It was eerily beautiful the morning of Carmen’s funeral. Everything went perfect, as if Carmen had a hand in directing it all. Barnard was cordial enough to allow me to handle the funeral arrangements, and of course, I sent my girl away grand. Her casket was teal, with a silk cream lining, surrounded by cream colored orchids, roses, and calla lilies – all Carmen’s favorites. A montage of photos played on the screens that hung from the ceilings and uplifting tunes crooned from the speakers.
Carmen wasn’t particularly religious, but my even at my mother’s insistence my father couldn’t say no to me in my grief. He’d given me the church on short notice, but I declined his offer to preach. I didn’t see the point of preaching at people in the middle of their grief. Death had its own way of making you think of your mortality, and your need to set things right; it certainly didn’t need the help of a loud mouth preacher trying to capitalize on people’s pain. Even if that preacher man was my father.
Instead, I allowed a few of Carmen’s friends and family a moment to speak, with her immediate family gaining the most time. Two of her favorite vocalist sang us into snot and tears, followed by a reading of her favorite poem and a fifteen-minute moment of reflection. During this time, we asked each person to write a prayer of peace for Carmen and a message of love and healing for those she left behind. Instead of flowers, we dropped the prayers onto Carmen’s casket, and collected the messages of love to divide between her family and friends to read whenever they saw fit. I kept three.
Carmen’s family requested she be buried in the family plot back home, but I wanted her here. I wasn’t ready to let her go completely, I needed a place to be with her…even if “her” was now a corpse, six-feet beneath the ground. Again, Barnard came to my rescue – as the next of kin it was up to him where she’d be buried, and he wanted her here.
“You took my baby away fifteen years ago, and now you deny her the right the rest with her family? Even in death…you will not let her go! Why?” I recalled her mother’s wailing at me after the funeral. She’d begged me one last time to let them take her home, but I refused. I knew it was wrong, but I was in hurting. I was selfish. I was guilty for what I had done…to Carmen, and I wasn’t ready to give her up.
“You will have no peace until you let her rest!” Her mother cursed me in anger as Carmen’s sister, Victoria, tore her from the church. She returned to apologize for her mother’s behavior, but I didn’t need it; her mother hadn’t said anything wrong.
I wasn’t in the mood for cliché condolences and emotional eating, so I stole away to the guest house, to get a moment alone. I’d settled in on the California King bed that took up much of the bedroom, when I heard a toilet flush. After a few moments, a familiar face emerged. It was one of Carmen’s close cousins, who was also a friend of mine, Monica Monet-Baldwin
We’d all gone to college together and Monica and her roommate…well, wife…used to hang with us pretty tight, before we found out about their little lesbian rendezvous. Eventually they ran off and got married and we remained cordial; but I hadn’t had the pleasure of enjoying her company in a long while. She was an intoxicating woman, nothing like Carmen, so I made a genuine effort to keep my distance. I didn’t want to be seduced into anything I couldn’t handle.
“Oh…I’m sorry, Monica. I didn’t expect anyone to be in here.”
“No, it’s fine.” She said, dabbing a tissue on her eyes. “I just needed a moment of silence…and to relieve myself, obviously. Guess you did too, huh?”
I nodded and smiled. Monica took a seat on the armchair across from the bed and we both sat for a moment soaking in the silence. She pulled out a black flask with the words Long Live Death engraved across the front, and took a long sip.
“You need a shot?” she offered before recapping the bottle. I declined. I wasn’t sure if it was tasteless or fitting – especially not from a container marked long live death.
“When’s the last time you saw her?” I blurted out trying to block the tears fighting to escape my eyes.
“Tuh…” Monica sipped again, “It’s been a minute.” She put her head down and pursed her lips. “She’d asked me to come several times, but I was just so busy…you know? Especially after the wreck and all. Sidney’s still a complete mess. She’s only now beginning to get her memory back.”
Sidney was Monica’s college roommate, turned wife, who was recently in a horrendous car accident that left her aunt dead and herself barely hanging on. She endured several surgeries and was in an out of a coma for several weeks before she woke up with retrograde amnesia, which left her unable to remember anything that’d happened within the two years leading up to the incident. I remember Carmen mentioning they were moving in the area to get a “fresh start” on life, but I hadn’t realized they’d already made the move. With Carmen gone, it’d be good to have another old face around. I hoped.
“Never-mind that.” She continued, pulling a mirror from her purse. “How are you holding up? I know you and Carmen were going through a difficult time…did you…make up before…?” Her question lingered, I didn’t need her to finish.
“We…didn’t.” I put my head down. I couldn’t catch the tears before they fell. “I..um…I’d come to the house the night she went missing. I got here after she’d already gone.”
“I’m sorry.” She cocked her head and stared at me. “I know how much she loved you. And she knew you loved her.” She exchanged her seat in the armchair for a seat at the foot of the bed, nearer me. “She understood your fear, and despite her threats I think she’d want you to know she never planned to out you. She thought threatening you might encourage you to come out the closet, but she wasn’t going to put you out like that. She loved you too much for that.” She leaned forward and touched my hand. Her dark brown skin was smooth, warm.
“I know…she’d never.” I allowed her hand to linger. There was a sadness in her eyes – no, exhaustion – like she had a few secrets of her own that she was tired of dealing with. “I just, I’m so sorry that she died before I could get her to understand…it wasn’t her…I just…”
“She got it. She didn’t want to get it, but she got it. I mean I’d tell her all the time, you can’t even accept your own sexuality, much less burst out the closet with an androgynous woman. That’s why she did…poorly…the femme thing.” She rolled her eyes. “I don’t know what it was about you, but you had a hold.” She smirked, “…she certainly didn’t get that desperate quality from the family. We’re usually the ones with the…hold.”
That was a reference to Sidney. She’d always been like a lost puppy behind Monica, it didn’t matter what the girl did or said, Sidney always came back, like a loyal dog. Carmen even told me they liked to play games to spice up the marriage…they’d carry on intense love affairs with other people just to see if that person could pull them away…or some crazy shit like that. It was some lesbian debauchery. All the more reason I knew I needed to steer clear.
“Honestly, I have no idea. I’m as plain as they come, Monica. Unlike yourself.” I smiled and threw my head back, “…on second thought, I’ll have some of that if you’re still offering.” I pointed to the flask in her hand. She tossed it my way.
“Ahh…you’re not plain.” She waved her hand. “You just don’t make any effort.” She said, her eyes lowered. “I mean, I’ve seen your sister and she’s absolutely stunning. So, I don’t see how you think you’re not. Just…do what she does.” She shrugged as if she’d just mentioned a well-known portion of my life, but Ameya wasn’t well-known. The only people who knew of her were myself, Barnard, my mother, and Carmen. How in the hell did she know about her?
“I’m sorry, what?” I shook my head in confusion and widened my eyes as if she’d spoken a language I couldn’t comprehend. She retorted with a look that told me she didn’t realize she’d said anything wrong.
“Oh…what, was I not supposed to know or something? I mean, Carmen’s been talking to her nearly a year now, I just assumed…”
“WHAT?’ I was taken aback; surely, she was mistaken. Carmen discovered Ameya the same time I did…and that was not “nearly a year” ago.
“Shit. I mean, Carmen didn’t tell me it was some big secret. I thought it was general knowledge but you know, it’s been a few months since I’d spoken to her about it. Last I’d heard, she was supposed to set you two up for a meeting. Did that ever happen?”
“Oh…she set us up all right.” I tried to hide my expression so I could get as much information as I could. “I just didn’t realize she’d told anyone. We were…trying to keep it between us. I haven’t even had a chance to tell the girls or Derrick about her yet…. it’s a lot to take in.” She gave me a look that said she wasn’t buying my bullshit.
“mmm…I see.” Her smile was curious, but she didn’t pry. “Well yea…you know what? I think that’s cue for me and my big mouth to head back inside. Carmen told you we moved here, yes?” She stood and grabbed a red Birkin bag from the coffee table. The red in the bag was a perfect match to the red Versace jacket she wore over cream colored pants. Obviously, red bottoms clicked on the hardwood beneath her feet. She walked, and looked, as if she were on a runway. Even the designers would be impressed.
“She did….I didn’t realize you’d moved already. Are you here permanently or…?”
“Yes, permanent.” Her face shifted to an uncomfortable look, “..we have a little situation that we can’t seem to shake. So, I figured I’d put some distance between us…and it.”
“Ah…yes. Forgive my rudeness. How are you holding up since the accident? I heard about Aunt MiMi, I’m so sorry. She was such a character.”
Aumt Mimi was Sidney’s Aunt, who served as a mother figure after something happened to Sidney’s mom. I wasn’t sure what, but I knew enough to know they were close…and MiMi’s death in conjunction with the accident had to be tough.
“I’m fine. People die, you know? I don’t know why everyone makes such a big deal abo—” She realized what she was saying and cut herself off. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a bitch. It’s just….the way I was raised.”
“Sure.” I feigned a smile. I’m sure she wouldn’t feel that way if it were her precious Sidney laid up in this casket.
“Well…anyway. Let me head back inside and leave you to it. Call me, if you ever need to talk. I’d be happy to get together sometimes. Despite what you might think, we don’t bite.” She cat-walked her way to the double doors leading toward the backyard. She’d already opened the door when she stopped and turned if she’d forgotten something.
“Oh!” She reached inside her purse and pulled out a small envelope. “Don’t mention this to Barnard, but it’s only right that you have this. She said you loved this little cottage so much…” she pointed around the guesthouse, “…she wanted to surprise you with your own.”
She handed me the envelope which contained a small key with a photo of a property I’d never seen. Also inside envelope was a deed, in my name to the property in the photo. Monica explained the cabin used to be hers, but she’d acquired a new one and didn’t see the need in keeping this one.
“She was going to surprise you with it as an apology for the threat, but …well…life…” For a moment, the pain flashed across her brow and settled into the lock in her jaw; but she wouldn’t let it linger. As if she sensed her own vulnerability, she quickly recovered and left me with one last piece of information.
“I know, for a fact, Barnard didn’t kill Carmen, so you can stop spinning that tale. You knew Carmen, but you didn’t know her. Only what she wanted you to know…rather, allowed you to know. But your best friend had needs this life couldn’t fulfill… so she indulged them elsewhere…and you weren’t the only one leaving trails of broken hearts. You don’t know everything you think you know. Just…let the police do their job. Okay?”
She stared a few seconds more before departing, leaving me alone with my questions and confusion. A mixture of emotions swelled in my throat and I didn’t know if I needed to vomit or cry. I lunged for the toilet and dry heaved for several minutes before the grief escaped. I shrieked and moaned for what felt like an eternity, before falling against the small porcelain sink, my right arm resting on the toilet seat.
I was angry…Carmen had betrayed my trust, not only had she told my business…but she’d lied to me. She’d already know about Ameya…so why go through the hassle of setting me up to believe otherwise? And what the hell did Monica mean by I wasn’t ‘the only one leaving trails of broken hearts’? Carmen had other…lovers?
I fumed with envy at the thought and let out a sob of anger mixed with anguish. Sliding around on my bottom, I kicked the door shut and leaned my back against the nearby wall. My agoraphobia would make me pay for this with a bleach scrub later, but for now this bathroom was my sanctuary. I pulled my knees into my chin and slumped my shoulders, trembling from the agony of it all. Tears streamed from my eyes and I allowed them to flow, partly for Carmen but mainly (and maybe even selfishly) for myself.