It's a little after 2 a.m. My facial muscles freeze in the glow of Bay News 9. I'm looking at your pixilated Facebook photo with the headline "Pedestrian Killed." It feels as if my heart has disintegrated.
"You're looking at Kate Kohlier's picture from her Facebook page."
But you're not Kate. You're Katie. Or KT, as your Sonny's server checks would indicate next to No. 721. But sometimes it was KDK.
And sometimes I could breathe.
• • •
I close my eyes and you're lying next to me while the rest of the Sonny's Bar-B-Q crew is crammed on Tiffany's couch. We're watching a Jeff Dunham comedy routine. In the midst of our mediocre cackles is your infectious, unstoppable squeal — even with my hand playfully over your mouth.
With that Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q shirt, well-versed in the abbreviations for sliced pork and baby back ribs, you were a three-year veteran before I joined the crew that was your Sonny's family.
During my first week I saw you at the steel kitchen window waiting for your order; I did a double-take. Who is that, I thought. I haven't met that one yet.
It wasn't long before Sonny's URGENT Post-it notes made their way from the front register to the drive-through station, conveyed by a co-worker.
I kept those neon pink notes for a long time.
During our time together, you were a rambunctious Care Bear who could occasionally pull out a streetwise attitude, more charming than threatening. It was always that radiant grin that gave you away, the same one in every photo of your Celebration of Life slide show.
Your uncle called it a "Katie smile" at the service, noting that twinkle in your eye. Some may think that's a cliche, but they never met you.
• • •
It's now 5 a.m. and I'm still staring at the TV. You're back, in between Klystron 9 and the governor's race. A few hours earlier you had left work at the Marriott Waterside Hotel in Tampa and were walking to your car with two co-workers. A man in a Cadillac plowed onto the sidewalk of the Harbour Island bridge. You died instantly.
• • •
I look to the right and see you sitting cross-legged in my bedroom with Sonny's takeout after work. Sometimes near the end of a long shift I would help by filling your row with Sweet'N Lows and washing grimy sauce lids while you vacuumed.
About a year and countless shifts later, you sailed by the red linoleum counter and past the front register. With folded apron in hand and a smile on your face, you walked out on your shift to breathe your first gasp of air free of meat smokers and pulled pork.
I was so proud when you started at Olive Garden across the street. It felt as if you were moving your way up in the industry of irritating food service jobs, leaving the rest of us behind in empty baskets of bones and congealed barbecue sauce.
• • •
I have no idea what hour the sunlight is trying to hint, and no idea how much time has passed. The recycled Bay News 9 loop continues. How long has it been since I'd seen you? About four years I think. I still had urges to send a text or add you on Facebook after we lost contact. The feeling of "I know we'll end up seeing each other again one day" never faded.
I always asked about you whenever I stopped in at Sonny's. I heard you were still the bubbly KT, the 20-something-old who loved Disney soundtracks, who could make anyone crack a smile.
I also heard that you got a job at a hotel.
Editor's note: Doug Kozar also died on Oct. 30, 2010. A third pedestrian was injured but survived. Matthew Moye, the Tampa man police say was behind the wheel of the Cadillac, faces two counts each of vehicular homicide, DUI manslaughter and DUI with property damage or personal injury, and one count of battery on a law enforcement officer. Police say he was driving 89 mph. No trial date has been set.
Nicole Miller is a senior at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg who will graduate this semester with a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications.
A Tampa Walk Like MADD fundraiser is Friday at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Opening is 6:15 p.m.; the walk begins at 7. For details, including the team "Kate's Krew," go to bit.ly/dUFErT (case-sensitive).