My friend and colleague Tricia was violently murdered on Christmas day. I was having dinner with a house full of relatives, kids running amok, laughter, presents, wine. She was being abducted, raped, and strangled after what was apparently a fluke encounter with a deranged person recently released from prison.
There was a police bulletin before they found her, describing the "Plant More Plants" bumper sticker on her car. I know that sticker. I know that car.
They held up a white sheet around her car when they found her beneath some bags on the floorboard. I saw that on the news, and I will never forget it.
This is not the plot of a dark thriller mystery; it is painfully, really real.
Tricia was a sparkling person. She was magnetic in the way that’s difficult to explain. It’s hard, reading all of the lovely things being written about her because they sound so much like what everyone says about everyone when they die. “A light gone out too soon.” “A beautiful, caring person.” “Someone who lived boldly.” On and on, like in this Washington Post article. The phrases are trite and overused, but they are also deeply true.
Tricia was all of those things.
She should not be dead. She should have made it to Christmas dinner with the pie and the Brussel sprouts she had made.
This picture describes her well. She was just exactly like this. Open, friendly, clear, quirky, direct, precise. She was someone you wanted to know.
She had rock solid boundaries. She could and would call out bullshit, and did it in a way that was firm but somehow not aggressive. She wasn’t having any of your crap, but she wasn’t having it in the kindest way possible.
I see her face in the news, on social media, and every time I say to myself, “Oh, there’s Tricia!” like I might tell her I saw her on the news next time I see her. This lasts for part of a second and then it hits me again what has happened. I won’t see her again. We won’t discuss this later.
I do this repeatedly, multiple times a minute sometimes, as I scroll through the posts on Twitter or Facebook and see her smiling face. Casual pictures I remember her posting on Facebook are now associated with international news stories.
I feel sick to my stomach.
My mind truly cannot hold on to the fact that she died a violent death, and I am living in a horrifying Groundhog Day scenario where I remember over and over again what we know about the circumstances.
Part of me wishes I had not read about what happened to her. I wish I didn’t know and didn’t have to think about how awful her final minutes (hours? Oh my god) must have been. Part of me feels obligated not to look away.
The weight of that knowledge will change me - and others, I suspect.
I also feel so acutely now how our culture is set up to blame the victim. I see headlines that read, “Suspect says that Tricia McCauley offered him a ride.” The implication is there: she brought this on herself.
THE SUSPECT ALSO SAID THAT THEY VOLUNTARILY HAD SEX AND THAT SHE THEN COMMITTEED SUICIDE BY HANGING HERSELF IN THE BACK OF HER TINY CAR (after binding her own legs with a seatbelt, I guess), ASSHOLES. How is this a headline? Why are you reporting this as if it’s true? Or as if that would be a factor that might somehow explain what happened to her?
I see the comments “This is what happens when a woman walks alone at night.” “This is what happens when new DC residents gentrify areas and don’t understand how unsafe they are.” Etc. WAS she walking alone at night, given that she appears to have been driving her car on her way to a dinner party in the late afternoon? Are you still a new resident if you’ve lived in DC for almost 30 years? Are we saying that new residents should expect to be abducted and murdered and that somehow their newness is to blame? Why do I have to explain how this is not acceptable?
There are also the awful tagalong thoughts. 1) I can’t help her/I couldn’t help her, and 2) It could just as easily have been me. These are heavy weights to bear and nearly impossible to shake. The violence is so starkly, horribly real and so close that I can’t suppress them.
I don’t know how self-care works in this situation. There are children to be tended, emails pouring in, meals – so many meals. All of the normal things. There are the usual "taking care of you" suggestions: sleep, cry, talk, nourish yourself, yoga, tea. And there is also the reality that sometimes these things are not possible or not enough.
I’m posting this here because I needed to get it down, with the idea that writing about it will help. Maybe it will. If you are also struggling with this, I hope you can see that you are not alone. In the coming days, months, years, I hope we'll help each other remember Tricia in all of her beauty.
I feel her absence keenly.