Chapter 1: La Voie

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As Valerie lay hooked underneath the turned-over jeep with the smoke filling up the interior, time slowed down. Almost stopped.

It was almost as if time had stopped enough for her to be able to wriggle her way out through the shattered front window, dust herself off, and walk into the purple horizon with the setting sun.

She still wonders why she didn’t just do that.

Instead her mind went into instant replay of every moment of her life. Do you only feel alive when
you are as close as you can be to death? And is it only in that moment that you can view your life in

As her lungs fill up with asphyxiating smoke, her childhood home flashes before her eyes. With her
absent father and severely religious mother arguing in the kitchen, she swings back and forth on the
makeshift swing in her backyard. She sees her mother cross herself 3 times while yelling obscene curses
while her father stares emptily at the wall behind her.

She was a happy kid though. And her days were filled with several happy backyards and several happy
wings. And daisies. A shitload of daisies.

She remembered a photograph her mother took when Valerie was five. She had been chest-high in a
field filled with long grass and daisies specking the green with white and yellow. And all you could see of
her was her beaming face beneath her tousled brown hair. There was something about that photograph
that shook her. It seemed to her that the happiness she emanated that day was the happiness goal she
has been trying to achieve her whole life.

That one moment. Can one really live a whole lifetime in one moment?

I surely think so. Then again, look at Valerie here, at her proudest final moment reliving her whole life
once again. In just a single moment.

Her childhood years were just that: a simple photograph she had taken and pinned to the inner sides of
her skull. But that’s sadly all it is now. A moment that just flashes onto the screen when you least expect
it. Like those controversial subliminal messages in commercials.

Real life began in seventh grade. Valerie was in a Catholic School (predictably), abound with nuns and
evening prayers. The works.

It was biology class and she was seated next to Lucy Livingston. And her hands, those were what did the
trick. And as they sat looking at—but not really seeing—the pickled rabbit fetus in the cabinet behind
the teacher, Valerie touched her hand. Jolts would go up her spine at the touch, the kind you’d want to
have at your disposal like a button you can press whenever you feel like.

If Valerie hadn’t been coughing from the fumes that very moment, she would have smiled.

The counselor told Valerie’s parents it was just a phase. Girls like Valerie and Lucy would just grow out of
it eventually.

Lucy did. Valerie didn’t.

College comes next. Comes with a bang, like a truck on the highway coming right at you. Valerie takes
advantage of her newfound freedom and loses all the restraints and restrictions she had been living with
in that prison of a home. Drugs, alcohol. Clubbing, pubbing. Men, women. All barriers were shattered.

But a hard hit to the head made her come back to earth. It came in the shape of a woman called Grace,
a weapon of mass destruction. Like an H-bomb that makes a heart cloud instead of a mushroom cloud. It
doesn’t make things any better though. Just a little more cynical.

Except it wasn’t really all too bad. At least the beginning and middle weren’t.

She saw Grace first stretched out on the dewy grass oval in front of the Arts Hall. She had a book in her
lap and her short sandy-blond hair covered her face, though enough was exposed for Valerie to see her
defined jaw line.

Valerie lay on her back at the opposite end of the oval in a way that the sandy-blond haired girl was
always in the corner of her eye. The sun was setting around that time and the sky grew from a deep
orange to a light purple slowly.

After a few stolen glances and a couple of loud hellos, the distance between them grew shorter and
shorter till they were less than a few feet apart, seated on the almost-wet grass. The kind of grass who’s
prickly feel underneath their palms felt like a constant reminder of their being alive. The good kind of
being alive. Because, in all honesty, you could count the moments in life when you actually felt alive on
one hand. Or two if you’re extremely lucky.

All went well between them. The more Valerie fell for Grace the more her whole life could finally stand
without wobbly knees. Almost as if Grace had stopped the balance from tipping. She got better friends.
Smoked lesser cigarettes. Had a healthier attitude. And grew the guts to introduce Grace to her parents.

It came like a need; one Valerie had never felt when it came to her past relationships.

It did not go so well.

Through her mother’s quiet sobbing and her father’s loud threats, the only thing keeping her from
exploding was Grace’s warm hand in hers.

“This is ridiculous! We did not raise you to get this fucked up!”

Valerie feels Grace’s hand slightly squeeze hers.

“Don’t ever come back to this house. We never want to see you again, you sick bitch.”

Grace gives her a harder squeeze.

Valerie’s father grabs a photo of a 9-year old Valerie in a pink dress beaming at the camera and shatters
it on the wall.

Grace’s squeeze is now a constant.

Valerie stared absently at her 9-year old beaming face on the floor while her mother’s sobs grew louder.
She feels Grace’s hand pull her backwards towards the door but Valerie cannot leave the eyes of that
beaming child face. They bore into her mind and scarred the sides of her skull, and they have never fully
disappeared since then.

Even now she’s surprised how she didn’t shed a tear that day even though she felt like screaming as she
was pulled across the front porch. Grace drove her to a large long-grass meadow after that. The grass
came up to their knees and the green was dotted white with daisies.

Just like Valerie’s old photograph.

Valerie kneeled in the grass, the edges tickling her neck. She let out a huge sigh towards the orange-
purple sky above her and closed her eyes.

There it was again. That feeling of being alive.

Valerie felt Grace brush against her as she sat by her in the grass. Her sandy blond hair looked even
sandier in contrast to the green. She admitted she had always known of this place but had only recently
seen Valerie’s picture of it.

“I probably shouldn’t have snooped through your drawers like that,” she says a little coyly. “But it just
fell out when—”

Valerie shut her up with a long kiss and they fell asleep for a good hour there. The grass around them
almost looked like a barrier to everything around them except the purple-orange sky above them.

My my. If only one could live that way. In a barrier of grass.

They never returned to that place after that. Not together anyway. Though on the ride back home they
both still felt the grass prickle at the sides of their arms and the daisies brush against their cheeks.

Valerie’s balance could not be stable forever and was tipped once again on the fifth of May 2005.

- Contributed by Leliana

Guest Contributor

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