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Goodbye Jesus



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The official story is that Marianne killed herself. That kind of thing looks good on paper, but we all knew there was no way. Other kids, we could see them taking pills like tic-tacs, goth posers making the next obligatory cut a little too deep, boys who would leave their brains splattered on the wallpaper, their names splattered on the front page. Not her though. Those others, no matter how surprised you acted when their names showed up in your paper there was always something, the word hunger outlined in the curl of a lip, in the curve of an iris. Suicides were always hungry. No matter what the weapon, they always died of starvation. Marianne didn’t have that look.


I sound like I knew her a lot better than I did but we weren’t best friends or anything. Not really even friends in a ‘hey, I sit next to you in Spanish can I borrow your notes?’ kind of way. I don’t think anyone really knew Marianne. She was just there, a constant: on the way to the classroom there’s Marianne sprawled out by the lockers with her headphones on, or during lunch there’s Marianne trying to wheedle an extra hotcake out of Becky, or when the bell rings there’s Marianne flicking a cigarette into the dirt before the students can rat on her for smoking on school property.


Of course they wouldn’t. No one would rat on Marianne, though there wasn’t any real reason to keep silent. She wasn’t mean: she wasn’t going to beat you up if you ratted on her. Maybe that’s why we didn’t do it. Respect. Or maybe it was because doing so would mess up the system. You can only count on so many things staying the same when you’re a teenager. No one wanted to mess with the stability Marianne gave us.


I don’t think she ever went to class. The bell would ring once and Marianne would be leaning up against the wall, snapping her gum or shredding loose paper with her fingernails (always polished bright red) directly into the garbage can on her right. The bell would ring an hour and a half later and you’d find Marianne still standing there, still ripping into the crumpled sheets of paper she pulled out one sheet at a time from the faded denim bag she kept slung on her hip.


Teachers didn’t seem to bother with Marianne. Perhaps she was a constant for them too. Something you could rely on when the weather changed or when the grant fell through or when another budget cut swept away another classroom, another job. You could blink your eye and so many things would go away, just disappear forever, right in front of you, but then there’d be Marianne in the halls, shredding paper like always, and you could go on because at least something stayed.


I didn’t know Marianne’s parents. I suppose she had to have some, but I never saw them and she never mentioned them. They were probably regular people. They might have sat around the kitchen table and talked about each other’s days and ate pot roast and fought about money and all the rest of that stuff regular families do. Marianne would have a sister, or maybe a brother. Yeah. A younger brother, a bouncing baby brother she read stories to and kissed goodnight. Probably, they both spent a lot of time in Marianne’s room, her and her baby brother, ripping paper into shreds and tossing it up in the air so it would surrounded them like snowfall.



It wasn’t like no one ever talked to her. We’ve all said hi to her in the halls at least once. Or sometimes you’d bump into her in the cafeteria and you’d apologize while she tried to balance the extra hotcakes on her tray and they’d tip and bob and wobble like a snake about to strike while she steadied the tray on her palms. You’d apologize and she’d smile at you, like she was forgiving you everything, everything wrong you might have done up until then, and she’d nod and you’d already be leaving to sit with your friends or grab a soda from the machine.


She spoke to me only once. I had skipped out of second period, claiming that I had stomach cramps and needed to see the nurse. Male teachers don’t question you about that kind of thing. They don’t want to know about headaches or hormones or how you can bleed for so long, bleed right through cotton underwear or pleated skirts, or how sometimes you feel your insides wrenching and twisting until you’re sure there’s nothing left inside of you to come out. They don’t want to hear about your body’s failure to procreate every month.


It was a dignified exit. I had calmly put up my hand and requested permission to leave. I didn’t glance over my shoulder at Gina Roberts, who might have been showing her new ring to her friends, the one with the simple gold band with the letter “S” traced in fake diamonds on it. The band Sean Peterson used to wear on his left hand. The one he had promised to give to me once he found a way to break it off with Gina. That ring.


Like I said, it was a dignified exit. I didn’t run until I was well out of range of the classroom. I didn’t cry until I was safely in the second stall of the girl’s washroom. If I wasn’t so busy wiping snot off my face with toilet paper leaves I would have congratulated myself on my superb self-control.


She swept into the washroom a few minutes later. I saw the ends of her ratty jeans, two sizes too big for her, trailing on the floor, flowing over her sneakers into neat sections where she had slashed them open with a pocketknife last year. Her red nails clicked on the stall door, acknowledging my presence. I flushed the toilet to hide my sniffles and waited.


When I had mopped my face enough I opened the door to find her waiting for me, just sitting against the wall by the sinks, hands folded in her lap. She looked right at me. I might have nodded at her before I turned away to wash my hands. I don’t remember exactly. It was somehow disturbing to have her looking at me. Like she knew all my secrets, even the ones I hadn’t figured out about myself yet.


“Have you ever been to the ocean?”


At first I thought I had drifted off in class or something. Like maybe this was a dream and I wasn’t really in the second-floor girl’s bathroom and Marianne hadn’t really spoken to me and Gina Roberts really wasn’t wearing Sean Peterson’s ring. But then she spoke again and she was looking at me and I had to answer this ridiculous question while the soap dried on my hands.


“Well, have you?”


“Yes,” I said, “once.”


She was silent for a while, considering this, and I went back to washing my hands, taking care to rinse every knuckle, every place his left hand had touched mine when we walked down by the quarry last Tuesday. I washed my ring finger twice. It wasn’t until I had turned off the tap and was drying my hands on some paper towels that she spoke again.


“What was it like, the ocean?”


“Big,” I said at once. “Beautiful. Like all the shades of blue in the world are coming together and they’re moving back and forth and in and out…” I stopped myself before I could sound any more foolish. If Marianne noticed my blush she didn’t comment.

After a few moments of silence, I couldn’t help myself.


“Why do you want to know?”


“Do you ever get the feeling that you don’t belong here? That you’re supposed to be somewhere else?”


I remember frowning at her, at the idea that she could even consider being anywhere else, that she might have other plans than that of being our stability. She wasn’t looking at me though. Or maybe she was looking at me but she wasn’t seeing me. She was somewhere else, looking at something else. Maybe the ocean. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you what she saw.


“Sometimes,” she confided, “sometimes I think that maybe I’m a mermaid.”


I admit, I had wondered if maybe Marianne smoked something other than those cheap cigarettes. But her eyes were clear and focused. She wasn’t smiling.


“And what if I’m supposed to be in the sea, right now, doing mermaid things, but I can’t because I’m stuck here in this body and I’ve forgotten how to get home.”


I watched her pink lips open and close, her red nails tap nervously against the tile as she spoke. I watched her eyelashes flicker as she said the word “forgotten” and then I could see all the shades of blue rush together in her eyes, swirling azure, cerulean, sapphire, all rushing together into a deeper blackness that threatened to swallow me whole if I didn’t look away soon.


She understood, I think. She closed her eyes.


I had to take a few moments to breathe, to settle myself before I could think of something to say to her.


“You are home.”


Her eyes snapped back open and I had to look away quickly, before they captured me again.


“What?” she asked, and I could tell that she really wasn’t asking me to repeat myself. She was asking for permission. She was asking for permission to go away, to mess up the one constant thing in our lives. She was asking for permission to not be Marianne anymore.


I thought about Gina and Sean and all the other things that had gone away. I thought about telling her that she should forget about mermaids, forget about the ocean. I thought about telling her that she belonged here with us.


And then I remembered her eyes looking through me. I remembered her hands folded in her lap, her bag sealed shut, without a shred of paper in sight. I remembered that she had never spoken to me before and I knew it was too late.


“You’ll come back, right?” I asked, hating the need in my voice, hating her for putting it there. “Promise?”


She smiled at me, and it wasn’t a forgiving smile. “Promise.”


The next day, Marianne wasn’t at school. I suppose the teachers must have called her parents and her parents must have called the police because soon the place was crowded with saggy, balding detectives all interviewing us so that they could find out where she went. I told them to look near the ocean, knowing it wouldn’t matter now,

if I gave away her hiding place.


Apparently, they found her jeans and bag washed up on the shore a few weeks later. The official story is that Marianne killed herself. That’s bullshit though because she promised me. Marianne wouldn’t break a promise.


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This is different. I thought it was well-written and descriptive.

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