I dream of Stephanie

Last night I awoke feeling guilty and panicked.

The ghost of Stephanie Scott was in my dreams and I knew I wasn’t the only person in Leeton thinking of her.

It’s hard to escape the conversations about her online, let alone on the street. The frustrating aspect is that, aside from it being a tragedy, there is little resolution to be found yet.

Every one has a desire to talk about it, which is good because everyone is grieving her for various reasons. Talking about it helps make sense of it and today my partner observed that, despite the anger of some sentiments being potentially provocative, the conversation on I Live In Leeton has been comparatively restrained. Even when people are calling for extreme violence, there has been space for people to vent their frustration with events.

Before I talk about Stephanie I need to declare that I can’t remember meeting her. She looked familiar in the photos I’ve seen, and I think I would’ve noticed her. She was a beautiful young woman and I must confess that I have a wandering eye at times.

My sense of guilt about Stephanie isn’t libidinous, it was from writing on social media. Thankfully I hadn’t stirred a flamewar with anyone overnight but I did wonder if the blog post I’d written didn’t say more about my desire to talk than anything particularly insightful.

The arguments I’d made about the jokey tone of the bridal headlines had troubled me. When my partner, again astutely, observed that the reason why she was shown as a bride was because that was probably the most recent photo of her.

Suddenly the callous nature of tabloid headlines became apparent. It wasn’t a slight on all women that a dead young professional woman had been described as a runaway bride. It was the nature of news narratives that they had to explain why this attractive woman was on the front page when she wasn’t one of the usual celebrity archetypes.

Stephanie was a complex archetype though. She was a bride, non-judgmentally I add symbolically at least, a virgin. And she had been denied one of the most basic dreams that a young woman can have in life when she was killed just a week before her wedding day.

Here it dawns on me that as a symbol for me, this attractive young woman could’ve been an advertisement for modern Australian life. Living in Leeton, this bride was one that I thought looked great. If I were younger and times were different, who knows?

And here is where Stephanie’s ghost enters my story. Last night as I was lying in bed next to my astute partner Jo and told her about my fright with blogging, she made an interesting observation.

Stephanie died at Easter and her story had resembled another famous Easter story. It was interesting for me once she observed, for only a week before Easter had I read Elizabeth Farrelly ask if Jesus wasn’t a woman.

Easter is a time of sacrifice stories and it seems remarkable that Anzac Day is held around the same time of year, because both are stories with sacrificial symbolism. I’m not suggesting Stephanie was sacrificed, only that her story resonates with me because her death seems to resonate at a time when other death stories are being told.

My partner said to me, as I lay in bed wondering if I could calm down and stop worrying about Stephanie, that there was a parallel between her and Jesus. And it occurred to me that many of the stories that people were telling about Stephanie would conclude that she was now with Jesus.

And, I glibly suggest, that Jesus and her would be happy together — because being a pan-atheist I also only know Jesus as a symbol. Most of what I know of Jesus, like Stephanie comes from what I’ve read and seen on TV.

Jesus and Stephanie were both seen by people after their deaths, said my partner. “Remember the story when she was first missing?” she asked. “That’s like Jesus being for gone from his tomb, because she was seen on the missing messages after she’d died — just like Jesus was seen by people around Jerusalem after he died.”

The ghost of Stephanie travels around town. In our conversations, our Facebook messages, and in dreams. The recent discovery of Stephanie’s burnt body was deeply disturbing. She will not get an open casket funeral and, from the little I know about funerals I gather this is a troubling thing too.

When the news helicopter was circling Leeton on the day of memorial picnic, I thought how great it was that the town was joining together to remember Stephanie and hoped it would provide some resolution for their thoughts of her.

I also wished I’d shown my support for everyone else in town and shown how much I appreciate their support. Just like I feel like attending Anzac Day to honour my dead, I felt I should’ve honoured her. The helicopter hovering over town days earlier had been one searching for Stephanie but now it was a model with a camera mounted on the outside to film the grief and share the story with the nation.

An image of the iconic Roxy Theatre appeared in my Facebook feed this morning. It has been moving to see the tributes for her, from the memorial outside the high school crime scene to the streamers and balloons which have appeared on buildings.

The sense of grief is palpable in town as well as being unavoidable in day-to-day conversations. I am grateful my children are not at Leeton High because when school returns there will be a strong response from people.

We’ve all been touched by her death and my sense of guilt made me realise the sense of entitlement I felt I had to her story. She was in my town. While Jesus died for our sins, I do not think Stephanie died for mine but I have learned an important lesson about social media.

Writing about Stephanie and feeling regret for doing so made me consider the practice of sharing an opinion in conversations but it also made me aware of how important these conversations are for people.

The archetypes we talk about, drawing on media particularly, offer us a way of discussing our fears and feelings. I wondered if my indignation wasn’t the result of misplaced guilt over thinking sexy thoughts about an attractive young woman who died horribly.

And in sharing these thoughts, in this blog post, I would appreciate if you will let this vent sit while I work through the symbolism of my words.