Watching her die was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.
Most would dismiss her as ‘troubled’ or ‘disturbed.’ Her life was too messy to want to be involved, too chaotic to touch. Men would have gladly touched her body, but they wanted no part of the deepness that came with touching her soul. I wanted both.
Most would say it was the madness of the world that drove her down, but I knew differently. It was madness she chased. She chased it because she knew the world was dark. And some people can only make sense of their own darkness by feeling how dark the rest of the world is. Most people thought her darkness was as black as night, but I knew differently. Her darkness was nothing more than a storm cloud compared to the nighttime sky she chased.
But what most never discovered was if you were willing to get close enough to her, you’d be showered with a life-giving rain.
Saturday nights we would sit on her father’s screened porch, drink Mountain Dew, and share a joint. It was a spiritual ritual we’d practiced for years.
“Do you think there’s a God?” she asked.
“Dunno,” I said. “Maybe.”
She sat atop the chair with her legs folded, small feet protruding from her cat-like figure. “It’s the wrong question.”
I propped the roach on the tray and peered into the deep wells of her eyes. A lovely labyrinth flowed through those tunnels, each turn taking you deeper into a thousand worlds, each birthing thousands more. I would never be able to explore that chaotic beauty to its end. But everything in me wanted to try. “Then why’d you ask it?”
She flashed her amazing smile. Rows of pearls under muted lipstick shone against her chestnut skin. “To see if you knew it was the wrong question.”
“You’re testing me?”
“Helping you,” she said flatly before picking up the blunt and taking a long drag. She inhaled deeply, then let an offering of smoke float from her open mouth. It drifted upward, tangled by the slow-wheeling fan. “Helping you understand. You already know the answer.”
“Do I?” I smirked.
She met my eyes. “You know there’s a God.”
I hardened my face, but the look I gave didn’t reflect my spirit. She often flirted with presumptiveness, having a way of striding through the clutter of complicated relationships, releasing arrows at what she deemed the heart of the matter in almost any conversation. I would have told her how arrogant it was, if she were ever wrong. But she wasn’t. She had the kindest way of backing you into a corner and slowly undressing all your protective layers. If there was a God, he had gifted her with a unique and most lovely skill set.
“Let’s say you’re right,” I answered, sitting erect. Presenting it as a theoretical proposition felt like it made me look wiser. I couldn’t match her intellect, but I enjoyed mimicking it. “Then why don’t I care?”
“Now that’s the right question.” She laughed again. I wanted to kiss her. That’s when I knew. I did believe in God. There was no way she could be a random collection of particles. I’d seen pictures from space telescopes, colorful stars, planets and nebulae, and whatever the hell else there was out there. But the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen sat perched in a chair across from me. ‘God is love,’ I remember hearing. And she was lovely. There had to be a God. “And you do care,” she added, drawing her fingers through her hair and pursing her lips. Her eyes grew round, notifying me I should be surprised at the statement. “You’re just afraid.”
How was she always right? How did she always know? “Afraid of what?” I played along with false antagonism.
She unfolded her legs, planted her feet on the ground, and held out her hands. Her nails were always painted black, matching her eyes. “You tell me.”
I’m no philosopher, but I’ve lived long enough to know the reason we don’t tell the truth is because we’re afraid. Afraid of how it might make us look. Afraid we will incur judgment from other people. We fear the consequences of the truth. But she had no use for anyone who spent so much time managing their own image.
I grasped her hands, warm and firm. God flowed through those hands.
Being in conversation with her was the most threatening thing I’ve ever faced and the most disarming thing I’ve ever experienced. There was no judgment from her if your words matched who you really were. But as soon as you tried to cover up your true self, the conversation would end. And that’s the last thing I wanted. I would have handed over my soul if it meant this night would last forever. And if I wanted her to stay, I had no choice but to let her dismantle me.
“I’m probably afraid of more than I know,” I answered. She only smiled. That statement was one of the truest things I’ve ever said. I feared losing her. And I was afraid telling her would drive her away. I feared that night would end too soon. All those fears were about one thing: being separated from her.
There was a sinking feeling in my gut, and I knew. I knew those fears would come true. Every one of them. Ella was too lovely to keep, too angelic to contain. The world was a cage to her — a cage far too small.
I traipsed up to her casket and brushed my finger across her cold cheek. She still looked good enough to kiss. But red lipstick? “Fucking idiots,” I mumbled. “You never wore red lipstick.” I knew wherever she was, she was laughing at the comment. The thought cooled my spirit.
I stared at her closed eyes. I thought about lifting her lids and staring into those deep wells one last time. If I could only run through that labyrinth again, maybe I could find my way to the other side of her soul.
“I never told you what I was afraid of,” I whispered. My voice drew a few looks from people scattered around the room, jabbering about the food or how pretty she looked in the casket. None of them understood her like I did. None of them had ever been willing to travel down the rabbit hole of her soul. It didn’t matter. It was time for my confession. I only needed one sentence.
“I was afraid of losing you.”
For all her chaos, for all her darkness, Ella Dujardin differed from anyone I’d ever met. She never let the darkness keep her from being honest with herself. It made her strangely incorruptible. She was never concerned about chasing admiration. At least, not mine. I think that made me love her all the more.
Every Saturday night I catch a flicker of her hands stretching toward me. Her chestnut-skinned hands, crowned with dark-tipped nails. But as soon as I turn, they disappear. As soon as I reach, she vanishes. I cry. And pray. But one day, I know I’ll grasp those hands again. The hands that held my soul, taught me truth, and showed me God. The hands of Ella DuJardin.