See No Evil

At the New Jersey dairy farm, where animals lie in rows of pens,
solid bars framing their long soft faces and metal tags clipped
to their ears, our kindergarten class takes a field trip. I wear my
favorite jacket with the sailboat pattern, little red and white ships
jauntily heading for adventure somewhere, among patches of
gingham and striped denim. I hold Kristen’s hand in front of a cow
and smile for the camera, delighted in the way of five-year-olds,
the way Kristen almost smiles too, except her eyes are closed
under her corn-silk fringe of bangs. So blonde it’s nearly white,
that hair. What Kristen loves most in the world is her leggy green
stuffed Kermit the Frog, which appears in every other snapshot
of her. Kristen in a pink corduroy pinafore. Kristen on the swings
in her backyard. Kristen and me lined up for nursery school
graduation in May 1983, paper plates with shiny glued-on ribbons
for caps, decorated in scented marker. In sixteen years her hair

never darkens, even after she is strangled by her roommate
in the bathroom of their New York apartment. There is no blood,
nothing to blemish that glossy platinum, only some oddly-shaped
bruises on her neck the newspaper concludes were made by her
assailant’s elbow or foot. The article says track team, speculates
about drugs, runs a yearbook picture. Kristen’s face in an oval frame.
Black headband. No bangs. The paper can’t explain what happens
to girls at six, and thirteen, and twenty: the many furlings
and risings into and out of a body someone else is always thinking
they own, how many rooms we might survive. It cannot tell me
what Kristen clung to in her last hours, long after I lost track of her.
On the farm, I am still holding her hand. In that old photograph
the bars of the pen obscure the cow’s eyes as she stares dead
ahead, perfectly blind at exactly the wrong moment. I keep looking
and looking, like maybe if I catch the thing off guard, I’ll solve it.

September 2017