It was one of those unrepeatable May days, as the novelist Richard Powers once called them. The end of a college semester, especially the spring semester, is always a strange time, jovial yet tense, the electricity of change thick in the air. Friends and strangers are about to scatter for the summer, perhaps forever. Packing crates are unearthed and thousands of shoddy campus apartments are dismantled yet again. Relationships are paused, put to fate.
It was on one of those unrepeatable May days - May 3, 2010 -- that University of Virginia student Yeardley Love was killed by her ex-boyfriend George Huguely, beaten so savagely that her brain twisted in her skull, and then smothered in her floral comforter until life escaped her. She was two weeks shy of graduation.
Huguely, now two years older and about forty pounds lighter, is currently standing trial for Love's death. Shackled at the ankles and wrists, he walks with police accompaniment to the Charlottesville courthouse each day, during which a team of ambitious lawyers plots his defense while pictures of Love's bloodied corpse are shown and her mother sobs from the audience.
The case is a chilling one, and some details of Love and Huguely's relationship are all too familiar, especially considering the nature of romance among young adults today. The testimony has schooled jurors in the notions of on-again, off-again relationships, of hook-ups, of drunken sex, of the tempestuous, aggravating liaisons that govern campuses large and small. Love and Huguely's relationship was volatile and staccato. They enraged each other, tried to make each other jealous. They played games - in person, over email, over text message. Love hit Huguely with her purse when she found him with another woman. Huguely threatened to kill Love when he discovered that she had hooked up with another man.
The resilience of youth usually - and graciously -- allows us to overcome such petty turmoil, which can seem like a personal Armageddon, and move on with our lives. Huguely and Love were about to graduate, to move on, to let go of the familiar, to leave their beautiful campus bubble where their choice sport, lacrosse, made them near-royalty. Life was tearing at the seams, ready to regenerate. Love wanted to move to New York; Huguely to San Francisco. It was over for them, for college. It could have been the end of just another young, ugly romance.
But Huguely snapped. He seized the tense energy of that May day and took it out on Yeardley Love. Instead of moving on, he committed himself to prison by whipping the life out of someone who only deserved his respect. He squandered every opportunity that had been given to him that May day and now faces removal from society. But he should serve as a reminder of the fragility and desperation those college relationships sometimes hold, of what is acceptable to tolerate in them and what is not, of what we want to take with us and what we don't.
A few days after Love's death, hundreds of UVA students gathered on the school's lawn for a tribute concert. Holding flickering white candles, many cried while an a cappella group sang, among other songs, "I'll Stand By You." But Love was already gone.
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