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Creative Nonfiction LGBTQ+ Sad

This story contains sensitive content

Content Note: This story deals with death, loss and grief.

Gina’s body felt crushed down into her mattress by a thousand bricks. Every inch of her felt as heavy as stone. Her blonde hair clung to her sweaty forehead, stringy and unwashed. Peeling her eyes open to check the time required fierce determination and sheer will, but it was necessary. If she hadn’t feared losing her job for missing yet another day, she would have stayed in here, her leaden body unmoving until the end of time. But bereavement leave lasted only so long. With all of her strength, she rolled over and reflexively placed a hand on the empty spot beside her. The tears she had been waking up with daily had already pooled onto her pillow. 

Her room, normally bright and cheery, was colorless and dull as it had been for days. The grayish haze streaming in her window indicated that it was no longer night, but not quite a day she would rush out of bed to enjoy. Today marked the second week since the world had changed. Two weeks that Gina was forced to be here and to do life without her love. Two weeks that Gina had lived in a land of shadows.

The minute she was told that Leila had died, all traces of life seemed to drain from her senses. What was once colorful and bright was all of a sudden anemic, and ghostly. The gleeful sounds of birds tweeting and children laughing, had been replaced by a faint, indiscernible buzz in the background. She had to concentrate to understand what anyone was saying to her. It was like she was existing through a layer of dense fog, at times so thick and disorienting, she forgot where she was and what she was doing. She had to rely on muscle memory just to get through a shower and breakfast.

By 8am, the streets were teeming with people, going about their day as if everything was normal, as if everything was the same as it always was. Gina had a hard time comprehending this. How could they possibly carry on like usual when her world had been destroyed? A bomb was dropped into the middle of her life and she was gingerly stepping around the sharp fragments, just trying to survive. How could she continue as she always had when someone so important to her was just gone? 

At the office, she was greeted with pitying smiles, pats on the shoulder and lots of “How are you?” from people she had rarely conversed with before. She wanted to shout, Fucking terrible! How could there possibly be any other answer? But the world expects her to move on, to let go and to get over. They all have, it seemed.

When Gina finally got home, her head was pounding from the extreme effort of remaining upright all damn day. Her phone buzzed, just like it had done every night the last two weeks. It was her good friend Max, calling again to see what she needed, to see if there was anything he could do. As always, she ignored it. Gina popped some ibuprofen and curled up on the sofa under Leila’s favorite blanket. Leila had loved the cozy chenille that stayed soft and luxurious, even after years of washings. Once emerald green, but now a lifeless gray, the blanket had become Gina’s refuge every night. 

Gina closed her eyes and rubbed the smooth fabric back and forth over her teary face. Suddenly, Leila is over her, tossing the blanket over their heads and trying to find Gina’s ticklish spots, a game she loved to play after a long day of work. In her vision, Leila is laughing, her thin lips stretched wide across her face in a genuine smile, giving Gina a view of her adorably crooked teeth. Her mischievous hazel eyes crinkled at the corners, showcasing her many years of unabashed laughter. Gina can almost feel Leila leaning down to kiss her, but all of a sudden, she’s gone. Gina opened her eyes and sobbed. 

****

Gina began every day for the next month in the same way, forcing her uncooperative limbs to do the everyday things. The ashen sky brightened enough every morning to signal that the day could begin and she came home from work every evening to curl up in the same spot on the sofa, nestled under Leila’s blanket.  Except for one Friday night. Gina walked through her door and already her phone was buzzing. Max. 

“Hi, Max,” she said. 

“Gina! Look at you, answering the phone. What, 5 days in a row now? That’s quite a record!” Max said.

Gina rolled her eyes, “You could stop calling me every day.”

“Never!” Max replied. “Listen, it’s been too long since I’ve seen you. Get changed and come to dinner with me, please?” 

 “Ok, but why do I need to change?” Gina looked down at herself in confusion.

“Bitch, please. I know you’re sad and it’s ok to be sad, but your clothes don’t have to suffer along with you. Put on something cute, none of this drab shit you’ve been wearing.” As if Max had x-ray vision and could see the lifeless blouse and boring gray slacks she had on.

Gina sighed, “Fine, I’ll see what I can do. Where are we going?”

“Juanita’s, of course! It’s so lovely out, I feel like a good ol’ margarita. Meet you there in an hour! K, bye!” Max hung up without waiting for her response. 

Gina sighed again and went to peruse her clothing options. She ultimately knew that the seasons were changing and that spring would eventually turn into summer, but she hadn’t felt much of anything except this perpetual chill in the air. 

The dull selection of shirts and blouses hung limply in a sad row. Gina used to wear bright, funky clothes, but everything in here now was sapped of color and uninspiring. Gina ran her fingers over the hangers until she came to Leila’s section of the closet and she stilled. There, amidst the field of ash, hung a short sleeved cardigan, knit with soft pink cotton, reminiscent of cotton candy. Gina closed her eyes and she could envision Leila wearing it to the farmer’s market last year. She could remember watching Leila at her favorite soap stand, inhaling the fruity and floral scents of every bar she could get her hands on. Her soft brown curls framing her lightly freckled face. Leila’s eyes closing and lips curling up in pleasure with every inhale, as if in ecstasy. God, Gina hated when she did that. Every week, the same vendor, the same soap and she acted like it was new and amazing every time.  Endearing, yet incredibly aggravating.

Gina’s chest squeezed at the memory and all she could think about was curling up on the sofa and having a good cry. Yes, she could cancel on Max again, he would totally understand. But the cardigan was calling to her. It stood out like a lighthouse beacon on a stormy day. Gina took a deep breath and carefully peeled the sweater off its hanger and slipped it over her shoulders. It felt like Leila. Soft, welcoming, and like coming home.  Gina hugged it around herself and breathed in the scent of the lemongrass soap Leila liked to use. Her chest squeezed again and she allowed the tears to come. But this time, they weren’t accompanied with that overwhelming feeling of helplessness she had been getting used to. She wiped her face, somewhat in surprise. 

Dinner with Max was exactly how it always was, entertaining and enjoyable but also incredibly different. What was missing were Leila’s crass jokes, her loud guffaws and her slender fingers intertwining with Gina’s under the table. Was this supposed to be her new normal? Max had been through great losses of his own and gave Gina the space to open up and talk about anything. She could tell him about the waves of crushing sadness and he understood. She could also make a lighthearted joke without being judged and made to feel guilty. Though layered with grief, their conversation seemed to crack open something that had hardened inside of her. 

Gina would have normally crashed the minute she had gotten home, exhausted from a day of work and forced socialization. But something about this night had been energizing to her. She looked around the bedroom she had shared with Leila with fresh eyes. Gina saw the rumpled bed and unwashed sheets, used tissues strewn about the room and cups with various levels of liquid in them, desperate for a scrub. She started with the junk, tossing what she could, emptying the garbage and then moving onto the dishes. Finally, she pulled the sheets off the bed and loaded them into the washing machine. She opened the linen closet and a fresh set of cerulean blue flannel sheets caught her eye. They had bought them the weekend they moved in together so many years ago. The sheets were soft and slightly faded from wear, but still the color of a bright summer sky. Leila always said that sleeping on clean sheets was like being hugged by a gigantic, fluffy cloud. Gina lifted them to her face and breathed in the freshness, before painstakingly making her bed for the first time in weeks. 

****

Gina awoke to a strange noise one morning, coming from outside. Her body was still heavy, but moveable. She opened her eyes and looked out the window. There, perched on a branch was a fat little robin, her orange chest the only swath of color amidst the gray sky. The bird chirped her cheery song again and Gina smiled. She placed her hand on the empty pillow next to her, wishing she could share this with Leila. Wishing she could tell her that she had forgotten what a bird’s song had sounded like. That all the sounds of life were dull and insignificant since she had left. And now this little bird was chirping hope back into her existence. Her chest squeezed and she breathed. 

Over time, color slowly began to make its way back into Gina’s world. She no longer felt like a sack of bricks. She could now enjoy the sounds of laughter and even laugh herself without feeling guilty. She learned that it was ok to be sad and find joy in life at the same time. Gina could still grieve this loss and also live her life. 

It didn’t happen quickly and she hadn’t noticed the change right away, but walking to work one morning she felt it. The blissful heat of the golden sun on her cheeks. She stood still on the sidewalk and soaked in the glorious summer rays, imagining Leila’s warm hands cupping the sides of her face and telling her it would all be ok. Gina’s chest squeezed and she smiled.

March 25, 2022 20:47

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2 comments

Joyce La Master
22:28 Mar 30, 2022

Hi Shalon, I could feel Gina's grief as I read. It was nice that what started to bring her around was wearing Leila's cardigan, she could feel her presence. Not a big deal but I would have liked to see another descriptive word other than squeeze. I'm an adjective junky. :)

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Shalon Atwood
23:56 Mar 30, 2022

Hi Joyce, thanks so much for reading and for the note! Much appreciated!

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