Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Magic That Makes Things Grow

As I undecorated the Christmas tree the other day, I had to admit that the holiday season just ending was a very melancholy one.  It hadn't started out that way;  I spent all of December, and much of November, immersed in the Dickensian world of Ghosts Past, Present, and Future.

I suppose you COULD be melancholy while appearing in A Christmas Carol, if you're playing Jacob Marley, but it would have been impossible for me to feel anything but jolly while playing The Ghost of Christmas Present (above).  I also played Fezziwig in this production at Titan Theatre in NYC; both roles lent themselves to raucous laughter and robust attitudes. While there was some tediousness to the commute to and from Queens, the experience certainly was not melancholy.
Just a few days after closing A Christmas Carol, I flew down to North Carolina for my family's usual holiday.  It's always a low-keyed affair, which suits us fine.  It was while at dear ol' Dad's that, miles away in DC, this year's holiday turned frightening, then ugly, then ultimately melancholy. 
Tricia McCauley was a DC-based actress, yoga instructor, and herbalist.  Back in the 60s, these descriptions might have made her sound, well, "Hippy-Dippy".  She would have embraced that label, I think.
The day I first met Tricia, years ago, remains vivid in my memory. I was asked by my grad-school buddy Steve Carpenter to appear in a staged reading he was presenting for his theatre company, the Washington Stage Guild. 
An outdoor Shakespearean performance,
early in her career.
I had worked with the WSG previously in Opus, after which the company lost their home and began many months of presenting these readings of interesting plays while they hunted for their next digs.  (I wrote a bit about this reading series here.  And I wrote about appearing in Opus here; I used to write a lot in these pages...).  Anyway, we were to rehearse this reading only once, a day or two before the performance.  I arrived at the home of WSG's executive director Ann Norton and was introduced to Tricia.  With a wide grin and completely unabashed manner, she told me to sit down and show her my tongue.

Trish was working on her masters degree in Herbal Medicine when I first met her. She was tortured by severe allergies, and the medical community didn't seem to be much help, so she took action on her own.  Her training in medicinal herbs helped her overcome her own allergies and led her down another career path. When she demanded to see my tongue at our first meeting, she was completing a homework assignment to examine various tongues.  She never told me what my tongue told her about my diet and lifestyle, and I certainly never asked.
My first glimpse of Tricia, years before
we met, was this production of Major
Barbara, in which she played the title
role. I was drawn to the show because
my grad school buddy Steve Carpenter
was in it. I was later to become friends
with many members of this WSG cast.
I did more than a dozen staged readings for the Stage Guild during this period, and a lot of them included Tricia. Our group spent a lot of downtime together, after rehearsal and before performances, and we had a habit of walking around the corner from the little black box used for these performances to some cafĂ© or other to grab a bite.  
Though a regular with Washington Stage Guild,
Tricia worked all over, including Olney Theatre,
where she played Sorel Bliss in Hay Fever.
These instances illustrated Tricia's constant (at the time) battle with food.  She was allergic to everything, even to some things she hadn't even encountered before, so dining out with her was a challenge.

Tricia created her own line of herbal "lotions and potions," designed to give all-natural relief for various ailments and conditions. I admire the way she met the challenge of curing herself, leading to a new career helping others. Her company was called Leafyhead, which was a nickname she acquired when she appeared at some herbal event wearing a crown of leaves. Maybe she was working on a monologue of Ophelia's? The moniker stuck.
On stage, Tricia was particularly adept at various accents, a talent she was to use quite precisely in the only full production in which we appeared together.
In Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, Trish played several roles, all with different accents. At various times, she impressed with her Scottish accent, her upper-class Brit, and, in a truly hilarious turn, her role as a Russian soldier (above). This show ran several years ago, but last fall, the cast gathered for a bit of a reunion.  The Washington Stage Guild was presenting staged readings of plays they had produced in each of the five performing spaces they have inhabited over their 30 years. That reading of Lord Arthur was to be Tricia's final stage performance, and as fate would have it, an audio recording of it was made. It's now a treasure.
Rubbing elbows with a Royal, here's Tricia introducing HRH
Prince Charles to the urban garden she helped to maintain.
While I have spent most of my Christmases with my family in the South, there have been two occasions when that did not happen.  Those were the times I was able to accept the annual invitation I receive to dine at the home of WSG artistic director and friend, Bill Largess.  He hosts this event every Christmas Day, and there are many DC folks who attend every year as part of their holiday tradition.  Tricia was one of those folks.
Bill's annual Christmas Dinner is held in the basement of the home in which his grandmother once lived. The table takes up the whole room, so I'm not sure the basement is used for anything else, but once a year, it comes alive with flickering candlelight and dazzling conversation, as a dozen and more folks gather to celebrate the season. It's reminiscent of Dickens, or at least, of "happy" Dickens, perhaps Christmas Dinner at the Cratchits, after Scrooge has surprised them with a turkey as big as Tiny Tim. Even with Santa's Marching Band playing obnoxiously in the background (don't ask), it's a truly memorable way to celebrate the day.
I was to learn the following details (such as they are) a little later.  Apparently Tricia made her traditional dish for the dinner (Brussels sprouts, I've had them, delish) and sent out word that she was on her way, around 5 or so Christmas evening.  She did not show up at the party.  Her absence was noticed but did not arouse too much concern.  Apparently, one time in the past, Tricia had planned to attend the dinner, then slept right through it. 
It was not until the following day that alarms started to go off.  Tricia had planned to fly out of DC to visit family the day after Christmas;  she never got on the plane.  Missing a dinner party was one thing, but Tricia was not the kind of person who would miss a flight without alerting her family at the other end.  Something was wrong.
I learned of these frightening developments late Monday afternoon, as word was sent out that Tricia was missing, and the internet exploded.  I posted a notice on my Facebook, as did countless others.  In DC, search parties were formed to scour Tricia's neighborhood, and the police entered the picture.  Sometime during the day, they searched her apartment and found nothing amiss.  Tricia's car, which she usually parked on the street, could not be located.
It may have been Tricia's car which cracked the case. This little two-seater is fairly uncommon, and may have attracted her killer's attention at a stop sign or traffic light, who knows? The bumper sticker reads "Plant More Plants." Pictures of this car circulated all over the internet and the media, the day after Christmas, and the vehicle was spotted by someone walking his dog. Tricia's killer was driving the car at the time, and apparently hollered out the window at the witness, who notified the cops. The suspect was apprehended shortly afterward, and the car was located, with Tricia's body in the back seat.

I went to bed Monday night with the same sick feeling which everyone else must have had.  I awoke the next morning and logged onto the Net;  frankly, I was hoping Tricia had been found in a ditch someplace, injured but alive.  That was the most positive hope we could hold onto, under the circumstances. 

Surveillance cameras picked up this guy
driving Tricia's car. His family reports he is
homeless and has mental problems. His
numerous arrests led a judge to require him
to wear a tracking device, which he never
showed up to receive. No one followed up.
Our justice system at work.
The police had alerted Tricia's family that her body had been found.  Details were sketchy, but apparently she had crossed paths with a homeless drifter with mental problems;  this guy was seen driving her car around town on Monday, and was apprehended after robbing a CVS hours earlier.  Recovery of her car (and a later autopsy) confirmed the worst: this monster had raped and strangled Tricia, then tied her up with a seat belt and stuffed her in the back seat of her own car.  He then drove around the city, using her credit cards and even picking up a prostitute.

I'm haunted by these images.  Tricia was a force of lightness, and positive energy, and the webpages set up to honor her have focused on these attributes. No one wants to focus on the violent way she was taken from us, what does it solve at this point?  But I'm not evolved enough to be able to ignore the horrific events which ended Tricia's life;  I'm still wracked with questions. 
Tricia was also a Life Coach, both professionally, and to any
friend in need.
Though we now know what this animal did to her, we still don't know exactly when, or where, or how.  How and where did Tricia cross paths with this creature? Was this a carjacking gone bad?  Did this guy have a gun, preventing Trish from escape (there has been no mention of a firearm involved)?  As a petite woman, she could probably be overpowered, but she was in peak physical condition;  what happened which prevented her from running?  Judging from the pictures of this criminal, she might have outrun him if she'd had a chance to get out of the car.
This is Tricia, on the left and up in the air. Her career as a yoga instructor brought in a steady paycheck and also kept her in great shape. In fact, when the media released descriptions of her as age 47, I was sure they were wrong, she looked about 32.  This picture, so full of life and fun, adds to the distress of her violent end.  She was in terrific physical condition; what did this psychopath do to her to keep her from escaping? These thoughts don't help anything, but I'm still haunted by them.
These questions are torturous, and don't do anyone any good, but I'm afraid I can't help myself. 
This candlelight vigil was held for Tricia on the Tuesday after her death, focusing on the positive way she lived her life.  This weekend, a more formal memorial was held, with friends speaking eloquently about the effect Trish had on their lives.  I didn't, or couldn't, attend either of those events.  I'm ashamed to admit I remain consumed with anger, unable to release the negative feelings Trish herself would advise are useless.
When all of us woke up on that Tuesday to that terrible news, many people in DC noted the rainbow in the sky that day:
Tricia's pathway to the great beyond? Who knows, but it was a beautiful image on a truly ugly day, so perhaps it helps us to think so.  We should follow Tricia's own words; believe me, I'm trying: 
 Look up.