Chapter Eleven

Carys, Jami and Tam were sitting around the kitchen table. Kathy's letter lay in the center. Carys had just finished explaining what had happened at the lawyer's office that morning.

"So," said Tam, "it seems to me she was basically warning you that just about anything you do to make Kathy's writing public could open us to a libel suit."

"Me, anyway."

Tam leaned forward. "Us. We are together in this. They try to hang you, they are going to have to hang all three of us."

"Gee, Tam," said Jami, "that's a cheerful thought."

"We're nowhere near the hanging stage yet," said Carys. "The first question is whether we do anything at all."

Tam held up a finger. "The way I figure this, is like so. First, there's nothing we can do with that final post of Kathy's. It's too ambiguous and too dangerous. It's a piece of the picture for us, but that's all."

Carys and Jami nodded agreement.

"Second, I don't think anything is to be gained by saying we believe Kathy meant to kill herself, for whatever reason. If the police believe it was an accident, what's the point of challenging that? There's no way to know what she did at the end, alone in her car."

"But..." started Carys.

"No. For all we know she was simply pissed off, was taking her anger out in her car, and lost control or misjudged. Even if she used alcohol or drugs, no one was there at the end. There is no way to know. We have to accept that."

Carys glared at Tam.

"Car, I am not exonerating her parents. If they were going to put her in some kind of mind-washing program, they're evil. But I don't believe they would have chosen for their daughter, their only child, to die."

Carys slumped. "You're right. Sorry. I'm just angry."

"So am I. But I'm trying to be realistic."

Jami was looking at Tam. "You really think things through, Tam. I think I like you."

"I want to look at it."

Tam and Jami both turned toward Carys.

"I want to look at the disk. Can we do that now, Jami?"

"Yes."

They all stood up from the table and walked into the bedroom. Jami sat in the chair at the desk computer. Carys and Tam were on stools on either side.

"The first thing I'm going to do is make a file that contains a list of all the directories and files on Kathy's disk." She typed a command in a text window:

 
ls -lR /kathy > /tmp/kathy-lR
 

"Now we'll look at that listing, to see where we should begin. I don't know how savvy of a Windows user Kathy was. The odds are most of the interesting stuff will be under the 'My Documents' directory." Jami scrolled through the lines of directory and file names to reach that directory.

"Stop!" said Carys. She looked at the listing, read aloud the names of directories under My Documents:

Thoughts in solitude
Pain and agony
Are you there God?
Poetry
Blogs
Parents die die die
Gaming
Altered ego
Bad girls like me
Porn Again Xian
Scans
Waiting to die

"Oh, wow," said Tam, "this is going to rough. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Carys didn't answer. Tam and Jami turned to look at her. She was staring at the screen, no expression on her face.

"Carys? Are you okay?" asked Jami.

Carys shook her head as if to clear it, blew out a breath. "It just now hit me what this really means. This is going to be like looking into her soul. And looking at that list of directory names, I suddenly feel like I didn't know Kathy at all."

"What do we do?" asked Jami.

"I don't want to see any more now," said Carys. "I'm going to talk to Crystal. She's the one of us who knew Kathy the best."

* * *

Carys had arranged to meet Crystal at the Union on the State campus when Crystal was done with her classes at the high school. It was a short bus ride for each of them. They went into the food court area to have a snack and talk.

"Thanks for meeting me on such short notice, Crystal."

"No problem, Carys. What's up? Is this about the improv group?"

"No. It's about Kathy."

"Kathy?" Crystal set her drink down so she could pay full attention to Carys. The noise of the food court seemed to fade into the distance. "What about Kathy?"

"I'm going to tell you something that only a few people know about. Me, Jami, Tam, Zoe and now you. It needs to stay that private, I think."

"Okay..."

"Before she died, Kathy took the hard disk out of her laptop computer, put it and prints of her poems in a box, it was mailed to me. I only received the package a few days ago. I don't know the reason for the delay, but I suspect some friend of Kathy's mailed it.

"Jami made a copy of the disk, and we put the original away for safe keeping. Tam and I went to see a lawyer Wednesday morning, to talk about various legal things about making use of anything Kathy wrote and gave to me. That's all very fuzzy, in a legal sense. Last night, Jami and Tam and I took our first look at what is on the disk."

"Wow," said Crystal. "The hard disk? That's like giving you her laptop, her diary, her thoughts." Crystal paused to think. "There may be a lot of stuff on that disk, Carys."

"She included a note to me with the disk." Carys pulled a copy from her jacket pocket and handed it to Crystal, who read it.

"Okay. I wonder why she sent this to you? No, that makes sense. You live on your own. She couldn't safely mail the disk to anyone who lives with their parents. And she'd know that Jami would know how to use the disk." Crystal nodded to herself.

Carys took the copy back. "At first I was thinking I'd look on the disk and maybe find more poems, or an essay or two, and maybe incorporate them into a memorial or something for performance. Anonymously, because I don't think there's any way to publicly acknowledge that Kathy was queer, not at this point."

Crystal nodded, started eating her fries again.

"But Jami says the disk has a lot more on it than the usual software. We looked at the disk, just at the names of the directories and some of the files. Crystal, it really hit me what I was thinking about doing. Looking into her most private thoughts, into her soul." She shook her head. "And it was really obvious, from the names of some of the directories and files, that I didn't know Kathy very well at all."

Crystal put down her fries. "Yeh, I can only imagine. I did know her pretty well. A lot better than I've let on, to tell you the truth." She used her teeth to play with her lip ring a moment. "I can guess some of what's on that disk, and that it might be pretty shocking if you thought that Kathy was a sweet and innocent child, locked away in a tower, so to speak."

Crystal picked up a gob of catsup on a French fry, sucked it off, licked the fry slowly, then ate it. "A tower with an Internet connection kind of obsoletes ye olde chastity belt. Kathy did things online she couldn't get away with doing for real. That maybe TMI for you?"

Carys stared at Crystal. "It's not too much information, no. But I'm confused about what to do. Kathy seems to have entrusted me with this, and now I realize I didn't know her very well. I don't want to throw away maybe all that's left of some parts of her, but neither do I want to reveal her secrets. If I look further, read the files, how can I tell what she would have wanted me to do?"

"A definite conundrum," said Crystal. "I suspect there's information on that disk that could hurt people if it got out. But it would be nice to have her poems and some of her writing. I've seen some of it. I think she was pretty good." Crystal ate another fry. "Not a task I envy you, looking through that and making decisions."

"Would you want to help?" asked Carys.

Crystal thought for a moment, looked out the window at the leafless trees, took a sip from her drink. "No, I'd rather not. I disagreed with Kathy about some of the things she did. I'm not sure I want to know about everything she was involved in recently, or even what she thought about me after some of the arguments we had last year."

Carys stared at Crystal.

"Kathy was a complex person, Carys, much deeper, much darker, than the meek victim she liked to portray herself as around most people. She had quite an online life." Crystal ate her last fry. "There is someone you might want to talk with, who knew Kathy pretty well. He might be able to give you some pointers about how to deal with this."

"Who?"

"He's a priest."

"A priest!"

"Yes. Father Dave, at the student parish. He works with the youth group that Kathy was in, that I'm in. I know they talked a lot. And he has experience, you know, looking into people's souls."

"Crystal, I haven't been in a church in years."

"I know you're not a believer, Carys. But I know you're a good person. I mean, in a moral sense. Father Dave is a good person, too. In fact, he kind of reminds me of you, or maybe it's vice versa." Crystal smiled.

"Okay. I'll do what I need to do."

"That's what I mean, Carys. You do what needs to be done according to your beliefs. I bet there's a voice inside you somewhere that you listen to. You may not call it God, but I believe all goodness comes from the same place, no matter what name you give it. I think you'll get along with Father Dave. Give him a call. Tell him it's about Kathy. I'm sure he'll talk with you."

* * *

Carys slowly walked into the office area of the student parish. It felt very strange to be in a church after so many years. Memories from early childhood began coming back.

"Hello? May I help you?"

Carys startled. She turned to find a woman smiling at her. "Oh! Yes, thank-you. I'm looking for Father Dave."

"I'm Helen, the parish secretary. Is Father expecting you?"

"Yes, he is. I called."

"Okay, then let's see if he's in his office."

They went down a carpeted hallway with doors along one side. Stopping at an open door, the secretary knocked on the door frame. "Dave?"

"Yo!" came a deep voice from inside the office.

"There's a young woman here to see you." She looked at Carys to supply a name.

"Carys Douglas. I phoned. About Kathy," Carys said in her stage voice so she'd be heard in the office.

An office chair rolled into view of the doorway. The person in the chair was young, clean shaven, with medium length brown hair and lively eyes.

"Please come in, Carys." He rolled back to the desk and stood up. He was about Carys's height. He extended his hand to Carys. His handshake was firm and warm.

"Have a seat." He gestured to the only other chair in the tiny, cluttered office, closed the door and returned to his chair.

"So, Carys. You said on the phone that you knew Kathy Hansen, and you wanted to talk with me about her?"

Carys nodded.

"How did you know Kathy? You're not a member of the parish, are you?"

"Um, no. My parents are Catholic, but I never went through with confirmation. I feel kind of strange talking with you, to be honest," said Carys. "A friend of mine, Crystal, suggested that you would be a good person to talk with."

"Crystal. Would that be Crystal Corey?"

"Yes."

The priest cocked his head and looked at Carys for a moment before continuing. "I prefer to not make assumptions in so delicate an area, so perhaps you should tell me a little about yourself, how you know Crystal, how you knew Kathy."

Carys leaned forward in her chair. "I'm 19. I graduated from high school last year, which is where I knew Kathy. She knew I was in the GSA, and witnessed an incident in the cafeteria where someone made remarks about me and about Jami. Jami is my..." She paused. "Jami is my partner."

Father Dave nodded, not showing he was shocked, if indeed he was.

Carys continued. "Jami and I were in a play at Riverfront that Kathy brought her parents to see; a staged reading, actually. It had a lesbian character. Jami played that role. I had the role of the man who Jami's character pretended to be in love with and married to. I don't think Kathy's parents were very happy when they left, especially when Kathy said hello to me.

"I do bookkeeping for a number of clients. I'm a clown, Lovelorn the Clown. We're redesigning that now, because Jami has some issues with being my lovely assistant. She's intersex, was raised as a girl, is happy with that gender, but she's also kind of coming out to the world now as queer and has changed her look. Crystal helped with that.

"Once Jami and I were living on our own, I started a support group for artistic or queer young people. I have a co-facilitator, Zoe, who's a Family and Child Health major at State. Tam was one of the first people to join the group. Jami and I started talking with her about changing my Clown act into a gender performance troupe, which we're working on now. Crystal may be part of that, with her partner, Sandy. Tam's a philosophy major, she's a trans person. She's become a very close friend to both Jami and me.

"Kathy couldn't come to the group in person, but she participated online. Very few people know this, but she made a post shortly before she died. It was kind of incoherent, said some things about being shipped off to a behavior modification camp and, well, ended by saying she'd see her mother in hell. Jami and I decided not to make it public, so only Zoe and Tam know about it.

"I was actually online about the time she made that post, but Jami came home upset from being harassed at the mall where she works, and I spent time comforting her. We dozed off. Then Crystal called with the news about the crash. Jami was upset that she'd kept me from seeing the post, but I don't know that I would have seen the post immediately, or that I could have gotten hold of Kathy if I had.

"Before the holiday break we held a memorial service for Kathy on campus, in the Union. I facilitated the service and read one of Kathy's poems. Crystal played guitar and sang."

Carys stopped talking. I can't believe I said all that to someone I don't even know.

Father Dave was leaning forward in his chair, brow lightly creased in thought. "You seem to have a very full life, Carys."

"Full? As in never enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done, yes, that's certainly true."

"There are people you care about, and people who care about you."

"There are plenty of people who hate me and people like me," said Carys.

"I'm sure there are. But I take it that knowledge doesn't keep you in the closet."

"No."

"When you were still living at home, what kind of relationship did you have with your parents? Do you have siblings?"

"I have an older sister, much older. She's married, has twin sons, is an ER nurse. They just moved from Boston to Chicago. Caitlin has been the normal example of what I failed to be."

"Do you get along with her?"

"Oh, yes! She marched with me and Jami in last year's Pride March." Carys looked thoughtful. "I haven't told her about any of this, though. She worries about me."

Father Dave waited for her to continue.

"I'm afraid I'm in over my head with this. I know what the Church thinks about people like me, but I need help." She continued, " I'm just grateful that some people, like Crystal and Cait, don't follow the party line."

"And your parents?"

"They haven't officially disowned me yet."

He leaned back in his chair. "That good, eh?"

"It's mostly my mother. When I was little, we belonged to this parish. My mother goes to a much more conservative one now, and my father pretty much doesn't go, I think. He wasn't Catholic by birth. I was actually able to talk with my father about Jami."

"Did you hide you sexual orientation when you were at home?"

"No. It's more like they refused to believe me, at least until I found Jami. They still didn't like it, but I was 18, so I moved out."

Father Dave nodded. "You're a very different kind of person than Kathy was." He thought for a moment. "Kathy was an only child. Her parents sound somewhat like yours. Conservative mother, somewhat more flexible father. Kathy certainly had issues with her sexuality, though I don't think I'd venture to label her. But she felt more the helpless victim than the freedom fighter."

"Minor children don't really have many rights, though."

"Did that stop you from being who you are?"

"No, no it didn't. But Kathy seemed to me to be genuinely afraid of her parents."

"And I think she was, on one level. This may be difficult for you to understand, Carys, but some people like the feeling that they are under someone else's control, and therefore not completely responsible for their own actions."

Carys scowled. "As in, society made me what I am, I was only following orders, it's the law," she paused, "or it's God's will?"

"Yes, even the latter, if it's used as an excuse for not figuring out for yourself what is right and what is wrong.

"I talked with Kathy quite often. She was very troubled about a number of things. She felt herself to be caged, in a way. I think she was gnawing at the bars, so to speak, but not really trying to break out. I was hoping that when she went to college, had some distance from her parents, she could find healthier outlets for her feelings. But she never had the chance."

"Healthier? What was Kathy doing?"

Father Dave gave her a measuring look. "Mostly I mean things that were spiritually unhealthy. She couldn't freely associate with the people she wanted to spend time with, so I think she dabbled in some dark areas as a way of hitting back at her parents."

"Dark areas? You mean like satanic stuff?" Carys was having a hard time imagining this side of Kathy.

"Perhaps. Sometimes, when one has a strong belief, it can be easy to . . . twist it."

"Black candles, saying the Our Father backwards?"

"Exactly. Or having an online persona that is the opposite of what people in your everyday life think about you. One that tries to hurt people, for example."

"I see," said Carys. "Kathy did talk, in the group's online community, about being desperate, wanting to escape. Sometimes, I dunno." She stopped and looked at the priest. "Did she use drugs? No, sorry, I shouldn't ask you that. Wow." Carys rested her forehead in her hands.

"Carys?"

She raised her head. "Yes?"

"You said Kathy made a posting to your group's community before she left the house the evening she died. Your partner was upset that she had perhaps kept you from seeing that posting in time to somehow stop Kathy."

"Yes?"

"I probably shouldn't tell you this, but I think you deserve to know. The autopsy showed that Kathy had been using some kind of stimulants when she died."

"Stimulants? You mean like speed?" said Carys.

Father Dave nodded.

"Oh, crap." Carys ran one had through her hair, then hit the palm of the other hand with her fist. "Damn it, damn it, damn it." She closed her eyes, put her arms around her head and tried to breath slowly.

When she lowered her arms, Father Dave asked, "I take it you don't approve of drugs?"

"No! Hell, no. I mean, most of the people I spend time with use hormones and modify their bodies. But we're not trying to escape reality, we're trying to change it. Maybe it's a point of view thing." She looked at the priest.

"No, I think that's a valid distinction. One of the things that sets humans apart is that they are the creatures that deliberately modify their environment and themselves."

"So Kathy was a totally different person than I believed."

"Perhaps. I don't know that she for certain knew who she was, but I don't think she was very much in control."

"Yes," said Carys, "but now this is going to be even more difficult than I had imagined."

Father Dave raised an eyebrow. "What is it that is going to be more difficult?"

Carys told him about the disk, and about her conversation with Crystal.

"Oh, my goodness," said Father Dave. Now he rested his forehead in one hand and drummed on his leg with the other. After a moment he looked up at Carys. "Have you considered simply destroying the disk?"

"Yes," said Carys, "but I would like to see her poetry and her writing. I can't bear to just throw away all that is left of her."

"There could be some very ugly things on that disk."

"I know. I realized that after I talked with Crystal yesterday. I didn't sleep well last night, thinking about this. My mental image of Kathy has changed so much in the past twenty-four hours."

She was silent for a few moments. "Jami is a photographer. She likes to take photos of people and scenes that lead you to notice things you normally don't let yourself see. It can be quite jarring, looking at some of her photographs. I'm trying to do the same thing, in a different way, with my performance troupe.

"Last year I sat on a bed with tears streaming down my face while the person I hoped would be my lover worked up the courage to show me her intersex body. She did, and I showed her my body.

"As a clown, I've made a lot of people laugh, including children with cancer, children who knew they were going to die.

"A few weeks ago, Jami and Tam and I helped keep a friend of Jami's from being beat up, if not worse, by a couple of punks. On my last day at the high school, I opened my locker to find it filled with construction foam. I've been called a lot of nasty things. I know what I've felt at those times, and what I've sometimes written in my own journal.

"Even the greatest people must have their petty moments, and even the worst people can't be all bad. Kathy is somewhere in between those two extremes, I suppose."

"You hope to find the good?" said Father Dave, looking at Carys, a respectful expression on his face.

"I hope to find something of worth that it will do no harm to share with other people. But I do have to wonder..." Carys looked down at her shoes.

"Yes?"

"Why did this happen to me?" mumbled Carys.

"Ah. Now that's a feeling I know well."

Carys looked up.

"You've clearly made choices in your life that few people make, as have I."

"I'm not anything like a priest!"

Resting his chin on one hand again, Father Dave asked, "Why did you come to me?"

"I made the comment to Crystal that I felt I was going to be looking into Kathy's soul. She said you had some of that kind of experience, and maybe I should talk with you. I felt like I needed someone to talk with. And here I am."

Father Dave smiled. "But you don't consider yourself to be religious, I take it?"

"No," said Carys. "My parents, my mother actually, forced me to go to mass when I was young, but as I said, I refused to be confirmed."

She shrugged. "It was as much about the dress, at that time, as anything else," said Carys. "I do not wear dresses. Ever. My mother would not let me wear anything else for confirmation, so I refused to go. Later, I developed a whole list of other reasons for a person like me to have nothing at all to do with the Catholic Church." She looked the priest in the eye. "The events of the past decade or so have given me no reason to change my opinion of the Church."

"I certainly understand why you say that." He sighed. "I'm sorry."

"I suppose I should go," said Carys.

"Have you decided what to do?"

"Yes. I'm going to look a little further at the disk. Depending on what I find, I may have more decisions to make."

"Please know that you can come talk to me whenever you like."

"Thanks."

Father Dave stood to open the door. He turned to shake Carys's hand in parting. She was looking into his eyes, which were the same color as hers, and smiled.

"Do I strike you as amusing?" he asked.

"Oh, no," said Carys. "Crystal said that I reminded her of you, or vice versa. I suppose we are somewhat similar."

"I suspect we are, Carys. And perhaps not only in physical appearance." He smiled in return. "Call any time."