The last thing I remember about my mother was her coal black coffin being placed into the cold ground. It was August seventeenth, two days before her birthday, and it was raining. It was unusual that it was raining in the middle of summer. Granted, Wisconsin summers were generally dry, but our little city of Green Bay hadn’t had a spot of rain for over two months. It was a dry year. It was a hard year. I had to watch my mother slowly go deeper into her coma.
It all started out with a horrible accident; something that shouldn’t have happened. It wouldn’t have happened either, if not for me. I never let myself forget that.
It was May, the end of my sophomore school year. There was a huge party that the most popular girl at our school was throwing. Her name was Kenzie Keast. It was an absolute ticket to popularity if she invited you to one of her parties. It was like being handed a block of solid gold; an invite from Kenzie was one to die over. I was lucky enough to get one. Kenzie and I had been lab partners in Biology, and she was always nice to me. We became friends, I guess. Who wouldn’t after having to spend a straight hour with her every day? I hadn’t expected the invite. In fact, I was getting all worked up that I wasn’t going to be invited. But I got myself worked up over nothing, because on April thirtieth , I got the invite. It gave the time and date for the party, and the place. Kenzie always chose a new place to have her parties; one year, it was rumored to be in a night club just out of Milwaukee. The thought of going to Kenzie’s party was exhilarating; cute guys, popular girls, and booze. Of course, I had never actually drank any alcohol in my life, besides the wine I had every Sunday for mass.
Being a strong Catholic girl, it was hard to not be appalled by her taste of venue: a once stripper-club transformed into a rave hall. Nevertheless, on May seventeenth, I hopped in my black slug bug, putting on my two-dollar sunglasses and blasting the radio. Airplanes by B.o.B. came on, and I belted out the lyrics, driving north. This “refurbished” party was just outside of Door County, and it was going to be huge. And rumor had it that Justin Bieber would be there. Not that I liked him, or anything. I just knew for a fact that he was famous for his singing. I wasn’t really into his kind of music, though. Give me rock, or give me death; that’s what I always said whenever anybody asked me what my favorite music genre was.
On my drive to the venue, I passed the most amazing spot for pictures: Cave Point. It’s the perfect, most beautiful spot in all of Wisconsin, if you asked me. The color of the water was so gorgeous, and on a summer’s day, it’s as warm as bathwater. But the cliffs were dangerous; they were slippery and steep, and once you were stuck in the water, a riptide could appear out of nowhere and sweep you into the lake. Cave Point was always much prettier in the daytime, but at night, it had some sort of mysterious aura to it. Deciding that taking a five minute nature walk of this gorgeous place wouldn’t hurt anybody, I parked the car and headed out to one of the cliffs. I had expected to be alone, but I was wrong.
On the very edge of the cliff, perched precariously towards the water, a figure stood, their arms outstretched. Me, being the worrisome person I am, decided to voice my concerns.
“Hey, be careful! The ledge is slippery!”
The person at the edge whipped around fast, almost falling off the side. A horrified look came to their face, and they took a few steps away from the ledge. A further inspection showed that tears were streaming down this boy’s– who couldn’t have been older than sixteen– face.
My own expression went from worried to softened. “Hey, are you alright?” I took a step forward, and when the boy didn’t move, I headed the rest of the way there until I was about three feet in front of him. “What were you doing?”
The boy scowled, looking from the edge to me. “Nothing,” he snapped, trying to sound forceful, but failing because his voice broke. In any other situation, I would be freaking out, because he had a thick British accent. But this situation didn’t call for a fan girl. I took a deep breath in, processing it all. A boy, alone, at Cave Point, at night, obviously upset... The worst thought hit me. I was either being punk’d or he was trying to do the worst thing possible: kill himself.
Instead of panicking, like one would expect, I sat down, surprising the boy. “Doing that doesn’t make anything better. It doesn’t make anything go away. It only creates chaos and a world full of pain. Is that what you want?” I looked up at him expectantly, noticing that even in the darkness, his eyes were a deep brown, not unlike my own.
“How do you know?” he asked bitterly, looking at me as if I had grown another head.
I smiled out over the lake sadly. “You aren’t the only one who’s thought of this spot before.”
I could feel his eyes burning into the side of my face. “Maybe if you talked it out, you’d feel better.”
“I doubt it,” he grumbled, shoving his hands into his pockets.
I gave a sideways glance at the boy, a trace of a smile still lingering on my lips. “You don’t want to share stories? Maybe we’ll both learn something from this.”
He hesitated, and I could see that he was thinking about it.
“I’ll go first, yeah? Then, if you’re up to it, you can tell me your story. Sounds like a fair bargain, right?”
Again, he hesitated, but after a moment of thought, he sat down wearily next to me, close enough that he could hear me, but far enough that he wasn’t really sitting next to me.
I took a deep breath in, and, with some courage I wasn’t even positive that I’d have, began to tell my story.
“When I was in sixth grade, I wasn’t the skinniest person ever. I had baby fat, and I ate a lot, but I was growing. Just out. Not exactly up. Some boy spread a rumor that I was pregnant. It crushed me. Made me feel like I was worthless. I assumed it was the school bully, who just loved to torment me. And I accused him, too. But it wasn’t the bully. It was the guy I had a crush on. My friend. That fact alone tore me apart. He called me pregnant. I was twelve. And I wasn’t pregnant. I didn’t even really know what that involved.” I looked out over the lake, letting the cool breeze reach my face and calm me. The boy was still listening, a little less agitated than before.
“In seventh grade, my parents got into fights. At first, they were just normal things; my dad would misplace something, blame my mom, and they’d argue. Then he’d find it and move on. But eventually, they got worse. There was a point where my father threatened to leave, and he did for a week, but he eventually came back. I was so sick of it all, that I decided to rebel. I wanted them to realize how stupid they were, so I took his wallet. I figured, if he didn’t have his wallet, he couldn’t go anywhere, so why not? I hid it from him for weeks. He was absolutely pissed when he found out. He was screaming at me, telling me he’d known I was a thief. He said he knew that all I’d ever add up to be was a lying, cheating, stealing thief, just like my mother. Broke me to pieces. My mother didn’t even help me out. She just stood behind him, a disappointed look in her eyes.
“Then in eighth grade, it happened. The worst thing imaginable: my father left. He just packed up one day and left us, not saying goodbye, and not coming back. My mother seemed to be happier, but I was absolutely torn. It was my fault he left. If I hadn’t stolen his wallet, he’d still be living with us. I felt as though my father hated me, everybody at school hated me. So I thought I should end it all. Right there. Eighth grade.” I stopped, not wanting to go on. The boy bit his bottom lip.
“How did you...?” he asked tentatively, not quite sure how to phrase his sentence. Of course, I knew what he was asking.
“Suffocation. Didn’t quite work, though.” I gave a wary smile, then pulled my knees up to my chest. “Guess that’s my story.”
He nodded, allowing for there to be a short silence. I sat, waiting for him to begin, but he, apparently, wasn’t ready.
“What religion are you?” he asked, almost so quietly I nearly missed it.
“I don’t see how this has much to do with–”
“It does. I don’t need to be judged more than I already am.”
I frowned. “Catholic,” I eventually replied, now a confused look on my face.
He gave a short, bitter laugh. “Guess I should just leave my story alone, then.”
I shook my head. “What we have here, however strange or quiet it is, this is completely non-judgmental. You didn’t judge me; therefore, I have no right to judge you. And it isn’t like we’ll ever see each other again, right?”
He nodded, obviously thinking hard about his situation. After another moment of silence, he blurted, “I’m gay.”
There was another silence, but this one wasn’t comfortable. I could feel his tension, his utter repulsion at the word. He was afraid of himself. I looked over at him, mustering every ounce of courage I had, and nodded, showing I understood. Apparently, for my religion, gays are supposed to be “damned to hell.” But I disagree with that one million percent. If God wants all of us to be saved, then how could He damn them, and why should we discriminate against each other?
The boy looked as though he had been struck by lightening. “You– you aren’t going to tell me I’m–”
“Of course not!” I interrupted, an angry look on my face. “What you love is what you love. And God will love you all the same.”
He winced at the word ‘God’, which made me thoroughly upset. Whoever the hell made him wince at God deserved to be smacked in the face a few times. I stopped my internal ranting and processed his statement.
“Wait, you were going to–” I motioned to the edge “because of who you’re attracted to?”
He nodded, a hurt look coming to his face. “But it isn’t just that,” he assured me. “It’s my brother. He’s been a total ass about it. I told him because I thought I could trust him, but he went and told everyone. I went from popular to loser in a matter of hours. And all the things people say about me; it’s like I’m just a punching bag for hurtful comments.”
I took a deep breath in, then let it out slowly. “Damn them all!” I decided upon, not sure where my foul language was coming from. The boy raised his eyebrows, questioning my answer. “They aren’t as strong as you. You have the courage it takes to be yourself. How many of them do you think are truly themselves?”
He thought about it for a moment, then looked out over the water. “I guess none, really.”
“And how many of them do you think are jealous of the fact that you can be who you are and not worry about the consequences?”
The boy hesitated. “I don’t think they’re jealous of me.”
I sighed. “There will be one day, when you look back, and think, ‘That was four years of my life. Of the entirety of my life.’ And you’ll realize that however horrible you felt, however low to the ground you could be on the popularity scale, it didn’t matter. None of it mattered. Because being popular isn’t about being envied. It’s about being yourself and having friends. About being comfortable in your own body. It isn’t about how many people you can get to ask you to a dance or take you out on dates. It’s how many people’s lives you’ve changed by your own actions. That’s what being popular is.”
The boy looked at me as though he had been enlightened. “You’ve got an old soul, you know?”
I gave a smile. “It’s been said before.”
We sat quietly for a moment, both of us staring out over the lake, watching the stars twinkle on their black canvas of the night. My phone buzzed, and I quickly pulled it from my pocket. My mother had texted me.
Where are you? Not happy you aren’t home. Call me NOW.
I sighed, shoving the phone back into my pocket. I’d call her once the situation between the boy and I was settled.
“Can you promise me something?” I asked.
“Just promise me you won’t do this again. You won’t try to...”
“So long as you promise the same.”
I looked at him, a sense of awe lighting up my features. “Promise,” I said.
He replied with a solid, “Promise.” With that, he stood up and headed away, not looking back once.
I sighed and stood up, taking out my phone. I dialed in my mom’s number, which she picked up after the second ring.
“Hey, mom, I’m–”
“Where are you!” she yelled, obviously angry.
“I’m at Cave Point, I’m coming back home right–”
“Nevaeh Jacqueline Thames, what the hell are you doing at Cave Point at nine o’clock at night?!”
“Mom, if you’d just listen for two seconds–”
“Don’t you dare speak to me like that! I’m the mother, and I–”
All I heard was a screeching of tires and a loud smash come from the other end of the phone. My heart beat wildly.
“Mom.” I waited a second. “Mom... Mom! Mom!” I was trying to calm down, but I could already feel the tears well up in my eyes. “Mom!” I said, nearly in hysterics. There wasn’t a reply from the other end. I hung up with her quickly, assuming the only thing to do would be to call 911.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“My mom, I think she’s just been in an accident. I heard it over the phone–”
“Where did this occur?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, tears streaming down my face.
“Ma’am, please calm down. Can you give us your mother’s phone number?”
I repeated off the digits, and the woman said she’d call me back.
The ten minutes it took for them to call me back felt like years. I was still sitting by the lake, and as peaceful and serene as it had looked a few minutes ago, at the moment, it looked treacherous and evil. Like something was brewing. Something bad. The second I heard it ring in my hands, I picked up the phone.
“Hello, yes, Nevaeh Thames?” the other end asked.
“Yes, this is her.”
“Your mother has been in an accident and is being taken to St. Vincent’s.”
My heart sank and I felt a sob coming on. “How is she?” I croaked, unable to imagine.
“I’m afraid I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
After a few more minutes of the lady on the other end talking to me, I hung up and drove an hour to the hospital, only to see my unconscious mother hooked up to a million tubes and wires, apparently keeping her alive. The doctor told me that she was in a coma; the other passengers in the car that had hit her were fine and awake, with the major injury being a broken wrist. I asked the doctor when she’d wake up, and his only answer was, “She won’t.”
On August twelfth, more than two months after the accident, I had the plug pulled on my mother. She wasn’t going to wake up. She was brain dead. There was nothing left for her here. And so, at the age of sixteen, I attended my mother’s funeral. It was a blur of a day; I scarcely remember some of my friends attending. No relatives, of course. Not even my father. He was a no-show to his own wife’s funeral.
And at the end of the funeral, I was left alone. More alone than I had ever been before. And I thought I’d be stuck in that city of Green Bay for the rest of my life, but I was told I’d be moving. To a different country. I wasn’t old enough to take care of myself, and besides my MIA father, the closest relatives I had were my distant aunt and uncle in England.
On the fourth of September, they packed my things and shipped me away, all the way to London, to live with these people I had never met. I was informed of two things: one, I had a cousin, Elizabeth, and two, I was to be attending school near Oxford. I had never been so revolted at the thought of everything, but I knew there was no choice. So, I made it my mission to start over. To begin for myself a new life.
But I should have known that starting over wasn’t going to be so easy.