The first thing you notice about Rudy is her beauty.
She has big, doe-brown eyes that fill half her face, perfect café au lait skin, a pixie smile and the kind of high cheekbones that have paved the way to fame for so many movie stars, all in a petite package – at 5-foot-2, Rudy stands half a head shorter than my daughter Katherine, who graduated with her from St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie in 2008.
Like many beautiful women, however, Rudy has a lot more to offer than good looks. She’s brainy – equally adept at foreign languages and math equations, go figure – and has a keen sense of humor. She’s athletic, but not really into team sports; she’s more the cheerleader type. Her laugh, which starts with a kind of giggle, is contagious.
Rudy is a little shy, until you get to know her. Then she opens up, and is as loyal and steadfast a friend as one could ever ask for.
On Saturday, May 29, at 5:11 p.m., Rudy Carter walked out of her dorm at Loyola University in New Orleans and disappeared.
The Before part seems so mundane: Rudy went to a friend’s crawfish boil that afternoon, talked to her mother on her cell phone, swiped her card to get back into her dorm. Last week she texted Katherine, “Hey, you in town yet?” Small, everyday acts, swept into instant oblivion by their very normalcy.
The After part is so shocking.
How can someone so like your own daughter, a popular student with such promise ahead, suddenly become the lead item on the evening news, the headline in the daily paper?
Life already had thrown Rudy a few curves, and she handled them with a maturity and grace that demonstrate the strong moral center her mother, Nicci, has described to reporters.
When Hurricane Katrina threatened, Rudy and Nicci left their Lakeview home for a shelter. Rudy’s beloved dog was left behind, with plenty of food and water; shelters wouldn’t allow pets. Three weeks later, Nicci and I would return to the city and find that neither the dog nor the family home had survived the storm.
At the shelter, the women huddled together as winds tore at the roof, the electricity dimmed and died, and water poured into the streets. They tried to help the dozen or so elderly patients from a nearby assisted living residence, most in wheelchairs and all abandoned by the institution’s caretakers. They sat in 100-degree heat for three days, and watched as several men from the shelter, including a preacher, broke into a neighboring grocery to get food.
When help still didn’t come, they managed to get a call through to a friend in Houston, who came and collected them.
We were in Houston, too, and briefly welcomed Nicci and Rudy and several of their relatives into my mother’s home in Sugar Land. Katherine and Rudy were offered places at Houston Christian High School, where infinitely kind parents and students welcomed them like longtime friends.
When we rented an apartment closer to the school, Rudy moved in with us for a time. She and Katherine drew strength from each other, I think. They could face this suddenly topsy-turvy post-Katrina world with a united front. Poised on the precipice of adulthood, they showed a wisdom beyond their years, while also embracing a rapidly receding childhood.
They tried out for the soccer team, rolled their eyes over religion class, went to homecoming and bought (laughing uproariously) matching Spongebob Squarepants comforters for their IKEA twin beds. I know that having Rudy at hand made the whole thing seem more like an adventure than a trial for Katherine. I hope Rudy felt the same.
I learned to love her engaging smile, her quiet confidence, her polite manner, the way her eyes sparkled when she got caught up in a conversation.
Those days seem awfully far away now.
After graduation, the girls parted ways but kept up, as kids do, through occasional texts and Facebook posts.
In New Orleans, of course, high-school friends last a lifetime. You’re always running into them at a Carnival parade or neighborhood restaurant, sharing news and catching up. You always think there will be time, later, when you get home, to reconnect.
Except now, time has stopped for those of us who know Rudy. We wait and we pray and we hope.
My heart bleeds for Nicci, usually so vivacious and funny and animated.
My heart aches for Rudy, too. I hope that, if we are all very, very lucky and she is able to read these words or to hear her mother’s voice on a TV or computer screen somewhere, that she will understand how special she is, and how deeply she is missed.
Most of all, I hope she gets home safely.
Anyone with information about Rudy’s whereabouts are asked to call the Loyola University police at 504.865.3434 or the New Orleans Police Department at 504.821.2222.