Lauren Giddings and the Heart She Won  

By Amy Leigh Womack and Joe Kovac Jr.  / Originally published Dec. 12, 2011
The man in the satiny pink polo sat alone, the brightest thing in a gloomy room. It was dark out, rainy. The lights were low in the private alcove off the dining room of the Buckhead country club where he sat. The man had come to talk about his girlfriend, about their lives, about what might have been. Had they never met, there is no chance on this earth he would be dressed in pink.

He grew up in South Carolina, raised on Gamecock’s garnet and black. He graduated from Wake Forest, then Georgetown law. Spent six months backpacking in Australia. His great-great-grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War.

Pink? Not his thing.

But, boy, was it hers. Its sweet glow graced two-thirds, maybe more, of her wardrobe. She was partial to Lilly Pulitzer’s pink-and-green tops, skirts, dresses. No matter the designer, pink suited her.

She left her fashion touch on the Atlanta law firm where he works, where they met when she was an intern four years ago. Wednesdays there, thanks to her, became “Pink Wednesdays.” Everyone was urged to wear pink, lighten up.

A close friend from her days at Agnes Scott College and, later, at the law firm where they interned, thinks she favored pink because of the way she embodied its beam.

“It was just like her. Unmissable,” that close friend recalls in an e-mail. “Unapologetic in its simultaneous innocence and boldness, and certain to draw a smile and start a conversation. If there are two things of this world that sum (her) up they are champagne and the color pink -- they are sweet, life-affirming and cause for celebration. ... She immersed herself in a profession that’s known for black and pinstripes. (She) combined the rigor of pinstripes with the beauty of pink and pearls. ... Pink was her way of saying ‘bring it on’ to the world.”

It was early November -- a Wednesday no less, a pink one -- when the man, her boyfriend, sat and began sharing their story.

He was a corporate lawyer.

She had designs on becoming a defense attorney.

Toward the end of the summer, he finally gave in and put on pink.

She was not around to see it.

Had she been, the sight may well have been as glorious for her to behold as another sight he longed to surprise her with.

He planned to do it before Christmas. Perhaps this very week.

He was going to ask her to be his wife.

He knew the perfect spot.

A beach. On an island. Way out in the ocean.

But someone killed her in June.

She was 27.

Now it was rainy. She was gone. And here he was in pink.

* * *

David Vandiver met Lauren Giddings in 2007.

A year or so before enrolling in Mercer University’s law school, she landed an internship as a project assistant at the downtown Atlanta law office where he worked.

He was in the company lunchroom watching ESPN. They said hello. Two minutes of small talk. She mentioned being from Maryland. He said he’d gone to school in D.C.

They didn’t cross paths again for another few weeks, late that September, at a golf tournament in honor of a colleague of his who’d died of cancer.

Lauren and David hit it off. They started dating.

She was 23, two decades his junior.

“I am not the type of guy that goes and starts asking out co-workers like that. Certainly not one that much younger,” he says.

His father, born in 1917, tied the knot at age 42. David’s mother was 31.
David’s grandfather was 41 when he married, a dozen years older than David’s grandmother.

David’s great-grandfather, born in 1806, was 54 on his wedding day. His bride, 35.

Consciously at least, David says, his and Lauren’s age difference had no bearing on their attraction to one another. They just clicked. They had a lot in common, a kindred wit, an appreciation of sophomoric humor.

In snapshots of them together, their smiles rival Lauren’s most radiant pinks.
David sometimes reminded her of his “Maryland roots,” how one of his early-American ancestors had settled there back when the family name was spelled “Van der Veer.” After hearing that, Lauren bought him a T-shirt from a bed-and-breakfast outside Baltimore: “Vandiver Inn ... Get a Room!”

They had running jokes about Lauren being directionally challenged. She was always getting lost. He bought a GPS for her car. A few weeks before she was killed, she reminded him of her sister’s upcoming wedding by e-mail. She said he could fly to Maryland, return to Georgia by car with her and “save a plane ticket and make sure I drive south.”

Though they’d had a couple of brief breakups, this fall would have marked their fourth anniversary. David has never dated anyone that long. “Not even close,” he says.

“I thought she was beautiful,” David, now 48, says. “Intelligent, very level-headed, very laid-back, very unassuming, very sharp-witted, and always could make me laugh. And I could always make her laugh.”

At the silliest stuff. The antics of a host on one of CNBC’s programs cracked them up. They’d play his rants over and over on David’s TV.

He liked that she had eclectic tastes. She read The Economist, watched the History Channel, encouraged him to catch a special on Abe Lincoln. On the way home from a South Carolina football game once, Lauren chastised him for pulling in to get gas at a Citgo station, all because of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s reported ties to the company. She’d read about it in The Economist.

He calls her his soul mate. Charismatic. Gregarious.

“Somebody,” he says, “that you’re comfortable with 24/7.”

They went snowboarding in Colorado.

They spent a weekend in Vegas.

He even took her to Texas to visit his somewhat overprotective older sister. He warned Lauren that his sister was the not-easily-impressed sort, that Lauren shouldn’t feel offended if his sister didn’t warm up to her immediately. A few hours later, David returned from a golf outing to find Lauren and his sister acting like old pals, as if they’d been friends forever.

“Wow,” David thought. “You’ve got some sort of charm that I’ve not seen before in anyone to be able to win over my older sister that quickly -- or at all.”

“It was,” he says now, “amazing.”

* * *

David’s voice catches.

Sometimes words won’t come when he talks about her.

Sometimes, in person and on the phone, there are long, tearful pauses.

On that rainy Wednesday last month at the country club in Buckhead, he recalled his last trip to visit Lauren in Macon.

It was the weekend in May when she graduated from law school. The night before, Lauren’s family gathered to celebrate at the Fish N’ Pig, an eatery on Lake Tobesofkee. David had worked late in Atlanta. It was after 10 when he arrived.

Most of her family was still there, but all the food, the leftovers from the party, had been boxed up. David said he didn’t have to eat, but Lauren insisted on fixing him a plate.

“That was the kind of person she was,” he says, “always ...”
He bowed his head, took a deep breath, then finished. “Always taking care of people.”

* * *

But someone killed her in June.

It may have happened June 25, the Saturday night Lauren sent David an e-mail while he was in California on a golfing trip. Or, perhaps, the next day. Or the next. The police haven’t said. They may not know. They have declined to speak publicly about how she might have died.

Some of Lauren’s remains were found the morning of June 30 in a trash cart outside her Coleman Hill apartment, across the street from the Walter F. George School of Law. The rest of her, as far as anyone knows, has never surfaced.

She had remained in town through late June to prepare for the Georgia bar exam. She was about to move out of her apartment, head for Atlanta, move in with David and begin her career. June 25 was the last time anyone close to her remembers seeing or hearing from her.

Lauren’s next-door neighbor and law school classmate, Stephen McDaniel, who has been described by some as a social misfit, was jailed July 1. He was charged with her murder a month later.

McDaniel, 26, was arrested about 18 hours after Lauren’s dismembered torso was discovered by a cop who’d gone to her apartment complex to help in the search for her.

Her death certificate notes that she died June 26. It’s something of a best guess about when she lost her life, or rather, had it stolen.

June 26 had always been a sad day for David.

His father died that day in 1977. David was 14.

* * *

Lauren and David broke up, briefly, a couple of times.

He says he “stupidly broke her heart” in November 2009.

“For no particular reason,” he says, adding that it may have been because he was “hesitant to commit.”

Well-spoken and at times reserved, David has dark, thinning hair and a golfer’s tan. He is careful with his words, serious, thoughtful, detailed. He’s a lot like you might imagine a polished lawyer, just not a stuffy one. He has a boyish grin, an easy manner. He’s never been engaged.

Soon after he ended things with Lauren in fall 2009, he realized he’d made a mistake. They were still on speaking terms. He was in Colorado in early 2010, snowboarding. He called her. Over the holidays, he had done a lot of thinking. He wanted her back.

“She had won my heart,” he says. “You know, somebody wins your heart, being afraid to commit is not really, not the right response. ... Sometimes, unfortunately, you don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it -- or thrown it away foolishly. ... I just missed her terribly.”

Alone in the mountains, he told himself, “If you’re going to attempt to bring her back into your life -- if she’ll have you back -- you’ve got to reach out now. You can’t wait till you get back.”

Reconciliation came slowly, but by April, late in her second year of law school at Mercer, they were an item again.

They had a falling out in March of this year -- a disagreement over whether they should go, as he insisted, to a soiree being thrown by some friends of theirs or to, as she insisted, the barrister’s ball in Macon -- but had patched things up by late spring.

They discussed going to Argentina to visit his cousin in August. They talked of taking a Labor Day trip to Las Vegas, where they’d vacationed in 2010.

And they were about to start spending a lot more time together. Lauren was done with school.

She was ready to be a lawyer, a wife, a mother.

Or, David says, as Lauren liked to put it, ready for “the whole nine yards.”

* * *

In his dreams, Lauren comes alive. They’re together, a couple.

But reality is not so kind.

Even so, sometimes he senses her talking to him. It’s comforting.

She had a dog named Butterbean. After Lauren died, David adopted a dog from someone on the south side of Atlanta. The dog’s name was Bean. David was in South Carolina not too long ago and happened upon a restaurant called Butterbean’s. He snapped a picture and posted it on Facebook.

David sports a pair of rubber-band bracelets on his left wrist. “Lauren Teresa Giddings,” they read. “With Us Forever.”

And he has become an occasional wearer of pink. But not around the office. Too painful. Too many memories.

He has that one pink shirt. Sometimes he plays golf in it. Other times, he puts it on for no reason at all.

He bought it in late August, just before a much-anticipated preliminary hearing for the man accused of killing Lauren.

David, not usually one to mull wardrobe decisions, pondered what to wear to the hearing for a week or so. He almost went with red, a red shirt, “to reflect the anger I was feeling toward the defendant.”

In the end, he opted for pink, in honor of Lauren.

At Thanksgiving, he visited members of Lauren’s family. Her mother, Karen, her youngest sister, Sarah, among them.

“It was tough,” he says. “Tough. There was a huge hole.”

Lauren wanted so much for him to bond with her family.

“All that has happened now,” David says. “And, of course, she’s not here to enjoy it.”

He may visit the Giddings clan at Christmastime.

If Lauren were still here, they might have gone together, bearing news.

* * *

In 1995, David attended a friend’s wedding in Bermuda.

Bermuda struck David as “the most romantic place.”

It was out in the Atlantic, due east of his beloved South Carolina.

He didn’t know it, but the patron saint of the Catholic diocese in Bermuda is St. Therese, the saint Lauren chose in the eighth grade when she was confirmed in the Catholic faith.

Nor did he know Lauren’s parents honeymooned in Bermuda.

David had decided that the beach where his friend’s wedding was held -- or a beach just like it -- would be the site where David would one day ask the woman of his dreams to marry him.

Lauren, he says, was “the one.”

She knew nothing of his intentions. He planned to spring the Bermuda trip on her at the last minute so she wouldn’t get suspicious.

He figured that sometime around Thanksgiving he’d drop by his hometown, Anderson, S.C., and slip into Phil Silverstein’s jewelry shop on North Main Street. People in small-town Anderson might talk, so he’d be discreet. He’d buy Lauren an engagement ring, surprise her with travel plans and, once they got to Bermuda, scope out the ideal place to propose.

The scene would be breathtaking: endless ocean, sky, an unlimited horizon.

And the sand there. He always remembered the sand. It’s pink.

1 comment:

K.V.C. said...

What a touching story. I kept reading hoping for that happy ending, when in truth there is none. There is only hope. Hope that life can move on and maybe find happiness somewhere.