I MET ADDISON STONE only once. She had enrolled as a freshman in my creative writing workshop at Pratt Institute. There were only six other students in my class, and as a visiting instructor, I was happy we’d be such a tight group. Fifteen minutes into the session, I’d figured this “A. Stone” person wasn’t attending. So when a girl skittered in, late and unapologetic, I was annoyed.
She was striking: tall yet delicate, with pale skin and dark eyes and two braids like a pair of flat black ropes past her shoulders. The scars on her wrists caught me off guard. She didn’t speak, not even to apologize for being late. Perhaps most telling, she scraped back the only empty chair so that it stood outside the circle I’d arranged. When she sat, her paint-spattered arms dropped at her sides as if she had no use of them.
We’d been making introductions, so I started over for her benefit. We went around the circle again: a few sentences each about who we were and where we’d come from. When we got to Addison, she shook her head.
“I’m not here yet,” she said softly. Startled, some of the other students looked to me for a reaction. Who did this girl think she was? I had none. I was thinking, Who’d remember anything else about that day except for the girl who told them she wasn’t there?
BEFORE THEY LEFT, I gave an assignment: pick a memory and describe it in the voice of yourself at the age you lived through it. One paragraph or one page—no more. Due in my inbox by five o’clock on Friday. At 5:13 on Friday, Addison’s essay hit:
I’m last. I’m late. I pull my chair away for comfort. I’m invisible and exposed. My words establish my walls. My whole life I’m two people. I am I, and I am Her. I’ve been asked to pin down a moment. But do I care about my past? Why would I want to look behind when I’m hurtling forward so fast? I’m mostly scared I can’t catch up with me. I am always almost out of time.
A moment later, my inbox pinged with Addison’s next email.
I’m dropping the class.
And that was it.
Of course I never forgot her. When I heard that Addison had left Pratt after one semester, I was disappointed, but like everyone else on the faculty, I kept an eye on her career. I silently cheered when her self-portrait was accepted into the Whitney Biennial; I was fascinated by her prank Project #53. Then by next July, she was dead. A brilliant artist, all that potential, erased. It was heartbreaking and pointless.
I’d been blocked trying to come up with my next book idea, and as I learned more about my former student, I couldn’t shake the fact that Addison Stone’s life had all the ingredients of a perfect novel. Ultimately, I have to credit Julie Jernigan’s explosive Art & Artist magazine cover story “Who Broke Our Butterfly?: The Last Days of Addison Stone” for kick-starting me to dig for a deeper truth—as it hinted that either one of two famous young men to whom she’d been linked romantically, Zachary Fratepietro and Lincoln Reed, might be culpable.
Every time I read that single cryptic paragraph Addison had dashed off for my class, I wondered if in some way she’d been asking for me to find her all along.
I decided to go looking. With a year off from teaching, I threw myself into my research. I taped hundreds of interviews from people whose lives were connected to Addison’s. Her story took me from Sag Harbor to California, from Europe to Nepal, and of course to Peacedale, Rhode Island, where Addison spent her childhood. She began to obsess me. In every gallery and café, on every street corner it seemed there was another Addison doppelgänger.
Addison doppelgänger, New York City, courtesy of Adele Griffin.
I kept thinking, ridiculously, that the closer I got to her past, the greater the chance I’d have of stealing a moment out of time with Addison herself—even if we were only brushing past each other on a city street. She was everywhere and nowhere.
And as police reports emerged that both Lincoln and Zach were in lower Manhattan that night, and that neither of them had an alibi that would clear their presence at or near the time of Addison’s death, I grew more curious, even suspicious. Both proved difficult to reach. Neither wanted to talk.
What did they have to hide?
This question became my central mystery to solve.
After months of sifting, compiling, editing, and transcribing thousands of hours of the voices that knew Addison best, this biography pulls back the curtain to reveal the truth as I see it. The acknowledgments that appear at the end of this book can’t begin to do justice to the generous commitment of the many people involved—including those who wished to remain anonymous. I am also hugely grateful to the contributions of photographs and memorabilia, the visuals of Addison’s world that allowed us such vital intimacy.
To her family, friends, fans, or the reader who is new to all that was Addison, I hope you find her here.
JONAH LENOX: I guess you could call me Addison’s first. We dated when we both lived in Peacedale, but I moved to Boulder, Colorado, the same summer that Addison moved to New York. She loved that city, the city that killed her. When they brought Addison’s body back from New York to bury her in Rhode Island, I could almost hear her joking: “Lenox, can you believe it? Just when I thought I got out, they dragged me back again!”
I’d flown in from Boulder the day before for the funeral. I went straight to our beach at Point Judith. To the spot we’d always picked, with a view out over the sandbar. I watched the sky and water gray on the horizon, and it looked so real and endless, and I knew. I even said it to myself, “She’s free.”
The beach at Point Judith, Rhode Island, courtesy of Jonah Lenox.
LUCY LIM: I’m Lucy. I’m—I mean, I was—Addy’s best friend. I knew her since kindergarten. She should have been my roommate, my maid of honor, the godmother of my future kids. Instead she died. July twenty-eighth. The hottest day on record that year. The morning of her funeral, the heat still hadn’t broken. Hotter than a shearer’s armpit, my Grandmother Lim would have said. Nobody in their right mind would have come out of their house to stand around scratching themselves in a hot church for a funeral. Or so I thought.
But as soon as Mom and me turned onto Columbia Street, we saw the cars. Hundreds of them lining the road all the way to the church doors, and more parked skew up the lawn and along the cemetery gates. Plus photographers, news crews, so many kids I’d never seen before in my life. They all stood silent, holding deep-violet irises, printouts of her art, that Catch elevator picture of her and Lincoln, the printouts of her paintings, candles, even teddy bears. And I remember thinking, Holy smokes, Addy! I wish you’d been here to see.