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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Where to Mourn - Thoughts on Nicole duFresne

It's been nearly two weeks so I have some catch up to do. First of all, a college colleague of mine named Nicole duFresne was murdered two weeks ago, on Clinton and Rivington Streets in Manhattan. The situation was in the news, and her close friend and one of my very best friends, Matthew Trumbull, wrote an eloquent response to it at www.nytheatre.com. What he says about the term "aspiring actress" is succinct and passionate, as passionate as he was for Nicole when she was alive.

I won't add much here on the topic. I guess I'll just ramble a bit, see what comes out. Of course it was awful, and there are a thousand things that could be said from a variety of angles. I felt the New York media showed, once again, that it has little care for decorum, as it was present INSIDE the Memorial Service, well after Nicole was gone and her killer was caught. These are the sort of people that deal only in loss, it's what they're selling, and that is a low business. They don't even have the grace to treat it like blues music; it's more like movie-of-the-week filler and it cheapens everyone and everything that it touches. I've heard it said, and I believe it, that her being covered in the newspaper probably helped them catch the young people that shot her. But that doesn't mean that was the newspaper's intention...if anything it was a seductive side-effect that got them in the door and kept them inside, clicking away.

I'm not trying to criticize those that were helpful to the media. I think the media should be taken to task for how they handle tragedy, whose tragedy, and what they know in their own tiny, shrivelled hearts as right or wrong.

I was standing on the corner, as Nicole's fiancee Jeffrey performed an odd drum circle/fire ritual to say goodbye to her. I felt very far away from that, in particular, but of course, it was something Nicole would have done herself so in that way it was appropriate. I was standing next to a photographer who was about my age and at least (at least) wasn't trying to work his way into the circle and crowd real mourners out just to get a good picture for the Daily News. Past the two of us walked a guy from the neighborhood who said, just loud enough, "If she was black or hispanic none of this would be happening."

The photographer looked at me and say "He's right." I said, "Yes, he is."

That's not to say that we wouldn't be grieving in our own way, or that Matthew Trumbull wouldn't have had someone taken from him, in a flash, for no reason. Or that her parents, family, friends and she herself weren't damaged beyond belief, regardless of their race. But would her death have found its way to CNN, or more than one article, let alone the cover of several newspapers, if she were black or hispanic? Or what if she didn't have a fantastic glamour shot to toss around like candy...what if she was heavy, or her nose was too big, or she had a hairlip? This man was saying, and he was right, that Nicole's death was treated as somehow special or significant because, simply put, it made a titilating story for the papers. And that, alone, does not justify their presence at a Memorial Service.

Her death is tragic, and painful and a loss to everyone. But I think she herself would have been the sort of person to stand up and throw some perspective onto the proceedings. This was a loss for those that loved her. But I promise you, the death of a young black woman or hispanic woman in the Bronx or Queens would not, on a slow news day, get this sort of coverage. And we need to examine, of course, why we know that.

I wish I could turn off my criticial faculties when these things happen, sometimes.

And I found myself, as another friend noted, feeling that we were all just too young to be handling this loss. There was a sense of youth throughout the proceedings that shined a light on how mistimed her death was. People in their midtwenties just don't know what to do with this sort of grief, we struggle for sentiment, we work to find the depth of feeling, we are unprepared for death.

Her friends, the ones that were closest with her, all handled things the best way they could. They are lovely, powerful, graceful people. But too young, it struck me, to have to bring that to the surface at this point in their lives. When they're just trying to figure out how to balance a day job with acting classes, trying to get a good deal on rent, trying to quit smoking, making a third run to the liquor store on a Saturday night, looking for the best six dollar bottle of red wine on the market. These are not people who should be crying, begging for their friend to come back, dealing with newspapers, singing songs of loss in a converted church like some sort of twisted talent show. The entire thing was out of place, as it should have been. None of us should die before our time, of course...but least of all for simply standing up for ourselves and walking around at night. At 28 years old. And there are very few people that I saw that day who I felt (myself included) could truly get their minds around what had happened. Or their feelings.

There is no loss like early loss. It makes us feel, I think, unprepared. And inadequate. And helpless. My girlfriend lives just a few blocks from there, and while I don't want to even THINK or SPEAK that way...I feel a little more like I'd like to walk with my arm around her every where she goes. But what good will that do? The truth is... I'm not ready to change anything about how I'm living for this...we never truly are. We say things, we try to get them to sink into our bones, and then we realize that WE aren't gone and we just keep doing what we were going to do. I think so anyway... again... this circles back on itself. I just don't know what I feel. I'm sad for her, for her friends and her family. Otherwise, it's a mess. It's a murder.

As I write this, Mr. Trumbull is off to Minnesota to attend a more quiet funeral for Nicole near Wayzata, her hometown. I think he will find a little more closure there. If I knew why a quiet service and even some wide open space and some good, clean cold weather would serve a funeral better than the streets of the Lower East Side...I'd clear that up for all of us right now. In the meantime I'll just say it's one of those facts, those truths that you wish you didn't have to know. Matt knows that too, and that's why he's on an airplane.

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