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At the heart of this fight is a young woman known to so few of the combatants that she has become something of a cipher -- the eye of the political storm. Depending on whom you ask, Holly Patterson was either a child misled and betrayed by adults around her, or a capable young adult exercising the right to make her own decisions. Either way, three factors have conspired to make Holly the ideal poster girl: Her story is tragic, she was unmistakably beautiful, and she could've been anyone.
Holly had wide-set pale-blue eyes, fine blonde shoulder-length hair, creamy skin, and a snub nose. On at least one occasion she'd been mistaken for Britney Spears and had mischievously obliged the autograph hunter by signing "Christina Aguilera." Debbie Patterson, Holly's mother, describes her as a teenager who was easy to love, fiercely loyal, and literally a friend to the underdog -- last year she rescued an abandoned pit bull despite everyone's warnings not to. "She said, 'If I was ever in that position I would want someone to rescue me,'" Debbie remembers.
The girl was deliberately headstrong, even carrying with her a slip of paper bearing Thomas Jefferson's injunction that "a little rebellion is a good thing now and then." Holly was no tomboy, her mother says, but she was always active, taking gymnastics and belly-dance lessons, playing powerpuff football, and snowboarding. She inspired loyalty in others, too. At the funeral, one of Holly's friends showed Debbie how she'd had Holly's birth and death dates tattooed on her arm so she would remember to think of her friend every day. Cody, Holly's twenty-year-old brother, got her name inked on his chest after she died.
Apart from the way it ended, Holly's life was pretty normal. She was born in Walnut Creek, and grew up in Livermore. Her parents divorced when she was in elementary school, and she lived with her mother, who works as a caterer, and her brother. It wasn't until this past January, nine months before her death, that she went to live with her dad, custom-home builder Monty Patterson, and his then-fiancée Helen Wilson, who were married shortly after Holly's death. After Holly moved in with her dad, her mother moved to Southern California. Monty and Helen Patterson declined to be interviewed for this story.
Two years ago, over her mother's objections, Holly had transferred from Granada High to Del Valle Continuation High School so she could graduate last spring, one year ahead of schedule. "She said she didn't like school too much," Debbie remembers. "I asked her why, and she said she didn't like all the drama that went on in high school. ... I really discouraged it because I wanted her to go through the twelfth grade to experience all the memories such as Disneyland and the prom and Senior Ditch Day as well as finish up at the same high school, but she said 'If you don't let me, I'm going to quit school.'"
Like most teens, Holly's future plans were vague -- one day she wanted to study forensic medicine and become an FBI agent, the next she wanted to be a makeup artist, a psychologist, or a police officer. In the meantime, she worked a series of teenage jobs, holding down the men's fragrance counter at the local Macy's, doing stints at Jamba Juice and Longs Drugs, babysitting, and cleaning houses.
Holly's boyfriend, Ehsan Bashi, was six years her senior. He is described harshly in a recent open letter to the media written by Monty and Helen Patterson, who dismissed him as simply "the 24-year-old man who had unprotected sex with her, impregnated her, and then proceeded to facilitate the secrecy that surrounded her pregnancy and abortion."
To hear Ehsan tell it, he and Holly had a sweet romance. "I used to call her my dream girl; she was everything I wanted in life," he says. "Anyone that was around her for more than five minutes could see we were absolutely in love."
The couple had their first date on a Wednesday, and during their eight-month relationship they always cleared their work and school schedules to spend that day together. When Ehsan recently took on a new marketing job, he says he told his supervisors, "I don't work on Wednesdays. That's the day I spend with my Holly."
Holly's mother, who is close to Ehsan, says he was a positive influence. Holly had enrolled in classes at Las Positas junior college, then stopped going, but at her boyfriend's urging had decided to go back. "I think he got her back on the right track," Debbie says. "He encouraged Holly to go to school. In fact, the days she wouldn't go to class he went and took notes for her."
Ehsan says Holly struggled with motivation to stay in school. She seemed to always be getting grounded, and with her car privileges revoked, she had difficulty getting to class. If she couldn't complete her coursework perfectly, he says, she got frustrated and wanted to quit. "She was always very, very down about her life," Ehsan says. "One of the first things she said when I met her is, 'I don't think I'm going to do anything. I have all these dreams, and I don't think it's going to happen.' I would tell her, 'I wish you could see how amazing you are through my eyes, and then you could see your true potential.'
"She always snickered at that," he recalls. "She thought I was a smooth talker."