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My Heart and My Soul
I grew up in the suburbs of a small city in lower Alabama; she grew up in the ghetto of the same. She was black, I am white. But we were both smart, and smart enough to know it. We met for the first time during middle school. She had a deeply tanned complexion; someone who didn’t know her would have thought she was a mix of black and white. I did. I saw her across the room of the Gifted class; she was also sitting alone, intently focused on the drawing the was doing. The teacher told us to pair up and, as everyone else already had a friend, I gathered my things and went to her table. She didn’t look up as I sat down, but covered her drawing with an arm to obscure it from my view. I could respect her privacy and, so, I continued writing my story.
That was the first time I met her. When I say met, I don’t mean we spoke or exchanged names. But after the bell rang and I got up to go to my next class, she looked at me with wide, curious eyes instead of the Arctic glare she shot at everyone else who tried to associate with her. I was thirteen and I didn’t really care about anything but getting to lunch, so I met her eyes briefly and continued on my way. I never did see that drawing.
The second time I met her was in our freshman year of high school. We both sat in the back of our Research class. I had changed drastically over two years. I’d been bullied for coming out with my sexuality, gone through a depression, attempted suicide, been expelled for attempting to harm another student (she had it coming), sent to a private school, and finally shipped back to our little redneck city to attend public high school. I’d been hardened since then, was much more outgoing and talkative, and cared less about getting in trouble. As such, I sat in the back row with her, sniggering at the teacher’s pathetic attempts to gain the students’ attention. I asked her name, finally. “Tabitha,” she said. “Tabitha Talbert. I hate it, don’t you?” I didn’t hate it, and said so. I spent the rest of the day rolling it around in my head before logging onto Facebook that night and adding her as a friend. Tabitha Talbert.
It didn’t take long for us to become close friends. She told me that she was bisexual, I told her that I was as well. We talked a lot about drugs, and made plans to smoke together. I had never done that before, but of course I told her I had.
Tabitha was... unique, to say the least. During that freshman year, she went from having two ear piercings to having gauged ears, two lip piercings, a septum piercing, and a belly ring, all done at home. I got a belly ring, but that was it. I was ambitious, and wasn’t about to screw up future job opportunities for facial piercings.
I had an old friend, Kaylan, who lived with me for two months at the end of freshman year. Tabitha and I got closer, and I began to push Kaylan, formerly my best buddie, aside. She was a substantial loss, but I’d do anything for Tabitha.
There was a boy at the end of that year who also had our Research class. He was smart, more so than either of us, which made him appealing to me beyond reasonable belief. As I got closer to Jason, Tabitha began to cling tighter to me. She started holding my hand in front of him and made a point to put him down whenever she could. This perplexed me. I had never had someone jealous for me before, and I hate to admit it, but I soaked up the attention.
Eventually she gave up on convincing me to give up Jason and got a boyfriend. His name was Elan. She was in love. I never could understand the infatuation she had with a short, skinny skater, but I digress.
Tabitha lost her virginity to that boy over the summer. They had sex three or four times over a course of about six months of dating. At the beginning of our sophomore year, he broke up with her because he “had to get his shit together.” Tabitha was crushed. She texted me the news on the night it happened, but I didn’t know how serious her heartbreak was until I saw her at school that Monday. I wanted to kill him. I didn’t.
Instead, I began to get even closer to Tabitha than before. Jason was a thing of the past, and I was ready to admit that I wanted a relationship with my best friend. And oh, we were that. Best friends. It actually fascinated the people we would hang out with, because we always seemed to be a package deal. And we were.
My parents invited her to go to the beach with us after school one day. We were excited; there had been some drama recently within our group of friends, and we welcomed the happy distraction. We got to the beach with the sun still high in the sky. It was a perfect day.
We waded out to the deep water and I decided it would be a good idea to strip. I had never been skinny dipping before, and now seemed like a good time. So we stripped and swam around and splashed. Before this point, the farthest we had gone sexually was a kiss in front of some men to get them riled up, just for shits and giggles. Now she wrapped her legs around me and kissed me deeply. I returned it.
When I got home, grinning, I changed my Facebook relationship status. So did she.
We became the talk of the school. She knew a lot of people, and so did I. We had people from all sides congratulating us, telling us it had been a long time coming, and mushily saying it was the sweetest thing they’d ever seen. Of course, this was Alabama, and so there was another side of the school who told us that our biracial, homosexual romance was an abomination. We ignored that side.
I was happier than ever. I loved Tabitha. I still do. She was a wonderful girlfriend, and we stayed together through that year and the next.
In the middle of junior year, she developed a lump on the left side of her throat. I figured it was just a cyst, and she said I was probably right. But it didn’t go away, so her mother took her to a doctor. The next day at school she seemed upset but wouldn’t tell me why.
I stopped the car in front of her house that afternoon and demanded to know what had happened. She just shrugged and replied that the doctor send a sample from the lump off for a biopsy, and that she would know next week. I could accept this, so I kissed her and let her go.
The next week rolled around and she went to see the doctor again. She called me that night in tears.
Malignant cancer of the thyroid, the doctor said. I did some research while still on the phone with her and found that less than one percent of thyroid nodules were actually malignant. I tried to turn it into a joke by saying “You had to be unique, didn’t you?” She laughed weakly and talked with me for a few more minutes before saying that she was going to bed.
What I didn’t tell her was that according to the website, medullary cancer (the form she had) was classified as having a cure rate lower than ten percent. I cried myself to sleep that night.
The next day, I broke the news to my parents. They were horrified and asked if they could do anything to help. I told them that they could help by understanding when I wasn’t exactly acting like myself. My mom was crying by the time I left for Tabitha’s house.
The next few weeks passed in a blur. I was there when the doctor told my girlfriend that she would need surgery to remove her thyroid gland and lymph nodes from her throat, but I don’t remember it.
I do remember two weeks after that, when they wheeled her into surgery. I kissed her mouth, but only briefly, as my own was covered in tears. The surgery went well and all signs of cancer were gone. But the doctors had not prepared us to deal with the aftermath.
The cancer had spread to the lymph nodes surrounding Tabitha’s vocal chords. Some had to be cut. This left her with a raspy voice. I cried again when I heard it, after two and a half days of sitting with her in the ICU. We loved to sing together in the car, but not anymore. I never played music in the car with her after that.
Tabitha healed and after six weeks she was back to school. I’d missed a lot of schoolwork as well, and my teachers (being the precocious rednecks they were) granted me no sympathy. If she had been a white boy, of course they would have. But not now.
Things were alright for a while. Tabitha was weaker, but her personality stayed. For six months all was right in the world once again. But then the deity in charge decided that that was just too much happiness for the moment.
The cancer had come back. But now it had spread past her throat to her lungs. The doctor gave my love two months to live.
Two months that she wasn’t allowed out of the hospital. This made me mad as a hornet, but I couldn’t argue with a doctor. So I settled for making her lunch every day and bringing it up to her room. That always put a smile on her face. Without it, she would have been subjected to hospital food, and that was just unacceptable to me.
The hospital wanted her to continue her schoolwork. We were in our senior year at this time. She refused, saying that if she wasn’t going to be around to graduate, there was no need for her to do Calculus when she could have been reading.
I brought her every book I could get my hands on. We both loved to read, and now she finally had the time for it.
We dealt with it as best we could, but everyone knew that the clock was ticking down. The thought that she would be leaving me soon was too much to bear, and so I ignored it in front of her. But at night, when I was alone, without my love, I cried. We had gotten horrible tattoos from a friend of our a couple years past, but I loved that thing because it matched the one on her wrist. We had talked about getting them covered up but at that point I knew I never would.
When she had about a month left, she lost the ability to speak. The combination of losing her vocal chords combined with the cancer eating away at her lungs made it too painful to talk. But she still tried for me.
Two weeks left. She couldn’t eat anymore. I stopped making her lunch every day because everything she ate made her sick.
One week left, and time began to slow. I stopped going to school altogether because Tabitha was sleeping more than anything else, and I wanted to see her when she was awake. The doctors had to put in a catheter because she lost control of her bladder.
Two days. Tabitha began to shake a lot.
The last day was the worse. She had told the doctor that she didn’t want any extraneous attempt to save her life. She opened her eyes briefly in the afternoon, and made contact with mine. They held the same wide, curious stare they’d had when I first met her. I smiled at that, and bent to kiss her. By the time I’d stood back up, her eyes had closed for the last time.
Tabitha died at 8:39 that night. She never opened her eyes again. There was no dramatic attempt to save her life, and for that I was grateful. She simply stopped breathing.
There was this necklace that she had gotten from a flea market when she was a child. It was on a silver chain. It was a small, black peace sign that was the inspiration for our matching tattoos. I took it that night, and I haven’t taken it off since.
Because Tabitha’s parents had no money, she’d requested to be cremated. Her mother did so, and gave the ashes to me.
On the day of my graduation ceremony, when it was my turn to get a diploma, everyone stood and clapped for me. Even the awful teachers and cruel students that had hated my love. I didn’t make eye contact with any of them, but instead took my diploma and ran offstage, leaving the ceremony early.
I drove out to the beach, to the spot that my parents had taken us that day in sophomore year. Tabitha’s ashes were in the passenger seat. There was no one around. Technically, I was not allowed under any circumstances to dump ashes into the water, but I didn’t care anymore. Screw the city council. I was a biology student, and ashes didn’t harm the environment. I scattered the ashes in the rippling water from the dock, and laid down to cry. I slept there that night.
Tabitha, you are the love of my life.