Straight Over the Fence
Her long blond hair would bounce slightly as she walked into the gym for homeroom, her sparkly flats tapping loudly on the vinyl flooring. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning I would get to school at precisely 7:20 and take my seat on the cold gym floor, and usually she would rush in about ten minutes later, greeting us all with chipper hellos and good mornings and how-are-yous. Even Mr. Layvas was prey to her charm, and somehow he never managed to mark her tardy. Then she’d toss her backpack against the wall and plop down next to me, launching into a story about her morning before I had the chance to say hello. By the time the bell would ring I’d already be looking forward to lunch, when she would skip over to the table with her large pink lunch box, beginning a conversation before she even sat down. Sometimes I think back to those middle school days, reminding myself that before all her failed classes and drunken nights and door-slamming screaming matches with her parents, Jasmine had been the most confident, carefree girl in all of Franklin Middle School.
In eighth grade the administrators did away with homeroom, and Jasmine and I didn’t have any classes together, so I only got to see her at lunch. As I look back, even lunches got worse about halfway through the year when she started getting lunch detentions for missing assignments, leaving our lunch table quieter and exceedingly more boring.
I was perplexed by Jasmine’s behavior; she was quite intelligent and had always been a straight-A student, but for the first time she was letting some assignments slide. Even the days she came to lunch seemed gloomier because she spent so much time complaining about her parents and their unbelievable rules. Once she fumed, in between bites of a turkey sandwich, “Can you believe it?! They’re not letting me go to the sleepover at Larissa’s this weekend cause I’m getting a ‘C’ in Algebra. Who cares? ‘C’s are passing! But they say I have to sit in my room and finish every missing assignment I have! God, I hate them so much!”
Jasmine slammed her hands down on the table, waiting for us to jump to her side, but I had a hard time matching Jasmine’s descriptions to the kind, welcoming couple I’d gotten to know over the years. Mr. and Mrs. Coffman were stable, hospitable, and unwaveringly Jesus-loving, and they seemed like decent parents to me. Mr. Coffman had always taken Jasmine and her brother Grayson and me on bike rides to the church playground when we were little, and Mrs. Coffman had hosted our sixth grade girls’ Bible study, giving us tea and cookies and cute journals to write in. “Maybe your parents just know you can do better?” I suggested hesitantly.
“You don’t understand, Rachel,” said Jasmine. “They’re mean and controlling.”
For the most part, however, Jasmine continued to be her happy self in eighth grade. In May, at the peak of her most successful softball season yet, she got her first and only real boyfriend. His name was Ben, and he was hot stuff at Franklin Middle School. He was a star basketball player, he got straight ‘A’s despite not seeming to care about school, he was six-foot-four by the time he was thirteen, and he was decently friendly. Jasmine and Ben dated for seventeen whole days, and they even hugged once or twice. Their relationship was the talk of the school, so naturally news of their breakup reached all ears as well, and everyone knew Ben had dumped Jasmine because they’d never kissed or even held hands. Jasmine, surprisingly, seemed relatively un-fazed. “Whatever,” she told me as we walked toward the bus lane after school. “I liked things better before we started dating anyway. He actually talked to me then.”
The school year ended a few weeks later, and in my memory that summer was one of the best. Jasmine and I gave each other pedicures, made homemade ice cream, and lounged by the pool. I ate at least half my dinners at the Coffman’s house, deciding Mrs. Coffman’s delicious chicken salad and loaded nachos were enough to make up for Mr. Coffman’s long-winded pre-meal prayers. And since cooking wasn’t a talent either of my parents had, I ate most of my other dinners at my grandma’s small farmhouse just outside the city limits. Grams loved when Jasmine came with me, and once we spent the night in a tent in Grams’ field. In the middle of the night we got scared, but when Grams woke up to us sneaking inside she just ushered us back out, followed us in her light pink nightgown, and crawled into the tent to join us.
When September came Mr. Coffman gave Jasmine and me a ride to our first day of freshman year, and we walked into first period geometry together, five minutes late because like usual, Jasmine wanted to make an entrance. As the semester went on that class quickly became my favorite, and I found myself doing well on assignments and quizzes. Jasmine, however, almost always showed up late with her homework incomplete. By the time the midterm rolled around, she had a solid 28% in the class.
Jasmine knew none of the test material, so I convinced her to stay after class and study with me the day before the exam. I ended up explaining six chapters of geometry to her in fifty-five minutes while Mr. Hagen sat at his desk, shaking his head at how quickly Jasmine was learning the new material. “It’s a good thing you have Rachel for a friend,” Mr. Hagen said to Jasmine, and she agreed. The next week Mr. Hagen handed back our tests, and I looked at mine. 96%. I smiled. I looked over at Jasmine’s. 98%. Mr. Hagen shook his head. “Jasmine, you really are quite brilliant,” he said. That was the last time she would hear those words for a long time.
Jasmine’s second semester started off better, mostly because she had to pass her classes in order to compete in softball games. I loyally sat in the bleachers during almost every game, and I was there on the rainy March day when she hit the ball straight over the fence. “Home run!” Mr. Coffman yelled, jumping up from his seat. “Go Jazzy!” yelled Ben, who was also braving the weather to watch, presumably because he wanted to get back together with Jasmine even though she showed no interest. “That’s my girl!” yelled a guy named Hayden, even though Jasmine wasn’t his girl. It was no secret that he liked her, but she didn’t seem to like him back, which I’d never understood since he was a sweet and decently good-looking guy. Now, however, it makes much more sense.
Jasmine’s pitching was impressive as well, and once at church I heard Mr. Coffman bragging that she was on track to be the only freshman at Franklin High to receive First Team All-League honors. Unfortunately he spoke too soon—Jasmine bombed a U.S. History presentation and failed to turn in two English essays, leaving her on the bench during the most important game of the season. Her backup pitcher was pretty lousy so Franklin lost the game, ending their season in the first round of the single-elimination stage.
“You had the chance to be an all-star!” her mom screamed at her after the game.
“Chill out, Mom,” Jasmine said. “I had the chance to be an all-star, not you. It’s none of your business.”
“Oh, it is so my business, young lady!” yelled her mom. “Your grades are absolutely inexcusable! You don’t care about school and I’m sick of it! Grades matter. We never had this problem with your brother! And you’ve let your whole team down. You’re embarrassing our family!”
I snuck across the room toward the stairwell, thinking I’d picked an unwise day to come home with the Coffmans.
“We are very disappointed, Jasmine,” said her dad. He wasn’t yelling, but his tone was deep and stern. “You have so much talent, and you’re throwing it away. And we don’t understand why—your mom and I have given you everything we could. We’ve taught you the importance of using the gifts God gave you, but you aren’t using them well.”
Jasmine’s tone was no longer apathetic. “All you care about are sports, Dad! You just want me to do well in softball so you can brag about me to all your friends! Oh, and you want me to be some sweet, angelic little Christian—God, why do you have to throw in the stuff about ‘using the gifts God gave me?!’”
By then I’d reached the top of the stairs, and as I walked down the hallway I heard Mrs. Coffman yell something about Jasmine using the Lord’s name in vain. Then I entered Jasmine’s room and closed the door, and although I could no longer make out any words, the screaming below me went on for a long time. I lay on Jasmine’s bed, and as I thought about how I should have gone to get milkshakes with some of my friends after the game instead, I was pretty sure I heard crying coming from downstairs.
Our sophomore year didn’t start well either, mostly because Jasmine decided she didn’t want to be friends with one of our other friends, Larissa, and she used her social power to force everyone to take sides. For the entire year I was the middle-woman, jumping back and forth between two groups of friends. This was tiring, and I spent much of my time feeling sorry for myself and perhaps acting a little moodier than normal.
The specifics of the fifteen-year-old drama aren’t super important, so I’ll be brief. Basically someone started a rumor that this guy named Oscar, the varsity pitcher and Ben’s best friend, was super into Larissa. This turned out to be false, but by that point Larissa was already in love with Oscar. Unfortunately Oscar, like most boys at Franklin High, actually liked Jasmine, and went for her instead. Soon rumors were flying: Jasmine and Oscar went to a party at Ben’s together, got wasted, and went into Ben’s parents’ bedroom. Larissa swore the two would have had sex if she hadn’t walked into the room while they were making out on Ben’s parents’ bed.
At school on Monday I spent all of homeroom in the bathroom with Larissa while she cried. So at lunch, when I sat shotgun in Jasmine’s car on our way to Taco Bell (sophomores weren’t technically allowed to leave campus, but Jasmine always just gave the security guard a friendly wave and kept driving), I felt a little uncomfortable. Playing mediator is hard.
“Uh, Jazz,” I said, “I know you must really like Oscar, and you have every right to date him, or, uh…make out with him if you want, but do you think maybe you should be a little more sensitive of Larissa’s feelings? I mean, think of it from her point of view. She—”
Jasmine cut me off. “Oh, I don’t really like Oscar that much. He’s not my type.”
I wanted to ask her who was her type, since pretty much every attractive and kind and talented boy at Franklin High had liked her at some point and she’d never seemed to be interested in any of them, but I didn’t think it would help the situation. “If he’s not your type, why did you almost sleep with him?” I asked.
“I wasn’t going to have sex with him!” she cried. “Gross. I’m not attracted to him like that. Larissa just started that rumor because she’s jealous.”
I didn’t point out that it wasn’t unusual for someone to see two drunk people making out on the bed and assume it would lead to sex. Instead I just said, “Well, Larissa is pretty upset. Maybe you could make her feel better by telling her you’re not into Oscar, and you’ll stop playing around with him.”
“I don’t have to tell her that!” said Jasmine. “She doesn’t, like, own Oscar. He never even actually liked her! That was just a rumor. I have no obligation to stop hanging out with him.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I was quiet for a few minutes. But as we pulled into the drive-through I asked, “And since when do you drink?”
Jasmine laughed. “I’ve been drinking for months! You’ve just been too absorbed in your own little pity-party to notice me.”
I wanted to tell her that the world didn’t revolve around her, that she wasn’t the only one with problems, and that her little fight with Larissa was putting a huge strain on me. Sure I’d been feeling a little sorry for myself, but “pity-party” hardly seemed fitting, especially when Jasmine was the one causing the drama and I was the one putting up with it with very few complaints. Besides, she was too self-absorbed to ask about what else was going on in my life. She knew my family had been working on moving Grams from her country farmhouse to a retirement home in town, but she didn’t understand how hard it was for me to say goodbye to a place full of childhood memories. I wanted to explain that this was part of the reason for my “pity party,” but I didn’t, and we went through the drive-through in silence. Jasmine and I remained casual friends all year, but it took months for us to start hanging out after school and on weekends again. I didn’t spend the night at her house until May, when we finally went back to giggling under the covers at the “sinful” romantic comedies her parents forbade us to watch.
Junior year started off much better than sophomore year. I got a little more used to visiting Grams in the retirement home, and even though I missed the farmhouse, Grams was still her usual spirited self. School was good too, and one of my favorite memories of that year is sitting in the back of Spanish class with Jasmine, laughing and planning our weddings. Señora Flores never said anything, and didn’t seem to mind our goofing off. I liked this, but Jasmine seemed to want a reaction. Her behavior got more intense, from giggling louder during Spanish conversation tapes to bringing in wedding magazines to cut up during Señora’s lectures, until finally one day she brought in a bottle of her signature sparkly nail polish and started painting her nails in class. The fumes rose quickly into the air, and everyone turned to look.
“Jazmín,” said Señora, “what on earth do you think you’re doing?”
“Painting my nails,” said Jasmine with a smile. It probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise that she had to retake Spanish senior year.
The other thing that comes to mind from junior year is prom, of course. Jasmine sat by me in class as I whispered about which boys were the best looking and how cool it would be to get asked by a senior boy. Then the incredible happened: Peter Rayvier, the senior quarterback, did ask Jasmine to prom. And then the even more incredible happened: Jasmine said no.
“It’s not a big deal!” Jasmine complained to me after sixth period, when news of her refusal had swept the whole school. “He just kind of casually asked me, and I casually told him I’d rather not. Nothing against him, of course—he’s just not my type and I’d rather go with a group of girls anyway. More fun that way, you know?”
I didn’t know. We’d gone as a group of girls to every homecoming dance, and this time I wanted a date. Thankfully others in our friend group felt similarly. Ben asked me to go as friends, and I happily agreed. Hayden, who had gotten over Jasmine since freshman year, asked our friend Brianna, and Peter, pulling himself together from Jasmine’s rejection, asked our friend Sadie. This created an awkward situation for Jasmine, because it meant she’d have to go in the same group as the guy she’d rejected. Plus now she was the only one in our group without a date, so she vowed to say yes to the next person who asked her. Thankfully the next person happened to be a very attractive, although admittedly slightly shy, choir boy named Alby. He seemed thrilled to go with Jasmine, and gave her a dozen red roses when she said yes.
Once again, I’ll spare you of all the details of the planning and shopping and accessorizing and crying and giggling. When prom night actually arrived, we lined up for dozens of pictures, ate dinner at an Italian restaurant, and hit the dance floor. Afterward our group went to Ben’s house to watch a movie, and although a few people cracked open beers, we were probably some of the tamest Franklin students that night. I was grateful for this, but Jasmine wasn’t hesitant to passive-aggressively express her disappointment. Peter left to go to a pool party at his friend Jonathan’s house, and a couple times I heard Jasmine threaten to join him. Each time she did I watched Alby tilt his head down and stare at the specks in the carpet.
About halfway through the movie Ben took my hand, interlacing his fingers with mine, and I gently rested my head on his shoulder. Alby watched us and tried to follow suit, but Jasmine refused his hand. Instead she stood up, announcing, “I need a glass of water.” When she came back she sat on the other side of the couch, next to Sadie. “Sadie needs a cuddle buddy,” she explained to Alby, wrapping her arms around Sadie. “Her date left, and I don’t want her to feel left out.” Alby nodded and smiled, but for the rest of the movie he spent more time looking down at his hands than up at the screen, and when Jasmine made it clear she didn’t want a ride home, he left quickly and without saying goodbye. As I watched him walk toward his car, I felt a rush of anger toward my best friend. “Jasmine, what the hell was that?” I asked angrily.
“God, Rachel, what’s your problem?” she replied. “I just didn’t need a ride!”
“But he was planning on giving you a ride home!” I cried. “And did you see the look on his face when you moved next to Sadie? You crushed him! You’re being such a bitch.”
Jasmine raised her eyebrows. She’d never heard me blow up like that, and she’d rarely heard me cuss. “Wow, Rachel, I think you’re being the bitch,” was all she said, and she walked away, leaving me standing with my jaw locked and fists clenched.
Jasmine and I seemed to have a mutual agreement to pretend the fight never happened, so it wasn’t long before things seemed fairly normal again, and luckily prom our senior year was not such a hassle. By then we had much bigger problems: I was stressed about keeping my grades up and choosing a college, and all of us were busy planning for our graduation ceremony. That is, all of us except Jasmine, who was focused on figuring out if she could graduate.
Over the course of the year Jasmine and I had gotten a little less close, mostly because I’d been spending a lot of my free time applying for scholarships and hanging out with Ben (our junior prom fling had lasted a little longer than I’d expected) while Jasmine had been hanging out with her new friend Peyton; a skinny, tatted, pierced girl who was the leader of an edgier group of students at Franklin’s rival school, Sheridan High. Apparently Jasmine and Peyton had met through mutual friends at a party over the summer or something. Jasmine and I always chatted at lunch, but we didn’t spend much time together outside of school. I never asked what Jasmine did with Peyton and her other Sheridan High friends, but I’m pretty sure it involved smoking weed in the sketchier areas of town.
In December Jasmine got accepted to a smaller Christian school in Virginia to play softball, and her parents were the proudest I’d seen them since her homerun freshman year. By March, however, her grades were once again sub-par. Even worse was the Minor in Possession citation she received just one week into practice. By the time she was cleared to play again her coach had made an up-and-coming freshman the starting pitcher, and Jasmine was left on the bench. In her anger she chucked the ball over the fence, threw her glove down, and marched away. Just like that she was done, her senior season left forever incomplete.
I came home one late April day to find her parents at my house, sitting around the kitchen table with my parents and agonizing over whether Jasmine would still be able to play in college. My parents simply nodded and listened, but I thought Jasmine’s parents should be fretting over whether she would still be able to go to college. She’d already dropped out of English and was having to take it online, she had ten missing assignments in Calculus, and I’m pretty sure she was failing Government.
One month later Jasmine and I sat on the flower-printed couch in Grams’ retirement home room. Graduation was in three days, and Jasmine was not currently on the list to walk. She’d somehow passed her other classes, but she still had to complete an interview project for Government and email it to our teacher by five o’clock if she wanted to graduate. I’d arranged for her to ask Grams about her involvement in the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the sixties, and I sat quietly on the couch as they discussed Grams’ time lobbying in Congress for pro-equality laws, their voices getting faster and more excited the longer they talked. At three-thirty my mom wanted me home, but Jasmine stayed, insisting on hearing just a few more stories. I shook my head, wondering if she would finish the assignment on time.
The next day the other seniors and I came to school to clean out our lockers. I got there a little before Jasmine, so I opened our shared locker alone. I had just finished emptying most of its contents into the trash when Jasmine ran around the corner, waving a slip of paper in the air. “Guess who is graduating high school?!” she screamed.
“Yes!” I yelled, wrapping my arms around her. “You are a rock star!!” She beamed. “Seriously,” I said. “I am so proud of you.”
She squeezed me back and then turned to the locker to help clear out the remaining items. At last it was empty, and she slammed its door shut. Together we walked toward the doors, leaving the hallway for the last time. Jasmine linked her arm through mine, and at that moment I felt almost perfectly happy.
The feeling did not last, and three months later I lay in my dorm room bed at the University of Oregon for the first time, feeling wide awake and full of anxiety and loneliness. In the darkness I could barely make out the shape of the twin bed pushed against the other wall, and I wished Jasmine were lying there instead of some girl I’d only met a few hours before. But as the semester went on I got to know my roommate Claire and some other girls on my hall, and I thought of my high school friends less, making little effort to keep in contact with them.
Then one drizzly afternoon in late November, as I was walking to my English class, I got a phone call from Jasmine. I was so surprised to see her name and picture on the screen that I almost didn’t answer in time, and when I did pick up all I said was, “Jasmine?”
“Hi, Rach,” she said.
I smiled at her familiar voice. “Hi, Jazz!” I said, more confidently. “How are you?!”
We talked for a while about our roommates and intramurals and late-night dorm events, but then she said, “Rachel? I need to tell you something… I want to make sure you hear it directly from me.”
I drew in my breath quickly, but I just said, “Of course. What’s up?”
“Um,” she said. “Well, I wanted to let you know that I’m not coming back here next semester. I kind of…failed some classes. So I have to move home.”
“Oh, Jazzy,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, it sucks,” she said. “My parents are pissed. And it sucks for me too, cause I actually kind of like it here… It’s just gonna be hard to leave, you know? One of my teachers told me I’m brilliant the other day. That threw me off; I haven’t heard that in forever.”
“You are brilliant,” I said.
“Well, except I can’t seem to pass my classes,” she said. “But whatever. I’m also dating someone, and I don’t know if our relationship will last after I leave, so that sucks too.”
“You have a boyfriend?!” I cried. “Since when?”
“Umm…” she said. “I don’t really want to talk about it right now. I’ll explain everything when we’re home for Christmas, okay?”
“Oh, okay,” I said, a bit perplexed.
“Yeah,” she said. “I have to go now—I just wanted to call to tell you that. I’ll see you at home in a few weeks, yeah?”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling confused and wishing the conversation would have lasted longer.
Three weeks later our terms ended, and I drove to the airport to pick Jasmine up. She’d rather have me come than her parents, she told me, and I understood. Our reunion was full of hugs and squeals, and as we sat in traffic on the way home I got her up-to-date on my life at U of O. She listened intently and asked plenty of questions, but finally I said, “Enough. I want to hear about you. Tell me everything.”
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” she replied. “It’s basically what I told you over the phone—I just can’t go back next semester.”
“But you told me there was more you’d explain in person!” I protested. “What about your boyfriend? I want to hear about him. Are you guys still together or did you break up?”
She didn’t reply right away, and when she did I was surprised to hear the strain in her voice. “Okay, I’ll explain more now I guess. But I need you to pull over. I can’t do this while you’re driving.”
“Okay…” I said uncertainly, wondering what this was about. But I took the next exit and parked at the first gas station I saw. “What’s going on, Jazz?” I asked.
She took a deep breath. “Wow, I’m really nervous to tell you this. Don’t freak out, okay?” Her voice was unsteady, and I wondered if she was about to cry.
“No, of course not. Jazzy, you can tell me anything. You know that, right?” I felt even more confused, trying to recall another time when Jasmine had been nervous to tell me something, but I couldn’t think of anything. She’d always loved gossiping, being different from the crowd, and breaking rules for attention. But something was different this time.
Jasmine nodded slowly. “Okay. Well, I didn’t have a boyfriend this semester.”
“Oh,” I said, a little confused. “Oh, that’s fine.” I didn’t understand why she was so worked up about this. “So why did you tell me you did?”
“I didn’t tell you that,” said Jasmine. “I told you was dating someone. And I was. I still am, actually. It’s just…it’s…well…” She sighed and bit her lip, and I thought her eyes looked watery. “It’s…okay. It’s just that I’m not dating a guy.” She paused. “I’m dating a girl.” Her voice broke, and I was surprised to see a tear slide down her cheek. “Please don’t be mad at me,” she pleaded.
I wasn’t sure what to say at first, and I sat in the driver’s seat in shock. As I listened to her sobs, however, I quickly pulled myself together. “Oh, Jazz,” I said, reaching over the center cup holders to wrap my arms around her neck. “Of course I’m not mad. Why would I be mad? I love you just the same,” I told her, and I tried my best to mean it.
We drove in silence for a while, and I thought of all the times we’d sat in class whispering about boys. I thought back to the days when we would bring wedding magazines to Spanish class, ripping out pictures of dresses and rings and attractive grooms in suits. I wondered if all that had been a lie.
As we approached our exit I became aware of the silence. I realized Jasmine was hunched over in the front seat, her eyes still red and sad. She’d trusted me with her deepest secret, and for once she hadn’t been excited to get attention; she’d actually been afraid of how I’d respond. And so far, I realized, I wasn’t responding well. I breathed in, telling myself to pull it together.
“So you’re still dating your girlfriend? That’s cool,” I said in a feeble attempt to show my support. “What’s her name?”
“Kate,” said Jasmine, looking up and relaxing a little in her seat.
“That’s a nice name,” I said, and Jasmine nodded, although I watched her roll her eyes a bit. Come on, I thought. Say something more meaningful. “So what’s she like? I mean, what type of things does she like to do? I mean, how did you meet?” I asked.
Jasmine laughed a little, and I relaxed. Okay, I thought. It’s okay.
By the time we reached Jasmine’s house things seemed much more natural. Jasmine had spent the rest of the ride telling me about how she and Kate had met, what Kate was like, and how they planned to maintain a long-distance relationship now that Jasmine had to move home. We had talked and laughed like normal, and Jasmine seemed extremely relieved that I’d taken the news so well. By the time we pulled into the driveway I saw almost no trace of the timid, vulnerable girl who’d sat crying in the front seat of my car. Her confidence had returned in its full form, and as she stepped out of the car she said, “You’re one of the few people I’ve told so far, but I’ll probably tell more people soon. I don’t care what people think.”
“What about your parents?” I asked. I had a hard time picturing Mr. and Mrs. Coffman, with their conservative Christian values, reacting to the news in a way that was even remotely positive. Having a lesbian daughter wasn’t exactly something they could brag about at church.
“Ehh, I probably won’t tell them yet,” said Jasmine. “But if they find out, whatever. I already don’t live up to my perfect brother anyway. And since when have I cared what my family thinks of me?” She laughed, walked to the trunk to grab her suitcase, and waved goodbye as she pulled it up the driveway. I watched her push open the door and walk inside, wondering if what she said was really true.
For a few weeks things seemed surprisingly normal, and if you placed our Christmas breaks from high school and college side by side they would be almost identical. Jasmine and I made cookies, did our nails, and watched movies like normal. On one of my last nights home, however, she called me crying. “I need someone to talk with,” she said. “Can I come over?”
“Of course,” I said. “You can come any time.”
When Jasmine got to my house she sat at the kitchen table and just cried for a while, but eventually she was ready to talk. “My aunt posted an article on Facebook the other day,” she said, “and it was all about how as Christians we need to respect God’s command that marriage is made for a man and a women. It said,” she sniffled again, “that we need to love people who are gay, but we can’t love their sin.” She blew her nose, and I watched more tears stream down her face. “I can’t handle it!” she cried, her voice breaking again. “No one in my family will ever love me for who I am. My parents are going to hate me even more!”
She cupped her face in her hands, and I reached over to scratch her back. I wanted to get up and wrap my arms around her, but I couldn’t bring myself to move, and I couldn’t think of anything helpful to say. I stared at Jasmine’s heaving shoulders and thought about the girl who used to skip to homeroom in sparkly flats, hit softballs over fences, and paint her nails in Spanish class. I’d always thought of her as so carefree and sure of herself, but I realized that beneath her lighthearted, resilient attitude, she did care about what people thought. She cared a lot.
A few days later I returned to school to begin my winter term classes. I tried to keep up with Jasmine better than I had first quarter, but she seldom returned texts or answered her phone, and she went silent on social media. I heard through the grapevine that her parents had found out she was a lesbian and that she and Kate had broken up. She confirmed this news in a rare reply to a text, saying simply, “Yeah. Things have been rough.”
I called Jasmine the minute I returned home for spring break, but naturally she didn’t answer, so I just drove to her house. Mrs. Coffman answered the door, and I noticed how much older she looked than the last time I’d seen her. I said hello and asked if Jasmine was home, and she said, “Oh, Rachel. Jasmine doesn’t live here anymore.”
“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Where does she live now?”
Mrs. Coffman stared at the ground, and then she said quietly, “She lives with her girlfriend in Portland.”
“Girlfriend?” I asked. “Didn’t she and Kate break up?”
Mrs. Coffman sighed. “Yes,” she said. “This is a new girl, Mallory. I’m not sure how they met.” She finally looked at me again, and I saw sadness and perhaps guilt in her eyes. “Honestly, Rachel, her dad and I tried to get her to stay. We didn’t want her to move away.”
Mr. Coffman, who had come to the door to stand beside his wife, nodded. “Believe us, Rachel, we really wanted her to stay. Of course we don’t agree with her choices, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still love her.” His voice wavered a little. “But she’s shut us out of her life.”
That evening I sent Jasmine eight texts, called her five times, and left her three voicemails, but she didn’t respond. Finally I gave up and went to bed, thinking I’d try again the next day. But in the morning I woke up to my mom shaking me gently and sharing the shocking news that Grams had passed away peacefully in her sleep. “I’m so sorry, Sweetheart,” she said, stroking my hair as I sobbed into her shoulder.
The funeral would be Saturday, my mom told me, so I would still be home for break and wouldn’t have to make a separate trip. I just nodded, still too stunned to say much. I spent most of the day lying on the couch, falling in and out of sleep and weeping quietly when I was awake. The news of Grams’ death spread, and I started getting sympathetic texts from friends and family. Soon even my college friends had seen posts I’d been tagged in on Facebook, and my roommate Claire called to tell me how sorry she was. She’d heard me talk about Grams all the time, and I was grateful when she told me was going to drive up from Eugene for the funeral.
Still, Claire had never met Grams, and she didn’t fully understand my grief. Talking with her on the phone helped a bit, but I really wanted to talk with Jasmine. Jasmine was the one who had spent the night in a tent with Grams, Jasmine was the one who had pelted Grams with eager questions about feminism and activism, Jasmine was the only one I’d truly feel comfortable crying with, and Jasmine was the one I really wanted at the funeral. I kept hoping she would call, but although I got texts from her parents and even her brother Grayson, I didn’t hear anything from her. I called her several times, but she didn’t pick up.
As the week went on I helped my mom pick music for the funeral, endured the hugs of distant family members I hadn’t seen since I was four or five, and cried myself to sleep each night. By Friday my sadness turned to anger as well, and I found myself yelling at my parents and aunts and uncles and even inanimate objects. When the toaster burnt my bagel I let loose my fury on the machine, yanking its plug from the wall and sending it crashing to the kitchen floor, which brought my dad running downstairs. “It’s not fair!” I yelled, sinking to the floor and hugging my knees to my chest as I rocked back and forth. “It’s not fair that she’s gone!”
Most of my anger, however, was directed at Jasmine. I’d called her every day that week, but she still hadn’t called back. So when I’d dried my face on my dad’s sleeve and returned the toaster to its place on the counter (who knew if it still worked), I texted Mrs. Coffman for Jasmine’s new address and grabbed my keys.
Forty-five minutes later I parked in front of a small apartment complex in Southeast Portland. I found #318, knocked on the door, and was greeted by a tall girl with short dark hair who I assumed was Mallory. I introduced myself and she let me into the small living room, where Jasmine was laying on the couch. “Rachel!” she said, quickly sitting up and swinging her legs over the couch. “I didn’t know you were coming!” She stood up and walked over to me. “I heard about Grams,” she said, reaching out to hug me. “I’m so sorry Rach. I’ve been meaning to call you back all week!”
I pushed her away. “What do you mean, you’re sorry?” I cried. “I called you like twenty times this week! I’m home from school for the first time in months, which should be a good enough reason in itself to see me, but just in case it’s not, Grams just died! Why the hell did you never get back to me?”
Jasmine stepped back, surprised at my outburst. “Look, Rach, I’m sorry,” she said. “I really am. It’s just been a crazy week. I honestly meant to call.”
I opened my mouth to yell again, but I could feel tears brimming in my eyes. So instead I looked at the floor and asked quietly, “You’ll come to the funeral tomorrow, right?”
Jasmine didn’t answer, so I looked up. I saw her exchange a glance with Mallory, who was standing on the other side of the living room with one foot in the hallway. “Um…I’m not sure if I can go,” Jasmine said at last. “I’m sorry! It’s just that Mallory’s cousin’s daughter has a dance recital tomorrow, and I’d kind of like to go.”
I stared at her and said nothing. She didn’t say anything either, and Mallory looked back and forth between the two of us a few times before turning to walk down the hallway and into the bedroom. “Are you fucking serious right now?” I said at last. My voice was low and harsh.
Jasmine took another step back, but her voice stayed even. “Well… kind of,” she said. “You know I loved Grams, but Mallory and I are dating now. It’s really important for me to go to her family events.”
“Her family events? It’s important for you to go to her family events!?” I yelled, watching a few beads of my spit leave my mouth and land on the rickety coffee table in front of me. “What about my family events? We’ve been best friends since we were like five, and you’ve only known Mallory for what, a few months? And who cares about a stupid dance recital? This is a funeral for the woman who kept you from flunking out of high school! Have you even met Mallory’s cousin’s daughter?”
Jasmine glared at me. “You’re being awfully needy, Rachel,” she said.
“Needy!” I screamed. “How exactly am I being needy? Grams loved you like her own granddaughter, and you’re the only one of my friends who understands what I’m going through! You, of all people, should be at the funeral. Sadie and Brianna are coming. My roommate from college will be there. Even Grayson said he’s going to come!”
Jasmine’s eyes narrowed even more. “Wow, I’m sorry I’ll never live up to my perfect brother!” she yelled. “You know, I expected comments like that from my parents, but not from you, Rachel. You’re supposed to be my friend!”
“I’m supposed to be your friend?” I screamed back. “What about you being my friend?”
“I am your friend!” cried Jasmine. “But Mallory’s my girlfriend. You don’t even care about that, do you? You won’t accept me for who I am! You’re just like my parents and all my stupid relatives!”
“Accept you for who you are?” I screamed, appalled. “What are you talking about? This has nothing to do with you being gay! This has to do with you being the shittiest friend ever!” I kicked the coffee table and one of its legs gave out, sending books and coffee mugs crashing to the floor. Mallory came running back out from the bedroom.
“Fuck!” cried Jasmine, bending down to pick up the mugs. Then she turned to me. “How dare you ruin Mallory’s stuff! What the hell has gotten into you, Rachel? Get out of here!” I didn’t move, so she yelled again. “Leave!” she said. “I mean it—leave right now!”
“Fine!” I yelled back, pushing open the door with too much force. “Fine. I’ll go. I’ll leave and you can stay here with Mallory and never bother to see me again. See if I care!” My voice broke, and I slammed the door behind me before Jasmine could see the tears starting to roll down my face. I walked to my car, unlocked it, and sat down in the driver’s seat, but I didn’t start the ignition. Instead I put my head down on the wheel, my shoulders shaking as I sobbed.
The next day I sat by my parents and my roommate Claire in the front pew of our church. The Coffman family—minus Jasmine—sat a few rows back. As I listened to the pastor’s words about Grams not having to suffer anymore, tears fell down my cheeks and onto my black dress. I pictured Grams lying next to Jasmine in the tent in Grams’ field, her delicate fingers gently stroking Jasmine’s hair, and I realized I was crying for Jasmine’s friendship just as much as I was crying for Grams.
Mr. and Mrs. Coffman hugged me after the service. “We’re so sorry Jasmine couldn’t come,” Mrs. Coffman said.
“No, she could have come,” I said simply. “She just wouldn’t.” When Mr. and Mrs. Coffman didn’t respond I turned and walked away, tired of being Jasmine’s biggest defender. I wiped the final tears from beneath my eyes and headed toward the doorway, where my friends and family members were waiting for me.