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Author's note: This story is a direct response to the LGBT suicide epidemic that came to national headline news in September and October of 2010. My own personal experiences have made this story richer in emotion than I could have ever guessed.
Montana had become frightfully icy this October night.
Marissa, sitting in silence with her head buried between her knees, gazed at the Hello Kitty backpack she carried with her. It was black with worn red straps. Scuffed with school-floor dust and littered with various knot holes (she had placed decorative buttons on her backpack earlier in the school year), her backpack held inside itself the essentials of this Millennial-Era seventeen year old, as followed:
-Fuzzy pink socks
-A prized pair of Sisley jeans
-Rope belt with a scratched Union Jack buckle
-Undies and a brazier
-A cell-phone charger
-A bundle of graphic tees
-A tube of Colgate and her toothbrush
-A bottle of ginger-scented Suave
-Two Dasani water bottles
-A baggy of white-chocolate macadamia nut cookies from the previous night’s dinner
-The amount of two-hundred thirty six dollars, unevenly rolled up in a sandwich bag
Marissa held the start to her future in the grip of her trembling right palm: a bus ticket on the 8:15 to San Francisco, California. She looked at it and then fixated her eyes to the clock above her.
A plain-Jane clock it was. More of an Art-Deco style actually. Tick-tick-tick.
“Three minutes,” she thought to herself. “Just three more minutes, and I’ll be free.”
The fragile toothpick body Marissa possessed was shaky and shivery as though her eyeballs had witnessed a murder. Mud lined the bottom of her pants legs. None on her boots though. Huddled onto the burning-cold blue bench at the bus station outside Wiley Point town limits, Marissa felt destined to leave the little Montana junction-town she grew up and lived-in all her short adolescent life.
Should her state of mind been slightly altered than it was at this particular moment, Marissa would have gladly shot herself in the head. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. Her silver locket pulsated in rhythm with her fragile heart.
“They’ll never accept me for what I am. If I stay here, I’m as good as dead...” uttered Marissa.
Wiley Point, Montana, the railroad stop that died when the automobile became popular over a century before, was a terrible place to be different, especially when half the population consisted of relatives.
Marissa’s head wandered.
Would Caroline still be alive if she hadn’t kissed her?
The warm summer breeze blissfully dawned its presence after sunset. The month was August.
The last storm cloud from the recent rain shower had departed and revealed the moon, the magnificent glowing orb in all its glory, hanging in serenity amidst the navy-blue sky, surrounded by twinkling stars. The dark rolling mountains glorified the prairie landscape. Montana was a quiet state, not really formed and not really loud, but merely halted to a crawl in its stage of modern industrialization.
A pickup came to a screeching halt at Grandpa Mason’s pond behind his farmhouse.
In its heyday, the 1958 Chevrolet Apache, painted a gloss-cherry red and gussied up for show at the auto dealership, served host to buckets of unpasteurized dairy cow milk and bag after bag of pungent manure on the Mason Farm.
After the Chevy was put away in an old barn around the same time of the Apollo 13 crisis, only to rust to a boxy orange behemoth for two generations, it was rediscovered one spring morning by a curious toddler named Marissa. She yanked the tarp off, and innocent excitement arose.
“Daddy, what’s that?” She asked her skyscraper of a father.
“That’s your granddad’s old truck, sweetheart,” said the skyscraper.
“It’s pretty, Daddy. Can I have it?”
“You’ll have to ask your granddad first, baby.”
And so years after, the truck, graced with new tires and an oil change, was given to the now rambunctious Marissa as a sweet-sixteen birthday gift from her granddad. She happily gave it the name: Scarlett O’Hara.
Marissa jammed her foot on the lever and placed Scarlett in park. Caroline Deaton sat beside her.
“Well, how am I doing in learning stick?” asked Marissa, wiping sweat from her temple.
“Um, you could do better,” exclaimed Caroline jokingly, “if you were able to remember to use both feet instead of just one.” She giggled. Her voice created in Marissa the feelings of calmness and tranquility.
“Oh you’re funny. I’ll get the hang of it, don’t you worry.” Marissa said with a sarcastic smile.
Silence overcame the two girls.
An owl, hidden amidst the thick leaves of an old black cottonwood tree, hooed loudly without warning, and its call echoed with the breeze as Caroline unbuckled her seat belt. She bent to stare up through Scarlett’s smudgy windshield at the night sky, framed around the branches.
The cottonwood loomed over the pond, as a blanket enwrapping an infant, protecting it from the dangers of mother nature’s fury. Bent at a dangerously steep angle, the tree held its ground amidst the wades at the pond’s edge.
“This August moon is full tonight.”
“It is.” replied Marissa. “It’s so close, you could almost touch it.”
Marissa slid on the worn tan seating towards the center of Scarlett, closer to Caroline. She glanced at her, hesitated, and began to move back to her side when Caroline held her wrist. She fell prey with amazement and stared.
“Do you think all this is wrong?” asked Marissa, with a mystified gaze.
Caroline began to twist a strand of her voluminous golden hair with her finger and glanced at Marissa.
“I don’t think it is. I like you...more than I should. We have been in secret for such a long time, Marissa. I was surprised when you sent that letter, asking me out on a date in Baker. But these feelings, I’ve never felt them more intensely than I do with you.”
Marissa began to feel butterflies flutter their wings in the abyss of her stomach.
“I do too. I hate having to keep you from my mother. She loves me, yet whenever anything comes up on the news regarding gay rights or stuff like that, she freaks out and takes the obvious side. It bothers me.”
“Don’t you think we should tell at least one of our…”
“No.” Caroline affirmed, cutting her off in an unyielding tone.
“The way...” She began to speak in a softer, kindhearted voice. “...the way I feel about you, they wouldn’t understand. It’s about the same as being an atheist to them.”
Marissa rolled her eyes and exhaled with despair. She knew this was fact.
“You’re right. Forget I asked. People say those like us are sinners. The preacher lectures about it all the time. Caroline, I don’t feel this way with a boy. I feel this way with you, and only you.”
Caroline’s pupils grew massively with heart-wrenched joy.
“Do you believe in love?” questioned Marissa.
Caroline tilted her head to let an annoying strand of hair retreat from the itchy spot on her nose. She clung to her lower lip with her upper teeth. She smiled with kind eyes, “I do.”
Marissa smiled gently and slid right beside her. Caroline crossed her legs. “Mind if I ask you something also?”
Caroline gently rested her palm into the comfort of Marissa’s hand. One unified with the other. “I am taken by you. Do you…”
There was a pause.
“Do you love me?”
Marissa closed her eyes, felt Caroline stretch to glide her fingers through Marissa’s shadowy black hair, and they met at the back of her neck.
She whispered, “I do.”
Marissa didn’t get a chance to reopen her eyes, for Caroline’s lips met hers with a fiery spark of passion and desire. The world became one as they kissed.
The owl above gave another hoo as the moon brightened the starry night.
The clocked ticked.
Thump, thump, thump. Marissa’s eyes viewed back up at the timepiece.
“It’s 8:17. The stupid bus is late.”
Marissa reached inside her backpack for her iPod Nano, a recent birthday present from her mother. Her mind clouded. The music player was in a beaten-up case covered in pop graffiti.
To Marissa’s taste, the iPod contained various genres of music. Her favorite alternative artists of the time, the English-born VV Brown and the moreover interesting Lady Gaga took up a majority of her machine’s eight gigabytes. Marissa did indeed have an open mind. Melodies were melodies to her. Nothing more, nothing less.
The remaining minority was filled with an unbalanced variety of:
-All Time Low
-Seven or eight movie soundtracks
-Psychedelic music of the sixties
-And a little bit of everything else in between
The gadget was in no time scratched up after her birthday (the wooden fences she sat on listening offered it no mercy), and the engraving in the reflective aluminum on the back was barely readable.
To my b_by. For wherev_r life ta_es you, you'll n_ver
be _ithout th_ songs that m_ke you happy. Lov_, Mom.
She untangled the cord of her dingy white headphones and tuned the Nano to shuffle mode. The Red Hot Chili Peppers came on. In her opinion, the band was…eh…decent.
Her cheek began to bleed again from the wounds. The blood stained her fingers.
Listening to music becomes undeniably necessary at times like these.
Marissa had never been great at sneaking-in late at night.
The floorboards of her house were old, squeaky, and impoverished of repair. The time was a quarter past midnight. Her curfew was at ten.
She opened the front door, as without a sound as she could possibly manage, and tiptoed across the living room. A traditional red décor Victorian-era rug obscured the wooden boards, giving the dark room a glimmer of charm and character.
Abruptly and without warning, the kitchen light came on. Marissa ceased, and her mother walked into the room.
“Where have you been?” She asked with a stern face.
Marissa’s mother was a woman in her early thirties and shaped like a pencil with crow’s feet. Years ago in her youth she was quite attractive, but after becoming a widow and burdened with supporting a daughter on by herself, her beauty faded.
She gave Marissa an austere look, standing erect in her blue night robe and purple pajamas, waiting for an answer from her daughter.
“I’m sorry. I lost track of time. Eddie and I were watching a movie, and we fell asleep.”
Eddie Butler was a childhood friend of Marissa’s. In the same grade, the same classes, the same teachers, Eddie and Marissa became close buddies. Eddie was, in all fact, a cowboy. He rode horses, flew lassos for sport, and worked on his family’s cattle farm. Prairie life was Eddie’s paradise, but not Marissa’s. He did not know that Marissa was a lesbian, for the obvious reasons.
“You’re a liar, Marissa! I called Eddie’s father two hours ago, and he said Eddie went to bed early because he has rodeo practice all day tomorrow, and that he hasn’t seen you all night.”
Marissa was astounded.
“I know where you were,” she said with a sarcastic tone. “You were with that girl, weren’t you?”
Marissa, trying to fathom how her mother knew, gawked.
“Mom, what are you talking about? What girl?”
Frustration came over her mother and she began to speak louder.
“I found the letters, Marissa-Nicolette! I know you hid them under your pillow. Do you think I’m an idiot? Did you think I would not find them? Oh, I found them, and I read every last page, front and back! You’re talking sinful and heathenness things with that girl!”
“Mom, Caroline is...”
“Caroline...that’s her name! It’s Marge and Bobby Deaton’s daughter, isn’t it? Oh, just wait until they hear about this, Marissa. Just you wait!” Marissa sealed her eyes shut and forced herself to believe that her mom would not dare hurt Caroline. Realistically, she wished to be away in her room asleep.
“Mom, please stop it.”
“How the hell did you become confused? You go to church with your Grandpa Mason every Sunday! You used to sing in the choir, for Christ’s sake!”
Marissa began to breathe heavy. “I’m not confused Mom. I’ve known, and I’ve come to terms...”
“That you were gay? Oh Jesus, I can’t say it. Since when have you thought this?”
Marissa fastened her hands together behind her back. “Since I was eleven. I don’t think it. I am, I know. I am a lesbian.”
She stopped at her words, at just realizing their consequences. She said, “Oh my God…”
Her mother stopped and screamed in outrage.
“You have no place but Hell in the...my daughter is not gay! You know what? We’re going first-thing Saturday morning and talk to the pastor. He probably knows of some program or...”
Marissa’s fragile body began to shiver from the raised tension. “Get over it.”
She ranted on.
“What would your friends think? What would your grandpa think? Hell, half the town is family! What will they think? You had better choose the right option and I mean it! God hates fags, Marissa!”
The last thread of self-control in Marissa’s mind snapped in two.
“It’s not a choice for me, damnit! Do you honestly think I would choose all the chaos and hurt I’m going through right now if I had a choice?”
“Mom, I don’t want to be hated! I am attracted to girls! Get over it! I don’t care at all that half the town is related to me; I’m not them! I am in love with Caroline. I care for her.”
“You’re confused, Marissa! It is not God’s way! It’s unnatural and you’ll go to Hell.”
“Oh, like you’re any better! When was the last time you went to church, Mom? Huh? You haven’t gone with me since Daddy died!” Tears trickled.
She began to calm herself down. Her eyes were inflamed, and she shook her head in dissatisfaction.
“I knew you would never understand...Daddy would have.”
Marissa wiped her eyes and drew back towards the staircase, where her bedroom laid just steps away on the upper floor.
Marissa’s mother trudged.
“We are seeing the pastor this Saturday and that’s final! It’s for your own good! I am not living with a faggot in my house!”
Marissa vacated to her bedroom door and turning her head, she screamed to the top of her lungs, “I hate you, and I hate this God forsaken town! I can’t wait to leave after I graduate!”
She slammed the door. All was quiet in her sanctuary.
Astounded and in shock, Marissa propped her desk chair against the corroded doorknob. She fell onto her quilt-covered bed and shouted in a mix of emotion and confusion, all she could, into a pillow she herself had sewn many springs ago.
Marissa bounced her legs up and down.
A breeze was coming through and the atmosphere around her was chilly.
“Where is that stupid bus?”
Off to her left, pulling off from the highway, she heard the rumble of a hefty diesel engine. In relief, she glimpsed at the duo of bright lights approaching her bench. The lights were attached to a massive silver, stainless steel bulk on tires-Greyhound.
It was 8:20. Five minutes late.
Marissa shuffled her backpack onto her shoulder. The edges of the ticket in her hand were wearing down.
Gossip circulated. Inside the mighty granite walls of Fallon County High School, “Caroline Deaton is a lesbian,” murmured one person. “I saw her making out with one of the girls from church. I hate her.” said a second. “I heard she practices witchcraft and worships Satan,” gossiped a third. Who had seen them? Whose word of mouth was it? Was it a passerby? Did someone eavesdrop? Honestly, no one could care less about the rumor’s source. Everybody was just in awe of the lesbian. Rumors spread like a forest fire. Soon, the student body of FCHS, minus Marissa, began to eschew Caroline Deaton. The embarrassment and the offensive smirks started to stab her. The halls echoed with the sounds of this child’s silent tears. Not one cared for whom Caroline was with that night. If anything else, she had hired a prostitute. Marissa was nowhere in the rumor’s equation... Caroline, if ever given the opportunity to be rid of the mongrels, a rare opportunity in fact, would not let Marissa speak to her in a public setting. It would lead on to more rumors. Time passed, and as the harassment and bullying intensified, Caroline’s spirit sunk beneath the waves of decency. “All right, the test is Wednesday! Study. No excuse…Stephen, stop that!” scolded a teacher as he yelled to the departing class. School was over for that Monday. Caroline ran away in complete pity and into the girls bathroom. She slammed the stall door and released her anger on the wall. Her foot made a new hole. Marissa followed and knocked on the door. “Go away!” Caroline screamed. Marissa pressed her ear to the door. She could hear crying. “It’s me. Please talk.” The door unlocked. Marissa entered the stall and found her girlfriend curled into a ball atop the toilet. The fluorescent light overhead flickered. “We shouldn’t have done this. We shouldn’t have started dating,” Caroline said. “What do you mean?” “This is wrong. We’re wrong, Marissa! Look at what the hell all this caused! Did you see what was written on my locker today?” Marissa reached out her hand of bravery. “They wrote Confused W***e on notebook paper and taped it to my locker.” She retracted. “Do you want me to…” “No! No one needs to bother.” Caroline sniffled. “I can handle it.” Marissa reached out again and pulled her shirt sleeve up. “Your mascara is running.” Freaking out and clogged with sadness, Caroline rested as Marissa wiped her eyes with her sleeve. Caroline stood up trembling. “I must look like a train wreck.” She looked up. Astonished, she babbled. “I...I...I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it! I don’t know what…” Marissa held her in a deadlock hug. Time stopped and the light overhead went black. Caroline sniffled. “The janitor, he must be locking up,” said Marissa warningly. Caroline lifted her head. “I don’t want to leave you. Will you drive me home? Everyone’s pretty much gone.” Without providing an answer, Marissa unhooked her keys from her belt loop and pushed open the stall door. “I’m sorry for what I said, Marissa. It…it wasn’t me talking.” “I know you didn’t mean it.” They shared a quick kiss. “Oh, Marissa, I forgot to tell you “Happy birthday’,” Caroline apologetically said. “Thank you. It sounds nice to be told that.” “What did your mom get you?” “Only a music card, to buy more songs for my Nano. Grandpa Mason, well, he gave me his mom’s old cookbook. He knows I love to bake.” Marissa smiled angelically. “I got you a little something, baby. It’s no antique cookbook, but it’s special to me, so I hope you like it. Turn around and lift up your hair.” Obedient to her girlfriend, Marissa turned her head away from the bathroom mirrors and lifted the mess of carbonado hair away from her neck. She took away a little gentle pleasure from her girlfriend’s fingers stroking against her bare skin. “Turn around. Happy seventeenth birthday, Marissa.” Behold, a polished silver locket with a deep sparkle that shimmered with the flickering of the overhead fluorescent light revealed itself against Marissa’s bosom. Encrusted onto the heart was a figurative “A.” “It was my grandmother’s. The A stands for Annabelle. She left it to me in her will. Do you like it?” “This is the most beautiful gift I’ve ever received!” She let her hair down to its usual length and embraced her love’s lips, as if she had given her an engagement ring. If that situation had occurred, gleefully she would have accepted. Taken back to reality, as the custodian began to block sections of the hallway off for mopping, the girls, both raw from their emotional undertakings, entwined their fingers together and left the girls bathroom as one. Leaving the building hand with hand, Marissa and Caroline entered the parking lot together, but as a blue Silverado came close, Caroline retracted her hand and hid it in her skinnies. “What’s wrong?” “Not now, Marissa. Not where people can see.”
The bus screeched to a halt.
The Greyhound’s colossal engine settled and began to rest, although only for a brief time. The headlights, which had nearly blinded Marissa before, died into the darkness of the icy night. Snow approached. The rolling steel hulk stood dormant as fumes and smog rushed out from the bus’ undercarriage into the atmosphere. Marissa’s father came into her mind.
The aroma of diesel exhaust opened the closet door of memories of her father she buried years ago.
Adam Seymour was Wiley Point’s main auto mechanic, alongside his brother Louis. Adam was a man who cared not for himself but for others, and although faced with the grave challenge of making ends meet each and every month, he still found time to run around with his wife and share crumpets and sip cups of pretend-tea with his daughter, with the scent of oil radiating off his body.
Marissa adored her father.
When the brain tumor was found during a visit to find out the cause of his frequent headaches, he neglected to tell her on purpose, for he loved her.
Several months later around Easter-time, after the many failed surgeries, laying in his deathbed at the hospital in Helena, Adam Seymour opened his mouth to speak to his little girl for the last time. He held his child’s hand.
“Baby, Daddy is going home to be with God now,” he assured her.
“Daddy, I’m going to...don’t leave us. I’ll be lonely,” she replied with a nine-year-old voice.
“But Mommy and Grandpa are going to take care of you now.”
“I want you Daddy! Tell God not to take you yet!”
“He judges that, honey. I cannot explain these things Marissa. It’s...it’s just my time.”
He shifted his speech. “Hey, is that a smile? C’mon I think I can see a smile.”
Marissa, through her tears, created an innocent smile and began to giggle.
“You see? Things will not be all bad. Do you believe me?”
She nodded and sniffled.
“Marissa-Nicolette, you are one special person. Whenever some…” he coughed, resulting in his voice shriveling.
“Whenever someone tells you that you’re no good, don’t you believe them. Everyone is different in their own little way, and that’s what makes them special.”
“I guess so, Daddy.” The child’s mind dazed away.
“Give me a hug, will you baby?”
Father and daughter held close to one another for the last time, and she toddled away to the waiting room down the hall. Her mother watched.
“Adam.” Mrs. Seymour held her husband’s hand. “What am I supposed to do without you?”
“I’ll always be with you, honey. I’ll do my best to watch over you two. You know, we made one special little girl. Tell her that I will be there for her in life, and that I’ll understand.”
“Katherine, I love you. Be there for Marissa when she needs it.”
“You are a great father. I love you.”
Mr. and Mrs. Seymour fell asleep in his hospital bed, with Marissa curling into her granddad’s coat in the waiting room, for the night.
He passed away the following morning in his wife’s arms and was buried in William Clark Cemetery, adjacent to his own parents.
After her husband’s death, the widow Ms. Seymour soundlessly creeped into the living room of her house like a zombie, looked around at open emptiness, silently strolled upstairs to her bedroom and cried. Her daughter lied on bed and watched.
Remembering all this, Marissa buried her scorned face into her palms and struck her scars with a hard rage.
Daddy would have understood.
A new season had begun. It was near the middle of October. It was Monday morning and Honors English class was starting. The time was 11:10, and Mrs. Bryant stepped to the front of the classroom. “All right guys, today’s the day. Go ahead and pass up your reports on Animal Farm.” She hesitated. “On second thought, let’s have a few read aloud, shall we?” Her voice was that of an opera singer’s. Various students groaned in displeasure. Marissa placed her binder above the three-page report. She was unnoticeable in her quiet nook of the room. Caroline, whom sat at the front of the class, hid herself in a jacket. Mrs. Bryant was a stubby woman. With short red hair, glasses with double thick lenses, and an office suit with a pink undershirt, she was no newcomer to teaching. Although her appearance lacked any attractiveness, she made up for it in generosity. “Now, come on...whoever goes up today, I’ll give five extra points on their final. How does that sound?” Caroline’s stomach was growling from hunger. She resisted it and turned her head. She stared at Marissa from over her boney shoulder. Once she caught her attention, she mouthed the words “I love you” and blew her a kiss. Marissa caught her kiss and held it in her hand. She mouthed the words “I love you more” and smiled. Caroline softly chuckled with delight, not loud enough for anyone to notice what she was signaling across the room, but enough for Mrs. Bryant to notice she had a student who was not listening to her pleas. “Caroline!” she yelled. Caroline hopped out of her world to immediately focus her eyes to the front of the room. “Stand, come up, and read your report, young lady.” “But I didn’t...” “Nonsense! I can clearly see your report on your desk. It’s under your jacket. Quit being so childish and come to the front.” She held her bottom lip in worry. Everyone was staring. Lesbian, they snickered. Caroline slid out of her desk and with twenty or so of her peers watching, flipped out the report and began to read aloud. She was shy. “A Summary on Animal Farm by Caroline Deaton.” The class stared. Mrs. Bryant sat at her awkwardly short desk and fixed her eyes on Caroline was if she were about to deliver a line from a Shakespearean play. “Animal Farm is a post-World War Two novel written by the writer George...” One girl laughed. Caroline glanced up. Silence. “...George Orwell in 1945. It tells the story of farm animals that are mistreated to the point where they believe in starting a revolution. One night, a pig named Old Major gathers all the farm animals into a barn and speaks of overtaking their tyrant master, Mr. Jones.” She stopped. D**e, they spoke under their breaths. “Continue, my dear.” Mrs. Bryant took no notice. “Old Major rouses the farm animals with a new anthem called The Beasts of England. They sing in great cheer with a newly-found sense...” She stopped again. W***e, they gossiped. “...sense of patriotism.” She paused, and gave her teacher a disgruntled look. “Mrs. Bryant, I didn’t finish past the first two paragraphs. I’m sorry.” “It’s all right child, but your grade shall suffer for it. Please sit down.” Caroline walked, with paper in hand, back to her front row desk. As she slunk back down in her chair, a boy in a varsity jacket began to scribble on a sheet of notebook paper. “Audrey? Why don’t you come up? I‘m sure you finished your report, child.” A lanky girl in a purple turtleneck sweater stood up and walked to the front of the room. Teacher’s pet, Marissa thought. Audrey cleared her throat while the boy in the varsity jacket folded his note into a triangle. It hit Caroline’s foot. She picked it up and silently looked back at him. He winked, and she opened the triangle. The note read: White trash b***h, why don’t you just go die? Nobody likes you! The note shot her in the heart with a bullet of words. Caroline glared back at the boy in the varsity jacket, and he raised his middle finger. What had she ever done to him? What was happening? How could he be so cruel? Caroline trembled with worry. She turned her head to her girlfriend, who had been watching. Marissa gave her a smile, a fake and fuzzy one. Her eyes grew, feeding on curiosity. What just happened to her girlfriend? What did the boy in the varsity jacket write to her? It had been nearly two months since gossip began. Caroline was already socially ruined. She had lost any good name she acquired. Marissa tried, but Caroline pushed her away. For her own safety. For she feared for Marissa. For she loved her, and she wanted to put her in no pain. Moreover, as Marissa sat in silence, misery swallowed Caroline’s soul, and she became a shell of a young woman. No soul. No love. No hope. The bell rung at 12:30. As Caroline ran away from the desk she had been sitting at into the crowded hallway, Marissa stood up with her rather-large copy of Gone With the Wind and walked to the boy in the varsity jacket. She confronted him and sternly asked, “What did you write to her, Riley?” Riley, #18, casually said, “It’s not my fault she’s a w***e.” Marissa’s blood boiled over, and with the snap of a finger, Riley was thrown over two desks with a bloody nose and rested in a mess of papers on the tile floor, by the force of the twelve-hundred page novel. Thankfully Mrs. Bryant had left the room to sneak in a cup of tea before her next class, so Marissa walked away through the crowd that had gathered in the doorway with ease. His nose was broken. “B**h!” Blood trickled onto Riley’s blue Hollister-brand tee underneath his now-ripped varsity jacket. Marissa stopped in the crowd, turned back to everyone’s eyes, and anchored her foot onto Riley’s pulsating and vigorously–beating chest. “Caroline is my girlfriend, and if you say anything or write anything like that again, you will regret it!”
The bus door unenergetically began to open.
Squeaking and screeching, her portal to a new life opened. This was her chance. This is what she wanted. From here on out, it would be smooth sailing to San Francisco.
She imagined it.
On weekday mornings, she would take the trolley uphill to her new high school. Her favorite class would be “Culinary Arts,” as it was at FCHS, and she would have many friends, most of whom would be artsy, colorful, bohemian, and gay (no pun intended).
On the lazy sunny afternoons, she would retract the curtains in her bedroom. The sun would shine through her French parlor windows, and while listening to tracks from Beauty & the Beast, her favorite musical she would see at the Orpheum Theatre numerous times, she would read…read until she would fall asleep cozily on her queen size bed.
Then on other days, she would work a part time job at the local Starbucks’, baking jelly-filled delights and made-with-love pastries in the company’s stainless steel ovens and brew specially ordered coffee frapuccinos and toffee mochas to busy businessmen in a hurry and in need of caffeine.
Finally and blissfully, on weekends, Marissa would venture on over to Glen Park in the southern portion of the city by the bay and have a picnic amongst the trees, buy knickknacks at the local mom-n’-pop stores, and never give a care or thought about Montana, that homophobic droll place of her birth, again.
Yes, this was her dream. Life would be golden and flawless.
Marissa opened her backpack and stared at the cookies she kept.
She had always wanted to cook for Caroline, she recalled.
Yet, she never got the chance…
So with that thought, Marissa imagined the perfect dinner on a perfect date with the perfect girl.
To begin, she would draw the shades and darken the room.
Inside the dining room of her girlfriend's home, surrounded by glowing golden candlesticks and Caroline at the end of the table dressed in a busty black evening down, she would start with a basket of honey-wheat rolls and a porcelain cup of bourbon butter spread. All prepared by Marissa Seymour, renowned master chef.
For the main course, she would prepare:
-Canard au Cassis (French for roasted duck breast), heated to a golden, flawless brown
-Smoked meatballs, coated with a thick, spicy plum sauce
-Duchess potatoes, topped with oregano and a coating of cheddar-jack
Finally, for dessert, after exchanging a few puppy kisses, Caroline and Marissa would share a piece of delightful cheesecake topped with strawberry slices and a drizzly velvet-red glaze, accompanied by glasses of sparkling cider, as neither were of age for true champagne.
“You the only one, kid?” asked the bus driver.
Four days had passed since Caroline’s attempt at her Animal Farm report.
She had received a C– on her final grade. “Not so bad,” Marissa thought. Better than an F, most definitely.
It was Friday night. The local football team, the Wiley Point Raiders, was playing a home game, and last Marissa heard, they were winning nine to seven. Out of respect for her girlfriend, Marissa stayed away from Caroline’s bullies and kept in her room that night.
She could not visit Caroline. She could not go shopping with her. They could not be seen together anywhere.
They were only able to text-message one another after nightfall:
Marissa, today I walked home from the
grocery store, and something happened...
What happened? Are you hurt?
responded Marissa. The wait for her girlfriend’s reply was nerve-breaking.
Someone spray-painted ‘Die Fag’ on the
front of my house!
Did you call the police?!
They already left. They assume its people I go to
school with. Marissa, I love you.
The people here...they have become
like predators, and I am their prey.
I don’t know what to do. It’s all crap!
Caroline, things will get better. I love you too. You know what we can do?
What can we do, baby?
Marissa thought for a moment. A stroke of genius occurred:
We can go to California! Just you and I. No one else.
I have an aunt in San Francisco. We can begin a new
life together, Caroline! A new life!
We can hop on a bus, honey. There are people like us there.
Oh Marissa, that is a nice thought, but we can’t do that...
Marissa’s eyes began to water.
I’m in love with you, with every breath I’m still
able to take. Just don’t think badly of me,
please. I’ve already made my decision.
Marissa’s eyes opened wide at her cell phone screen and sent a reply as quick as she could.
What’s going on, Caroline? What are you doing? Please tell me!
Her phone failed to vibrate with another message.
Up and down, her head motioned.
“Yes, I’m the only one,” said Marissa to the hefty man sitting in the open door of the Greyhound. “But give me a minute, will you? I have to use the little girls room.”
“Hurry up, little missy. We don’t have all the time in the world to kill.”
Marissa scurried away from the bench she had been sitting on for the past hour to the antiqued door of the ladies bathroom. Clumsily, she tripped on a dug-up floor tile but propped herself into balance.
Marissa was a teenage girl. What do you expect?
She didn’t actually have to use the bathroom. Stupid excuse…
The mirror was covered with watermarks and phone numbers for booty calls in Sharpie marker, close to the rusted faucet. A decrepit radiator lay in front of the toilet. Its orange glow burned brilliantly with glaring light sealed between the grid protection and the pipes of the humming box.
She proceeded to give it attention.
Only after then, she turned back to stare her reflection down like the devil.
Who is this girl in the mirror? What was she doing? Where was she going?
Her glossy black hair was quite stringy and bouncy, yet voluminous as it lay across her left shoulder like a dead raven. She had not washed it that day. Nor did she scrub her face. A pimple became noticeable in between her brows.
Marissa had a beauty spot upon her upper lip, beside the scratch where the fingernails had dug in.
“I’m trash,” she told herself. Marissa’s self-confidence was at rock bottom and had lost all faith in the people of Montana. California would be her escape from the harsh world.
Marissa was ready, was she not?
She hadn’t slept the previous night. Her pupils strained as she left the bathroom.
Marissa flaunted the dark eerie circles under her eyelids to the empty and cold world she was about to leave, obscuring her emerald eyes.
The Greyhound hissed.
Marissa stood in front of the leviathan showing no fear to come aboard, as she had travelled through Hell the night before...
Twenty minutes had passed.
Marissa anxiously waited for a reply.
Not one vibration. Amidst her window, she heard the faint wail of ambulance sirens. Something was wrong. Her conscience warned her to follow the call. It reached to her in an unexplainable sense.
She ran out of the house barefoot with her keys to Scarlett (sloppily parked second in the driveway), jumped into the seat, and cranked up the rusted engine. The cold autumn mud stained her feet.
The night was cold and biting at her skin. Halloween was two weeks away, yet Marissa’s mother had already put out hay bales and bare pumpkins in the front yard.
Scarlett sputtered at first but came to life nevertheless.
It was almost as if it knew Marissa was in urgency.
Scarlett screeched onto the road with almost complete accuracy.
The tires whined as Marissa turned onto Tarleton Avenue leading to Wiley Point’s public square. She flipped the knob underneath the steering wheel and turned on her emergency lights.
She drove Scarlett through the public square as if she were flying a rocket, speeding in between the bundles of cars parked alongside the road, frightening pedestrians. She blew her horn in dismay. Sixty-one miles-per-hour read the dash.
A police car started to follow behind.
Marissa did not have free will to pull over.
She was focused on getting to Caroline and ensuring her safety, no matter what the cost. Both automobiles turned up road.
As she began up the mountain, Marissa shifted into second gear and pushed down the gas pedal. The police cruiser continued behind her, flashing his lights. Marissa was resisting a police officer.
Her heart pulsed multitudes of blood throughout her rickety body frame.
Caroline lived up the mountain overlooking Wiley Point. It was a steep drive. The three miles up the road took at least ten minutes obeying the speed limit.
Scarlett’s engine began to violently ker-clunk under the immense stress of Marissa’s right foot and appeared to die. She panicked.
“Oh Jesus, don’t die-out on me. Not now.”
Scarlett, in that one chief moment, shuttered and v-roomed immensely, powerfully forcing itself up the mountain road. Marissa gave a short sigh of relief and glared at the police car through the rear-view mirror.
Caroline’s house was the on the left side, near the end of the road, on the mountaintop.
It was a whitewashed clapboard farmhouse with a tin-roofed porch that wrapped around front. The two windows above were both illuminated. The left one was cracked open slightly.
Marissa yielded to the bank of the road bordering the front yard.
It was just as Caroline described it.
The phrase "Die Fag" was spray-painted across the front door and the side window in red. Previously hanging shrubbery plants were thrown across the porch and laying in piles. Police cars and an ambulance van were parked on the lawn. All the flashing lights were surging and sparkling in the night sky.
Marissa stared at the house with a worried look. She looked around for Caroline. The officer, who had parked his car on the road’s shoulder, walked up to Marissa’s vehicle and confronted the teenager.
“Young lady,” he called to her with his thick frontier accent, “You had a reason to speed. I’m not going to issue a ticket, but I do need to see your license and proof of insurance, if you please.” Obviously, his generosity got the better of him and he failed to follow police protocol.
Marissa looked at him. “They’re inside the glove compartment.” She jerked open the glove compartment door, gathered her legal papers, and, without haste, supplied them to the officer. He took a moment and walked to his car to verify the documentation.
Marissa hopped out of Scarlett. Uncertain to the nature of her surroundings, she walked towards the center of the road, in silence, to gain a better view.
She strayed into the yard.
Caroline’s mother was beside the mailbox, accompanied by the sheriff and her husband, crying.
What happened to Caroline?
Marissa walked towards her. “Mrs. Deaton?”
As she turned to Marissa, her eyes squinted.
Caroline’s mother struck her fiercely. Mr. Deaton and the sheriff strapped their arms around Mrs. Deaton to restrain her as Marissa fell to the ground and into the mud.
“It’s your fault! You took my Caroline! You did, you demon!” Mrs. Deaton screamed as if she were possessed.
“Hold her, Bobby!” shouted the sheriff to Mr. Deaton. Her face bellowed heavily with rage and sorrow. She began to moan and cry.
Marissa quickly picked herself up from the ground, abused with burning red scratches across her cheek, and distanced herself from Mrs. Deaton and her insanity. Mud drenched her backside of her jeans.
She was confused.
She stumbled towards the front door. It was halfway open with blue polka-dot window curtains wafting in and out around it. The timeworn paint lined the door’s façade in unorganized slivers and flakes.
She heard voices from inside the house, and the door freely opened all the way. Paramedics, all in white, wheeled out a rolling bed.
“What happened? Someone please tell me!” Marissa yelled to the men with her hands on her knees. They seemed to neglect her presence.
Finally, the gurney rolled completely outside, and on top was her girlfriend, covered by a white sheet. A hand hung out, with dried bloodstains branching out onto her palm. Inside it, a lock of gold hair.
Caroline had killed herself.
The world around Marissa shattered as she clung to the railings of the gurney, denying everything she was witnessing. One of the paramedics wrapped his arms around her waist and yanked her away from her girlfriend’s body.
Her world began to echo darkness.
The wind blew and pierced the wounds inflicted on her face. She stared as an ambulance sped out of the front yard and away from her. She began to breathe at a rapid and exhausting pace.
Her town had done this to her, she was convinced. Her friends, her family, her neighbors—they all took part in Caroline’s murder—They all kept silent. No one would take the blame.
Tears moistened her cheeks and neck.
The narrow-minded folks of Fallon County made it clear that homosexuality would not be tolerated in their neck of the woods, and that could not live in Wiley Point anymore. Caroline was made an example of. They had made it obvious.
Marissa fell to her mud-stained knees and hung her head in silence.
“No...no...no...no! My...my baby…” she screamed to the softened earth.
Black cottonwood leaves, turned yellow by the season change, rained around her. The piercing breeze blew against her face.
Marissa lost consciousness and her body fell to the earth, right alongside her faith.
Marissa stepped onto the steel stairs of the Greyhound.
Looking forward, she gave her ticket to the bus driver. The middle-aged obese man in the grey workman’s uniform looked at the teenager inquisitively.
“You running away, kid?” he asked.
Marissa looked at him with tear-wrought eyes.
“No, just school. San Francisco, the Bay; I have an aunt in the Castro.”
“Okee-dokee. You have everything?”
Marissa turned her head and saw that the bus was absolutely abandoned. Of course no one would ride it; it had drenched in cheap 1980s purple décor. She walked down the aisle and took her seat at the back of the right row, adjacent to the toilet stall. She pushed her backpack into the overhead compartment as she chewed on a cookie in her mouth.
She did not lie. Indeed, she did have an aunt in California.
Marissa’s aunt, her late-father's sister, Claudette left Fallon County for the coast to make a life for herself. Last Marissa heard, Claudette wrote a gossip column for a city newspaper: The Examiner.
Inside her back pocket was her address she stole from her mother’s address book.
“Here we go kid. San Francisco, one-way. We will be near the coastline by tomorrow night. Stops will be made in Kennewick and Redding for rest and fuel,” spoke the driver, in monotone, through the bus’ scratchy intercom speakers.
“He sounds so official,” Marissa thought.
“Westward ‘ho!” He spoke with great cheer for the journey ahead.
Marissa gave him a sarcastic thumbs-up and rested her head against the window. The engine revved.
Marissa closed her eyes. Her hair bunched against the glass. Worry slowly drained out and finally her head became clear. She could feel the hurt melt away from her bones.
There was no fight and no struggle. After all this time, Marissa thought clearly and reasonably.
Marissa closed her eyes and snoozed.
There existed a flat grassy plain, and a row of three door frames. No doors, and no walls in between. Only portals. The clouds overhead were blacker than shoe polish, and stricken with dinge grief.
Marissa, standing in a frilly orange summer dress, looked at the empty door frames with a saddened feeling. Everything inside them was dead. Each one led to its own abyss of darkness.
She looked up.
A boxed loudspeaker lowered in from the stormy atmosphere and settled in front of Marissa, as if it were carried by invisible angels. Her iPod Nano was in her hand, and although no wires or receivers linked it to the speaker, she pressed “play”, and Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies came on and trickled like water throughout her dream world. Out of pure imagination, daisy flowers popped from the group and vined around each door frame.
All three portals sparkled, and they became passageways as two very different figures stepped outside from their glittery realms.
Outside the left doorway stood an elderly man with face of a newborn.
“Who are you?” he asked Marissa with an innocent and charitable tone.
Marissa did not answer. She turned her head curiously to the right.
Outside the right doorway stood a young boy, around nine or ten, with a spoiled and hot-tempered attitude of a child given too much and little to no love.
“Who are you?” he asked Marissa with a sourpuss face as he crossed his arms across his chest.
Marissa did not answer. She curiously looked straight ahead.
No one stood outside the middle doorway. Curious.
Marissa raised her hand to her mouth, and felt her lips unseal themselves.
“Who are you?” Both figures turned their heads to their onlooker.
The bratty boy spoke first. “I am the world if you leave. You leave, and no one will see you for what you are, and the world will not learn from you at all.”
The elderly man spoke next. “I am the world if you do not leave. If you stay my dear, why the world can learn a lesson or two, and change from the example you set. Bravery and courage for what is right is something that cannot be forgotten, child.”
The wind blew. Marissa’s hair tangled and blurred her vision. The middle doorway remained without a person.
“Who is supposed to be in there? The middle doorway?”
“Why, child, this is your doorway. Walk to it and confront it wholeheartedly,” said the elderly man.
“But here’s the twist, lady. You choose who you meet at the doorway, and walk inside with them together, but only one person.”
Thunder rolled across Marissa’s dream world.
“Why, it looks like a storm is approaching! Better hurry, madam!”
“Remember, one person lady! One person’s all you got!”
Marissa’s legs turned cold with the gust. The music dwindled to a stop. The invasive daisy flowers grew brown and wilted.
The winds smelled of diesel.
Marissa stood barefoot with her feet in the grass, and saw the two figures look into the middle doorway. It was beginning to turn from black, to white. She moved forward.
“Lady, me and the geezer gotta go!”
The boy ran into his doorway as the elderly man ran into his.
The dream world shivered into empty space, with the universe and its galaxies in full view, and as Marissa approached the mystical angel, the white light became the only thing she saw. Her father appeared.
“Honey…” He hung out his arms. Father and daughter, separated a decade by death, hugged a hug that reached infinity.
“Daddy! I’ve missed you so much!” Marissa screamed as she cried pearl tears.
“I’ve been watching all this time. I have seen the changes in you. Marissa-Nicolette, you are one special girl, and anyone that says otherwise is a numbskull.”
“But, what about Caroline?”
“Oh, she’s better. We’ve been talking for quite some time, and she’s very happy that she got to know you, and fall in love.”
Marissa’s father rubbed his daughter’s chin.
“Marissa, you’re not dead. You have to go back and make your decision.”
“What decision is that?”
“The decision of whether you’ll face your problems head on, or leave them be.”
The thunder clashed. The music resumed, and mounds upon mounds of daisy flowers piled around the middle door frame, illuminating its importance.
“Use that old noggin’, won’t you honey?”
Marissa looked around. Beautiful fairly-like butterflies fluttered with crystal blue shimmers around her head.
“Will you walk with me, Daddy? I’m a little scared.”
“Of course. Everyone needs some help at one time or another…”
Father and daughter walked into the doorway holding each other’s hand, and everything became white.
The Greyhound was halfway turned over on the side of the road. Marissa sheepishly opened her eyes.
“Hey, sir, where are we?” she asked the bus driver.
The bus driver was frantically making a call, presumably to 911, on his cell phone at his seat.
“It’s all right, kid. We haven’t even made it out of this town! Some black ice just jumped outta nowhere and made us go into a dang river!”
Marissa looked out of her seat into the window beside her.
The glass was cracked against a half fallen tree. Her chair was at an angle. She looked away, and realized that the rear of the bus was partly underwater.
“So you hit some ice, and we rolled into a river?”
“Just the back end, kid. The police is comin’ and we have to get this ol’ girl towed from the front. God, the generator’s probably shot1 Are you hurt?”
Marissa looked at her arms, and found no bruises. “Yeah sir, I’m fine.”
He ignored her response as he hastily beat himself up.
“Oh, I’m gonna lose my operator’s license. I have to pay for repairs, a hotel.”
The luggage compartment lights overhead flickered. He pointed to the row of seats behind her.
“Kid, get up, the bus is sinking in the riverbank. We gotta get outta here.”
Marissa looked behind her, and witnessed the brown Montana river water churning around the rear seats. She stood up and grabbed her backpack.
Without any control, Marissa automatically closed her eyes. A breeze swept through her frail body. She felt strong. She felt confident. She felt a sense of righteousness blaze inside her stomach.
She whispered to herself.
“Caroline...doorway...face your problems...solve them...don’t run away…”
The Greyhound went dark.
“Kid, come on! One spark could set this bus on fire!”
The bus driver wobbled down the steps onto the frostbitten ground. Marissa ran up the aisle to follow. She didn’t stop. “We’re across the road from the Wilkes Farm! It’s only a mile from my house!”
Marissa, with her backpack on her shoulder and the locket around her neck, took off.
Finally, the world caught up with Marissa.
Her conscience stood up on alert.
“What’s the matter, kid?” asked the bus driver.
“I need to go home!” She trudged out into the Montana wilderness.
California would come another day.
Marissa ran away from the crippled Greyhound, loosely gripping one of the backpack’s straps as a breeze blitzkrieged the sky.
Snowfall was eminent.
Marissa Seymour braced herself for the worst and sprinted home, not knowing what to expect.
The rolling hills of the Montana wilderness screamed Caroline’s name to Marissa.
Harsh wind scorched her wounds. She could not leave Wiley Point, not just yet.
As she ran onto her street, a multitude of questions flew in and out of her mind: What can she do? How can she face her mother? How can she have peace? How will Caroline’s parents cope? What about the people at school? How will they react?
Marissa came to a slow, jutted pace as she toggled into her front yard. Her mother was sitting in the hand-me-down rocking chair on the front porch.
Snow was beginning to set forth onto the frozen soil.
The locket Caroline gave Marissa for her birthday bobbed in rhythm. She held it as she came to a halt, and stared at her enemy.
Silence fell upon mother and daughter. Finally, Ms. Seymour spoke.
“Marissa, baby, can we talk?” she asked in a forgiving voice.
Marissa tossed her backpack onto the edge of the closed front door.
“Why, Mom? Why? Caroline is dead, and she’s not coming back, all thanks to you.”
She coldly spiked a death stare at her mother. Her eyes were sore.
“I...I’ve had time to think. You have to understand, this is all new to me. I don’t know what to...I never spoke any rumor to anyone, Marissa. I informed Caroline’s mother, for her own good as well as yours. I never told anyone else.”
Marissa’s cheeks flushed.
“How am I supposed to believe you? Caroline was harassed and shunned just for being who she is. It’s because she liked girls! Don’t you see anything wrong with that?”
Marissa’s mother stayed silent.
“You didn’t know Caroline like I did. I...I fell in love with her, and you...”
Marissa began to raise her voice.
“…you took her away from me. Now how am I supposed to believe you? Huh? Tell me, Mom!”
A tear paved a trail down Ms. Seymour’s cheek. In utter shame, she covered her face with her fingers and sobbed.
It took a few minutes for Ms. Seymour to collect her thoughts, and finally, she bundled up in her Wiley Point Raiders afghan and stood up.
“Because...because I’m your mother, and I love you.”
The crippling Montana wind came across the vast prairie and flooded the front porch. The gears in Marissa’s mind turned, and she concluded that, just maybe, her mother wasn’t her enemy after all.
Finally, silence broke.
“It’s pretty cold out here. Do we still have apple cider in the refrigerator?” Marissa asked.
Ms. Seymour nodded, red with frost.
Mother and daughter entered the disheveled house and after microwaving mugs of cider, they met on the living room couch to savor in its comfort. Both began to heal.
“Mom, why did you call me a faggot?”
“It...it made me felt...like I wasn’t your child. Just a nuisance. It hurt.” Marissa exclaimed with fearfulness, sipping from her mug.
“I didn’t mean to...I was scared. I am...I’m sorry. Marissa, you are a...?” Ms. Seymour asked with a sneeze.
“Yes…I still don’t understand. Why are you choosing something that leads to a tough life?”
Her worries showed cross her forehead.
Marissa sipped again.
“Mom, it’s something I never chose. Sexuality...you can’t pick what or who you like. No one can. I cannot make that any clearer. If I...”
“I don’t know what else to say, so I’ll say what I know: Marissa-Nicolette, you are my daughter and I love you, no matter what you are or who...who you like.”
They both placed their mugs onto the center table. Marissa stared at her mother with peace.
“We can work through this, Mom.” She started to cry.
“I...I just wanted Caroline to be beside me when we had this talk.” She held back her sorrow no longer.
“Oh God, she’s gone, Mom!” Marissa fell to her mother’s arms and she released all of her built-up emotions.
“Hush baby, hush. It’ll be all right.”
“I miss her so much!”
Her cries flushed the pain away. Marissa fell to her mother’s lap, and Ms. Seymour comforted her daughter by stroking the side her neck.
Mother and daughter reconnected, and in Marissa’s mind, she knew everything was going to be just that as her mother said.
Everything was going to be all right.
The month was December, and Christmas was merrily approaching.
Wind gusts gracefully hummed as they twirled around the ancient tombstones lining the landscape. Western Meadowlarks nestled into their chipper nests above cemetery, amidst the branches. The winter season was here, and, by instinct, they would leave soon and come back the spring.
The ground was completely frozen, and Montana was engulfed in a treasure-trove of white snow. Everything within sight was bright as freshly-cut paper.
Scarlett O’Hara rumbled past the wrought-iron gates of William Clark Cemetery and came to a screeching halt. In her new zebra stripe boots and skinny jeans, Marissa climbed out of Scarlett as a new pop artist sang Walking in a Winter Wonderland on the radio. She left the engine running and started her ascent up the hill to Caroline’s resting spot.
Caroline’s funeral in late last October was a quiet one. School was dismissed, and the majority of the student body showed up upon the principal’s request.
“Such a young soul, she was,” mourned Mrs. Bryant.
Riley, the boy in the varsity jacket, was there. He said nothing and stood silent, regretting the hateful note he scribbled that one Monday in Honors English, a week ago then.
Caroline’s parents had spent weeks at counselors and therapists, and special time with Marissa and Ms. Seymour. Mrs. Deaton no longer blamed Marissa for her daughter’s death, and in result, came to respect her.
Those who had seen Marissa crying at the eulogy comforted her and gave her good praises for being strong through the entire ordeal. A few even hinted of their own sexual orientations, and noting that through the death of Caroline, the community of Wiley Point became stronger and much more aware.
The temperature, Marissa had seen on The Weather Channel earlier that day, was at four degrees above zero.
Why this day with the weather so frostbiting?
It was Caroline eighteenth birthday today: December 18th.
Marissa wiped her eyes and zipped up her jacket. Dead grass lay hidden beneath the luscious heaps of pearl-white snow.
As she climbed the hill, she passed the seemingly endless rows of tombstones. All of them appeared bare.
Finally, she stopped. The marker read:
Caroline Harvey Deaton
December 18th, 1993– October 21st, 2011
Loving Daughter and Friend
1 Corinthians 13:13
Marissa turned back her head. She had left Scarlett’s headlights ablaze. Quietly, she leaned down and sat cross-legged in front of Caroline’s grave. Marissa exhaled, and spoke.
“Caroline, honey. I got you these.”
Marissa silently laid a bouquet of Allemanda Buttercup flowers aside her gravestone, bowing her head in respect.
Those were Caroline’s favorite flowers.
“Mom and I are better. She is much more understanding. We don’t scream at each other. Your parents too, and school is much better now. We...we had assembly after assembly about bullying and homophobia and tolerating others, and you know what happened? People listened to the message. It’s funny how people start listening when someone dies, you know?”
Marissa lightly chuckled.
People listened, finally.
“We were in all the papers, even the national news. There were protests across the state and the country, and even a giant movement in Helena. We have an anti-bullying law passed, and maybe if we push, two boys and two girls can marry in our state in the future.”
The frostbitten tombstone did not move or shudder. A crow shrieked in the air above.
Marissa looked around. She was not talking to any person. She was talking to a chiseled rock.
Caroline was not on the earth anymore. Her spirit was amidst the clouds, in a better place.
Scarlett’s engine gave a sputter.
“I’m graduating, baby. I have been accepted to a college; a culinary school in Los Angeles. I am out of the closet, and free to do what is right for me.”
Marissa opened her heart and started to weep with a silent glee.
“I...I don’t know what all this is, Caroline.”
A tear appeared.
“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to make of it all. Are we just floating, floating on a gust of wind? Or do you think there is more to it? These past months, I have cried a lot. I have cried more than anyone ever should cry, but right now, these are not tears of pain, but they are...they’re tears of joy! You weren’t bad because you were gay; they were bad for hurting you because you were gay! I love you Caroline; I love you with all my heart.”
She stood up.
“I am strong.”
Something at that precise moment occurred: Redemption.
All that Marissa had endured was behind her.
She was a lesbian, and she was proud and happy.
“If you ever need a friend to talk to, I’ll be...I’ll be here to listen.”
The wind died down.
A calm, peaceful world has risen from the harsh reality of ashes she had experienced, and holding that thought, Marissa walked down to Scarlett.
In the Book of 1st Corinthians, verse 13:13 reads:
"Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails...And now these three remain:
Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is love."
Marissa stumbled onto the flat road she parked on. As she opened Scarlett’s timeworn driver’s side door to scrape the snow off her boot, a melody invaded her mind. Rob Thomas, one of her favorite modern singers, sung on archaic radio Someday, and the sweet words flew through her nerve-fried brain in every direction.
Marissa closed her eyes and inhaled the cold Montana air. She gripped Caroline’s sacred birthday locket around her neck.
"...and maybe, someday, we’ll figure all this out.
Try to put an end to all our doubt.
Try to find a way to make things better and now,
Maybe, someday we’ll live our lives out loud.
We’ll be better off somehow, someday..."
There it was.
The song came to a close, and Marissa climbed into Scarlett. She turned the knob to switch off the radio, and the heater up to a higher set. Scarlett growled.
California would come another day.
Marissa briskly turned her head to the hill where Caroline lay and whispered to the air, “I love you, baby.” She rolled up her icy window, and started off. The gates said, with her swift motion upon passing them, goodbye.
“I’ll see you again...someday.”
Looking from a distance within the clouds, Caroline watched and smiled with great joy. She allowed Marissa to go on without her, and live life to its full.
That next fall, Marissa would leave her native state and travel to the West Coast, and branch out into the culinary arts, her passion.
She may come back.
Scarlett O’Hara, the dilapidated 1958 Chevrolet Apache, left William Clark Cemetery, and rumbled on home.
Marissa’s tailgate now possessed a sticker. A simple sticker: square, in the shape of a flag. The flag had on it a rainbow.
“Peace, Love, and Happiness” was written across the rainbow, and it was for all to see.