Her name was Kathy and she looked just a bit like Jamie Lee Curtis, back when Miss Curtis played a frightened teenager in the old horror movie, "Halloween." She had that same long face, thin lips and dark, troubled eyes. Except in Kathy's case the troubled eyes were a part of reality, not part of a Hollywood movie.
She was in my homeroom class from her freshman year to her senior year. That was because our high school had wisely decided to have homeroom teachers follow the students through their four years so that we got to know and trust each other. I didn't know Kathy very well, I'm sorry to say, certainly not as well as some of the more outgoing kids, but over the years I learned enough about the thin, fragile-looking teenager to feel a lot of respect for her.
Kathy, you see, was about to become the first member of her family to graduate from high school. Neither her mother nor her father had made it, nor had her older brother or her twin sister. And there was something else in her background that turned me, and many others in the school, into a cheering section for her. Both her mother and her twin sister had committed suicide.
I don't know how I would have reacted to a situation like that if I had been in her place. In truth, I find it hard to even imagine it, but I can say this much: It couldn't have been easy for her. With that kind of load resting on her thin young shoulders, the path she walked through life must have been a very lonely and difficult one indeed.
I also have to be honest and admit that when Kathy was not there the night of the senior prom I was so busy watching the other kids have fun I did not notice her absence.
But she wasn't there. She was half a block away from the brightly decorated school cafeteria where the rest of the kids were dancing the night away. And just about the time the prom really got going, Kathy died.
I didn't know it. Nobody at the prom knew it. None of us learned about it until we read the paper the next day.
It happened like this: During her senior year Kathy met an older man who had been sentenced to prison for shooting and killing his girlfriend in a fit of rage. He had served seven years of his sentence and the State of Texas had just recently seen fit to release him on parole. Sometime close to the end of the school year, Kathy realized her error and told the man she was breaking it off. She was too disturbed by the break-up to go to the prom. That night, instead of being there with her friends, she was sitting in a girlfriend's car near a fast food place half a block from the school, wishing, no doubt, she was there with the rest of the kids.
The man she had broken up with approached the car with a gun in his hand. He pointed it in the driver's side window.
"Get out," he told Kathy's girlfriend as the two of them pleaded for him to put the gun down. "Get out," he told the other girl again, "or I'll kill you, too."
As she got out and ran to call the police she heard Kathy screaming, "Please don't kill me. Please don't kill me."
And that was how that fragile young teenager died, shot to death on prom night by a paroled convict who had committed an almost identical murder less than ten years earlier. I'm sorry I had to tell you that story, but I'm afraid I had little choice.
Why? Because it's true, and because it never should have happened. Because the only way we can keep things like that from happening is by knowing about them.