can't stop staring at her, as though just by looking
I can bring her back to life. Somehow, my sorrow
will turn back the clock. She will be making coffee
in her tiny Brooklyn kitchen. Her fiancé
will butter a plate of rye toast. They will listen
to National Public Radio, talk about the war in
Iraq, complain about the weather, prepare for another
exciting day in the Big Apple. Well, perhaps not
altogether exciting day but one worth living, one
with promise because they are young and in love
and living in the most happening place on earth.
If they wish, they can call for pizza at 4:00 a.m.,
have a bottle of wine delivered to their door, most
anything they might wish to have at any time they
choose to have it. Can't do that in Toledo, they'll
say. Can't do that in Denver or a thousand other
good but limited places to live. And so they will
kiss goodbye, she on her way to audition for new
play, he planning to meet friends for lunch. A few
hours apart, then home again, more talk, dinner,
walking in the snow, lovemaking, morning coffee;
a good and getting even better life.
stare at the photograph and I think, "That
could have been my daughter." The one who moved
to Manhattan right out of high school, found a job
waiting tables in a hip pizza joint, started classes
at Barnard College, and navigated streets where
prostitutes sold quick blowjobs to buy crack, where
the homeless wandered in endless circles of cold
and hunger and defeat, and where the corner crows
called "Hey, whas up, girl?" when we passed
them by. She waved and smiled and the boys laughed.
Always suspicious and fedarful, I whispered, "Who
the hell's that?" "Oh don't worry, daddy,"
my daughter shrugged. "He sells drugs, that's
all." That was Rivington Street back in the
day, before the "East Village" spread
fancy little shops and candle-lit bars and clubs
downtown, deeper and deeper into the hood.
heartless mugger who gunned down a stunning actress
on the lower side," shouts the Daily News,
"was caught on tape by a security camera just
minutes before the killing, police sources said
yesterday." On the late news we get to watch
this "heartless mugger" and his friends,
bundled in bulky coats, scarves masked around their
faces, bobbing up and down like drunken marionettes.
Soon, these kids will encounter Nicole duFresne,
her fiancée and their friends. Nicole is
a twenty-eight-year old aspiring actress from Minnesota.
We do not see her in the tape. Nor do we see the
mugger yank a magnum .357 from his coat and slam
it into her boyfriend's face. We don't hear Nicole
screaming at her attackers, or the cannon retort
of the gun going off. We don't feel the bullet rip
into Nicole's chest. The tape doesn't show her falling
backward onto the snow-crusted sidewalk, dying in
her finance's arms while the kids in the oversized
coats scatter into the night.
I know exactly where it happened; I know that corner,
those streets, those kids. It could have been my
daughter. It might have been me. I awaken from a
troubled sleep and lie in the dark, thinking, feeling,
processing. I want to call Nicole's parents, but
what does one say to parents whose child has been
murdered? I want to drive to the city and stalk
the streets, looking for Nicole's killer or killers.
And when I find them? I'll put them up against some
dirty old wall, threaten to blow their fucking little
brains out, make them wet their pants as they cry
for mercy. "Tough guys," I'll shout, "
carrying a magnum around in your pocket, beating
up innocent people, killing a young woman who had
never done you or anyone else any harm? Cowards,"
I'll scream. "Wimps, punks, chicken shits."
And when they laugh in my face, what then? Pull
my own piece? In my bedroom closet there's one ancient
4.10 shotgun, a Japanese rifle my father brought
home from the war, my old BB. gun, and a bayonet.
No bullets or shells. Nothing I could use to kill
or maim another human being.
after Nicole's murder, my daughter calls from Bombay,
India. "I've been lucky, really lucky, haven't
I, dad?" she says. "All those years. Coming
home late. Lucky
" Yes, I say, you've
been lucky. Your brother and sisters have been lucky.
I've been lucky. Nicole wasn't lucky. She hadn't
been in the city long enough to learn that you never,
ever, talk back to a man holding a gun. Apparently,
she wasn't aware of the rage that hovers just beneath
the exciting, whacky, you can get anything you want
surface of the Big Apple. Maybe she didn't feel
the racial tension that bubbles and boils and, remarkably,
rarely blows into full-scale riots or street fighting
in New York City. She probably knew that crime statistics
show that New York is one of the safest U.S. cities
in which to live. The bad old days when I wandered
the Lower East Side are gone. No more junkies slobbering
in doorways. No more crazed addicts burrowing through
walls, jimmying windows, rappelling down airshafts.
The homeless who camped in Tompkins Square Park
are gone. The heroin dealers are gone. The crack
epidemic is over. Yuppies, or so it seems, have
won the battle for the streets of another urban
York City may be less dangerous than it once was,
but Nicole's death shows that inside of bulky coats,
inside of brief cases and purses, inside of book
and shopping bags, people are carrying guns. Like
residents of other big American cities, New Yorkers
carry guns because they are afraid, they want to
act tough, they belong to gangs or maybe they're
dealing drugs. People carry guns and keep firearms
in their homes because, they will tell you, the
United States Constitution guarantees all Americans,
rich and poor, black and white, brilliant and stupid,
sane or insane, the "right to bear arms".
duFresne was white, educated, from the Midwest.
She wasn't supposed to bleed to death on the streets
of New York. Everyone knows that kids who are shot
to death, day in, day out, live in the ghettos.
Their skin is black or brown. They were hoping to
attend college, where they intended to study to
become doctors, writers, actors, lawyers, and teachers.
These kids died while talking to friends, playing
basketball, returning from the store. They had hoped
to escape the war zone. They wanted to make their
families proud and, later, help take care of the
people who had worked so hard to feed and cloth
and house them. They didn't belong to gangs, they
didn't sell drugs, they didn't carry guns. Like
Nicole duFrenze, they wanted to enjoy their youth
and make a contribution to their family and to their
country. Like Nicole, they were killed by throwaway
time bombs with hair trigger tempers, kids who expect
to be dead, and often are, before they reach voting
police had little trouble finding Nicole's killer,
a 19 year-old who sobbed in the backseat of the
squad car taking him to jail. They also arrested
a couple of young women who had made the terrible
mistake of hanging with an armed mugger that cold
January night. The killer's friends have apparently
said they were shocked when he pulled the trigger.
Nicole, they insist, was up in the kid's face. There
was snow and ice. Confusion. Screaming. People will
say that Nicole should have held her temper. Some
will want to send the kids to jail for life or see
them die by lethal injection. Some will argue that
the shooter and his friends are victims of poverty
and racism. The charges against the gunman of first
and second-degree murder will undoubtedly be reduced.
On the corner of Clinton and Rivington Streets,
a small memorial of bouquets and candles will remain
for a time before disappearing into the grit and
indifference of urban America.
time, Nicole and her killers will be forgotten,
but the slaughter of the innocents will continue.
Parents will bury their murdered children. Husbands
and wives will mourn their murdered spouse. To people
living in gun-free nations, the United States of
America resembles a mad house, where any lunatic
can purchase a killing machine and commence to blow
holes in fellow workers, neighbors, family members
and friends. Nowhere else in the world has The National
Rifle Association been able to convince people that
"guns don't kill people, people do." Nowhere
else has the NRA been able to convince rational
human beings that they have a God-given right to
carry concealed weapons.
the weeks and months to come, the New York City
Council won't dwell on Nicole's murder. Congress
will not pause for a moment of silence to remember
this beautiful actress who had hoped to fulfill
the American dream in the most exciting city in
the world. If challenged, and it's unlikely the
organization will be, the NRA will repeat its tired
mantra about citizens' right to buy, sell, trade,
carry, and if necessary use guns like the one used
to kill Nicolle. I will grieve for Nicolle's family,
and I will try to think of something I might do
or say to diminish their suffering. I wish that
I could tell her parents, and all of the hundreds
of thousands of people who've lost one ones to gun
violence over the years, that one day our nation
will come to its senses and close down companies
that profit from death and destruction. I don't
believe that will happen in my lifetime, if ever.
Cowed by the financial and political power of the
NRA, congress refuses to protect the American people
from gun violence. Indeed, even while Nicole's killer
is being tried, convicted, and sent away to prison,
our streets will echo with the sound of gunfire
and the sirens of ambulances rushing the wounded
and dying to mash units.
duFresne deserved the chance to live a long and
productive life, but with one slight squeeze of
a trigger all that was taken away. A bitterly cold
night in January, 2005. Kids out to score some easy
cash. Stick up a couple of fools. Guns. Death. Long
prison terms. Trauma. Ruined lives.
could have been one of my children, her friends,
or mine. It could have been me. It was all of us;
this is our country.