[Continued from "The Risk of a Kiss (Part 2)"]
It is late at night and I’m the only one still awake when I first see Mollie and Kristene’s photo and read the headline. Even my teenage daughter is already asleep, tangled in her sheets.
The girls were found in knee-deep grass.
Through open windows, I hear the river rushing over the dam and an occasional car within the night’s stillness as I silently weep. The couple—Mollie Olgin, 19, and Mary “Kristene” Chapa, 18—was found at Violet Andrews Park just below a scenic overlook on a windy coastal bluff that slopes into the sea in Portland, Texas, a small town near Corpus Christi, just down the coast from where I thrice lived in Galveston. Police say Mollie was shot in the neck and Kristene in the head by a large-caliber gun at close range near midnight.
Their bodies were found about nine hours later on June 23—the very day of the Gay Pride Festival and Parade in nearby Houston, and just days after and before two separate pride parades in nearby San Antonio. Mollie was pronounced dead at the scene. Kristene was taken to a local hospital and later regained consciousness.
I read through tears. In one photo, yellow crime scene tape surrounds a playground. A female police officer bends to photograph the ground near a marker that says “10” and a blue children’s slide. Police believe the murderer led the two teenagers from a wooden deck overlook down a grassy trail to where they were executed.
Photos of the crime scene can’t help but be beautiful—slate gray ocean and swaying palm trees haunt the background. I remember taking my wife “home” for the first time and sitting together on a windy summer night on Galveston’s Seawall Boulevard overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. We held hands, talked and laughed, savoring the warm late night breeze so foreign to her and familiar to me. A few cars passed but we felt safe enough, just across the street from our hotel encircled by palm trees.
I think about the distance between our innocent kisses that night on the seawall overlooking the gulf and the overlook along the bluff that slopes into the bay—the place where Mollie and Kristene collapsed into grass and sand. The distance between our kiss on those Massachusetts steps a few weeks ago and where Mollie and Kristene stood together for the last time. The distance between where their bodies were found and where long ago, at their age, I lay in a grassy Houston park side by side and holding hands with another girl.
That day, decades ago, we briefly lifted our heads to reach and kiss a simple little kiss on the lips when a neighborhood security officer approached us, calling me “douche bag” and threatening me. He said that the neighborhood and my landlord had “been good” to me but that he’d report me (for what? I now ask) if it ever happened again. We were in the small park across the street from the $100 a month room I then rented in a lovely little home that now borders the famous Menil Collection. At the time, I lived with the curator of another Houston museum, and I imagine she would not have been too shocked. But I was young and dumb and promptly slipped back into the closet, afraid of what I didn’t know.
Kristene and Mollie chose to openly live and love—to the extent that their friends had been aware of them as a couple for five months. Kristene’s tweets reveal a passionate, joking and irreverent teenager. She tweeted “Fuuuuck you cramps!!” and “Fuck controlling people!” and “When life hands you lemons, say Fuck them lemons and bail!” as well as romantic messages such as “Can’t wait till Saturday (((: staying with the babe” and “Is it weird I don’t wanna wash my shirt because it smells like you..” She tweeted about missing her niece and wanting to take her to the park as easily as “I wish I could be as awesome as @Jenna_MMarbles :/” She even waxed lyric on occasion, tweeting, “I use to think the Ashes from ash Wednesday were dead body Ashes” and “People throw rocks at things that shine.”
I try to imagine what my life might have been like if I’d have felt that I could be out at 18. I stare at the photo of Kristene kissing Mollie. The longer I stare, the more I feel their loss. And my loss. Shocked by the depth of my reaction, I drink a glass of water and blow my nose but I cannot stop crying. Too far from home, I now live half way across the country but I might as well be home, standing on the beach just down the highway from where they last stood together—that’s where my soul seems to be. I give up trying to stop crying and go to bed, collapsing into my wife’s arms. She wakes instantly, asking what’s wrong. When I tell her, she just holds me.
For several days, I walk through my life fully aware that I’m haunted. I frequently check for news of Kristene, waiting as she gains strenth and begins to sign, at first her only way to communicate. I take this loss, this tragedy, as if it’s happened in my own family. And it has. Mollie and Kristene are part of the human family and the LGBTQ community. The lives and love and loss of these two strangers has pierced my heart.
For my profile pic on Facebook, I post Mollie and Kristene’s sweet photo as a small political act to spread word of this unimaginable tragedy and the beauty of their love, acknowledging metaphorically that my wife and I see our younger selves in them. As if our younger selves—the selves we could have been, the selves we sometimes dream of—were executed the night that Mollie and Kristene collapsed into tall grass close to the sea.
[To be continued]