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Kathryn, Bryan, Stella, Ruby.

Kathryn, Bryan, Stella, Ruby.

The-HarveysThe other night I was scrolling through the news on my phone as I tend to do when I can’t sleep. Halfheartedly, because most of it was clickbait or pictures of Christmas trees and smiling families showing off their Christmas booty. One family portrait stopped me short. Made me gasp. It was Bryan and Kathryn Harvey with their children Stella and Ruby, attached to an article about their brutal murder on the morning of January 1, 2006. Exactly ten years ago. I’d forgotten. In the hustle of the holidays I’d forgotten. They were my friends and I’d forgotten. Wracking sobs followed.

I felt the way I do every March 27th when my cousin and sister text to remind me Momma died today. I spend all year forgetting, preferring to remember her life. Holding happy memories close like precious artifacts. If I’m lucky March 27th and January 1st pass without incident because I don’t remember. Which I’m sure is what they would have wanted. But when something causes me to remember? Emotional landslide lasting days, sometimes weeks. Because some part of me feels the need to carry a torch, to act as Speaker for the Dead, to mark the moment somehow as important. Even though I know they wouldn’t have wanted it, I feel compelled to do it. It’s so weird. I hate when I remember, relieved when I forget, but feel badly for the relief.

So why am I doing this? Reminding everyone of such a horrific tragedy? Because ten years ago I was given the greatest gift under the most horrific of circumstances. Because ten years ago when I learned of their murder I started writing.

I was a schoolteacher in rural Pennsylvania at the time, a district 40 miles outside Pittsburgh. While grading papers during my first period planning, my sister called me with the awful news. I spent the rest of the day in a zombie state, fighting back sobs and answering questions with crazy half statements and grunts. Deep shock. I spent the next few weeks in a trance. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go from here. What kind of fucking world was this anyway? Just like that, they were gone but I didn’t want them to disappear, to become another tragic statistic.

A voice in my head kept saying, “You have to tell them. You have to tell them who they are. Who they were. What they meant to you. You have to. If not now, when?” So I started writing. I created a blog called Epizoodiks and started writing about my friends.

I wrote about how Kathryn gave me a job at her first incarnation of World of Mirth on Grace Street above Exile. How I worked there every Saturday for store credit so I could furnish my apartment with the midcentury furniture she stocked in addition to old celluloid figurines, Mexican candles, assorted ceramics, postcards, Indonesian masks, and Winkies. How I spent my time restocking Day of the Dead memorabilia and writing out sales receipts by hand, figuring out the tax with a calculator. How I tried to play my mixtape of K-tel 70’s pop which she gently nixed in favor of Wynona Carr and Camille Howard. Better for the store. How I found a roommate by posting a flyer in the stairwell. How I wished I could be Kathryn, so happy all the time, so creative, so pretty.

I wrote about how we lost touch but reconnected a few years later when World of Mirth moved to Carytown and now carried creative toys. I remembered her asking me about that very thing years ago on Grace Street. Should she move? Should she change merchandise? I can’t recall what I said but I’d had a feeling at the time the question was purely rhetorical. Knowing Kathryn she’d already made up her mind and I was glad to see her doing so well.

I wrote about how Bryan and I shared a birthday and always teased each other about getting old. I wrote about the couch. A lot about the couch. It happened almost 20 years ago but feels like yesterday. I had dropped in to Carytown to find Bryan hanging out on a couch in back and Kathryn blending up smoothies behind an authentic 1960’s wooden Tiki bar. I joined him, accepted a smoothie, and we got to talking. After a while I happened to mention I had a great new apartment, but no furniture. I needed a couch.

“How about this one?” he said, patting the back with his outstretched arm. I looked at him blankly. The one we were sitting on? I shrugged my shoulders in question.

“Sure, I’ll sell it to you cheap,” he offered.

I explained unfortunately I didn’t have a truck to move it.

“I do, we’ll do it together,” he responded with a smile. Because that’s just the kind of guy he was. We negotiated a price and a day and carried on with the conversation while Kathryn whirred up blended drinks for customers.

In my memory’s eye she was very pregnant with Ruby at the time, but I can’t be sure of this. Memory is a squirrely thing and as you get older you tend to create rose-colored scenes to fill the holes. I do remember visiting when she was very pregnant, Halloween pictures posted somewhere with her belly painted to resemble a Jack O’Lantern, her lovely alto voice and deep throaty laugh rippling through the store.

I remember Bryan moving the couch into my first truly adult apartment. Truly adult because it was the entire second floor of a house, I was out of college, had a good paying job, and lived without a roommate. Truly adult because for the first time the only person I depended on was myself. Unless I had to move a couch.

I kept that couch until it fell apart. Until my cats tore it to pieces and the stuffing hung from it in large white clumps like some kind of exotic fuzzy fruit. It was a beige midcentury monstrosity, angular in line and scratchy on bare thighs with abnormally wide arms that could hold an entire dinner plate without danger of spilling. I watched O.J. race his white SUV from that couch and learned of Princess Diana’s Paris crash. I was on the phone on that couch when my father told me of Nana’s passing. I fell in love with my husband during our early days of dating amid its rough and scratchy cushions.

Even today when I look around my house all I can see are the quirky lamps Kathryn let me “buy” in exchange for working behind the counter. My eyes settle on the standing ashtray with wire legs and a ceramic top which miraculously has survived umpteen moves over the decades. The pristine phone table with a flat green seat which now acts as a plant stand. At the time Kathryn assured me it would only appreciate in value. She was right. But even if it didn’t, I’d never give it up. Not for a gazillion dollars.

Kathryn taught me to have a good eye when it came to midcentury furnishings, how to tell the reproductions from the authentic. She helped me not only develop a style sense but showed me pride of ownership, how owning your passion, whether that be a toy store or a blog or a podcast could be more rewarding than working your life away for someone else’s dream.

It’s why I wanted to write this piece. It’s why I wanted to write at all. To this day I’m not sure I’d be as good, or as prolific a writer if they hadn’t been murdered. What fucking irony. Their murder brought an urgency to my life, a need to tell their story so folks would know who they are. A need to tell their story so hopefully, somehow they would be remembered for how they lived. Not how they died. When I finished, I started telling the story of other people. I started writing the story of myself.

How tragically ironic. I might have gone my entire life scribbling, playing around with the *idea* of being a writer. But ten years ago, their murder woke me the fuck up. How sad it takes a catastrophe for me to realize this gift?

Remembering them today, as I often do, in my mind’s eye we were better friends than we actually were. Because I always wanted to be. Even when I was dead broke I’d stop in to World of Mirth just hoping one of them would be around so we could talk. So I could get to know them better. So I could perhaps gather by osmosis whatever it was that made them so freaking cool and generous and kind and nice. Ten years? God, I’d give up everything I am and all that I have just to have them back for ten minutes.

Working at World of Mirth, knowing Kathryn and Bryan played such a huge part in shaping the person I am. I own my own business. I have a love of collecting and because of Kathryn, have a fairly decent eye. Because of working there, I can interact with strangers without coming across too much like a psycho. Most importantly, I started writing, and the fact I did resulted in so much. I am paid in opportunities and what opportunities I’ve had. I’m writing two books. I’ve got a blog, a podcast, I’ve been published in magazines, and I’ve met so many wonderful people and had experiences folks can only dream about.

And all of it because they were murdered. The ironic tragedy of that stares me in the face. I was hesitant to even write this piece because I didn’t want it to feel self-serving. Because it’s not about me. It’s just not. It’s about them. It’s always about the Harveys. But not just about the tragedy they suffered, but what they gave to this community. Of which I am just one person. But to this one person they gave so much without even realizing it. I’ll never forget them. I’ll always love them. And I’ll always be grateful. Because of Kathryn and Bryan I’ll always be writing.

This will probably be the last time I write a piece about Kathryn and Bryan. Even though my work sometimes contradicts this, I really don’t feel the need to eulogize on every death date. Or if I do at least I’m aware of it and actively working toward stopping, turning my spotlight on the living, breathing, world around me. But I did start writing a decade ago because of them. And as such, I felt a need to honor that. To take one last glance back to express gratitude before moving forward. And to wish them peace. Thank you Kathryn and Bryan. Happy New Year everyone.

Please consider donating to the Bryan and Kathryn Harvey Family Memorial Endowment. Thank you.

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