Blithe Spirit

Katrina Golden basked in life as if it were a musical. And she was never too shy to sing along.

But at that singular moment, I watched amazed at how Katrina slowed only slightly, swung her right leg over the bike seat then glided, standing balanced on one pedal, before leaping to her feet. She seemed to let go of that bicycle like it was a trapeze or some blithe flirtation. It scared me a little and I liked it. At once I suspected life would be bolder with her around. And for the next 20 years nearly everything Katrina did would impress me this way: as precarious, exhilarating and abrupt.

Her death haunts me this way now.

In the early morning hours of June 14, Katrina Marie Golden was found dead on a beach in Cancun, Mexico. She was 34. Her clothes and a few of her belongings were discovered nearby. Mexican authorities say she had drowned.

Katrina’s friends in Virginia Beach and in Norfolk — where she lived and owned her salon, called Katrina — may have read in the Virginian-Pilot that she had gone for a late-night swim. Her friends in Richmond, former classmates and co-workers, may have read her obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. What is behind the ink in both accounts is blurred.

Her family in Richmond has culled as many details as possible from authorities in Cancun and contacted the State Department and the U.S. Consulate Office in Mexico for help. Little information, it seems, could be offered.

This is what is known: Katrina had been on vacation with a friend. The two women had arrived on Thursday, the day before. That night Katrina’s friend went back to their hotel room early in the evening. Katrina went with some people she had met to a party on the beach. By morning, her brothers and sisters in California, New York, North Carolina and Richmond were being told that their youngest sister had died.

Katrina’s past and her future rose and converged on that beach, I believe, bound for some place as enigmatic as her spirit.

“This is a time to count your blessings,” said the Rev. Donald Scales to the many friends and family who gathered at the memorial mass for Katrina last Wednesday at St. Benedict Catholic Church. “Embrace one another,” he said, consoling. “Tell Katrina’s story, how she touched your life.”

Anyone who knew Katrina knows that doing this will span a lifetime. Katrina’s mother tells me her daughter never met a person who wasn’t a friend. This is true. Sometimes it got her into trouble. But what some would call vulnerability was, in Katrina, instinct. She accepted everyone. And she had the merciful, always glamorous ability to make other people feel radiant, like they were in the presence of a star.

At times throughout the service, I could almost see Katrina standing up front in her school uniform. I saw me next to her. In high school we were in a class called Chamber Ensemble together. Basically it meant that in exchange for singing instead of studying, we had to play the bells at school liturgies. Katrina could sing — she knew every word to everything from rap songs to camp ditties to “Meet Me in St. Louis” — but Katrina could not play the bells. Each time her cue to ring would come, she’d swing her arm out a little too early or a tad too late. The result was a discordant but entertaining rendition of something like “Eagle’s Wings” or “Let Us Build a City of God.” But the best part was that Katrina would invariably let slip a few choice expletives for the whole school, and our music teacher, to hear. I thought of this during the “Ave Maria,” and I thought of a million other episodes that drove us to laughter, and to tears.

Katrina and I lost touch in recent years. But I always imagined we’d one day reunite, drink some wine or margaritas and relive those days. Following the mass, I met myriad friends she’d made as an adult, in a place I regrettably never visited. I am almost certain each one had been intrigued by some equivalent of a whizzing green Schwinn 10-speed moment.

When I arrived at the Golden’s house for the reception, Katrina’s mother, Ann Marie, propped the door open and welcomed me. The trilling sound of people sharing Katrina stories echoed everywhere. “Katrina was our sunshine, ” her mother said. Then she told me she felt as if she’d been holding the door open for a long time. Those who loved Katrina inside and out will be propping up her memory for a long time, too. S


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