Lilly Dancyger | Longreads | September 2019 | 11 minutes (2,790 words)
I never met Swedish journalist Kim Wall, but a few months after her mutilated torso was found in 2017, I dreamt that I’d been the last person to see her alive. The torso, riddled with stab wounds, washed up 11 days after she’d boarded a submarine belonging to Danish inventor Peter Madsen, to interview him for a story. In part of the dream, I saw myself on security footage, running, frantic, trying to find someone to tell what I knew about where she was in those 11 days she was missing, before she was officially one more murdered woman in the news. I woke up like coming up from an ice bath, gasping, eyes watering, still feeling a crushing guilt for letting her get on the submarine in the first place; for not somehow knowing what was going to happen, and stopping it.
When my cousin Sabina was murdered in 2010, I called the detectives handling the case to tell them about the dramatic break-up she’d recently been through, to say I didn’t know anything for sure but they might want to talk to her ex. She was popular in the club scene in Philadelphia, a budding model whose gigantic smile and fluttering eyelashes surely inspired some jealousy. I didn’t know all of the social dynamics of her world, but I told the detectives everything I could think of that she’d told me. I ran through possible scenarios of advances rebuffed, territories infringed upon, of elaborate grudges and plots. I terrified myself with thoughts of what petty trifle someone had decided was worth such a glowing 20-year-old’s life. People have murdered for the most insignificant things, and I wondered if I’d spend the rest of my life saying “over a guy” or “over a modeling job.”
I couldn’t face the idea that I would never see her again, so instead I focused on what I could do to help catch whoever did this; and what I maybe could have done, should have done, to prevent it from happening in the first place.
I was in another state when she was killed, but I wanted so badly to go back and walk Sabina home that night. The guilt of the inability to time-travel. Six months before she died, she posted a photo on Facebook from when she was about 2 and I was about 3, of me hugging her protectively while she leaned into me. She captioned it “you may have had a big sis, to protect you, but I had my big cus, and that was all I needed!” I pull it up periodically to torture myself.