Friday, August 20, 2010

Remembering Natalie

The summer before my senior year in high school Madonna was on the radio, a new drivers’ license was in my purse, and I had the breath-stealing, tantalizing awareness of being on the precipice to freedom. I had plans. They might have been vague and ill-defined, but they were my plans, born of a vision I had for the woman I wanted to become. Besides, vague and ill-defined suited me. Life specifics are overwhelming and scary for a seventeen year old.

Looking back, I think of the summer of ’85 as the time when my instant of innocence vanished. Consumed as I was by my teenage social life (which was, admittedly, shaky at best) and senior year anxieties (the ‘didn’t study for the test’ nightmares were a regular occurrence, especially since I very often didn’t) it never occurred to me that my perception of reality was not exactly reality.

I think lots of kids have those kinds of feelings at that age. The future is poised to unfurl before us, yet we still cannot see the road clearly. What I did not realize, what nobody realizes in their instant of innocence, is how completely the world might shift. And once it shifts, it stays that way.

I was in between jobs that July, having just finished a stint as a waitress at the local Friendly’s restaurant and waiting to start my new cashier’s job at the grocery store. Mostly I spent my time at home, talking on the phone, swimming in the pool and being a general nuisance to my parents (from an evolutionary perspective, I was right on target for them to happily kick me out of the nest).

We had already finished dinner and cleaned up the kitchen that warm summer night when I heard the sirens. I didn’t think much of it, it was just background noise. Until the phone rang. My father answered and talked to a friend of his, and when he hung up I could tell he was upset. Standing in the kitchen, replacing the receiver on the wall phone, he turned to me.

“That was Chet,” he said slowly.

“What did he want?” my mother asked.

I knew from the look on his face something had happened. Chet had a police scanner and would sometimes call us with updates on crime in our little town. It was a small town without a lot of crime so most of the time he just called to talk. That particular night was different, though. That night something had happened.

I felt a moment of fear before my father spoke.

“He said someone’s been hurt. A young person.”

“Car accident?”

“Stabbing.”

“Who?” I asked, my mind numb. Someone I knew?

Impossible. That did not happen in my world. It did not. Not.

“They’re chasing the guy who did it right now.”

There was a frozen hesitation when, looking at my parents I saw the worry in their eyes. Worry and something else, something that I have come to believe was part fear and part relief. Fear about what was happening, relief that I was home safe with them.

This is where my memory gets foggy. At some point soon after the phone rang again. The details of what had happened were relayed, and by the end of the night most kids from the Watertown High School class of 1986 knew.

Natalie Guay had been murdered.

Her killer, a jilted boyfriend, had tried to escape but was later caught by police.
The attack was brutal. It is trite to say that many peoples’ lives were torn apart that night, but that is exactly what happened.

Twenty five years ago, yet that summer has been replaying in my mind recently. This is a loss that has echoed through the decades, one that should not be forgotten.

And so we remember. Remember that girl from that small town taken too early, remember that people are not what they seem, and remember that some choices are not ours to make.

How could this have happened?

In school, Natalie was a quiet girl with a shy smile. I have no idea what kind of student she was, but I have sense of what kind of person she was. Natalie was nice. I don’t mean ‘nice’ in that way that sometimes says ‘boring’, I mean ‘nice’ in the kind of way that she was sweet, always said hello, would never deliberately hurt anyone, and had an ability to deal with her school tormentors with grace (one particular boy comes to mind, an equal opportunity bully that the producers of after school specials like to document. I wish I had had the courage to stand up to him, but unfortunately, I didn’t. Nobody did.).

I cannot remember if I spoke to Natalie’s family the night of her wake. If I didn’t, it was because I was uncertain of what to say. The unimaginable had happened, and I felt like there was nothing I could do to ever make it better.

It occurs to me now, all these years later, that the night we graduated high school must have been hell for the Guay family. I can only suppose it was an evening of what-ifs and might-have-beens.

But I can say this: the class of 1986 did not forget. Natalie, we were angry that you had to die, especially the way it happened. You should be with us in the world today, raising a family of your own and pursuing your dreams. But know that what we are left with, the memory of your quiet smile, has stayed with us.

Natalie was among the first of our class to be lost, but certainly not the last. In remembering that summer, her life and her death are spread in front of us as a part of the tableau of 1985. For most of us from that era of Watertown’s history, Natalie is a part of who we became. She reminded us, in life and in death, of the importance of kindness. She showed us to be better than the bullies. She taught us to be careful who we trust. And today she is a poignant reminder of our deep connections to those around us and the profound effect we have upon each other’s lives.

Natalie, you are remembered.

10 comments:

  1. Beautifully written.

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  2. Wow I stumbled upon this entry by just choosing "next blog". I remember that summer so clearly, it was just horrible and brought to our small town the realities of life. Thanks for such a loving tribute. I often think of Natalie's family and her brother(s) who had to witness the crime and live with it everyday.

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  3. Natalie was in my youth group. She was a very sweet person. I am so glad she and I crossed brief paths . I was thinking of her the other day. I am so glad this was written so well. Her memory will live in our hearts and minds of all who knew her.

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  4. Nicely done but you left out details. The details of how we knew her. Yes she was all that and the tragedy of that day still haunts my family... You have to forgive Preston it's the only way to release yourself from the anger and hurt of the painful day.. The day my whole entire family died, the day when my parents forgot about the 3 children they had left and ignored.. I forgive you Preston cause on that day, at the time you dropped her to the floor and stared straight at me I saw the man, the Demon that overtook you to do such a tragic act wasn't what I saw ... I saw the man in you say to me"OMG What have I done" the look in your eyes for that brief instant before you ran out the backdoor, you showed genuine remorse... There are a lot of stuff that was covered up, there were stories that were never told about what happened that day... but in the end after a long grueling day/night in the police station I finally cried, not because of what you did, because I stood there for what felt like minutes but was only seconds, I did nothing I had the means to beat you down. Ed ran for a bat but wouldn't let go when I reached for it.. I did nothing my family trusted each and every one one of us. We were all responsible to protect one another and I did nothing.. Everyone says your lucky he didn't turn on you... but he didn't he only wanted Natalie to not dump him and yet later he failed to take his own life and is still in jail. If he approached me today I be upset but I extend a hand to him in friendship cause his soul is in God's hands now, he paid his debt his punishment with man's law...It's time to move on I think about the what if's but realize that it was meant to happen. I can't fix the past but I can live, live knowing how frail our lives really are. I live each day with the expression of being happy that the Lord let me wake-up to try to make this day better than the last.

    Sincerely,
    Philip J Guay

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    1. Philip,
      Well written, and intensely healing. Thank you for sharing that piece of yourself, and for showing the world that peace and healing are indeed possible even in the most horrific of circumstances.
      Narielle

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  5. I remember like it was yesterday my heart goes out to her family I know she lives on in a better place I have always said parents should never have to bury a child I will always have the memories of sitting together in Biology class she truly was a sweet girl who didnt have an ounce of anger towards anyone RIP Natalie you will always be missed your friend Ty

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  6. I remember that day vividly as well. A family friend came over and broke the news to us all. My older sister was friends with Natalie and I hung out with Phillip quite often. We all used to go camping with the Good Samaritans. Lots of great memories there. I lost touch with the Guay family after high school but I still think about them very often. Natalie is with The Lord now and we will see her again when He makes all things new. May The Lord bless and keep the Guay family.

    Eric Beach

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  7. Thank you for all your heartfelt comments. I hope that the family knows how many lives she touched, and that she is remembered.

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  8. Narielle,
    My teenage son found your blog after searching for information about my sisters death. He showed this to me last night and I was touched to read about your account of that night. Its all a blur of shock for me still. I have never been able to completely heal, I have PTSD.
    My sister was a really nice girl. She was kind,nurtureing,naive,sweet. Preston was her first boyfriend and she was deeply flattered by his attention to her. It wasn't long though before her idealization turned to fear. By the time she realized she was in over her head and asked my mom to let her hide away at grandmas for the summer it was too late. He killed her in a schizophrenic rage. We came to find out later from court reports from his psych. Evaluation that he was a non med compliant schizophrenic. Be had a long history of brutal child abuse/neglect at the hands of his mom. After many removals and returns to his home, he and his brother Clinton were placed in the foster system. Reading the reports had cleansed my heart of any anger. The reports from social services from his childhood were quite graphic and it broke my heart. Hurting people hurt other people. He was insane.How a mother could destroy her child is beyond me. I have two sons and can't imagine what would become of them had they grown up with such torment. Forgiveness was never an issue for me. Healing though has been. Its hard to live with having had someone like him in our home and family gatherings to end up doing what he did. It made me very distrusting of guys. I'm amazed I was able to marry. My husband is a very mellow compassionate and caring man. He doesn't even yell. I can only be around people like him. Calm kind and mellow. Like my sister. Preston was her little bird with a broken wing and she in her young mind thought her love would heal him. It wasn't uncommon to catch them on the sofa, his head on her lap, her stroking his face and him sucking his thumb. He was deeply troubled. It was all tragic. Every bit of it. Thank you for this space to write my feelings down. I need to do that more often. Deidre Guay (King)

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    1. Deidre,
      First, you have my condolences. Losing a family member is devastating, and your loss especially so.
      I am amazed and touched at your strength of spirit. Your ability to heal and forgive is a testament to the goodness that exists within the world. Thank you for sharing with us, and thank you for your willingness to open up about such a painful subject. May you and your family continue to grow in love and strength,
      Narielle

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