I always thought I was popular, but on the night of September 16, 2005, I was sure of it. As I sat in a sorority meeting at American University, my cell phone vibrated about 30 times in the pocket of my jeans.
During a break, I went into the hall to check my calls. I saw the names of fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation internship program, in which I’d taken part that summer. I thought they were calling to say they were in town for the organization’s conference. I called one of them back.
“Jackie, are you sitting down?” my friend asked.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“Baby, they found April’s body. April’s dead.”
I was sure April Love and I wouldn’t get along the moment I saw her. She looked like a pageant princess. I dreaded rooming with this beauty queen for nine weeks.
“Hi, my name is April,” she said in a southern accent I was sure would annoy me the rest of the summer.
“Hello, my name is Jackie,” I said coolly, shaking her manicured hand. “I’m from the Bronx.”
But it didn’t take long to learn we had a lot in common: We were both 20 years old—she was a rising junior at the University of Arkansas, and I would be a senior at AU. We were each the eldest daughter in a tight-knit family, we were determined to change the way minorities are treated in America, we were in historically black sororities, and we were each dating a boy named Brandon.
We’d sit up at night in our bedroom, decorated with flowery bedsheets and family pictures, and talk about our Brandons. They were both from rough backgrounds, both cute, and both seemed in love with us.
Her Brandon loved the sound of her voice so much that he wanted her to call him whenever they weren’t together. Mine did, too.
Her Brandon checked her cell phone to make sure she was being true to him. Mine did, too.
She thought he didn’t want her to talk to other guys because he loved her. So did I.
She didn’t know how to tell her Brandon she wanted to take a break. Neither did I.
We spent weekdays working on Capitol Hill. Saturday mornings, I’d play salsa and go-go music. Sundays, she’d play Al Green and the O’Jays and teach me about southern blues.
For the July 4 weekend, we took a bus to New York for my family’s annual barbecue. After meeting my Panamanian relatives and getting her hair done by my Dominican hairdresser, she was determined to perfect her Spanish. We rushed back to DC in time for the fireworks. That night was magical.
When I got the news about April, I dropped my cell phone, ran to the chapter room, grabbed a garbage can, and threw up.
A sorority sister called back one of the names on my missed-calls list to find out what happened. She told me, “April’s boyfriend killed her.”
The last time I’d heard from April was the previous Sunday. When I called, she asked, “Hey, girl, how are you?” in the sweetest southern accent I’d ever heard.
“I’m fine,” I lied. I was anything but. I was trying to break up with my Brandon. April said she was about to do the same.
I didn’t gather the courage to say goodbye to my Brandon until a year later.
I know now that control and jealousy are not symptoms of love. April’s murder lit my resolve to finally make the decision neither of us knew how to make.
Jackeline Stewart (firstname.lastname@example.org), a 2007 BA/MA graduate of American University’s School of Communication, is a copyeditor at the National Council of La Raza.