Cheryl and I huddled together for warmth as we sat on the ground in the dark. We were seventeen, and I loved her the way only one seventeen year old can love another. I knew enough about astrology at the time to know that she was a Scorpio, and that she might be impressed by my suggestion that we go drink the bottle of wine stolen from Cheryl's mother in the cemetery down the road from her house.
Her face glowed a dim white in the almost-full moonlight. Long before either of us knew what a "goth" was, she had dyed her blonde hair black, and lined her bright blue eyes with black mascara. Some made jokes about how she was a vampire -- personally, I admired how she had found a way to both annoy her parents and make herself more beautiful.
She ran her hand through the grass at the foot of the grave. We sat at the grave of teenage boy who had died the year we were born. Although the cemetery was well-groomed, a wild crop of white clover flowers had broken out around the grave.
"No one's visited here in a long time," Cheryl said. "But it's like God put these here, to let him know he wasn't forgotten.
I kissed her. I had to. She wasn't expecting it. Cheryl saw order in most things, and tried to impose it on the rest. It was my way of telling her that things don't always go according to plan, and that wasn't always a bad thing.
I hadn't seen Cheryl in days. Christmas has come and gone, and she was housebound. The father who was never home was home, and the mother who was never sober was drying up. She found her place in the middle of this, riding herd on both of them. I had seen her in action this way once before, and for all her shy teenage awkwardness, she could be a fierce taskmaster.
It had been her self-appointed duty to keep order in her home, and that meant there was no time for boyfriends or cemeteries. We were only able to talk briefly on the phone, in short bursts in between domestic havoc. Her father hated that she spoke to boys at all, and her mother was always afraid that the terribly-kept secret of her alcoholism would slip out.
"You can't control everything, you know," I had told her on the phone.
"Someone has to do it," she said. She hung up quickly, as someone was coming.
I walked to her house that night and with my finger drew little white flowers in the frost on her bedroom window. I hoped that she would see them, and know I had made them for her.
Things had gotten out of control at home -- beyond even her iron-willed ability to keep order. She had grown more silent and more withdrawn of late as the situation at home got worse. The last I had heard from her is that she had mostly given up on her parents, and was contemplating going to her Aunt's house, and that she would call me from there.
"You shouldn't be handling this all on your own," I told her. "You can't."
"Someone has to try. I --"
Cheryl was interrupted by the sound of breaking glass in another room, and had to go.
It was Monday, and I hadn't spoken with Cheryl since Friday evening. I tried to sneak out of class that morning to go see her, but couldn't.
The PA came on for the morning announcements. The final item was about Cheryl. It was briefly announced that she had passed away.
"Passed away" has always sounded to me like something that was carelessly allowed to slip off the kitchen table and break. The truth is that Cheryl had hidden the full depths of how bad her home life had been, even from me.
She had opened her wrists and let the life flow out of her while her parents were too busy hating each other to notice. The only witness to her end were the little white flowers on the bathroom wallpaper.
Wherever she went to, I hope Cheryl's intensity and bravery are better appreciated than they were here. And wherever she has gone, I hope she saw the little white flowers I planted there for her with my prayers.
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