Lauren left and weeks passed. It was like she had never been there. My life started to unfold rather pleasingly – contrary to all expectations. Sure, I missed her with every minute that went by, but I kept myself busy by studying for my G.E.D. tests … I passed. Also, I started writing some pages about my experiences in the house – in order to keep my publicist happy. I had a book deal, as you remember, and my therapist said it might be therapeutic to pen my emotions and memories down. It wasn’t. It kept me up at night, reliving all what had happened in my mind. About what John did to me.
I like the writing part, though. If I had discovered anything during my captivity – apart from my experienced level of lesbianism – it was my love for books.
Luckily, there was Ellen. She and I reconnected on a whole new level. She found a way to deal with the guilt and decided to stay around as long as possible to help me with things. College could wait. Economics wasn’t her thing anyway, she had her mind set on becoming a lawyer now. So there was time to waste, while somehow taking care of me.
We went out shopping, we talked about the possibilities, a future. Things started getting better. Even Lauren disappeared from my mind every now and then. It was an improvement. Every day felt so. Slowly, I had good hopes for leaving it all behind.
But just as I was determined to quit counseling, I found my traumas tying a rope around my neck again at a bar late at night. As I was dancing and having fun with Ellen, a guy appeared in front of me. He was just an ordinary man, but he had brown, greasy hair. Familiar hair. His body was skinny, his eyes piercing. He had this look, you see. A look I’d seen before. The person reminded me of John, just for a brief split-second. And within that same second, I screamed both internally as out loud and ran for the exit. Ellen, not really sure about what was happening, followed me in a panic. She held me in her arms while I cried for a half an hour on the sidewalk. Then she called a taxi, then she took me home. The next day, I went back to therapy.
Spring has passed and summer’s here when I start counting how many days since I last saw Lauren. I lost track. I never thought that would happen.
There’s the people who surround me every day, who make it easier for me to cope with this phase of my life. I’ve made new friends in the old neighborhood we moved back to. But there’s nobody like her. Not a single person. Nobody who can actually relate.
I wonder how she is, what she’s doing, who she’s with. We’re not calling or texting anymore. I’ve decided to give her some space. Ellen thinks it’s a wise decision. It’s bold and brave, she says. I know exactly what it is: lonely. The first few days, we couldn’t help ourselves. We kept in touch, anxiously grasping on to the best of our memories. But I asked her to forget about me for a while, because whatever it was that we were doing, wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t anything near progress. In order to heal, we had to be apart for some time. To figure ourselves out – our lives, our expectations, our desires. She listened.
The thing I do, though, is stare at her picture late at night. My eyes absorb the beautiful perfection of her face and the way the wind was playing with her hair when the picture was shot. It helps to calm me down, even on the worst days.
Today is … not a bad day. Ellen, Mamá and I went out for lunch and I had dinner with Papá at a restaurant, but that’s about the only thing that happened. The rest of it was dedicated to writing. Writing and rereading and rewriting. And reliving it all.
I have this little laptop I drag around all the time. Whenever I feel inspired, my body sits down wherever it is I’m at and my fingers start flying across the keyboard. Almost fifty pages. Fifty pages of rambling and terrible memories. Words that describe how much hurt and pain John has caused. How the touch of his feet against my stomach felt, time after time. And the way he looked at me with his threatening eyes each and every single time I opened up my big mouth. But there’s no consistency, no actually red wire to keep my chapters glued together. I’ll have to work on that …
Still, I’m so glad today is over. I’m ready to put my head on this blue pillow and fall asleep instantly. Except that’s not what happens. I’m in bed and I remain wide awake, staring at the ceiling. I still feel numb, after all those weeks. Numb, yet capable of missing her. So I don’t fall asleep and I count the midnight hours as they pass. This happens every time I go to bed. A new habit, so to speak.
After a while, the sound of the vibration modus of my phone surprises me. I’m agitated, because I finally started feeling sleepy. I push myself up on my elbow and shove away the hairs in front of my face.
Blocked. A private number. Great! Hesitantly, I pick up and ask who’s there. A few seconds pass and there’s not a single sound to be heard. All I recognize, is soft breathing. Breathing that’s engraved in my memory like the taste of sugar. I sit up straight and turn on the light. My bare feet touch the ground. It’s cold.
“Lauren.” I finally say, filled with hope, letting her know I figured it out.
I’m up on my feet now, walking towards the window. She sighs on the other side of the line and whispers my name in return. It makes me shiver for a couple of moments. I haven’t heard her for so long. I forgot how a single word of hers can make my heart stop.
“I don’t like my new therapist.” she tells me, like that’s the first thing that’ll pop up in an everyday conversation.
“Then get another one.” I wisely comment.
She smirks through the phone: “It’s the third one already.”
Again, a deafening silence. There’s a million things I want to say, but nothing about them feels important enough to screw up this moment of intimacy. So I open my mouth a few times and shut it right away.
“I miss you.” she admits with a childish undertone.
I’m happy she does. I had hoped for it.
“I miss you too.” is my honest, yet shaky response. “But I need you to do this. I need you to heal.”
Lauren knows what I’m talking about. She figured out I feel responsible for her continuing determination to remain submitted. And even though she loudly protested against it, I guess she finally figured out the truth behind it all.
Instead of answering, we waste another few dollars on silence. Perfect, tensed silence.
“You shouldn’t call me, you know that.” I sigh, trying to add a funny comment. “Imagine what your mom will say.”
She doesn’t even think before replying: “I con’t care. I had to hear you voice tonight.”
Her words warm my heart and that’s enough to make me stop talking. I’d like to whisper an I love you. But it wouldn’t be appropriate. It wouldn’t help at all.
My eyes are drawn towards the moon high up in the sky. There aren’t many clouds surrounding it. Wherever she is right now on this earth, the moon is with her as well. That makes me feel closer to her than I expected. Like we’re connected, somehow.
“Good night, Lauren.”
My soft and tired voice makes her sigh. She sniffs up some courage and probably nods on the other side of the phone.
“Good night, Mariana.”
I hang up the phone and stare at the moon for a while longer. That’s when I decide it’s worth the fight.
Due to everything I’ve been through, I’ve decided to give my Abuela another chance. I feel like my sexuality shouldn’t stand in the way of a relationship with my only remaining grandparent. This feud just feels like another way of being kidnapped. It stops me from truly enjoying the newfound things. Because I can’t stand her being mad at me. This woman has baked me cookies for nineteen years straight. It’s not her fault that she’s religious. It’s not her fault that I fell in love with Lauren. That’s why I’m here, in the middle of her ancient home up North with a freshly baked cake in my hands. My mom’s standing right next to me, still pretty upset about the things that have been said. They haven’t talked since then. But I made her promise she’d try. For me. And so she will.
We both make it a big deal to completely ignore the fact that I’m mourning Lauren’s departure. That girl doesn’t exist to her. And as long as we keep silent about it, the sin isn’t present. That’s good enough for her, apparently. The older woman leads us to the living room.
After some uncomfortable minutes, we both get back to the point where I’m a normal granddaughter and she’s a normal grandmother. Things that were said seem to have never been said. My mother’s remaining rather skeptically. She just sits there and watches our interaction. We talk, eat the delicious cake my mother made, have some coffee and gossip about the neighbors. Things go wonderfully well, until at one point, she starts asking about Ellen, and if she has a boyfriend yet. I smirk and squeeze my eyes. Ellen’s too busy hanging out with me to think about boys. It’s refreshingly miraculous.
“She just got back from New York, Abuela. I think she’s taking a break from dating after breaking all the boys’ hearts in that city.”
She nods with a thoughtful look taking over her face. A short hesitation happens, then she bravely dares to ask: “What about you?”
My heart stops pounding in an instant as my mother’s eyes flare up anxiously.
“What do you mean, what about me?” I snort.
Is she seriously asking about my love live? Abuela shrugs in an awkward way and completely avoids eye contact with me. I hear my heart begging. Begging she’ll be smarter than this. Don’t go there, Abuela. Please, don’t. It was going so well.
“Well … Do you have a boyfriend? I guess you’re over that phase, now the girl’s got a boyfriend herself.” she says.
Oh, but she went there. And she called Lauren ‘the girl’. And she called that Nicholas her boyfriend? Surprisingly, I remain calm and I softly smile, trying to find a way to make it clear for once and for all. Maybe I’m just too offended to act mad.
“I will never be over that phase, Abuela. Simply because it’s not a phase. It’s a big part of who I am. Plus, I’ll never be over that girl. And her name is Lauren.”
But my grandmother bends her head and puts some fingers to her forehead. As much as she’s trying, she simply can’t understand. She can’t get how a girl could be in love with a girl. It’s a sin. It’s against everything she’s ever believed in.
“That guy ruined you, Mariana. He turned you gay by abusing you so much.”
She acts as if he sexually abused me and gave me an aversion of men. But out of all the things John did, that’s the one he never even thought of, I guess. He never tried to inappropriately touch me. Even while I was changing, he’d turn his head away from me.
She knows that. I explained it elaborately to avoid speculation and unresolved questions. So how does she even dare to imply that punching me in the face or kicking me in the back destroyed me sexually?
Suddenly, it hits me. If she’s not trying, why should I? My mom, sighing all annoyed at my side, predicted this. She was right. This is just another version of a person mentally abusing me.
“How dare you say such a thing, Abuela?” I snap. “John didn’t make me gay. He couldn’t if he tried. The only thing he might have accomplished was that I hated every single person in the world for a while. And that I don’t trust people as easily anymore. And maybe, I’m scared that someone else will hurt me as much as he hurt me. But that’s not why I hate him. I hate him because he locked me up in that house for months and he introduced me to Lauren. And I had nowhere else to go, so I got to know her and fell in love with her, just like every other person in the world would, because you know why? She’s a wonderful person. She’s innocent and good and brave. She’s the sole reason why I’m still capable of believing in the goodness of people. She made me accept who I am and just when I got there, that masochistic bastard killed himself and they took her away from me. And now she’s gone and my heart is breaking every single minute when I’m not around her. All there’s left is Mamá and Papá and … and you, who can’t be happy with who I am and the fact that I made it out there – alive and healthy.”
She still isn’t looking at me. That’s when I get up on my feet and frown deeply offended.
“Do you even realize that? I’m alive and healthy, Abuela. And yet, you can’t seem to live with the fact that I found someone to love. That I’m still capable to love after all.”
She shakes her head unconvincingly: “That’s not love, my child. That’s PTSD.”
Her assumptions about psychology shock me. All I can do is laugh about it. Mock her.
“Lauren is not a result of PTSD.”
But as much as I’m trying, I rapidly figure out that my words will never effect her. Why the hell am I even trying? Why am I still putting up this fight? Everything’s finally looking up. I can’t allow her to bring me down again. Someone once did that to me. I have a choice now.
“I don’t know who you are anymore, Mariana.” Abuela silently admits.
Something about her behavior tells me she’s just as disappointed in herself as she is in me. Maybe she thinks she brought me up wrong? That his is her fault. Poor victim in all of this. Poor old, Abuela. Introducing: Sarcasm 1.0., Mariana Diaz style.
“I am still me, Abuela. But it’s convenient for you to convince yourself differently. Because that way, you don’t have to deal with me being gay. And you know what? That’s fine by me. You told me, a while ago, that you searched for me for months. I believe that. I believe you loved me enough to search the entire country for me. And I came back, despite the odds, unharmed and I am still able to be happy, which is rare, as well as great, and magnificent. Now, if me being gay makes you hate me so much, even though I am back … Well, that just makes you the monster. Even John had more compassion than you.”
An exhausted sigh makes me realize how fed up I am with all of this. My hands get thrown in the air and that’s when I decide to just walk away. Without saying another word, I turn around to exit the room. My mom, sitting on the couch silently, seems sad and disappointed about the discussion. A sad tear crosses her right cheek.
Abuela raises her voice one more time, though, to demonstrate her self-assumed higher rank in this family: “If you walk out of here, you’ll never be allowed to come back, Mariana.”
My body freezes the second her sentence ends. My hand’s on the doorknob, which reminds me of a decision I once had to make. Leave or stay – and it could change everything. I turn around to look at her, far away from the other room. Sarcasm drips off my grin as I stare at her, more confident than ever. I’m laughing in her face: “Well, in that case: don’t forget to lock the door behind me.”
I’ve learned to miss the people that love and protect me a long time ago. I’ve learned to miss what I lost. But wasting time on someone who can’t love me for being me – I’m just too tired to even bother. I once had a life without an Abuela. I got used to it. I’ll do it again.
An overly excited and genuine welcoming voice makes me smile. Detective Webb still checks up on me weekly, to see how everything’s going. I stop by at the police station every single time I pass the old building in town. All the people here seem to find hope whenever I walk in when all of it has tragically disappeared. The man wraps his arms around me before guiding me to the coffee room. It still smells like hot chocolate around this place. It still awakens the feelings of being set free for the first time again.
“How are you? You look great! Tell me, tell me, what are you up to?”
He’s too energetic to be an officer of the law. His eyes light up whenever I’m around, like I’m his trophy, his reason to keep fighting the fight. This man does everything for me. He took me to the crossroad where I got abducted a few weeks back when I asked. I’ve been avoiding it all this time. He also showed me my old bike a day later. It’s evidence. And all that time, he stayed next to me, keeping a close eye on me.
I shrug and drop down on the couch that’s become way too familiar.
“Nothing much. I’m trying to write. And I still do therapy three times a week.”
He frowns to express his level of care and puts a warm hand on mine: “Is it working for you?”
He knows something’s wrong. Detective Webb was the first person to talk to me when I got rescued. And he became a loyal friend and caretaker. This man hand-selected the best counselors in town to help my family cope. Maybe he really is my therapist. The one that makes it all better for me.
“I don’t know. There’s stuff … happening.”
Though he might just be a cop, all the life experience this job taught him makes him understand me better than I sometimes do myself.
“You miss Lauren, don’t you? She’s been gone for a while now.”
My lost eyes flare up to him and I immediately nod. Michael, as his name is, never asked what kind of relationship the two of us were in – he knew instantly. He’s a perceptive man, you see. A smart man.
“I do. But I don’t care.” I sigh, filled with confusion.
“You don’t care? Well, you should. You have a job now, this entire life to figure out, a family that loves you. That’s quite remarkable. You should care.”
I nod, feeling number each and every second that passes while thinking of her. It all doesn’t make sense to me. Michael puts his hand on my shoulder to make me look up to him. My uninterested behavior makes him realize something.
“My God. You’re right: you don’t care.” he discovers.
A confused smile lights up my face faintly and I finally look him in the eye.
“I don’t. I really, really don’t. Why should I, right? All that people have ever done is let me down or break my heart or lock me up in a basement. And time after time I was like: ‘Stop caring, Mariana. Just stop caring, it’ll make everything easier.’ But then it turned out I couldn’t and I got too involved again and I got my hopes up and – bam – as soon as I did, I got hurt again. And it’s been one too many, I guess, because I genuinely feel as if nothing can get to me anymore, which – to be honest – feels really fucking great for a change.”
The guy doesn’t even know half of what happened recently, but he patiently sits there and listens. I’m not even exaggerating. I honestly haven’t been experiencing a lot of emotions the last few weeks. Nothing can shake me up anymore, not even my Abuela being a bitch.
“So you’re saying you feel nothing?” he doubtfully wonders out loud.
I shrug, much to his surprise: “Nothing. I can’t even be bothered to think about what people call the important things, because they don’t feel that way to me.”
He sighs, putting his hands in front of his mouth.
“And what about Lauren? You don’t care about her?”
Of course I do. She’s all I care about. The only exception. But that doesn’t matter.
I explain: “When it doesn’t click, and you try too hard … It’ll crack.”
He has no response to that, so he just sits back and studies the way I’m calmly staring out of the window for the next ten minutes.