Monet, I believe our name has never told the right story. Our name, a juxtaposition of ironies, the French last name abutting the English male first name and given to women of color. Our name is an illusion and behind it is the story only we can tell.
On December 18, 2016, I woke up to the first Google alert for my name: I’d been attacked, stabbed multiple times, and left to bleed in a doorway. That morning I’d looked down at my intact body, not quite understanding until I did. It was another woman, a woman with my name.
Pure narcissism it was, setting up that alert for myself when I had hardly any publications, but I’d wanted to know the exact moment that I mattered in such an objective way. And I wanted to matter so much to someone, to anyone, even the anonymous Google, especially right then when I was alone in a foreign country and wondering if I’d made a mistake, another mistake, in a long line of them. Two weeks later, a second alert: “Monet Thomas of Kearny, New Jersey dies from injuries sustained in a knife attack.”
Ours was not a name plucked from the air with ignorant fingers, no matter our brown skin.
The other Monet was 25 when she died, an age that I can recall with fondness now that it’s gone. How many times had I told friends with a laugh that “I would not go back and be 25 years old again, no way.” The other Monet would never have the chance to reminisce.
It took just a few clicks to find her picture. She was beautiful. A Helen of Troy? Had her beauty sparked her killer’s obsession, or an entitlement that made him believe she belonged to anyone who saw her? Long black hair, smooth clear skin.
Some essential understanding of myself shifted into place the first time I saw Claude Monet’s work in person. I’d had a lifetime of his postcards, canvas bags, coffee table books, even done class reports and presentations, but nothing compared to seeing the paint strokes of the haystacks, Rouen Cathedral, the Manneporte, and the lillies with my own eyes. I finally understood, when I was standing in front of the canvas, that I was an artist, too. Did the other Monet have the chance to understand the path of her life?
Monet, I wonder if our paths ever crossed when I was a gangly middle schooler and then a sullen high schooler in a nearby Jersey town? Did we ever sit in parallel cars in east-bound traffic on Route 4 or share a bus headed into the city?
I imagine Monet’s Facebook is now a wall of condolences like the page I sometimes visit of an old classmate who died of a rare disease. If Monet had a presence online it is now buried beneath press releases, a GoFundMe page for her medical expenses, and her obituary.
All women, young and old, know the delicate balance of our lives, how violence lurks everywhere, even on a walk with a dog. We know that neither beauty nor intelligence or even compliance can save us from the will of men. Only chance stands between a woman and a murdered woman, one Monet alive and the other Monet dead. I’m sorry, this must sound like preaching to the choir. What were your dreams, Monet? Who did you want to be? And did you get close? At the age you died I had only just decided to pursue my own dream to study writing. Six years later I know there’s still so much to learn, that I could spend a lifetime and still never write the perfect sentence. But that was still more time than you had.
In his mugshot, Francis Tattoli’s face bears a blood-red scratch and reflects an unnerving emptiness. The blankness of his expression is the space where Monet used to be. On January 6th, the charges against Tattoli were upgraded to first degree murder, first degree kidnapping and second degree possession of a deadly weapon. His motive remains unclear: drugs, jealousy, we still don’t know.
I imagine before your death, Monet, a veil existed between our lives—the details that made us strangers—but now I feel close to you. I know that is a presumption for which I apologize. There is so much I am sorry to you for, and maybe I have supposed too much. Still you should know that your death is not who you are to me. To me, you are a sister, a fellow Jersey girl. I will remember you. May these words be the flowers I would lay at your grave.
Monet Patrice Thomas is a writer living abroad in Beijing, China. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Washington. Currently, she is the Interviews Editor at The Rumpus. More nonfiction can be found online at Hobart, Cobalt Review, Sundog Lit, and at monetpatricethomas.com.
Photography by: Himanshu Singh Gurjar