Five years ago, I released a post about Jesús and Kate’s murder: I Lost a Friend on New Year’s Day. Writing about their life, love and friendship allowed me to pay tribute not only to them but to everyone touched by this tragedy. Words cannot accurately describe the magnitude of our sorrow but it is the only thing that’s left of our friends. Words and pictures. Mementos that have accompanied us on the decade long rollercoaster ride that started on the first week of 2011.
My husband and I relive this loss in real time every January 1rst. The heinous crime – being set on fire by a disgruntled paternal uncle – acquainted us not only with pure evil but with our own mortality. From that moment on death was inevitable, inescapable. Jesus died on Jan 4th, Kate followed two days after. Holidays would never be the same. We vividly remember every moment, the emotions, the unshakable disbelief. This wasn’t how their story should have ended. It had barely begun!
The original story took many cruel and unexpected turns as it unfolded, extending the agony of those central to the events. Sadly, justice wouldn’t be fully served because the perp committed suicide, compounding the situation. Plagued by mixed feelings, we did our best to celebrate milestones and birthdays knowing that K&J should have been there. In July, the crew was summoned by the wedding party to the pre-selected reception venue to celebrate their union, in absentia.
Death never truly parts those who are destined to be together…
Friendships fragmented and/or evolved from the sadness, anger and depression brought on by the stages of grief. Somehow the Washiricans pulled through, carving new versions of happiness, compassion and social life expectations. Acceptance eventually crept in. To W’s surprise, the basketball team managed to win a championship, like the Lakers did after Kobe’s (and his daughter’s) untimely demise. Gatherings were somber at first and it took a few years for the new normal to become, well, normal.
I was caught between Why them? and Why now?, never reaching a meaningful consensus. “What would K&J do?” became a motto, a call to action. To come to terms with our reality, W and I focused on emulating their best traits, adopting Jesús’s “I go to pee” (gestures an arc with both hands) as a family inside joke, and drawing on Kate’s candor to get through the tough times. I still bust out laughing when I recall the antics of these two natural thespians. The Ying and Yang. Minga and Rico are still my favorites. Wish I had taken videos! 🤣
W sighs every time he stumbles upon something K&J would have enjoyed. There’s an empty chair at his friends table, a position on the court that will never be filled. We might have worked through our trauma separately but our collective pain remains a common thread. You never get over losing an advocate, an unconditional and loyal soldier at arms, and we lost two in the blink of an eye. Granted, we gained a few new ones in the process. Nevertheless the void remains.
I kept the memorial card box, photo button and commemorative picture in my office, bedroom mirror and fridge respectively, until we moved to our new place in 2017 (Château Enginerd for those who follow the blog). It was time to metaphorically lay them to rest, to internalize they were gone but not forgotten. K&J are a part of me, of my family, an integral piece of the person I became after their departure. Staring at their pictures wasn’t going to bring them back.
Not many people knew Jesús had witnessed my college and early career years, pushing this introvert to create a welcoming environment for those alumns who got jobs in the PNW. He was one, if not the first, of the WashiInterns I interacted with as a newly minted new hire. Affable and charismatic, the engineer in training always impressed the adults in the room who were grateful of the innovation and creativity he employed when problem solving. Not many people know how instrumental his advice was to both my relationship with W and to my career. I’m sure the respect was mutual. Deeply hurts to know we never became Chief Engineers. He would have been an interesting and engaging MBA student/partner in crime.
Brave new world…
Kate was exceptional as well. Nurse. Healer. Free spirit. Fearless. Resilient. Strong. Unflappable in the face of crisis. A legend on her own right. I wish I had spent more time with her, letting her dare me to greater heights, as she pushes the envelope during Bachelorette parties and hang outs. I always felt safe when she was around, invincible. I will always wonder what she thought of our friendship, of the boricuas attempting to teach her swear words and phrases to frazzle referees and opponents on the court. Knowing K, she’d find a way to compliment me and build me up. She always left you better than she found you.
I miss them 3,000…
I can never claim to completely understand how Jesús’s dad and sister (survivors of the fire), and Kate’s parents and brother must feel. Not even after losing my mother to a quick and unfortunate battle with cancer. 💔 Following their own journeys through Facebook and social media has left me in awe of their strength and ability to find joy despite the hand they were dealt. To me, they are proof positive that great things can come when you give yourself time to heal, when you let resilience, hope and humility light the way. Like it or not time progresses, and we must do our best to remain optimistic about what is yet to be, no matter how horrible and unkind the past has been to our soul.
One New Year’s Day, ten years ago, everything changed. For better or worse, it will never be the same. Know that wherever you are, we’ll never, ever, forget y’all!
¡Que vivan los novios! 👰♀️🤵♂️🍾🥂 Cheers!