My name is Maria Fenix, and I have a story to tell...
I'm not too great with words... Not my own, anyway... So you'll have to forgive me if this isn't up to snuff... I'll do the best I can, but it's hard to admit what happened to me. You see...
Someone saved my life.
But let's start at the start.
High school is never what you expect it to be, if history has shown us anything. Lives are built and ruined on the smallest issues, and then forgotten in the blink of an eye.
I was that girl. You know the one I'm talking about. The shy bookworm. Never said two words to the rest of her classmates. The odd chick. Bad at sports, good at academics. I was fourteen at the time, and as far as looks were concerned, I wasn't much to look at. I was taller than most of the other girls at school by half a head, but I was maybe ninety pounds soaking wet. My skin was pale, which never bothered me because it reminded me of my Momma, but it didn't help that my hair was short and black and so were my eyes, like Dad's. I was mistaken for a goth more than a few times in high school...
Goodness knows I tried to get over my phobia of rejection. The number of times I'd turned away from someone... You'd be shocked.
It comes from my relationship with my Dad, I guess... I love him so much... When I was little, Momma passed away, and he was left to raise me on his own. And I think... I think that I saw how much it hurt him... To loose her, I mean. And... It sounds silly when I say it now, but... Well, I guess I decided that I never wanted to get hurt like that. So I never let anyone get close to me.
I even went and got in a fight with my friend at school, Chrissie Smith, just so she wouldn't feel bad about not being my friend anymore...
I also admit that I have what one of my school counsellors once told called a 'maturity complex'. That I had trouble letting go of things from my past. Words, phrases and mannerisms, in particular. Said it was a coping mechanism...
She said it was due to early life trauma, but it never bothers me or my Dad, so... Well... I just figured I should mention it...
So I was alone, somewhat by choice. All through grade school and into high school. Which, of course, is where it happened.
I decided to kill myself.
Don't judge. It was hard for me to live the way I had chosen to, and it was almost as hard to make the initial decision...
It was so simple, at the time. I could see the answer right in front of me. Nobody would notice. I wasn't pretty, so the boys never talked to me, and the girls... Well... I guess they just didn't care about the 'nerd girl'...
I must have pondered about it for a week before I decided it was the best choice. The school wouldn't notice. I threw off the curve anyway. As for Daddy... Well... He would be able to start over if I wasn't around.
Deciding to kill yourself, on your own terms is actually sort of... Empowering. You know it's gonna happen, so you start thinking of where and when and how.
Do I step out into traffic in the fading evening light? No, too dramatic. Plus, that would maybe hurt other people... Poison, at school maybe? No, again, too public. Slipping in the shower? Not guaranteed to kill me. Electrocution? Too obvious. An accident would make it hurt less to the only person who would notice, I thought.
It was Monday, the day after I made up my mind, that it started. I threw up in math class, and Mr. Kattenfeld sent me to the school nurse. And, irony of ironies, I was sent home. I had caught a virus, and was starting MORFS.
Dad tucked me in with a worried smile. "Don't worry, Princess." He'd whispered. "I'll always love you, no matter what..."
"I love you too, Daddy." I'd replied, and then I was asleep.
It seemed perfect. I woke up six hours later, groggy and a little grimy, and I hauled myself out of bed and onto the little balcony of our small apartment. I could just climb that little rail, and fall fourteen stories in my 'MORFS- induced delerium', and it would be over. No more being a burden to my Daddy. No more avoiding people at school. No more lonliness, self-inflicted or otherwise...
No more missing Momma...
That's when she stopped me.
She was beautiful. The sight of her alone made me pause, half on top of the rail, the late night/early morning wind making my bedrobe flap open. She was an older lady, though not wrinkled or grey yet. She had flaming red hair that went all the way down her back, and she was wearing this beautiful white gown... And when she opened her shining turquoise eyes and looked across at me from the other apartment building... Well... I knew I couldn't do it. Not today.
Not with a witness.
At least, that's what I told myself at the time...
I awoke the next day alone in the apartment. Dad had gone to work, and I was left to ponder the ledge again. But this time, the lady didn't just look at me. As I stepped up onto the bottom bar, the white dress caught my eye, and I saw that she was frowning at me. And for some reason, that frown... Something inside me wobbled, and I retreated back under my sheets, downing the pill and reattaching the IV to the needle in my arm.
I came to again later that evening, and my body felt a little... Off. Things didn't quite fit the way they used to, too tight mostly. My balance was all wonky, and my hair was falling out. Great.
Daddy was sitting at the table when I poked my head out, but he didn't see me. I knew he was looking through the bills, trying to figure out what to do about them. One more thing that would be easier to manage without me...
She spoke to me that night. It was the first time she did that. I got to the balcony door, and this time I was already looking across to see if she was there.
She watched me open the door, the little frown appearing again, but I carried on climbing up to the second rung on the railing even despite my guts threatening to give out on me. She shook her head and sighed, stepping up onto her own balcony and hopping off it before I could continue.
My heart stopped in my throat as I watched her fall, fourteen floors down, until she exploded into a fountain of red that seemed impossibly large for just one person.
"Not very pretty, is it?"
She was standing right beside me.
I very nearly screamed as I fell back off the railing and landed on my butt. She let out a tiny chuckle and turned her face to look up into the darkening sky. I don't know how long it was before I managed to work the lump out of my throat long enough to ask "How?", but it felt like forever.
"It's not important right now, Maria." She replied, idly reaching out and plucking up a rose petal that drifted past on a stray gust of wind. "Why do you want to die?"
Hearing someone actually ask the question made all the hurt in my heart reappear, and I started to cry. She stepped down off the railing and gathered me up in her arms, and I felt...
Well, I don't rightly know what I felt... It had been a long time since I'd been held like that...
"You poor girl... You think that nobody cares... That nobody will ever notice that you're gone... That you're gonna make things better for your dad..." She was smiling down at me when I looked up. It was a small, sad smile, and her eyes sparkled a little.
"H-how did you know...?"
"Believe me when I say I know how you feel..." She replied, and I felt her hand brushing the tears off of my cheeks. "But do you really believe that?"
"I... I don't have any friends, and..."
She shook her head again. "Oh, you poor, silly thing... You have so many people that care about you, it almost hurts to hear you say that..."
"I... I do...?"
"Of course, dear one... And I'll tell you all about them. Tomorrow." She smiled as she picked me up and carried me back to bed. I guess I really was tired, because I was almost falling asleep in her arms. The last thing I remember was a small gust of wind, and the smell of roses...
When I woke up the next morning, I felt even wierder than before. I'll tell you about my changes later. They're not important until then...
But I didn't hesitate. The way the lady had spoken the night before really got me thinking. What did she mean? Who were these people? Who would miss me?
She was sitting on the railing even before I got to the door, and she smiled as soon as she saw me run up to it. I think she knew what I was gonna ask, because she placed a finger to her lips and shushed me even before I could speak. She held out her hand and smiled a little wider. "Take my hand, Maria. I want to show you something."
I felt like I was flying. Millions of tiny white lights streaked past my face as we fell through... Something. Or... Nothing? It's hard to explain...
Then it stopped. We didn't 'land' or anything, but suddenly, we weren't moving anymore. And I was looking down on something that I really didn't want to see.
She was crying, just like I remembered her. The last time I ever spoke to Chrissie Smith... Her pigtails were the same. The freckles on her nose... All of it. And as I watched, she ran away like I remembered, too. But instead of myself moping in the corner, I saw what had happened on the other side of the playground.
"Miss Mikki! Miss Mikki!" My old teacher turned around just in time to get bowled over by the last little girl I ever called my friend, who was still crying her big grey eyes out.
"Oof! Oh dear, what's wrong Chrissie?" She asked, and I listened as she recalled all the things I'd said. I knew I had meant none of them, but hearing little Chrissie crying them out made my stomach hurt...
"Shhh... It's okay dear... I don't think she meant it at all..." Miss Mikki said, rubbing the much younger girl's back. "I think she's just upset about.. Something. She needs some time alone, I think."
"*Sniff* You mean it?"
"Of course I do. I think you should just give her a little space, and she'll eventually come back and talk to you. Okay?"
"She never did give up on you, you know..." The picture faded away, and was replaced by a number of others. "She was always watching out for you, even though you pushed her away."
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. All the times I thought I was alone. All the days I sat by myself at lunch, and in the playground, and in the library. She was there. I watched as she sat across the football field and waited for me to leave before going home.
"That's not for me to tell. It is what happened, though. She watched you all the way, and she still watches." The picture changed again, to one from only two days prior. I saw myself being led out of my math class, and there she was... Sitting at the back of the class, a small, worried frown on her face. "I think, though, that all these years, you have remained her friend."
The picture faded away, and we were once again back on my little balcony. "B-but... We were just little kids... Why...?"
The lady smiled sadly. "I think that all she really wants, is to be your friend..."
Turns out that was a bit of an understatement. But again, that will be later.
"I... I don't get it... Why wouldn't she just... Talk to me?"
"Would you have let her?"
And of course, she was right.
I woke up the next morning, and immediately bolted for the balcony. I had to know more. My determination to die had basically... Well, died, I suppose... By this point. But there she was, and she swept me up into her arms with a laugh.
"What about Dad?" I asked her, after a while of just snuggling into her arms. She was basically a stranger, yes, but she made me feel... Safe. And she always smelled like roses...
"What do you mean?"
"He's always worried about money, and things like that. It would be easier if I was gone..."
"Maybe..." She admitted. "But he might just follow you there." The world span for a moment, and I saw pictures of my Dad talking to a man in a suit, then with a briefcase full of money. "Your Dad went to some very bad men to get money for the bills, because he wanted you to grow up in the home where you remembered your mother."
She shook her head. "Don't worry about it, Maria. I took care of it all. But he loves you more than anything else in this world, and I think you're being unfair in thinking that you don't matter to him."
"I don't...!" She was sort of smirking down at me, and I knew that she knew. And I was ashamed...
"So are you going to do it?" She didn't say what, but I knew what she meant.
I shook my head. No. Not if Dad would be hurt by it. Not until I knew why Stacy hadn't stopped watching me.
"Umm... You said..."
She cocked her head to one side. "Hm?"
"You said lots of people would care... How many?"
The world was blotted out again, and I saw a hundred faces flash by. My gramma. My teachers. My uncle Rick. My cousin Allison. My cat, Mittens, who Dad had asked the neighbours to look after while I was changing. The nice postman sho delivers the mail to our building. The lady at the front desk. Mrs. Mercer, from Dad's work.
"It's like dominoes, Maria. One person can affect so many lives, it's almost scary." She spoke softlly, and I could feel myself starting to drift off to sleep. "You just have to find out for yourself..."
When I woke up that night, I felt really good. I had finished my MORFS, but when I went to the balcony, there was nobody there. Only a small blue card that said:
Helping People Help Themselves.
Loneliness hurts less when you have someone to be lonely with...
I was a little upset that she hadn't come back to say goodbye, but I didn't really have time to think about it, as my dad chose that moment to come into my bedroom.
"Maria...? Princess are you-oh." He stopped short. "Oh my..."
I didn't know what to say. The look on his face... It was something between sadness and amazement. "Daddy...?"
He sank down on my bed, and I could see him shaking a little bit. "Daddy, what's wrong...?"
"Nothing's wrong, Princess..." He whispered. "Look at you..." His hand was shaking as he reached up and stroked my cheek. "Everyone said you looked so much like me..."
"I... I don't... Anymore?"
"No, Princess... You don't..." And then he turned me around towards the mirror.
I was shorter than I had been. Noticably so. I was probably going to be the shortest girl in our class now. But I doubt it would matter. I was... Not the nerd in the background anymore... My breasts had grown significantly, and my long, gangly limbs had become shorter, rounder and softer...
My hair had grown out, long and way thicker than it had been. The ends of some of it was the same black it had always been before, but the rest, and my eyebrows, was a familliar bright, not-quite-magenta, not-quite-violet shade. My face was a little thinner, my chin a little less square, a little more pointed. And my eyes were a shade of electric blue I'd only ever seen one place before.
Whenever I asked her about them, Momma told me she had MORFS when she was little. She told me it was where her hair and eyes got their color. Dad later told me that my MORFS must have brought out Momma's recessive genes, and the doctor agreed with him. But that's later.
"I... I..." I just didn't know what to say. The look in his eyes... It was so lost, and hurting... But at the same time... Caring and concerned.
"You look just like her... Just like she did when I first laid eyes on her..." I guess my legs were shaking, because they almost gave out underneath me. But Dad just picked me up and sat me on the bed beside him, hugging me close. "I... I miss her... So much..."
He frowned. "What for?"
"For... For making you... Feel sad..."
Then he laughed. "Oh, don't be silly, Princess. You could never make me sad, not even by accident."
My heart hurt a little bit just then.
"Besides, now you just have that much more to remember your mother by." He sighed, looking at the one picture I did have of Momma on my desk. "I always said it was a crime that you looked more like me than her..."
"And... And what did Momma say?"
Another laugh. "She said she would always be able to look at you and think of me..."
We must have sat there for a long time, because Dad called in to his work to get the rest of the day off. He took me out shopping for a bunch of new clothes, because my old ones were too tight in some places, and too loose in others. I wasn't really used to the idea of having breasts, as mine had never really grown too much. I mean, I only wore a bra before because that was what good girls did, right? So I was a little nervous about showing them to the lady at the underwear store, but she only smiled and nodded when I told her that they were new.
We got a bunch of everything, and every time we went up to the counter, I got nervous when the totals rang in. I asked Dad about it when we stopped for lunch, but he just smiled and told me that a good friend of his had helped him with a big project, and he got a huge bonus for it.
I almost missed the rosepetals that swirled on the table across from us. The lady in the white dress. It had to have been her.
But I went to bed that night, Mittens finally back and curled up against my chest like he liked to be, I couldn't help but be nervous and excited and happy and sad, all at once. Tomorrow, I could go back to school, and I knew that I was going to get to talk to Chrissie.
Things were looking up.
The next day came almost too quickly, and my head was spinning with all the thoughts that were chasing each other inside of it. I made my way to the school building on the bus, even more of a zombie than usual, lost in thoughts and second guesses. But as I came up to her locker, I caught a glimpse of a bright red rose inside of it, and my worries vanished just long enough to whisper the needed words.
"Umm... Excuse me...?"
She turned. Eyes I remembered so well finally focused on my own.
And she dropped the stack of books in her hands in surprise. She stared at me like I'd never been stared at before. Her eyes were wide, and they swept over every inch of my body, and I felt a shiver travel down my back. She mand no move to speak or anything, so I mustered my courage and tried again.
She blinked, and a small blush flickered in her cheeks. "Y-yes?"
Getting an actual response brought my feet back to the ground, and I could almost feel my control breaking. "I don't know... If you remember me... It's been a long time..."
And then she said it. I didn't know just how this whole thing was going to happen until she spoke her next words.
"Hello, Maria. It has been a long time." She smiled at me! "Are you ready to talk to me now?"
I couldn't believe it. The lady was right. Even having it shown to me wasn't nearly as revealing as seeing it for myself, in person. She not only remembered me, and recognised my new body, but she... She...
"Y-yes, I a-am..." My voice hitched a little, and my knees felt weak. And then, she surprised me again.
I felt her arms gather me in close, and something inside of me snapped. Something I hadn't felt in a long, long time. Not since Momma...
We talked for a long time that day. I think we missed all of our morning classes. But it didn't matter.
I got my friend back. I was alive. And I didn't want to end that anymore.
And I was happy
I never found out who that lady was, and I don't think I ever will. But if you're reading this... Every time I smell a rose, it reminds me of the great thing you did for me...
Thank you. Thank you for giving me my purpose back. And for showing me that I mattered.