Me and Christina, in all our German dance group glory, back in 1999.
Me and Christina, in all our German dance group glory, back in 1999.

The worst phone call I've ever received

Pardon the self-indulgence for a moment, I'd like to share a little bit of my life. I guess, if nothing else, it's a form of self-therapy, but it's a story I'd like to share.

Christina was one of my closest friends. We had a relationship that, to this day, I've been unable to match. There was friendship. There was attraction. There was romance. There was trust. There was love. It was a special bond formed through the years because of our mutual participation in a German folk dance group.

She was the first girl I ever asked to dance, on a Sunday afternoon in 1990 at the old MECCA. Even at 12 years old, I knew she was special. I dug up whatever courage a pre-pubescent boy can muster, walked up to her, looked her square in the eye and asked.

She paused for a second, cracked half a smile and replied "no." That moment was the start of a special friendship.

We had our "Labor Day Weekend" fling (each Labor Day Weekend, our groups would attend a national convention/festival). We were the "it" couple for a weekend and for the next few years, we talked all the time – at least, as much as we could in the pre-Facebook/free long distance cell phone days.

We wrote letters. We instant messaged each other. When we could talk on the phone, we'd spend hours talking about everything and nothing at all. We spent a week together when the Badgers played in the Rose Bowl in '99. She wore my Wisconsin hat and jacket, hung out with my friends and adopted Wisconsin as her team.

For two people who saw each other but once a year, it was an incredibly close and personal relationship. One that had a lot of promise ... but we'll never know.

Ten years ago today, she was killed, brutally, accosted by three punks and left to die in the mountains near Asuza, Calif.

I was living in Oshkosh, in the middle of a normal Saturday night. My friends and I were at French Quarter, about to make our way to another campus haunt. Earlier in the day, I had broken my phone and was using a loaner provided by one of my friends.

Those who went to school in Oshkosh will understand my description. Walking out of the Quarter, around the building past the gyro shop and Domino's, I finally checked my phone and found I had missed about a dozen calls from one of my friends in California.

We'd been on somewhat bad terms for a few days but as I was putting the phone back in my pocket, it rang again; the same friend calling.

"What did I do now," I answered.

That's when my friend spoke the words I have never, ever forgotten.

"I don't know how else to say it," my friend said. "Christina's gone. She's dead. She's been killed."

I went through the usual steps of doubting, questioning, swearing and then I dropped to my knees in disbelief. I didn't know what to say. My friends looked on, confused, and I quickly went back to my house (just a few hundred feet away).

I spent the night on the phone, first calling my mother back in Milwaukee. My dance group had just finished performing at an Oktoberfest. She spread the word. We took it hard. They took it hard in Cleveland, too, where the group there learned following a performance. All across the country, her friends quickly learned what had happened.

Christina was on her way to a party when she stopped for cigarettes and was robbed. The culprits used her debit card twice, took her to the mountains and slashed her throat.

A week later, I was in California for the funeral. A week after that, we were all together again for the annual Labor Day event, which included a memorial service. I heard I said some nice things. I don't remember any of it, and quite frankly, I don't want to.

The last time we saw each other, at our 2000 festival in Cleveland, she handed me a little note. The words were few, but from the heart. The note has been in my wallet ever since. And every now and then, I'll forget it's there. I find it, my heart sinks for a moment before a huge smile crosses my face.

Not long ago, while in Los Angeles for a mutual friend's wedding, I finally went back to the cemetery. I had wanted to go for a long time but I just wasn't ready. I think I still wasn't quite there. I didn't know what to say, what to do. I just stared at the stone and thought about my beautiful, magnificent friend lying beneath my head.

For the first time in a long time, I cried. Hard. Liz, her sister and now one of my closest and dearest friends, put her arm around me, saying nothing, just letting me let it out. When I finally came to, for lack of a better term, I noticed that Jimmy Durante was laid to rest not far away. So was Rita Hayworth. And, for the sports guy in me, so was legendary Lakers play-by-play voice Chick Hearn.

I don't know why, but that made me feel better. I smiled. I laughed. I thought it fittingly appropriate that some of the most famous names in show business were laying near my friend.

Today, I still try and come to grips with her absence. Over the last decade, her sister and my sister have become close friends. We've stayed at each others houses, we've danced, we've laughed, we've cried ... and we remember.

After years of dead-ends, the killers were finally caught. All three were convicted and currently rot away in a California prison. One of them received the death penalty.

But it doesn't make it any easier. She's still gone. She's not coming back. They say people come and go in life, and I agree. But some people just simply cannot be replaced and Christina, her bright smile and loving eyes – and ever-changing hair colors – is one of those people.

Talkbacks

sandstorm | Aug. 19, 2011 at 11:32 a.m. (report)

Andrew, great tribute to your friend/friendship!
must have been tough to write, but many of us appreciate your sharing as it makes us appreciate our own friendships that much more.
thank you.

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olderwiser | Aug. 19, 2011 at 8:21 a.m. (report)

Consider this a wonderful tribute to your dear friend Christina. It made at least one person (me) think of her with admiration and take a minute to realize how truly important, yet fleeting, friendship can be.

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mippers | Aug. 18, 2011 at 11:23 a.m. (report)

Thanks for sharing such a poignant, personal story. I can tell from your writing that she meant the world to you and that speaks volumes about the kind of connection and relationship you had.

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