At the service the rabbi had nailed it. None of us should have been there. And I shouldn't have been standing in the middle of the police vehicular evidence lot.
I should have been playing guitar for my niece. Over the Rainbow. John Fogarty's Centerfield.
Instead I was picking up her car because she'd been murdered. And I'd been, we'd all been pushed into unparalleled sadness, raging anger, and confusion born of insanity.
And there it was. One ordinary looking lot. Except it wasn't ordinary at all.
Touching the sheet metal I was hoping for an explanation. A reason. I got nothing.
I let the key fob do its thing.
CDs were scattered randomly on the passenger seat. Orange running shoes had been tossed in the foot well. There was a pair of black high heels. A winter coat. A knit hat. A sweater. Other bits of college life. Of my niece's life.
A few nights before, my niece was in her campus apartment. She'd just returned from her boyfriend's house. She'd ended the relationship. It didn't go well. Not. At. All. It ended in the wake of a trashed fridge and a smashed guitar. Time to go. It was over.
Then my niece got a call. Her ex said he was coming over. He wanted to talk with her one last time. To finalize everything. My niece was frightened enough to call the cops.
They interviewed the ex and he seemed to pose no threat. He went in, the cops went away. My niece and her ex talked. It was truly finished. My niece went to sleep. The ex went out to his car to get her a goodbye gift - a plant.
She hated cut flowers. They're raised solely for the vanity of others. She loved plants because they could be nurtured and live on. Last summer she'd worked on an organic sustainable farm. She was passionate about life and all living things. She was dedicating her life to truly making a difference.
The summer before she'd taught English in a village in Tanzania. And faced down crooked militia members who wanted to extort money from the volunteers.
"There's a tax you must pay for the books you use to teach. $200 for each."
Eventually they did after more than a few hairy moments and embassy involvement. My niece was a hero in every possible sense.
Her ex came back in with a plant in his hands and a .357 magnum pistol hidden under his shirt - a good guy with a gun, licensed and everything.
He shot her twice in the face as she slept. Then turned the gun on himself. The smoke from the gunshots set off the fire alarm in her room. The noise woke her roommates. They pounded on her door and tried to get in. It was locked. Her door was never locked. 911. The cops came back.
I gathered her running shoes, high heels, CDs, the hat, the coat, the sweater and put them in the trunk. There was time enough to mourn over those pieces of her life. The car would be bad enough.
I still see those empty orange running shoes in my dreams. Sleep comes slowly, fitfully, painfully. I love her. I miss her. And the world will never know what it lost. What those two bullets took away. And what her car in the lot can teach us all.