My Murdered Friend
Almost forty years on, and I never knew.
June 28, 2012 - 12:00 am
It was last April that I decided to write a short story based loosely on the Gerry episode — both the brief romance itself and the not-so-long epistolary aftermath. How I came to the decision to write a story about something now so distant in both time and space is a story in itself, but not relevant here. (I wrote a good deal of fiction until 2003 and this — with a couple of small exceptions — marked the first time that I returned to doing so in earnest.)
Before starting the story, I thought it would be worthwhile to get back in touch with Gerry. Both in itself, and possibly to help revive and clarify memories. Back in the early 1970s, one wrote letters by hand — in Gerry’s case, on stationery; in mine, probably on any old paper — and waited a week or two for them to traverse the distance between northwestern Canada and northeastern America. But now there was an Internet, and I Googled Gerry’s full name along with “British Columbia.” The second item that came up, from the site Ancestry.com, told me that she had died in Vancouver on June 13, 1973 — at the age of nineteen, about a year and a half after our correspondence had ended.
I was, naturally, taken aback by this. One would be in any case; but it seemed, in Gerry’s case, all the more incongruous since she was an active, upbeat, very mentally healthy person.
So it was even more disconcerting to find out — using clues from her letters and further online inquiries — that she was a murder victim. On that night, June 13, 1973, Gerry — having graduated with honors as an X-ray technician — was walking a friend to a bus stop a few blocks away from another stop where they had missed the last bus. The perpetrator had no personal connection with Gerry but was lying in wait in the darkness. Apparently after her friend had gotten on the bus, he came toward her; she tried to run away, but he chased after her and shot her. An apprentice house painter who had stolen the gun from a house he was painting, he was finally apprehended three years later, convicted, and sent to prison.