By Rosalie Tirella
I’ve been thinking about the girl who was murdered in Princeton while running. She was 27 – a girl to me. And she was a runner. A girl runner – different from boy runners in that many boys/men, even the fat, slovenly ones, take to the road in a bluster. All cocky delusion, huffing and puffing and seeing themselves sinewy, smooth … athletes.
Girls are different: Often we run to empower ourselves, sometimes we run to achieve a kind of female perfection – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually … PERFECT. Running makes you think you can get there. Yes, we feel free on the road: hair streaming in the wind, body sun glistened. Yes, we experience the runner’s euphoria, the inner peace – on our high arches or on our feet that are not built for the road at all – pronators! Yes, we run to be with ourselves , have no one barking at us, except the occasional mutt on our running route. But still … the pictures that society has emblazoned on our brains bark at us.
Was the Princeton girl runner a lover of her body and mind? Did she feel free to think her own thoughts? Did she feel fearless on the road? Pensive? Relaxed?
Did she wear the expensive, state-of-the-art, breathable, technology-boasting, body-encasing leggings and tank tops that scream FOXY, or did she favor slipping into a soft, old, faded concert tee and a pair of loose fitting gym shorts from high school or college? Did it really make a difference what she wore?
Look at those thigh muscles – beautiful! She runs up that hill with determination, her body now closer to, hugging, the earth, to make the running up that hill easier – to get less push back from the wind. Primal. Animal moves.
When the Princeton girl runner ran did she: Sprint? Lope? Traipse? Do a little pogo , in exuberance, when she thought she was absolutely alone and no one could see her?
Did the girl runner enjoy running in her new home, the big metropolis (New York City!)? On its cement-hard streets, Central Park paths? Did she miss her family and bounding down the gray dusty Princeton roads, the canopy trees blessing her as she, just a wisp of a girl really!, raced past their gnarly roots – most of which run deep into the earth, a mystery achievement! The roots are looking for water, minerals and other sustenance from the soil. A life all their own, undetected by eyes…
Just like girl runners alone in the city or in the country. Just like the Princeton girl runner whose last minutes of life, remain a mystery to us. Yes, we know the facts: She was found naked, her hands, feet and head burned – authorities say her killer did this to destroy his/her DNA, the evidence. She had a routine: every weekend she visited her mom and went for a run on Sunday before returning to New York. But the facts convey nothing. We’ll never know her thoughts as she fought a losing, losing battle… we’ll never experience her pain: bones crushed, blood flowing, physical trauma, physical shock, then finally death – not surrounded by loved ones after a life lived well, but lying in the dirt, like roadkill.
Who will sustain her parents now?
Her poor father! In the newspapers he talked so highly of his daughter – so proud of her intelligence, her tenacity, her career at Google, her relatively new life in arguably the greatest city on the planet! NEW YORK CITY! A city swimming in over-achievers, Type A personalities! Just like his daughter! She had so much promise!!! Dad intimates to the newspapers.
Who will pick Dad up off this road, the road of infinite sorrow and loss? Does he have an old pair of his daughter’s running shoes? Does he grab them and slam them into his chest, where his breaking heart is?
The girl runner’s killer left her in the woods – away from the road she was running on. Was she raped? Authorities are investigating. We know she put up a fight. She was a big city girl with a big city job running in her puny little hometown. She had run marathons. She was an athlete. She was on the cusp…Didn’t her killer see her for what she was? The killer saw a slip of a girl running, twiggy as a yearling, easy to bring down. Under the magnificent tree canopy in deafening silence. No one was around. She was all alone, a single daisy – a crawling ant – in the dirt.
The murderer burned her feet – the feet she used to run on country roads, city streets, under the sunshine, under rain clouds, maybe even under thunder clouds! When the Princeton girl runner ran in New York City did she marvel at the Empire State Building, smile at the trees and children playing catch in a pocket park?
A wisp of a girl, the apple of her father’s eye. A girl who that morning woke up in the bedroom of her childhood home, smelling all the old familiar smells, listening to her mother’s voice, grown a bit husky through the years, a life lived to its middle.
Not like her. The girl runner died at 27. Just five years out of college. A kid. Just a kid.
A high achieving kid, through and through – the kind of girl, I bet, who ran all kinds of races in her head: career, classroom, relationships … her dad keeping score for her too in Princeton. Did all the races tire her out? Look at her pictures in the newspapers. She looks beautiful in some photos, thin and tired in others. Her brown eyes expressionless, even sad.
She was raised in an upper-middle class Worcester County town – the best we’ve got! exclusive, 99% white, loaded with 1-percenters! The evening before she was murdered her dad took her out to dinner to the best, most expensive, most exclusive feeling restaurant in Worcester! The Chop House! Money and status…and love.
I was a runner in college, a little younger than the Princeton girl when I ran. No teams, no races, no marathons for this non-athlete – even though I could run comfortably for an hour. Running for myself. By myself. With my thoughts, my impressions. In Amherst, while a student at the University of Massachusetts. To be awed by the Amherst countryside – to see the tobacco leaves fat and heavy in the rain, to see the cows in the barnyard together, big snouts touching big rumps.
I felt POWERFUL. FREE. ALIVE. ANIMAL. HAPPY running in Amherst. Even when I was sad, off road. Which is why I kept running! I was on the road every day for an hour and in the gym every other day. To feel equilibrium that physical exertion brings to body and soul … I lost my period! From running too much! It happens to us girl runners a lot. The pursuit of excellence and peace backs up on us and we become … borderline anorexic.
Did it happen to the Princeton girl runner?
In the UMass classroom I fidgeted…jonesing for my daily run! Eating a quick light dinner. Couldn’t wait to be out running! I ran in all weather – torrential downpours, major snow storms …I remember the streets where snow plow blades had packed the snow down good and flat. I was out with the snowplows! All that Amherst running…listening/not listening to myself.
Nature sings her song! And it all feels so simple and easy! To put on a good pair of running shoes and head out into the world! Whoosh!!! Girl runners grab their sneaks and bound out the door all over the world, every day. Many are killed by stalkers, serial killers, ex-spouses.
The city sparkles, the countryside soothes, both beckon, and we girl runners run toward the beauty! Sun light, bright city street lights, filigree branches against window panes. Who’s there behind the ever green bush, behind the branches that hold the dozens of little brown sparrows that fly there at night to sleep. They look like little pine cones!
The girl runner sprints by, then catches her breath!