The Pink Triangle
She lived at the end of a cul-de-sac. Later on, I would see this as kismet. Even before she began, she was at the end of the road.
I met her when she was thirteen, and I was fifteen. Back in those days, two years made quite a difference. She was a bit of a baby to me, so I felt protective toward her. Her name was Elizabeth, but I called her Lizard when we were alone and Lizzie when we were in polite company.
Lizzie waddled slightly, but she was only heavy from the waist down. She frequently went braless, not so much to be fashionable, but rather because she didn't have anything to flaunt or worry about on top. She was self-conscious about her size and couldn't stay thin because she was surrounded by temptation. Second helpings were the norm in the Fortunato family, along with rich desserts. The Lizard would think nothing of eating two breaded pork chops, linguine, and yeasty Italian bread, and topping the meal off with a large cannoli and homemade mocha cappuccino.
My family couldn't have been more different. We were Scandinavian, hardy and lean. My mother, Birgitta, which means strength, would serve halibut with smoked apples and broiled cucumbers. She said the Vikings regularly ate oysters or mussels, so we always had fish at mealtimes and a simple dessert of fresh berries and whole cream.
Birgitta was a bookkeeper, and she worked for my father, Lars, in his brokerage firm. Although neither of my parents was born in Scandinavia, my grandparents had immigrated to Connecticut from Denmark when they were young.
Keen on nutrition and fitness, my parents instilled healthy lifestyle habits in my brother and me. We never gorged ourselves on supersized meals or large, fat-filled cakes and pies. And we were both athletic. I loved volleyball and track and my brother, Erik, lived for football.
In contrast, Lizzie had no interest in sports. She preferred to read in her spare time: her long, unruly black hair falling into the pages of her well-worn books. Her narrow, angular nose gave her an air of nobility and at times, she seemed beautiful, especially when she wasn't depressed. But, alas, from an early age, darkness engulfed her like a plastic bag. I could never figure out why she was so sullen and sarcastic except she was a misfit and the boys didn't really take to her. Most of them just wanted to be friends.
Sometimes Lizzie looked Native American and always she looked out of place. She swore like a truck driver, which shocked me, although I was no prude, but I'd never even heard some of the words she mouthed so easily, particularly in public when we were sitting next to straight-laced couples with young children at Burger King. I would blush beet red, wondering what those people thought about us, but Lizzie chatted on, oblivious. Her family spoke like that, and it was second nature to her. The worst thing Birgitta ever said was, "Who the H cares?" when she was exhausted from a long day at work and my brother and I were bugging her.
The Fortunatos were Italians from the Bronx, or the "Bwonx" as I would jokingly say. Lizzie’s stay-at-home mom, Mary Margaret, wore a housedress, uncommon for the 1980s. She could usually be found in the heart of the kitchen where she would be making iced tea, pastries, lasagna and eggplant parmigiana, dusting her floury hands on her apron, and offering me and Lizzie's other friends, Joanne and Samantha, more angel hair pasta.
Joanne and Sam were my age and lived across the road from me. Joanne was a skinny blonde with freckles. Her family had four acres of property and owned two horses: a caramel thoroughbred we used to jump and a white, elegant Arabian horse that Joanne exhibited.
Sam’s parents had a small bungalow next to Joanne’s. Sam was tomboyish with short, spiky hair and green eyes. We rode at Joanne's for hours and sat in the moist, overgrown pasture drinking lemonade and skipping stones across Joanne's lake. Lizzie met Joanne and Sam through me. They liked her well enough, but often acted as though she was too young for us.
Lizzie's dad was a lawyer who drove to Hartford every morning from our small hometown in Canton, Connecticut, to take the train into Manhattan. Her brother, Angelo, was a wild card—a nonconformist with a loud laugh and big, gleaming white teeth. He drove a Harley-Davidson and had a room full of rifles: a scary dude.
Although I loved to travel in packs and was close to Joanne and Sam, my bond with Lizzie was unbreakable. By the time I'd finished high school, she and I were official best friends, and I also adored Mary Margaret. The other parents viewed me as a bad influence because I drank and smoked pot, but Mary Margaret was very liberal; she knew we were experimenting with drugs and preferred we did them inside her house rather than outside where we might be apprehended. I thought she was the coolest mom I'd ever met—so much more relaxed than Birgitta—and I viewed her as my second mother.
Most teens drank, but hardly anyone started as young as me. I was already stealing scotch from my parents’ liquor cabinet and cleverly replacing it with water when I was in middle school. I pitied the poor people who attended parties at my parents’ house during those years of watered-down cocktails!
I'm not sure why I was already a lush in eighth grade. I think it's because I was always a risk taker. When I was nine, Joanne dared me to jump off a roof and I did. I sprained my arm and used to brag about that story at school to demonstrate my fearlessness. The first time I drank whiskey straight up, I felt a glow from the bottom of my toes to the tip of my nose. My stomach was warm and fuzzy, and everything seemed right with the world. Not that there had been anything wrong with my world before.
I always compare it to staying in a hotel. If people have been used to staying in ordinary hotels, and suddenly they take a vacation at a five-star hotel, the old hotels never have the same charm. They will always be second best. And that's what Heineken did to my life. Beer, wine, and scotch rewired my brain in such a way that I experienced a peak form of happiness when I was drinking. The downside was that when I wasn't drinking, I could never feel quite as happy, so I craved that ultimate high all the time.
Aside from drinking too much, I was discovering my sexuality. The first orgasm I had was with a girl in seventh grade. She lived down the street and one night she slept over in my double canopy bed. I turned to her and started touching her when the lights went out. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was climaxing. She avoided me afterward. We were both afraid of the implications. Kids fooled around, right? That was all part of adolescence. A few gropes in the dark didn't mean we were gay!
I didn't have any further interest in women until we took a high school trip to the UN. An older girl by the name of Sue acted as our school guide on the bus, and I was instantly smitten with her. My crush made me anxious because I had never heard Joanne, Samantha, or Lizzie talking about how hot another girl was. My infatuation with Sue passed because I didn't see much of her after the UN trip. And I was crazy about a guy in my art class, so I continued to identify myself as heterosexual and made a point not to discuss my occasional female fantasies with my friends.
Even after I graduated from high school, Lizzie and I remained close. I stayed at home and went to a community college where I majored in Social Work. Although I made new friends, I saw more of Lizzie in the college years than before because I finally had my driver’s license so that I could pick her up after school, and we would go to Burger King or the park to hang out. Since she was younger than me, Lizzie was still in tenth grade when I was a freshman in college. Two years later, when she was eighteen, she also decided to go to a local college after high school. Like me, she lived with her parents. Unlike me, she studied English Lit.
By twenty-one, I went to the Fortunatos' stately white house with white pillars and black shutters at the end of the cul-de-sac almost every night. Lizzie and I would smoke a joint in her blue bedroom and listen to The Clash. Sometimes she’d play guitar; we both played, actually, but Lizzie was ten times better than I was. I had a six-string Washburn, and she had a twelve-string Fender Villager. Her voice was phenomenal, and she sang along unabashed to the sounds of Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders or Billy Joel in such perfect harmony you could swear she was right in the recording studio.
After we got high we would try to act normal in front of Mary Margaret and Lizzie's dad, Tony, so they didn't confiscate my car keys. Then we'd jostle each other outside on her driveway, cruise to a local bar, and meet up with dozens of other disaffected suburban youth seeking the same thing—enlightenment, escape from pain and boredom, love and sexual thrills.
By now Lizzie had had a few boyfriends and had also discovered amphetamines. Black beauties. Crystal meth. A way of taking her otherwise introverted personality and making her feel magnetically attractive in a crowd. A panacea for her perpetual gloom. Lizzie wanted to go out more often. She lost weight and despite the drugs, her complexion glowed. She had a brief affair with her brother’s friend, but those male relationships never lasted long. She couldn't bond with men the way she could with women.
Then she met April. April and her brother, Michael, were gay and lived in a party-central type place in East Hartford which they called Fun House. Their abode was a couple of blocks away from a bar we frequented called The Pit. Michael had a Mohawk and rectangular glasses that sloped to one side. He was older than the rest of us and had his own place, which made him popular, despite his geeky appearance because we were all still living at home.
As strange looking as Michael was, his sister was the opposite. April looked like a porcelain doll. She had creamy white skin and plump cheeks, a round, curvy, incredibly sexy body and an adorable smile. I had nothing in common with her. We couldn't talk—I loved current events, and she was into celebrity gossip—but just looking at her made my head spin. Lizzie was enamored, too, and she fell hard for April. They quickly became a couple, while I safely hooked up with a former bad boy.
Jack was a History major, an intellectual, and he was Born Again. He confided in me that he had joined AA right after a drunken stupor at a barbecue had prevented him from seeing a large plate glass door. In an attempt to run outside to skinny dip at Cape Cod, he sailed right through the glass. He’d had fifty-seven pieces of glass removed from his aching back.
Jack was in the early stages of sobriety and our alcoholism gave us something in common, although I hadn't been to the program yet, but he kept telling me he was saving me a seat. My parents loved him, which was a plus. He won my trust the first time I saw him and has possessed it ever since, except for the brief time we broke up in the spring of 1989.
I was hurting after our split because I thought Jack was seeing someone else. Later on, I found out that wasn't the case. I went down to The Pit one night. Tanked as usual and snorting coke, I saw Michael, April, and some of their friends. Even though I loved Jack, I had never stopped fantasizing about April. I was bisexual, an awkward middle ground between gay and straight: a place where both communities rejected me, calling me a fence sitter, confused, or sexually rapacious. An identity I was loath to embrace because many gays thought I enjoyed far too much heterosexual privilege by spending most of my time in the world passing as straight. How easy that was to do. Straight was the default position. Even when I wasn't lying about my bisexuality or trying to cover it up, people just assumed I was hetro.
While gays found me untrustworthy, straights found my entire identity suspicious. Some didn't even believe bisexuality was real; they thought I was a closeted gay. Female friends withdrew when I told them, fearing I may hit on them. The only one who seemed to be delighted to meet a bisexual woman was a certain type of straight guy who was looking for a threesome, which was not my scene at all.
The Pit was a typical Irish pub with dark wood chairs and cheap prints on the wall. I went over to Michael and April's table and started downing pitchers with them. I remember dancing with April and laughing and feeling exhilarated. I don't know where Lizzie was. Home watching Dallas, probably. She had become extremely social on the speed, but she needed her down time, too. She would stay up for several days in a row, and then crash and eat and sleep all weekend. How she and I ever graduated from college remained a mystery to both of us, but graduate we did, with honors no less.
But back to the pub. There are so many "aha" moments in life. Turning points where you stand at the edge of a crucial decision and look back with longing, wishing you could undo that moment. The do-over. Another chance. A last-ditch opportunity to save yourself from ruin. April was one of those moments. If only I could have seen the catastrophic consequences my behavior that evening would wreak, I would have given anything not to have done what I did.
I went home with April, driving cautiously along the dark, winding roads now slick with hail. When we arrived at Fun House, Michael was playing poker with a friend. He looked at us with disapproval, but we just giggled and ran up to April's room. The walls at Fun House were rife with peeling plaster, and there was a large poster on April's bedroom wall that said, "Just Say No to Nancy Reagan."
Her hair glistened with melted snow. She looked angelic. I reached out my hand to brush the wet pellets from her hair, and she pulled me close. We kissed, and the room started spinning. I fell back on the bed and April fell on top of me.
Despite the unromantic setting, we were both sizzling for each other. I kissed her soft, pouty lips, caressed her creamy white skin, and abandoned myself in her welcoming arms. I was hungry. No, I was starving to devour April's body, so different from Jack's hard, firm flesh. Oh, bliss! Real adult sex with a woman. The only problem—she wasn't my woman.
I slowly removed her bra and inhaled her musky scent. She had pert, taut breasts that stood up straight, and her nipples were erect. I cupped each breast, sucking and licking slowly, and then more aggressively as I felt myself becoming moist. April moaned, saying, "More. Lower." I slid my hand down to her groin. I rubbed her over her jeans for several minutes while she probed my mouth with her delicious tongue and ran her hands along my ass. "Take them off," April screamed. So, I removed her jeans as quickly as I could, and there she was in all her naked glory looking slightly Rubenesque—not fat by any means, but as supple and beautiful as any Renaissance woman could ever be.
While I was fumbling with the remainder of April's clothes, she stripped mine off and there we were. I was face-to-face with my first real-life pussy, and I had no idea what to do with it. Suddenly paralyzed with anxiety, I wondered if I could please her. Would she be disappointed? Would I be bad at this? Could I fail at Lesbianism 101? April took my face in her hands and guided my head down toward her cunt. It was pink and wet and triangular, with bushy curly pubes (After all, this was the '80s. No one was into the shaved pussy look back then.). I took a deep breath and dove in. Soon I was lost in the pleasure of tasting April and the sounds of her groaning and calling my name. At the same time, I could hear a slight buzzing sound; I looked up and saw a little hand vibrator. April grinned wickedly and asked me if I wanted slow or fast motion. Before I could respond, I was rendered speechless by the electric thrill that shot through my body and the joy of knowing that I was pleasing April as well. We came simultaneously, laughing and glowing with sweat. And then we were silent.
As we lay there afterward, I could hear her heart pounding and the cold November rain pulsating on the roof. April said she hated winter and wanted to move to the Caribbean. She had always loved Bermuda and wouldn't miss having a white Christmas if she could lie in the sun all day long. I tried to correct her by saying Bermuda was too far north to be in the Caribbean, but my words came out slurred, and she couldn't understand me. April yakked on, and I passed out. As I drifted off, I wondered if she was doing the same amphetamines Lizzie had been popping.
At some point in the early morning, when April and I were still asleep, Lizzie walked into the bedroom and started bellowing. How cliché. Othello. Your friend makes a pass at your girlfriend except I didn't remember who had made a pass at whom. All I knew was that one of the most sexually fulfilling nights of my life had ended in despair. I had inadvertently created a triangle that would encompass, and ultimately, imprison me, April, and Lizzie forever.
Was I trying to hurt Lizzie or Jack by sleeping with April? No, I'm certain I wasn't. I was simply driven by lust and had lost all my judgment and ethics in a state of drunken selfishness. I didn't worry about Jack because he and I were separated and I was dubious about his dating behavior at the time, so I didn't owe him anything. However, surely I owed something to my best friend, Lizzie, but I didn't think she would find out. I never imagined she would get up at the crack of dawn and burst in on April and me like a SWAT team. That's because I trusted Michael. Couldn't have envisioned him picking up the phone to call Lizzie as he did, telling her to get the hell over to Fun House stat.
Lizzie called me every name under the sun—me! April was her girlfriend, but she never got mad at her, never blamed her. Just me, Kari. Kari's the bisexual. Kari is the one we can't trust. Kari is a whore. Lizzie stormed out and wouldn't have anything to do with April for several weeks. Then they got back together. My punishment was much more brutal.
Lizzie refused to talk to me for four years. My glimpse of pure sexual ecstasy, my very first time with a woman, should have been precious, but my otherwise idyllic evening was permanently tainted. I had destroyed the friendship of a lifetime, and I hated myself for my sleazy actions. All the nights Lizzie and I had spent laughing in her room, sharing secrets, moaning about our teachers and worrying about grades, revering the sexy, gravel voice of Scott Muni of WNEW-FM and reviling Howard Stern for his misogyny… all those nights were gone.
With Jack's help and the unfailing support of my parents, I acknowledged my alcoholism and the hurtful things I’d done when I was drinking. Within months of my liaison with April, I got sober, but it was too late for me and Lizzie. I called her incessantly, I dropped by her house, and I pleaded with her, to no avail. She called me a traitor and said she could never trust me even after I told her I'd been through drug rehab three times, and I was dying to make amends. She didn't care. She was angry and felt betrayed. I understood, but there was no way I could unring that bell. What was done was done, and I had apologized profusely. If Lizzie couldn't accept my apology, the only choice I had was to walk away. Her rejection broke my heart.
Meanwhile, I heard through the grapevine that Lizzie was slipping into a serious depression. Sam would go over to her house around 7:30 at night. Lizzie would still be in her bathrobe, and Sam couldn’t persuade her to get dressed to go out. She got bored sitting there talking to her. Sam was young! She didn't want to sit in the house all night, trying to console her stoned, cheerless friend. And she didn’t understand clinical depression. None of us did. Eventually, both Joanne and Samantha drifted away from Lizzie. The only one Lizzie had left was April, and their relationship became increasingly serious, so much so that April moved out of Fun House and into Lizzie's bedroom, according to Sam.
I could see Mary Margaret going along with that arrangement, but Tony was another story. He was deeply ashamed of his daughter's lesbianism and dismissed it as nothing more than a phase, a byproduct of her drug use, another sign that she was dissolute. Lizzie clashed with her dad and her brother, Angelo, another homophobe who constantly made fun of April. Angelo had become a big guy now. He was six foot four, taller than his dad, and weighed 250 pounds. He was a trucker, and he wasn't anybody to mess with.
Life went on. Jack and I got married and moved to Manhattan. I loved NYC as much as any person; after a cushy but stultifying life in the burbs, I thrived in the big city. As beautiful as Canton was with its tranquil rivers, pristine white clap-board churches with tall steeples, snow-covered red roofs in the winter, and lovely antique shops, the little town couldn't compete with off-Broadway plays, smoky little jazz clubs in The Village, eating dim sum with chopsticks on Mott Street, climbing the steep hills up to The Cloisters, or simply gazing at the magnificent statues in the hallways of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Living in New York made me feel as though I were a dim bulb that had finally been plugged into the socket.
Jack and I got along well. He didn't give me butterflies, or cause me to stutter when he walked into a room and make my mind go stupid, but we were compatible, and I adored him for accepting me just the way I was, faults and all. The sex between us was good, but it was definitely vanilla, and there were many times that I fantasized about other men or thought back to that passionate night with April. But you can't have it all, I thought. I was never going to have April, but at least our paths had crossed for that brief moment in time. That's more than a lot of people can say.
I got a job working at the United Way helping people find affordable housing, which was gratifying. I was happy and productive. Then I went to visit my parents in Connecticut for a week.
One hot and humid night in August I borrowed my father's car to go to a twelve-step meeting. I had been there the night before, and the vending machine had been out of order, so at the last moment when I got to the bottom of my street and was about to make a right-hand turn to take me to the meeting, I decided I would go left into town to get a corn muffin. A mundane night and an ordinary decision. I could have gone right, but I went left and suddenly, life as I knew it was over.
I don't remember anything after that turn except I regained consciousness in an ambulance. Someone was screaming, and it took a while to realize it was me. I had a searing pain in my neck that shot right down my spinal column. The paramedics said I had been hit head-on by an octogenarian who’d had a heart attack at the wheel. Sweet irony. After all the years I drove drunk safely, I had nearly lost my life driving sober.
I spent four weeks in intensive care and was then moved to orthopedics in the hope my neck fracture would heal, and I would regain feeling in my lower extremities.
The doctor said this could take time; I needed to give it a few weeks.
Jack sat by my bed, night and day. He formed a prayer circle where he called everyone he knew and asked them to pray for my recovery. Beg for a miracle. My parents never left my side, and Erik was a rock. I was surrounded by love and support, and everyone believed I would recover. I secretly started saying novenas before bed.
Then Lizzie called me. She’d seen the article in the paper about the accident, seen the picture of my car crumbling like an accordion. She sobbed, lamenting that I could have died, and she didn't want things to end like that between us. She missed me. Things weren't the same without me. She wanted to be friends again.
Thank God for her phone call. I was so relieved to hear from her, I cried for an hour. Lizzie, my Lizzie, was back after all those years. We could start over. I was sober. I had ethics now. I had worked hard for this. I deserved her friendship and a new beginning.
She wanted to visit me in the hospital, and I was thrilled at the prospect. We made a tentative date, but then my surgeon gave me the bad news. Too much time had elapsed for me to regain any feeling in my legs; therefore, it was unlikely I would ever walk again. I was devastated. I couldn't talk to anyone except the hospital chaplain.
"Why me?" I shouted. "Is God punishing me for all the times I drove drunk and could have hurt somebody but didn't?"
"No, my child," the matter-of-fact, balding pastor said reassuringly. "Sometimes we don't know God's plan, but rest assured it was never to hurt you. The elderly driver who forgot to take her high blood pressure medication did that, not God. God is proud you have worked so hard at your sobriety. Don't be bitter. In time, you will come to accept this—not now, but over the months and years."
The idea of accepting a life of gross limitation seemed impossible. I would never run, dance, throw my hair back and glide out of a room. I couldn’t stand up in the hospital to embrace my dear Birgitta: to comfort her as she bent over my bed, smoothing back my pillow, trying valiantly to be strong for my sake. I would never hike that uneven, mossy hill up to The Cloisters. All those things I took for granted, without a moment of gratitude for any one of them, were gone now, never to return.
I was enraged. I didn't want to see Lizzie. I didn't want to see Jack or my parents either. I just wanted to sleep all day. So, I asked Jack to cancel my upcoming visit with Lizzie. There would be ample time to see her when I got out of the hospital, but I couldn't deal with the possibility she might still be mad at me or there could be conflict between us. All I could think about was I was never going to walk or have a normal life again.
After four months as an inpatient and sixteen months as an outpatient, I finally learned how to navigate my wheelchair and build upper body strength. Even though I hadn't seen her yet, knowing that Lizzie and I would be buddies again helped to get me through my strenuous rehabilitation. She would be calling me. She would drive into Manhattan to stay with Jack and me. We would catch up on all the time we'd lost.
We’d go out for dinner and to handicap-friendly movie theaters and go on shopping sprees together, as long as the department stores had an elevator. She’d tell me all about Albert Camus, Sartre, and other French writers she was studying and somehow we would avoid the topic of April. We’d sit in Washington Square smoking cigarettes and reminiscing about our childhood in Canton.
But that never happened. Right after I got out of the hospital, Angelo called Jack to tell him there had been an incident. Lizzie had taken one of his guns and shot herself in the head. She had died instantly, and the family had a quiet service—just the priest and the relatives.
I was incredulous. I felt as though I had fallen through the looking glass; everything was upside down and terrified me. Lizzie was dead, and so were my dreams of growing old together: having kids, sending them to kindergarten, going through menopause. Even commiserating about a divorce with Lizzie would have been oddly fulfilling when I realized there would never be anything to share with her again.
When I was able to drive my van with adaptive devices, I went to the end of the heavily treed cul-de-sac and talked to Mary Margaret endlessly. "Why did she do it? Did you try to help her? Did she ever talk about me?" She told me what I already knew. Lizzie had been depressed. Lizzie had given up drugs and felt worse afterward. Tony and Angelo had made lesbian life miserable for Lizzie and April, and Lizzie couldn't cope with the crushing feeling of having disappointed her dad. She wasn't the daughter he had wanted. She would never make him proud. She would always be an embarrassment.
And then there were the questions I thought to myself but didn't say out loud to Lizzie's mom: "Why didn't you lock up the guns?" But Mary Margaret never blamed Angelo or herself. She had checked Lizzie into a hospital for depression, but Lizzie hated the psych ward and had checked out after two weeks.
The more I thought about Mary Margaret, the less cool she seemed to me now. She was permissive, which I appreciated when I wanted someplace to smoke pot. But, how had that worked out for Lizzie or me? Not well! Mary Margaret's intentions were good, but her liberal parenting style had not done me or her daughter any favors. My own mom, who had seemed uptight in my younger years, now appeared mature. She had always set rules and boundaries, and I walked right over them. But at least she had laid down the law. Mary Margaret hadn't.
Jack drove me to Christ the King Cemetery to visit Lizzie because I couldn't get myself and my wheelchair out of the car alone and up the long slope. What a stunning location. Huge noble oak, spruce, and pine trees formed a labyrinth with rolling open spaces in between. If ever someone could find peace, it would be there. Jack would push me up to her gravesite and say a prayer for her. "Oh, Heavenly Father, forgive the sins of your daughter Elizabeth and welcome her into your kingdom. Amen." And he would get up from his kneeling position, brush the fresh dirt and grass from his hands and look at me almost as if he were happy. Happy because he believed Lizzie had gone to a better place. Happy because Jack had given his life to Jesus so long ago, he could think of nothing better than to be with Him and firmly believed He would not punish a twenty-three-year-old Catholic woman who killed herself.
I could never see Lizzie's death as a good thing. Moreover, I had not forgiven God for His failure to answer my prayers and for allowing my accident to occur. "God didn't cause your accident," Jack and the chaplain had insisted. Of course, that was true, but if there was a God, He had created beings with highly imperfect natures: people who were bound to disappoint, hurt, slay, and treat each other unjustly, and then He expected them to work things out among themselves? At best, such a grand plan was naïve. At worst, it was cruel.
Second, God had not protected Lizzie. She was born into a family that adored her until they discovered she wasn't like everybody else. Her mother stuck by her to the end, but her father had essentially disowned her. How many gay teens kill themselves because they are mocked or mercilessly bullied at school? Lizzie made it through the awkward high school years. She probably knew then that she was a lesbian, but she never even told me, just as I had never confided my attraction to girls to her. We both pretended to be just like Sam and Joanne. The only sin Lizzie committed was being herself.
She had believed. She had gone to Mass, wore the cross, and had pictures of Jesus in her room. She had forsaken traditional religion long ago, but never Jesus. To her, He was the embodiment of peace and acceptance. After all, didn't Jesus embrace everyone from the prostitute to the tax collector? A good man. A man of love. But neither Jesus nor God had ensured her comfort or safety in this life, and I no longer had any use for them.
After Jack said his prayers over the grave, he would disappear so I could be alone with Lizzie. I would wheel back and forth and talk to her for hours, even in the rain. I would cry, I would scream, I would apologize. I had a compulsive need to repeat myself and tell her the same story over and over again, explaining why I had failed her: why I had sex with the only woman Lizzie had ever really loved.
Jack usually went to a meeting while I sat and poured my heart out to the Lizard. Then he would come back hours later and pick up the pieces of what was left of my shattered psyche. We did this week after week, year after year, until I finally forgave myself for hurting and betraying my best friend; forgave Lizzie for throwing her one and only chance at this life away; forgave Mary Margaret and Angelo for allowing drugs and guns in their house; and accepted, if not forgave, God for creating an imperfect world. It may not have been a land of constant pleasure, but it was the only life we had. And although I had lost a great deal, there were still countless people, places, and things that brought me much joy.
April wasn't at Lizzie’s funeral because she never found out about Lizzie's death. She met another woman shortly before my accident and had taken off with her—poof! She just up and left Fun House, and the Fortunatos, Lizzie, and Michael never heard from her again. She shocked me by her ability to cut off everyone in her life, including her brother, without ever looking back.
I often wonder where April is. Did she take off to Bermuda to start a new life? I have a recurring dream about her. We’re lying on hot pink sand and April is massaging coconut tanning lotion into my back. We swim and splash each other with salt water. Later we rent mopeds and drive from St. George to Hamilton. We check into the Fairmount Hamilton Princess Hotel with its stunning balconies overlooking the harbor. After an evening of live entertainment—Rihanna, perhaps, or even Drake or Katy Perry—we stop at the casino and play blackjack and drink Mai Tais. Then we go back to our room.
I caress her angelic face and kiss her upturned nose, running my tongue all the way down her neck until I rip her blouse open and suck on her hard nipples. I make her come and come and come. She smiles, content to be with me. I am her love, not Lizzie. April and I exist in a bubble—a world without consequence. A world without Jack, Lizzie, and paraplegia.
When I wake up, I feel a twinge of guilt as I try to roll over and get up, but realize I’ll have to wait for Jack to help me out of bed. There are still no major fireworks between us, just an eternal flame of affection. I can't believe he's stayed with me all these years and never made me feel as though I were inadequate or a burden. He’s a good man and I’m grateful.
It’s been more than two decades since my car accident and Lizzie's suicide. The two will always be inextricably tied in my mind. The worst thing that ever happened to me, which left me with injuries from which I will never recover, brought Lizzie back to me before she died.
"All that for a corn muffin," Erik once said. "A corn muffin you never even ate." But if the accident hadn’t occurred, I'm not sure Lizzie would have ever called or felt sufficiently sympathetic toward me to make amends. It took nearly losing me for Lizzie to realize I had made a stupid drunken mistake and hadn't meant to hurt her. I was fallible. Lizzie had accepted my foibles and put my betrayal behind her. Only the accident could have provided me and Lizzie with a second chance to mend our painful rift.
That's what I tell myself when I watch women my age running, rollerblading, and swimming with an air of entitlement and no awareness whatsoever of how lucky they are. I'll never be agile or athletic, but I have Jack, my beautiful parents, a brother who makes silly jokes about corn muffins, sweet memories of April, and a fulfilling job at the United Way.
Although my desire for the elusive April nearly destroyed me by causing such anguish between Lizzie and me, it opened up a world of unparalleled pleasure that I will never experience again. So, I no longer regret making love to my best friend’s girl, and I can sleep at night knowing that, no matter where she is, Elizabeth Fortunato still loves me.