Six Good-byes: Surviving Small Town '80s America as a Gay Teen
By Chryss Cada

Chapter 1

The door of the mailbox still open, key still in the lock, I rip the envelope in crude, anxious tears. As I've always done with letters from Rachel, I first turn to the last page of the letter to check if her love is still in place. She signed it, "Love You! Miss You! See You! Rachel." It wasn't "Love Always" or "I Love You," but it was still love.

A photo falls to the cement. It's Rachel, standing in her living room in jean shorts and a white T-shirt. Her usually short hair is long enough to be pulled back and she's looking right at the camera. I suck in air. The photo was a shock, her staring right at me. How long had it been since I'd seen her in person? Could it be that lunch nearly three years ago?

It's not her--not my Rachel. Her hair has been a half dozen different colors since I felt its light softness against the palm of my hand. Her cheecks are hollow, there's an intense look in her eyes and bright red lipstick on her mouth. I can tell by loooking at her that she smokes three packs of cigarettes a day and does coke on the weekends. Her left leg is in a cast covered with signatures of people I don't know. She is standing in a living room I've never been in. It's the living room of the woman she sleeps next to at night, the woman who gets to ask her how her day went, the woman she was looking at when she took the photo. The familiar heat of jealousy rises in my chest.   

I don't know how long I stand there, spiraling down through the memories of what Rachel and I had been to each other and what we hoped we would become. The years have done nothing to soothe the burn of remorse; instead they have amplified it's intensity. 

Impatiently Pablo yanks at his leash and the mail all falls to the ground. I gather it up and hurry back to the apartment to be alone with the letter--with her. 

On the front of the Far Side card is a picture of a woman vacuuming between the cushions of the couch. There's a skinny man wedged beneath one of the cushions. "Andrew! So that's where you've been! And good heavens!....There's my old hairbrush, too! Inside it reads: "I've missed you!"

Yellow lined legal pad paper dated Aug. 11, '93

Dear Chryss,

So there you are, and here I am! Am I ever! I thought I'd show you how I have spent the better part of this whole *!&?* year! Aren't I the most attractive one!?! I think it's pretty brave of me to send you such a horrible picture of my sorry self.