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A doll-like voice belies a grim view of the world

It was a week ago Saturday on Howard Avenue. The young woman having breakfast by herself in the booth by the window was crying.

"What's wrong with you, honey?" the waitress asked.

She pointed to the picture in the newspaper on her table. It was of somebody she knew, somebody suddenly dead.

"I've never known anybody who has been murdered," she said through tears. "I don't know what to do about it."

The waitress did the most that anybody could do. She sat down, put her arm around the woman, and let her cry.

A week has gone by, but the young woman has not stopped thinking of Heather Haupin, the 19-year-old in the photograph. The murder has opened a window in her heart so that she sees with new eyes.

She would rather look away.

Police say Heather Haupin was gunned down by her boyfriend, Peter Howarth, outside a heavy metal concert at USF 10 days ago. Then Howarth shot himself in the head. He is still in the hospital, his condition serious.

Last fall, for a few months, they were neighbors of this twentysomething girl, a USF graduate who spends her days in a cubicle processing paperwork for a big company, and her nights listening to the kind of rock music they never play on the radio.

They partied together, did laundry together. She loaned Heather clothes, listened to her sad stories, heard the screaming and the pounding of Heather's fights with Peter. Then the couple was evicted, she said, and she mostly forgot about them.

Now they are memorialized on a list she made of all the crimes and acts of violence that have struck this young woman, her boyfriend and their circle of friends in the eight years since she came here for school. Heather and Peter are who she meant when she wrote, "1 murder/attempted suicide" on the list:

9 girls raped

4 girls held up with weapons

1 violent attack involving gun

1 murder/attempted suicide

2 hit & run accidents

many robberies and car thefts

my own car vandalized _ keyed _ spray painted, tires slashed along with two cars next to it.

She explains that these things happened to kids who went to USF or HCC, who were in school, out of school. Most of the rapes were acts of date rape, and the weapon used in the hold-ups were knives.

She says all this in a dollish voice. That's no act, but the way she talks. She was born in the year of Tet, grew up on the Brady Bunch and Cocoa Puffs, turned out to be more than pretty. But violence frames her life as emphatically as the black trim around the Ansel Adams print in her living room.

For Christmas her mother gave her one of those personal alarms that issue a mechanical screech. Her boyfriend's parents gave her pepper gas. She carries it when she goes Rollerblading on Bayshore. After her boyfriend's house, Ybor City is her favorite hangout, but she never goes there at night alone.

Anxiety is the background noise of her life, and it is crowding out the other music, the sweet sound of possibility, that people her age should hear in their heads. Some of the anxiety is natural, born of not knowing yet what to do with the rest of her life. But some of it comes from a terrible knowing about "things that just happen to you, because that's just the way things are."

She means the list when she says this. She means Heather Haupin. She means Tampa. "In a city where you don't think you need street smarts," she says, you need them like you need air.

They call people in their 20s like her part of Generation X as a putdown. They supposedly don't care, don't think, only know what they get from MTV. Whoever said that hasn't met this young woman in cropped hair and clunky shoes. She never said it, but I think she saw a piece of herself in Heather Haupin. When she made a list, she should have been calculating her chances for being promoted or going to France. Instead, she was calculating the long-range possibilities for violence in her life.

The math stinks. But that's the world she has been handed. And that's a crime.