People say all the time that they remember in astonishing detail where they were when they heard about the Kennedy assassination or the Twin Towers or the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. . . .
I will never forget where I was fifteen years ago when I heard about the brutal rape and murder of Kay Lynn Jackson.
I had just returned to my dorm room after cramming for a Music History I test at the Student Union. It was 1998, and I didn't own a cellphone. The Internet was not the twenty-four hour hotbed of news that it is now. I came home to several urgent messages on my voice mail. Kay had been raped and murdered on the Greenbelt. She was a friend from church, from my twenty-somethings Sunday School class.
I will never forget where I was on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 when I heard that her killer had been found. I was in my classroom, teaching a folk dance, La Raspa, to twenty-plus second graders. A colleague walked in with his iPad.
"I just thought you might want to see this," he said, showing me the breaking news article that had been published just moments before.
I know my friend Jenness, Kay's roommate and best friend, will never forget where she was when she heard the news.
"I was sitting in a nap room with kids still awake, and I had to cover my mouth so that I didn’t sob out loud," she wrote in a recent blog post.
Kay's family will probably never forget either.
People don't know what to say in the case of tragedy.
One colleague asked me what my stance was on the death penalty. And instead of waiting for me to formulate a thoughtful response, he used my hesitation as an excuse to explain to me why he was pro capital punishment.
I also heard someone say, "Now if only they could do to him what he did to her . . ." For some reason, that made me feel very bad.
People said to me, "That's good news!" and "Yay, police!" all of which might have been true to an extent, but I didn't feel like celebrating.
My initial reaction was "It's over . . . " and something hit me like the exhaustion I experienced after my mother took her last breath, and my brother and I sat in chairs on opposite sides of her body, staring at each other, motionless and emotionless.
I read Jenness' blog the next day and was comforted to know that other people's feelings were mixed as well, "Today I heard words I thought I would never hear … Kay’s murderer has been found. These words sent me into an emotional tailspin. I didn’t know what to think or feel."
When the media contacted me, the first thing I was asked was, "How do you feel?"
It was one of the hardest questions I have ever had to answer.
It's hard to explain what you're feeling when you're numb. Kay's death on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1998 was traumatic for everyone involved. I went a little crazy. I was twenty, living away from home, walking distance from where the crime had taken place. Relief, bittersweet, shock . . . those were the first words that popped into my head.
As I have been connecting with others on Facebook these past couple of days, I realized we had been thinking about Kay recently. Over Easter weekend, I had just been talking to my sister-in-law about the case. At the end of March, Jenness wrote a poignant piece entitled "15 Years Later." Our minister mentioned her in a sermon a few weeks ago.
And then the news broke on Wednesday, May 1.
Throughout the day, I eventually encountered people who understood that the solving of this crime was a reminder of a very dark time.
"There's no justice in a case like this," one of my coworkers said.
Some of my students - always perceptive - had heard my sound bite on the news and said, "It's . . . so sad" and "I'm really sorry about your friend."
"It was a long time ago," I lied. This week, fifteen years ago was just yesterday.
A fellow music teacher, who had also been a college friend, said, "It's hard to know what to feel about that, isn't it?" I broke down sobbing on her shoulder. She put her arms around me. "I think I remember holding you like this fifteen years ago."
In 1998, a few days after Kay's death, I was walking across campus with a friend.
"Sometimes life just doesn't make sense," he said.
We are scattered, all of us twenty-somethings who are now thirty-somethings, with families and/or careers of our own. Some live in other parts of Idaho or in other states. We have moved on because that's what life does in fifteen years. It moves on. But we will always be connected by this tragic event.
"Many times I have heard my mother say forgiveness is not for the person you are forgiving. It is for you . . . How can you move forward in life if you choose to hold onto the past?" - Jenness Johnston
To the family and friends of Kay Lynn Jackson, may you find resolution, comfort, and rest.
(as written for her funeral)
In loving memory, April 10, 1998
I know why it rained that day
When the Heavens opened
And God gather you in His arms,
A tiny droplet escaped from His eye.
And Angel upon Angel as they viewed
Your beautiful soul wept for humanity.
And their tears fell through
Heaven’s gates and showered
our hearts on Earth
so that we may be cleansed.
For the rain was different
that day, a gentle sunny rain,
a signal to us that you are okay.
And though I’ll never know why
you were taken, at least . . .
I know why it rained that day.
All references to A Journal of the Everyday, a blog by Jenness Johnston, used with permission.