Like a cold-case mystery coming to a close, Facebook provided the connection. Suzanne, like a lot of voices from the past, just popped up on my FB page. She had been part of a group of American exchange students I had once journeyed to Switzerland with back in 1981. We messaged back and forth and during our excited exchange about our old friends in the group, she dropped this one me:
Diane Carter was dead.
Of all the members of the group, Diane had been the one I was closest to. A sweet southern girl from Greensboro, NC, to me she was a Mayberry type kid, daughter of a veterinarian. We wrote a lot (back when people actually wrote letters), called, and saw each other a few times in the subsequent years.
In 1990, she told me she was moving to Los Angeles. I was excited. She didn’t know anyone there except me.
What I didn’t know was that in her years at Duke University, she had met a new boyfriend and would soon convert to Judaism and disappear forever. The only time I saw her in LA, she and her man came out to the beach with me and my friends. It was awkward. He was orthodox and uncomfortable with our friendship. She seemed distant, out of place. We said we would talk soon, but shortly after, she vanished without a trace. Trying to track her down, even her parents didn’t know where she was.
For 20-some years this has been bothering me. I had no closure, no way of knowing what happened to her until I read this article on her death:
Wow. It is entirely possible that I was the last person of her former life to see her, including her family. And to be killed like that... that's heavy. But I will never understand the fervor that converts have for disavowing their former lives. As far as I knew, she had a decent, if boring life, growing up. She was not unloved or abused. She was happy go lucky. And we never had a bad moment between us. And yet, I never saw or spoke to her again. As a parent, I couldn't imagine undergoing this experience. I remember the pleas from her mother to let her know if I heard anything from Diane.
But I hope she was happy. I hope she found herself. As I write this, I am in Amsterdam where the last image I will keep in my head of her took place. We had spent our last couple of days in Amsterdam with our group, getting locked out of our hostel and sleeping in Vondelpark next to a bonfire.
The next day, as the group said goodbye one by one, we were the last two to go. We sat on a bench for a long time waiting. When her train came, so did the tears in her eyes. She cried long and hard. I put her on the train. A goofy grin appeared on her face and she waved goodbye out her window until the train disappeared from sight.
Now I can say one last time: goodbye Diane Carter. I glad I knew you.