Suburban Soliloquy #58

Katie Lynn Hill

A note about this Soliloquy:
I wrote it in my third week of a depression I could not shake off. That was last month, August of 2002. Writing it out served to purge me of this disturbing story, but then there was doubt that it was suitable to share. Among other considerations was an uneasy feeling that I was being presumptuous, for I was not even close to the victim, and her husband, her parents, so many others, they have certainly suffered more than me and are suffering still. I spent the night up writing a second Soliloquy in the hours before my deadline to take its place. Now I have allowed about a month to pass and have reread the original essay with fresh eyes. From this more remote place in time, with my long depression behind me, I see better the point of sharing it, a conscious participant in the ripple effect. What follows is the original with only a few changes.
- B. H. B. 29th September 2002.

Katie Lynn Hill was murdered. It happened earlier this month. I didn't know her at the time of her death. She had traveled from her home in Seattle across the continent to visit Washington D.C. for the first time, and she was in D.C. for the Pen Show. Fountain pens are the tenuous relationship by which we were associated.

Katie was walking the four blocks from the Metrorail station in Takoma Park, a residential community in the outskirts of Washington D.C., to the home of her brother-in-law. It is a neighbourhood that her brother-in-law describes as wonderful, and where he has lived with his family for fourteen years. Takoma Park is a Nuclear Free Zone. Katie was returning from the Pen Show and dinner. She had met with friends for the first time, people she had known only from letters and postings on the message board at
PenTrace. She was one block from her brother-in-law's house, just prior to midnight, when she was mugged. She was shot in the head and body for the contents of her purse and a digital camera. She died on the well-lit lawn of the Takoma Elementary School. It was the ninth of August.

I first learned of her death when it was reported on the message board at PenTrace three days later. Katie had been a regular poster to PenTrace. She was also a member of the "Snailers", a private subculture of PenTrace made up of fountain pen users who have arranged to write old-fashioned letters to one another, an opportunity to express themselves with their favourite writing instruments. Her name and mine are both on that list, and, had there been more time, we might have eventually written to each other.

Because I really didn't know who she was, I pulled up the PenTrace page of biographies, where the PenTracers post mini-autobiographies. She had included a picture of herself in childhood, blonde and carefully posed for what appears to be her first-grade school photograph. She is adorable in the picture. She is probably six. I look at the picture and feel impotent at not being able to warn her what was to occur just days before her thirty-seventh birthday.

From reading her biography I became intrigued with the person. She is someone with whom I would have enjoyed communicating. After graduating from the University of Washington in Seattle, Katie moved to Paris, France to work as a managing director for a communications agency. I wonder of the friends she established in France who still do not know of her death. Katie returned to Seattle to work for a software company, and went back to school to earn a law degree. With that degree she became a corporate counsel for a non-profit foundation serving foster children. She was also employed by an Internet company, but due to the slowdown in that field, she found herself temporarily "retired". The short biography in PenTrace concludes with her typical optimism, "The silver lining in all of this is that I have much more time now for writing with my fountain pens, going for long walks with my dogs, and working in my yard."

With so many friends among fountain pen collectors, and a number of them have come to know her personally through private emails and letters, there is a ripple effect. The damage the murderer has done has hurt people all around the world, as far away as Europe and Asia.

For the next two weeks I continued to learn more from the accumulating posts in PenTrace. Katie was one who felt a need to go out and do good, a helpful person who was involved with the needy children in her community. A PenTracer shares words from a letter that Katie wrote the week before her death: "My great interest in life is the nurturing and care of my relationships with others... to enjoy the happiness that caring for others can bring. Isn't our connection to others the real foundation of our well being?"

I do believe that a lot of the hardwiring we have evolved has been to extend relationships and our ability to communicate. Humans are social creatures on a grand scale, an incredible number of diverse individuals capable of living together in cooperation for survival and happiness. The fountain pen and the handwritten letter serves as both tool and symbol of human nature. Too late I desire to have some communication with Katie.

Her death could not have upset me as much as it must her family and her friends, or the people, such as the children, that she assisted. The community I live in is not much different than where Katie was killed. I look to my spouse and the idea of losing Ms Keogh in this way is unbearable. As days separate me from the event, my hurt has been slow to diminish as I have learned more about Katie's exceptional kindness, her gentle comportment and sweet manner.

I am an Atheist, so I do not go into matters of theodicy. There are deaths that are just accidents, but then there are deaths that are the result of unnecessarily cruel behaviour. I see just one sin and that is egocentrism. That this killer should target an innocent for greedy purposes is the same nonsense terrorist use to kill, just on a smaller scale. It is hard enough to bear accidents. It is impossible to grasp someone so self-centered and self-absorbed that they can make a target of innocents.

Learning of the murder of Katie was the start of a long depression for me. Other, more trifling things, fueled my despair and I now need to banish it from my system. I've been making mistakes, forgetting things I don't usually forget, misplacing things and I am not one to usually misplace things. I have felt overwhelmed by every task, tormented by every risk and threat that I can imagine for the future. I seem to be making the wrong choices and so I have avoided making decisions. There have been moments when I sat in my study too knotted to write, despondent and watching the moths fluttering at my screened window. It is the night of the 30th of August and I have no choice; I write about Katie Hill. For good people like her, for her, I want the ripple effect to extend the memory of her good life and the insult of her death.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is the fifty-eighth in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is now available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"