“This is for me?”
Ramona fingered the delicate silver chain, tracing the letters engraved into the pendant. I bit my lip, anxious to see her reaction. I had spent forever in Macy’s, feeling totally out of my element, in order to find the perfect present. Two hours and thirty-two dollars later, I watched her dark ash-brown hair glimmer in the light streaming from behind the grocery store parking lot. It was like silk, cascading down past her shoulders, swirling around her. She jerked her head up towards me suddenly, causing it to then float around her shoulders for a moment, feathery and shimmering. “It’s so beautiful.” she breathed, her voice full of rainbows and butterflies and, like, angels singing.
She carefully fastened the delicate chain around her neck, admiring the way the pendant caught the late afternoon sun. “Thank you,” Ramona added, blushing. Standing on her tiptoes, she stretched up and kissed me on my furiously blushing cheek. Success.
“Hey, I’m glad you like it,” I said, grinning hugely, running my hands through my own tawny hair. “Unfortunately, it looks downright shabby compared to your ravishing beauty.”
“Ha. You’re hilarious Jules.” Ramona remarked, rolling her perfect eyes. She linked her fingers into mine, her familiar palm grasping my hand tight. She had long since gotten over the fear of sweaty palms, which was good on this sweltering August afternoon. “But really, you kinda just made my day. As far as birthdays go, this one tanked big time.”
Ouch. “Trouble with the parents again?”
“Yup.” She sighed, scuffing the sidewalk with her shabby old Vans. They used to be a vibrant periwinkle but after years of skateboarding and walking home in the rain have now faded to a sort of grey.
A year ago, Ramona had broke it to her parents that she would never want to marry some cancer-curing doctor or a world-renowned lawyer as they had so wanted. Unless that person were female. To say the least, her parents didn’t take it well. Ramona’s back is still rippled with scars, where they had beaten her like tribal barbarians. On those nights, I found myself harboring her in my bed, protecting her from her parent’s anger.
You would think that two perfectly respectable Catholic adults wouldn’t torture their own daughter, but people can be violent when they are faced with something they don’t understand.
We started making our way down towards the park, where I used to love feeding ducks so many years ago. “But, even if they want to disown me,” Ramona continued nonchalantly, “at least my parents know I’m gay. When are you going to stop lying to your grandma about yourself? About us?”
I let out a long breath. Ramona had the courage a year ago to do what I still deemed impossible.
When my parents died in that factory accident five years ago, my grandmother had insisted she should move into my apartment to keep me company, against my will of course. Ever since then, she’s been criticizing and controlling every aspect of my life. What my major should be in college. What cereal would provide me with the required amount of fiber. What “strapping young gentleman” would make a proper boyfriend for me. Defying her wishes would mean certain death.
I’ve gone on all the dates she set up for me, just to please her, but I might as well been spending my time with a potato. A potato that always tries to kiss me goodnight with his scratchy beard stubble and very adventurous tongue.
Marriage is a Holy Sacrament apparently. According to her, a devout Christian, it could not be avoided. With every blind date that I let pass by me, she got angrier and angrier. She accused me of being too ugly, of being too boring, and finally, of simply being an unlovable little cunt. I’ve avoided discussing relationships with her after that one.
My footsteps slowed as Ramona and I reached the duck pond. We walked along the water’s edge in silence for a few more minutes, my grandmother’s words still sinking into the hollow of my soul like stones.
I hated myself for being so cowardly.
Turning to face Ramona, a small, sad, smile stretched over my lips. “You know what,” I announced, “Fuck it. I’m going to come out to her tonight. As your birthday present. I don’t care what happens.”
Ramona raised an eyebrow, looking dubious. “You sure dude?” she asked. “Remember the time you told your grandmother you wanted to wear a tuxedo to that one wedding, and she wouldn’t talk to you for weeks?”
“Eh.” I responded, examining my fingernails. Pretending like I wasn’t panicking on the inside. “She’ll get over it. I hope. And hey, you got through hell. I’ll be able to handle whatever she throws at me.”
“Well alright then!” She grinned, and sat down on the grassy patch under our favorite oak tree, the one that provided the perfect amount of shade with its thick, leafy foliage. There was a family of squirrels that lived in one of its many gnarled knotholes, and they chattered frenziedly above.
The park was bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. Everything shone brilliantly as if it were made of fire. And, for the first time in a long while, I could think about my future without the waves of dread.
“What do you think sounds better,” I began, filling the spaces between my fingers with hers, “Ramona and Juliet Montague or Ramona and Juliet Capulet?”
“Mmm, both sound perfect,” Ramona sighed happily, leaning into my shoulder. “Would you wear the white dress or should I? And who would walk down the aisle?”
“I know it’s always been your dream to walk down that aisle,” I recalled, “And, with hope, I’ll be at the alter waiting for you.”
“You think your grandmother will come to the wedding?” She asked; looking up at me with eyes the bluish-steel of a midwinter sky. My favorite color.
“Well, maybe we should tell her we’re gay first. Imagine her horror if she came to our wedding thinking she was about to see me marry a ‘strapping young gentleman’ and instead saw me saying my marriage vows to a girl.”
Ramona giggled. “Well, you’ll come out to her tonight, right? So she’ll know soon enough.”
“Oh. Right. Totally looking forward to that.” I forced what I thought was a convincing smile.
It’ll be fine!” Ramona assured, seeing my wariness. So, apparently not such a convincing smile then. “Honestly, what’s the worst that could happen?”
I said nothing, just looked at her bruised back with pain in my eyes.
“Oh.” whispered Ramona, noticing. “Well that won’t happen, okay?” She smiled reassuringly. “Will you at least give me the indulgence of one last kiss as a closeted human being?”
I smiled. This is why I loved my Ramona. Her ability to ease whatever conflict ran through my mind. I wish I could do the same to her.
“Of course, dearest.” I said, brushing a few loose strands of hair behind her ear. “My pleasure.”
It was so different than kissing a potato.
A family sitting at a picnic table a few yards away stared over at us, the parents wrinkling up their noses when they saw Ramona and me with our hands clasped. I waved. They twisted back around quickly, embarrassed, hunching over their sandwiches to shield the young children’s’ eyes.
I laughed lightly.
The sun was beginning to melt over the darkening sky. Orange light fled across the ground, falling onto damp cigarettes that littered the park.
“Come on,” I announced, “it’s getting late, you’d better get home.”
Ramona rolled her eyes. “Yup,” she groaned, standing up and brushing grass off her butt, “I’ll go home. So my parents can scream at me to grow up and get a boyfriend already.”
I winced, looking at her empathetically. “Call me if things get bad, kay?”
“Oh, it’ll be okay.” She sighed heavily. “It’s just that my birthday reminds them of all those years ago, when I was an adorable little baby, so full of heterosexual promise.”
“Hey, don’t worry,” I reassured her. “After tonight we’ll both be out, and we can take on this fun world together.”
She nodded, comforted, taking my hand in hers.
“And you’re still adorable,” I added, waggling my eyebrows and poking her in the stomach.
Ramona squealed, doubling over with laughter. “Okay, okay! I get it!” She playfully shoved me away, and I poked her again, causing her to nearly collapse. Ramona was a bit ticklish.
Somehow, in peals of laughter, we soon came to the intersection where our routes home split. My apartment was right around the corner, but Ramona’s had a five-mile trek to get to hers. She gave me one last hug goodbye.
“Be careful walking home alone,” I warned. “There was that gang fight a couple days ago, remember?”
We didn’t exactly live in the nicest neighborhood. Amazingly, both of us had made it past eighteen without getting addicted to drugs, mugged, or raped.
“I will, I will. Good luck with your grandmother.” she said, “Tell her I said hi, and that Juliet Capulet is a big fat lesbo.”
I gave her a look. “I’m laughing on the inside, trust me.”
She stuck out her bright pink tongue, and started waltzing away with an exaggerated swagger. “I looooove yooouu!” she yelled over her shoulder.
“Me too!” I called back.
I watched her go, the scent of her sweet perfume still lingering on my sweatshirt. As soon as she was out of sight, my shoulders sagged.
“I love you too.” I whispered again. Time to go back to reality, without my Ramona.
Plodding up my grungy apartment steps, I could see my grandmother affixed to the television screen from the living room window. It was Thursday. Republican GOP debates were on tonight. Coincidentally, this week they were discussing same-sex marriage. A headache began to pound behind my temples.
“Hi grandma,” I called loudly, unlacing my combat boots by the door. My cat, Shakespeare, winded himself through my legs, meowing for food. I batted him away with my foot, and he glared at me reproachfully. “I’m home.”
“Juliet!” She yelled over from the other room, sounding furious. “You’re late again. Did you at least pick up my ciggs from the store?”
“No, grandma. I’m sorry, I forgot.” My head throbbed.
“Stupid girl, of course you did.” She muttered under her breath, but still loud enough for me to hear.
I cautiously sat down on the couch beside her in the living room, not wanting to irritate her any more than her normal state. On the television screen, our governor Mitt Romney was vigorously declaring the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. She adored him.
“Eh?” she grunted, not turning away from the set.
I gulped, ducking my head down. Now or never. “Do you really believe what he’s saying? The governor? How he thinks that only men and women can get married?”
She chuckled, still watching Mitt Romney roar threateningly at his audience. “Well what other kind of marriage is there?”
“Um, the kind of marriage between two guys. Or two girls.” I was shaking. My entire body trembled and a floaty wooziness was spreading about me.
“Oh, don’t be silly dear,” My grandmother clucked, “That’s not marriage. Holy Matrimony is a sacred Christian ceremony between two people. And those homosexuals aren’t real people. They’re just pure sin wrapped in a human’s skin. Demons.” She was absentmindedly stroking the cross on her necklace.
Crap. “So that means I’m not a real person?”
My grandmother’s body stiffened. Very, very slowly, she turned away from the television. “What did you just say?” She hissed, with a dangerous look in her eyes.
I took a deep breath. “I’m gay grandma.” I managed a painful smile, trying to hide my panic. “Um, surprise?”
She stared at me for a long moment, with absolutely no emotion, then turned back to face the television, nodding. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was stretched thin.
An eternity passed between us. Onscreen, Mitt Romney was shrieking that if gays were to be allowed to marry, then people would want to marry siblings and animals next. A bead of sweat wound its way down the back of my neck, and the musty stench of our apartment seemed to surround us, suffocating me.
“Okay.” She whispered absentmindedly, more to herself than to me. “Okay.”
Another minute passed. I held my breath the entire time.
Finally, my grandmother twisted around to face me, but instead of making eye contact, she focused somewhere beyond me, to the left of my head. Her shrunken lips, painted a shocking shade of pink, creaked open. “That’s…fine dear. I still…love you.”
I gaped at her, relief spreading all the way down to my toes. “Thank you grandma. You have no idea how much this means to me.”
She smiled, a bit blankly, but still didn’t gaze directly at me. Her fingers were knotting themselves into pretzels on her lap, clenching and unclenching, probably her arthritis acting up. “That…that Ramona girl you are always chattering on about, is she your g-girlfriend?”
“Oh! Yes,” I beamed deliriously, sitting up a bit straighter. “We’ve been together for three years now.” I was absolutely giddy with liberation from my burdening secret. There was uneasiness between us, but I chose to ignore it. I suppose Mitt Romney’s powerful speech in the background wasn’t helping the mood. My headache was getting worse.
“Well that’s nice. Very nice.” My grandmother continued to murmur, in a daze, as she stood up and walked to the kitchen.
“Grandma!” I called, concerned. I followed her to the doorway. “Where are you going?”
She was fumbling with her handbag, slinging the massive purse over her shoulder. “Well to get some ciggs, of course, dear. I definitely need a smoke.” She looked at her wristwatch. “Maybe I’ll swing by the grocery too. Get some more eggs for breakfast?”
“Um,” I said, quite confused. “Err, it’s almost seven. What about dinner?” Shakespeare began to howl in agreement, scratching his grubby paws on my jeans. “Can you buy some cat food there too?”
“Sure, sure. And you…just order Chinese or something. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” She wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and left, slamming the door without looking back.
“Okay grandma,” I shouted hesitantly, watching her hobble out to her car, “Be safe.”
“As always, dearie!” She called, quite cheerfully, back.
In a cloud of dust and screeching wheels, my grandmother sped off down the alleyway, almost taking out a pair of garbage cans and an old stray dog.
I watched her from the window, cradling my throbbing head with both hands.
I swallowed two Advil PMs for my headache. I could take the whole bottle and put a permanent end to it, but instead I take two.
A pair of deep green eyes stares reproachfully up at me from the floor.
"Don't look at me like that Shakespeare," I muttered to my fat blob of a cat, "I think this lovely migraine of mine deserves a bit more attention than your belly." He yowls, fluffy grey tail winding in and out of my legs. "Fine, fine," I huff, running my hands through my tangled brown hair, spikey from sweat; "you're the only friend I have left, so I may as well feed you so you don't die ofstarvation."
After a bit of rummaging in the fridge, I find the last can and dump the contents into his dish. "Mixed Grill Delight," apparently. Like adding "Delight" to the name really makes it the caviar of cats.
He doesn’t thank me when I set it in down, just digs right in. Jerk.
I flump onto our lumpy beige couch and flip on the TV to take mind off of everything. Politics. Soap opera. Lady crying because her Chihuahua has an eating disorder. The usual quality American television that we have come to accept. Ooh, a Victoria’s Secret commercial. I was good with this. Hours went by.
At least I wasn’t thinking about my grandmother anymore. After two hours straight of reality shows, my brain had melted into a sad little puddle of goo.
At that moment the doorbell rings. Probably my Chinese food. I heave myself off the couch and trudge over to the door.
Two policemen stood on the step, wearing guns on their belts and solemn expressions.
“Good evening,” the stumpy one on the left said, “I’m sorry to barge in on you so late like this, but something’s happened and we need to ask a few questions.”
“Um, sure.” I said, quite startled. I look around behind them. No gunfights going on. No crazy bitch lady kicking her kids out onto the streets. It was weird to see policemen who weren’t arresting some swearing drunk dude. So why were they here? “Uh, please come in. My name’s Juliet. Juliet Capulet.”
“Thank you very much Juliet,” the stumpy one said, sinking down onto the couch. I caught sight of both of their nametags on their uniforms. Samson and Gregory.
“So,” began the man I now knew to be Officer Samson, “are you familiar with a young lady named Ramona Montague?”
“Um. Yes.” I stuttered. “Very familiar. Extremely familiar. Girlfriend familiar. But why do you need to know?”
Officer Samson sighed, looking to the other policeman for support.
“Well,” began Officer Gregory, swallowing hard, “…she was found on the sidewalk near her house about an hour ago, with gunshot wounds in her eyes, forehead, and heart. If she hadn’t been wearing a silver necklace with her name on it, we wouldn’t have been able to identify her.”
My mind sort of switched off. The walls began to tilt dangerously, and with every second more and more oxygen seemed to be sucked from the air.
“Gregory…” I could hear Officer Samson say, “Yo Greg! Catch the chick, she’s going to faint!”
I did not faint. Instead, I buried my face into the policeman’s crisp blue uniform and sobbed, for an embarrassingly long amount of time, leaving two wet circles and a lovely smear of snot right below his shiny badge. That sight actually cheered me up the tiniest little bit. But not by much. I stayed plastered to the officer for a while. He was fat, and comfortable to lean on.
“So, uh…Juliet,” began Officer Gregory tentatively, after I had detached myself from his now ruined shirt, “we just wanted you to know the news first. There’ll be a small ceremony for her next week.”
I nodded, knowing if I tried to speak I would start crying again.
“And if you ever need anything, just call, okay?”
I nodded again. They wanted to leave, desperately. Away from this snotty teary girl who hadn’t showered in two days. Home to their wives, maybe their kids. Home to their happy families who loved them.
“Alright then,” said Officer Samson, “Good luck, okay?”
The two men lumbered down the steps out to their car. I saw Officer Gregory looking disgustedly at his uniform. Cranking up their radio to some Nirvana, they sped off down the alley, leaving me once again, alone.
Bed has always been a comfort. In my nest of cool sheets and fluffy pillows I could relax and let mind wander to wherever it desired. I closed my eyes. Shadows licked over the room, and the wake of silence unfurled in the dark. An itch soon spread over my body. The entire bed was coated in a fine layer of shedded cat fur. Thank you, dear cat of mine.
Tonight though, nothing could comfort me. Even under the safety of two comforters and an old patchwork quilt stitched with good memories in the seams, I felt cold. Rocking to the lullaby of madness in the temperate dark, I tried to calm my roaring mind.
Ramona, the only person who could make me feel safe, was gone. Dead. Murdered for no logical reason in the world.
Now I was alone in a vast ocean of constellations. Time reached for me and swallowed me whole.
I stretched out my hand and stroked the dent in my mattress where she always used to lie, on those nights when her parents were bent on torturing her.
I wanted to tell Ramona so many things. But more than anything, I wanted to hold her so close I would be able to feel her heart beat through her ribs, so close that her bones would become mine.
Shakespeare pounced on my moving fingers, mistaking them for a mouse.
“Stupid cat!” I spat, “Can’t you see I’m hurt enough already?” He looked up at me questioningly. “Just get out of here.” I pleaded, voice quaking. “Go!” I shoved him off the side of the bed. He landed with a thump on the ground (stupid cat couldn’t even land on his feet like he was supposed to) and padded out my door, meowing indignantly.
Oh great. Now I didn’t even have a cat to make this night feel less alone.
The now familiar sting of tears burned my eyes, blurring the inky darkness and stroking my heart.
I turned over my pillow and let out a long, shuddery sigh.
Madness will always find tragedy in the spaces between static thoughts. Death is becoming a gentle lover in my mind, and the shadows seem to move stars to find me.
I think I must have fallen asleep then, because it was nearly two in the morning when I heard a knock on my bedroom door.
"Come in." I mumbled sleepily. My grandmother tiptoed in, gently closing the door behind her. She made her way towards me in the darkness.
"Hi grandma," I said, sitting up and rubbing the dried tears from my eyes, "where’ve you been?"
She stared at me, the dim moonlight swallowing her features in shadow. "I won't have a dyke for a granddaughter," she croaked slowly, "I've raised you better than that."
I looked up at her in sleepy shock. "Grandma, I'm sorry, I thought you didn't care."
"No. I'm sorry," she muttered hoarsely. I could smell the gin on her breath. "I'm sorry that you chose to live a life of sin…. At least now that wretched girl Ramona is out of your life-"
“Ramona was murdered! Shot to death! How can you say that about her?” My body was burning with rage, and sadness.
“I say this because I can’t have you dykes running around and poisoning the whole of society!” she roared.
I looked at her again, truly seeing my grandmother for the first time. I guess I knew she didn’t approve of homosexuality, but I realized now she actually hated me, her only granddaughter, for the sole fact that I loved someone different. How long had she been holding these feelings inside of her? Ramona’s face flashed into my mind, and the familiar ache settled into my chest again.
My grandmother sighed heavily, looking me straight in the eye. I looked back at her, seeing my own tired confusion reflected in her dilated pupils. "I just can’t have you stupid dykes ruining everyone’s lives.” she whispered dangerously, “I won’t allow it."
And from her handbag, she pulled out a gun.
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