My mom’s soulmate was a girl named Vanessa.
Mom wasn’t a happy child or teenager. She was angry and bitter, full of contempt for the world around her. Her father had left her, and her mother and stepfather hit her. She was mean to her little brother because the rest of the family was mean to her. She was an outsider in her family, and she was definitely an outsider in society. With time, my mom joined a proper gang of people who tattooed themselves with bad quality ink, pierced their bodies with dirty needles, and either shaved their heads or had extremely complex hair-dos. Looking back at pictures of my mom from when she was a teenager, she looked like a Latina freckled version of Siouxsie Sioux in her most heavy make-up days. She listened to Sex Pistols to fuel her anger, Morrissey to fuel her misery. She never did any hard drugs, but she tried most things from pot to glue sniffing–anything to keep her out of her head.
Vanessa wasn’t a happy child or teenager either. She was hurt and depressed, full of frustration for the world around her. Her father abused her emotionally and physically, and her mother was a ghost. She had siblings and watched them all suffer the same fate as her. She was an outsider in her family, but she wasn’t an outsider in society. With time, she came to dye her hair blond. She definitely didn’t wear as much make-up, but with her honey-colored eyes and her beautiful round face, it never felt like she needed it anyway. She had a flat chest and was slim, which helped with surfing. She was cheerful even if she was in pain. Even through all the abuse and pain, she was the silliest little girl.
My mom and Vanessa were always neighbors, but they really started talking when they were 10. They had to take the bus to go to school together, and on top of that they were classmates. Mom thought Vanessa was insufferable. She was airheaded. But Vanessa was just not interested in my mom’s existential crisis, and that made her, of course, not smart enough to get it.
Vanessa thought my mom was boring. My mom thought Vanessa was foolish.
But they were stuck with each other in school, 40 minutes before that, and 40 minutes after that–sitting side by side on the bus. They found things in common until they were holding hands and the secrets to each other’s hearts. They became best friends, and not even my father coming around could ruin that. My mom had a boyfriend and then Vanessa had a boyfriend as well, but they were still everything to each other.
Vanessa, my mom told me once, was her soulmate–she was sure. They were the only good thing in each other’s lives when their families seemed to be doing everything they could to ruin their days, every day. They would cover for each other. They would lie for each other. They would disapprove of each other’s choices deeply, but never abandon the other.
As they grew older though, their differences became too big for life not to get in the way. They drifted apart because of idealism. Vanessa never wanted to be anything but a good girl, and mom was never anything but a bad girl. Vanessa wanted to surf, eat well, study hard, and get in a good college. My mom smoked and failed school years repeatedly on absences alone. She eventually dropped out, and by 17 she already had plans of marrying my father. Vanessa was hostage of an abusive relationship with a boyfriend who wasn’t all that different from her villain father. It wasn’t a good match. She had tried to break up with him many times, and each of them he’d threaten to commit suicide if she left him.
Mom hated him. I think to an extent, Vanessa did as well, but she was too afraid of leaving him.
They didn’t talk as much when it happened, but once you decide someone’s your soulmate, they’re your soulmate forever, and my mom definitely still felt they were soulmates forever.
What happened was that my mom was washing her sneakers with another friend when the phone rang. My grandma was sleeping, so my mom picked the landline phone. It was Vanessa’s father, and his voice was graver than usual. He wanted to talk to my grandma. It didn’t matter that she was sleeping. She had to be woken up. Though she says she doesn’t remember what was on her mind then, my mom remembers my grandma listening to him on the phone, and her eyes locking with mom’s as they spoke. She remembers my grandma shaking her head no, and promising to tell the family. My mom didn’t understand at first, not even when she said the words, but then it clicked. Eventually, on the way to Vanessa’s house to tell
Vanessa’s grandma and their siblings, it clicked. Vanessa was dead.