A perfect child is born, and parents rejoice. For 22 years, that is what Angelica was to the Ericksons, an angel. Everyone said so. She was the golden girl, so bright that she was studying to become a doctor, so nurturing that she tutored neighborhood children, so spiritual that she sang hymns or opera in the shower, so lustrous that she was approached more than once to be a model, but instead worked long nights, as a waitress.
On the afternoon of Nov. 22, after Keith Erickson picked up one of his sons, David, at school, he drove to the Santa Monica house where the family has lived for 25 years. When he stepped through the door, the last thing Keith expected was to find his eldest son, Sean, seated on the floor, crying. The pastor of his church was there also, as was Keith's wife, Adrienne, who said, "Sit down."
Eight days later, in a converted gymnasium that is part of the Calvary Church in Pacific Palisades, there were nearly 750 mourners who heard Keith Erickson say, "One week ago, we received the news that every parent dreads: 'Your child is dead.' "
It took all of his faith and strength to continue.
"I remember when I was in my early teens, and my grandmother had passed away. And I remember just one thing from that whole ceremony, that my grandfather was wailing. He was wailing. I couldn't understand why he could be so distraught that he would be wailing aloud, crying out that way, at the top of his ability.
"I understand now."
Among those in attendance were so many of the dear friends the Ericksons had made, throughout Keith's years as a basketball player with UCLA and the Lakers, or later, during his current job as part of the Phoenix Suns' broadcast team. Eulogizing his daughter, wherever Erickson looked he could see John Wooden, Jerry West, Paul Westphal, Chick Hearn, Kurt Rambis, Rudy LaRusso, Jerry Colangelo, faces and voices from his life.
Alongside them were the neighbors or companions who knew Angelica Erickson's keen sense of humor, her contrasting shyness, her vise-like handshake, whose memories were so vivid of a young woman, nearly 5 feet 11, blond hair flowing, from her days as a Girl Scout, or lifeguard, or volleyball and basketball player from Santa Monica High who performed in stage musicals and sang madrigals.
Some remembered her restlessness.
She couldn't sleep nights. Even as an infant, Keith Erickson's daughter would be in diapers and crib, tucked in, only to clamber out, the instant her daddy left the room, 15 times in a single night sometimes, until, as Keith said, one of them would be worn out.
It was a habit that carried over well into Angelica's adulthood. The fact that their daughter was "always a night owl" was the one thing that kept Keith and Adrienne concerned, constantly, about someone whose life in most other ways seemed to have proper direction and order. The premed classes she took at The Master's, a college of Christian learning in the Santa Clarita Valley, kept her occupied, and a semester's sabbatical in Israel for further education was being arranged. There didn't seem time to get into trouble.
Yet for some reason, even after spending hours on her feet waiting tables at a seafood restaurant, Angelica resisted fatigue. She was positively nocturnal, staying out late, sleeping in the same way. When she wasn't in the two-bedroom Valencia apartment she shared near campus with four roommates, she might be found at a place called Van Gogh's Ear, drinking coffee, or somewhere else, the later the better.
The mourners couldn't help but laugh, when Keith Erickson said, "You all knew Angelica. She didn't do mornings. You couldn't get her out of bed."
Nighttime, you couldn't get her into one, not early. It was her parents' one pet peeve. Nothing good happens at night, Keith is prone to say. The people you meet, the temptations you face, the more dangerous they get, the later the hour. No matter how someone might conduct himself or herself by day, well, it always reminded Angelica's mother of River Phoenix, the young actor who ate healthy food, drank distilled water, led a clean life, then ended up dead after experimenting with drugs.
"They think they're invincible," she would say.
And so it came to pass that, a number of weeks ago, Adrienne Erickson was in her daughter's bedroom at the family home when, to her horror, she found some drug paraphernalia. It was the kind of discovery that can make a parent think the worst, fear the worst, know the worst. But you take it on faith, particularly when you are as devoutly religious as the Ericksons are, that when your child tells you nothing is wrong, not to be worried, you pray and convey your trust.
She had known rebellious days, yes, like anyone her age. In his heart of hearts, Keith Erickson, 52, treasured his daughter as the little girl who wrote him the Father's Day card: