportunity for Dorothy to see the man I became. Someone stole the opportunity for her to know that I married an amazing woman and had an amazing son. Someone stole the opportunity for me to introduce them to her. Someone stole the opportunity for me to tell her of my dreams, some fulfilled, many never fulfilled. Someone stole the opportunity for me to share my failures, to get her wise counsel, to have her listen, even to have her scold me for my mistakes. Whatever trouble I have hearing about my mistakes from others, she could have told me and I would have listened. I may not have changed, but I would have been able to listen. But someone stole that opportunity from me, and from all the other people who knew her, who loved her, who needed her to listen and to care. Someone stole the opportunity for me to cry on her shoulder, to mourn for my wife when she died 5 years ago. Someone stole the opportunity for me to show her how well my son is doing and how proud I am of the achievements he has made, and how much I love him and how much he has saved my sanity and my life with his presence. And yes, someone stole the opportunity for me to ask her all these years later, if I might have had the chance to start anew with her in the aftermath of the great void in my life.
But that is impossible. It’s been 31 years since someone stole her life in a horrifying violent conclusion on a spring day in Shreveport, Louisiana. I don’t know if they will ever solve her murder. There’s no cold case squad in Shreveport, Louisiana, and with the way that apparently the investigation was mishandled, I don’t know if there’s any way her death will ever be solved unless someone’s conscience finally gets the upper hand. I don’t even know if her killer is still alive.
But I know that I am still alive. I know that her brother, my dear friend Eric, is, and her other family members, except for her parents, good souls who went to their deaths not knowing who stole their daughter from them.
I go back to Shreveport when I can because I love my hometown. Even though it has changed in so many ways, it is still a very special place, with a lot of mostly good memories. My homes where I lived are still there. The synagogue and schools where I learned are still there. Great parks are still there. The mall where I met Dorothy is still there, even though the bookstore is not. The apartment where I hugged her close, and where later her blood was spilled, is no longer there.
Dorothy’s gravesite is still there, a place where I have visited every time I’ve gone back to Shreveport. I will not visit Shreveport without going to her final resting place, without telling her of my life, of my failures, of my successes, without asking for her blessing, without praying for her soul, and without telling her I love her and I always will, no matter who else I love and hold close to me.
I no longer have the chance to hear her voice in response to mine, except when the wind blows, except in dreams, except in prayer, except when I sing.
I loved others before Dorothy, I have loved others since, some small, fleeting things, some great loves, some ended well, some didn’t. Some I thought would last forever, like my wife. But she was taken from me, too, by a killer more silent, but no less deadly.
And sometimes I flail about at love so wildly, trying to say the right things, trying to say anything at all, Sometimes I screw things up because I say too much, or communicate too often, being almost smothering in my desire to stay in touch, to hold on, whether it’s a connection seemingly serious or not. And to those I’ve turned away in that way, I’m sorry. It’s hard to have faith and patience, and to hold back, when love can so cruelly be taken away.
But, the truth is, love can come and grab you by surprise. If I learned anything from meeting Dorothy, it was that it can hit you in the middle of a crowded bookstore. It can hit you on a darkened street. It’s everywhere and waiting till you least expect it.
So despite my mistakes, and the many things that I lost, and that have been taken away from me, I have that lesson from Dorothy.
And I promise you, my beautiful red-haired friend, that, as long as I live, I will tell your story and I will remember you, and I will love you. I will visit your grave whenever I can, I will speak your name to the wind, and you will be with me, always.
Special thanks to Gary Cascio for the use of the photograph of Dorothy used at the top of this post. His beautiful works can be found here: http://www.garycascio.com/ and at https://www.flickr.com/photos/casciophotos/.
For more about Dorothy’s murder, see: