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Your hair was an unidentifiable shade of red, somewhere between a neon orange, like the traffic cones set up for football practice that you liked to topple while running around like a madwoman, and a dark burgundy, like the couch at your Aunt Sally’s that you swore smelled like dead cat. That messy hair tumbled about your head and cascaded down your back in wild, untamable, beautiful curls.
Your eyes were a vivid, grassy green, the color that the emeralds in that jewelry store you loved (I think it was called Yvonne’s) turned when light shined on them in the middle of the day. I still remember how wide they stretched when you saw those little frog earrings in the corner of the shop, and even though you didn’t ask for them, I got them for you because I saw how excited you were about them. I was just stunned because they matched your enchanting grassy green eyes, right down to the lightest tone.
You hated your skin. It was too pale, you always said. I disagreed. I thought it was smooth and pretty. You said it looked like a vampire’s skin – lifeless. I said it looked like snow – flawless. And sometimes, when I would say things that would make you blush, your skin would turn a soft shell pink, like a flower bursting through the frost on the first day of spring. You were spring to me. You brought me out of my winter of despair and thrust me into a summer of hope.
You complained about your appearance all the time. You were too ugly, you’d always say. Your nose was too big, your lips were too thick, your head was too small. I told you everyday that nothing was too big, nothing was too thick, nothing was too small. I told you that you were the prettiest girl I had ever seen. That’s nice, you would say, but no one else thinks that. I told you that they were crazy for not seeing your beauty, and you would smile that small smile, and let yourself think, just for a moment, that you truly were pretty. But it would fade, and you would return to your thoughtful state, brow furrowed and hands knotted.
I remember when you called me that day. You were so thrilled because Kelsey Jameson, only the most popular girl at your school, invited you to a party later that evening. You said that she really wanted you to be there, that it was important that you went. You were ecstatic. So I swallowed my suspicions over Kelsey Jameson’s change of heart and helped you get ready for the party.
Shyly, you led me over to your closet and asked me to pick out something for you to wear. I pulled out a pair of jeans, a black turtleneck, and a beanie. Confused, you tilted your head and asked me what I was doing. I told you that I didn’t want other boys looking at you because you were mine and mine alone. Laughing a tinkling laugh that sounded like millions of tiny bells ringing in harmony, you slapped my arm and told me that there was nothing to worry about because you only loved me. When you were finally ready, I didn’t want you to go. Stay with me, I’d pleaded, we’ll watch a movie or something. It’s not that I didn’t want you to have fun, it’s just that you looked so incredible when you all dolled up (even though I still liked you more without makeup), that I was afraid that someone else would snatch you up. Instead, you’d gotten cross and said that I wanted to keep you locked up, but you didn’t want to be locked up. I knew that. You were always a free spirit. So you stomped out of the room and took my blue Ford Mustang, the one that was parked outside of your house, to the party.
I tried calling you several times, the first twenty minutes after you left. There must have been at least fifty missed calls on your phone before I finally gave up. I sank into your mom’s red couch – which was nowhere near as wonderful as the color of your hair – and drowned my sorrows in old reruns of older television shows.
You never came home that night.
I woke up around five in the morning the next day, but you still weren’t home. Your mom was out for the weekend with that new beau of hers, so it was up to me to find you. I took your old, scarred, white Volkswagen Beetle and drove all over the town looking for you. It must have looked ridiculous, a tiny white Beetle pushing eighty, frantically driving around, a boy’s head hanging out the window instead of a dog. At last, I found you at Freeman’s Bridge, a bridge at least eighty feet up over a deep gorge. I screeched to a halt and ran out of the car, enveloping you in an embrace you never responded to. That didn’t matter to me. All that mattered was that I found you and you were safe. I felt the coldness from your body and I hugged you closer, hoping that warmth from my body would flow into yours.
After a minute, you gently pushed me away and smiled at me sadly. What’s wrong? I had asked that question three times. You sighed softly and shook your head. You weren’t going to tell me. I persisted. I gripped your hands and made you look me in the eyes. I was shocked to see that they were full of tears. I had to know then. I begged and begged until you finally told me.
It started from the minute you walked into the party. The music shut off, the chatter died down, and all eyes turned to you. You fidgeted under all the attention – you never liked to be the center of anything. You walked into the center of the room, and the guests surrounded you in a circle. That’s when you became uneasy, and you wanted to leave, but you stayed because you wanted to show that you were strong. You thought that it was a sort of initiation into the popular clique. Kelsey Jameson stepped onto the stage and smiled at you, except that it wasn’t a welcoming smile, it was a malicious smile. She said hello to everyone and then looked at you, her dead gray eyes drilling into your vibrant green ones, until she sucked all the life out of you and you were reduced to a quivering pile of nerves. She laughed at you. She laughed and laughed and laughed and all the guests laughed with her. She called you pathetic, weak, and stupid. You drew the line there and snapped at her. She was taken aback, but then twisted her face into an evil smirk. She started telling lies about you, saying that you slept with teachers to get good grades, that you somehow conned me, the most popular guy at my school, into dating you, and that I deserved to be with someone like her, someone more befitting of my social status. You began to cry, but Kelsey Jameson still went on. She grabbed a drink from the nearest cooler and threw it at you, grinning triumphantly when the orange soda spilled all over your new clothes and soaked through your white shirt. The guys whistled at you and the girls giggled, and they in turn took drinks and repeated the actions. They degraded you, the boys had their hands all over you and the girls called you awful names. They made you feel like trash, they made you feel worthless, and when you finally escaped, you believed that you were all those things.
My blood boiled and I was ready kill each and every one of those horrible human beings that affected you this way, but you touched my arm and told me to calm down, that you knew what to do. Foolishly, I nodded, asking you what you thought I should do. You pulled a length of rope out of your pocket and I panicked. You laughed softly and told me you weren’t going to hang yourself. I nodded, relieved. You told me to close my eyes and trust you. I did. I trusted you. You told me to sit down and I suddenly found that I could not move my hands. My eyes flew open and flicked toward you. You brushed hair away from my forehead and pressed your lips against mine, a small, perfect tear falling down your cheek.
You climbed onto the railing of the bridge, your delicate feet perfectly poised over the edge.
“No, please no,” I whispered.
You smiled at me for the last time, a smile of happiness. “Thank you, Tristan, for all the times we shared together,” you said, and turned your head back to the gorge.
“Please, don’t do this to me!” I yelled, struggling to free myself from my bonds.
“I love you, Tristan,” you whispered. Then, without a moment’s warning, your body tipped forward and you fell.
I heard a sickening thump when your body met the ground and I screamed.
My body shuddered in screams and sobs until the police got to the scene, finding me hysterical and you dead.
I remember one police officer asking me your name.
“Isolde Marie Bennett,” I had whispered, and then clammed up, refusing to answer any more questions.
The world would never see your beautiful, wild, untamed, unidentifiable red curls or your enchanting green eyes or your perfect white skin or your beauty, both inside and out and it was because of people who thought too much of themselves and too little of you.
I sit on the muddy ground and trace the letters on the rough stone in front of me. Isolde Marie Bennett. 1990-2008. May your spirit live on.
I grip the stone and cry a horrible, heart-wrenching cry and I sob. It’s been ten years, but the pain hasn’t gone away. The hurt is still there, digging into my soul like a million knives. You don’t know how much I want you here, Isolde. You don’t know how much I want you to still be alive, still be at my side, still be making me laugh.
I love you Isolde.
I love you, I love you, I love you, and you’re not here with me and it hurts. But it’ll be okay. It’ll never be fully okay, of course, since you’re not here with me, but it’ll be okay enough. I started a company now. I called it the Isolde Foundation, and I travel the country giving talks against bullying. You’ve saved so many lives already.
I stand up and dust off my jeans and start to walk back home, my hands stuffed in my pockets and my head bowed in sorrow.
Suddenly, a breeze picks up and rustles the leaves on the maple trees surrounding the cemetery. The others, a woman visiting her cousin’s grave and a man placing flowers on his mother’s grave, don’t notice, but I do.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
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