College Life and Death

By Mark Ready

It’s usually in the first few weeks of school that the oddest and most heartbreaking things happen. Kids away from home for the first time, away from Mom and Dad. Kids eager to experience all the opportunities college life has to offer. They pledge sororities and fraternities. They try on different persona seeing which fits the direction they want to go in life. Oh, and they try on different persona to see which one gets them the most action. You know, SEX. Boy-girl, girl-girl, boy-boy. Action! It’s expected, accepted and available. Anything their morals allow, along with drugs and alcohol.

This year we had an incoming freshman get drunk and fall out of a 2nd story window. The young man suffered a head injury that will change his and his families lives forever. Now there’s a big push on at the university for window safety. There’s even talk of installing toddler locks on all the windows. Toddler locks, like they use with two year olds. I never thought I’d see the day you would need toddler locks on university student’s windows… Don’t get me wrong, I feel terrible about what happened to that young man, but actions have

consequences…, and sometimes they’re tragic.

There’s also been a murder.

You’re surprised you haven’t heard about it, aren’t you? Nothing in the papers or on television. It used to amaze me too, how things like that can be kept quiet. Let’s just say there’s a lot of school pride, and a lot of graduates in positions of authority. Well, and the university is the biggest employer in the area, and a murder would be bad for business. What parent would send their child to a school where there was a murderer running amok? The only reason I know about it is because I work there, at Western States University.

My job is repairing and preventing…, floods, fire and famine… I work in the dining centers. Thousands of meals are prepared everyday and my job is to help make sure they get done. Hot food, a comfortable place to eat it, and clean dishes. That’s my job in a nut shell.

Emily Carlson was the victims name, she was nineteen. She worked in Eastside, one of my centers. I met Emily her Freshman year and I saw her most everyday, a slight young lady with a ready smile and an understated sense of humor. She had braces.

When she came back as a Sophomore they were off and she’d, as they’d say in the olden days, bloomed. More developed, more a woman. But it was her eyes that’d changed the most. They were still brown, but they looked more worldly, not as innocent.

She was an R.A. this year, Resident Advisor. R.A’s got to move into the dorms a week earlier than the other students. Emily was assigned to Williams-Davis Hall and that’s where she met Rodger Rodgers. No, I kid you not, that’s his real name! I think he’s even like Rodger Rodgers III. Man, his ancestors must have had a deranged sense of humor. Anyway, Rod was the Williams-Davis Maintenance Mechanic, the guy they called when something needed repaired. He was in and out of the dorm everyday this Summer. That’s how he met Emily.

If I had to guess I would say Rod was in his mid forties. Tall, slim and lose jointed. He shaved his head, but has a full head of hair and he wore one of those beards that only covered his top lip and chin. He was also newly married…, for the second time.

It’s been a little more than a week since Emily’s body was found. It was in her dorm room and it looked like a suicide. You’d be surprised how many suicides the university has every year. It’s not like we expect them, but…let’s just say they happen. First love, lost love, immature emotions, drugs, alcohol, alone and away from home, it all contributes. Emily died with a garbage bag fastened around her neck with a cell phone cable.

It would have stayed a suicide. I don’t think it ever would have been questioned, except that I borrowed some pipe fittings from Rod’s van. That’s when I saw Emily’s pendant, it was a Saint Hedwig medal. I’d seen her wearing it once. I’d recognized it because of the research I’d done for my book. Emily and I had talked about it. It’d been her great-grandmothers, and it was sitting in Rod’s cup holder.

I’m probably the only one who could have put Emily and the pendant together. The only person in the Maintenance Department who knew her, and had access to Rod’s van. I was shocked when I found it. I thought about calling the cops, then I thought again. What if Rod found it laying someplace? I find things the students lose all the time…still, this seemed to coincidental.

Speaking of coincidences. Well, not really a coincidence, it was more like kismet or divine will. Just when I was trying to decide what to do about Rod the answer came walking by, her name was Lori. I know because she was wearing a name tag, she showed me.

I must have seen Lori a thousand times walking around the campus always with two or three photos in her hand. She was one of the ‘special people’ who wandered amongst the throngs of students. Except that Lori was always taking pictures, and they always seemed to be of the same places. Why, I’d seen her photograph the same side of Williams Hall a hundred times. The side with the back door.

Not having a personalized license plate would have helped. I mean, it’s kind of hard to deny it’s your vehicle when it says Rod Rod in the middle of the bumper. Yes, Lori had a picture. She also had a new digital camera with a time and date stamp. There was no reason for Rod to be there at 7:23 PM on a Sunday, the day before Emily was discovered, but there he was.

We all carry radios, and we all have cellphones, so all I needed to do was radio Rod, and call the cops. I told them to both meet me in the same place…, Eastside Dining.

Have you ever thought how you’d tell a person you knew they’d killed someone? I hadn’t thought about it either, so I bought Rod a cup of coffee and a cookie to buy time. It was chocolate chip.

I started talking about Emily, general stuff mostly. Then I brought up Saint Hedwig. Rod looked at me blankly. That’s when I mentioned the pendent, the photo and the police. His face drooped, all the color and expression washed away like the logo on a cheap tee shirt. He’d worn the same pants two days in a row, that’s how the medal ended up in his van. It’d come off in his hands.

He didn’t deny it, and he looked sad. I won’t blame Emily, but I could…, just a little. Rod should have known better, but so should she. Apparently, the building wasn’t the only thing Rod had been in and out of that Summer. Emily was pregnant. “It just happened,” he explained forlornly. He stared at me with a crestfallen look. “ She was walking around in her bra and panties…. She knew I was there, but she didn’t care. I, I started to leave, but she said I didn’t have to…, then she asked if I liked what I saw. Well…, then one thing led to another…We only did it once.” His voice trailed off and his eyes fixed on the table.

You’re going to say he’s lying. You’re going to say no young woman would ever do that…, alone in a dorm. But I’ve seen other girls do it, and I believe Rod was telling the truth. I just don’t understand why Emily would put herself in that position. Still, Rod should have left, he’s a grown man after all. He should have known better.

But why’d Emily do it? Maybe it was exciting for her? After all, she wasn’t the skinny girl with braces anymore. Perhaps it was exhilarating to see how she could control men with her body? I don’t know. I’ll never know.

Anyway, Emily wouldn’t have an abortion, and impregnating a student would ruin Rod’s life. The cookie was still on his plate when the cops showed up. Like I said earlier, actions have consequences…, and sometimes they’re tragic.