By Lizzie Arroyo, TIWP Student
So, I thought too much about her and now I can’t stop, so I’m just going to get all of her out of my system before I go to bed. Her name was Reyenna Bergljot.
The name Reyenna means “Queen of the Heavens.” I’ve always wondered if that had anything to do with how Reya ended up.
Reya was always like an angel. Always bringing the shortbread cookies to group, always letting the rest of us rant as long as we needed, always smiling at me from the corner of her eye, when she knew I needed it. She was too good to really exist. She seemed to be the least bitter about our whole situation. The Cult, the birthmarks, the way all the creeps could sense us near and our families didn’t get the same gift. Whenever it came up, Reya would smile and look out a window. Or rather, she’d look up, as if she could see Heaven through the folds of a cloud.
I only got the smallest glimpse of what gave Reya this peace of mind when we were alone at my house, talking about The Returned. It was a story about a girl who gets attacked by a serial killer in the woods and has to fight through hell to get to safety. I thought she was a badass for managing to survive against someone with an advantage. Reya had a different opinion.
“Why did she have to fight so hard? I mean, the killer was beating her, chasing her, tormenting her for weeks. Wouldn’t it have been easier just to… accept her fate? She didn’t have any kids or anyone relying on her, so what was she fighting so hard for?”
I’m pretty sure I gave her a pretty dumb look. It sounded a lot like Reya was saying….
“But people don’t need a family waiting for them to make their lives valuable,” I said, purposefully being vague. What I meant was that women didn’t need to be mothers or wives to be valuable human beings, but I didn’t want to be aggressive with Reya. And Reya put her hand on my arm and said “Of course they don’t. That’s not what I meant at all. I’m not saying she wasn’t worth anything… I’m just saying, I’m not sure life is. I’m not sure life is so wonderful that it’s worth going through a lot of pain for it. It seems like it would be much easier to just… lie down, and wake up in Heaven. After all, that’s really the only place where we’ll be free from all the—” She made a circling gesture with her palm pointed to the ground, and it seemed to take in the Cult, our fear, and all the complicated earthly shit we had to deal with. “All this.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “But life can be beautiful.” And Reya smiled and said, “Sure, it can.” But later, I saw her standing in the garden, staring up at the sky. All I could see was her back.
“Reya?” I asked. She only turned her head just enough to smile at me over her shoulder. The rest of her still faced away, and for some reason, it felt like she was slipping away.
Reyenna means “Queen of the Heavens.” And Reya was looking for her kingdom.
The last time I saw her was at Tanya’s birthday party. Birthdays are sacred for us Sacrifices. Each birthday is a year longer of life. A year of surviving the conspiracies of the Cultists. A birthday is a giant “Fuck you” to the assholes who want us dead. So of course, we throw huge parties for one another to blast that “Fuck you” into the sky like a beacon. Tanya had a big pool in her house, and we were all swimming. Reya’s ears got too cold and started hurting after an hour. Her death was supposed to bring a huge rainstorm to a desert, so she never really liked the water. I sat with her by the side of the pool to make sure she wasn’t lonely. The group decided to start a cannonball contest, with the two of us as the judges. Reya clapped and cheered and held up all 9’s or 10’s, so I judged most of them 4’s and 5’s to balance it out.
I looked at her after our last friend splashed us and said, “This is the best, isn’t it?” Because I knew even back then that we had to take pleasure in the little things. And she smiled at me with beads of pool water in her eyelashes and her blonde curls glowing in the sunlight and said, “Maybe, but—”
Then Tanya’s mom called everyone inside for cake. Reya stood up, clasped her hands behind her back, and strolled away, leaving the end of the “but” a mystery. I won’t guess what she was going to say. It would just be my shallow impression from the memory she left. Or worse, filling her mouth with the words I would have wanted to hear. All I can say is that, as I watched her walk away from me, she looked like she was drifting through a beautiful dream. She didn’t look back.
After Tanya’s birthday, I moved away, and saw Reya less and less. We sent letters for a while, then one week she wrote, “We should probably stop doing this. It’s making things harder for both of us.”
It turned out that a few months after Tanya’s birthday, Reya left her backpack in her locker and took the bus somewhere else after school. She was last seen at a gas station near Death Valley, wearing her favorite green sweater.
She might have gotten a taxi after that, or hitchhiked. She might be alive, hitchhiking across the country or begging for change on a street corner. Or she might be dead, of cold or hunger, in a gutter. The most likely explanation is that she finally got sick of all the fighting and hiding, and surrendered to the Cult to be sacrificed. That she was tied up somewhere in Death Valley and stabbed in the heart. Or strangled. Or beheaded. Her requirements weren’t specific about cause of death. Just that it had to be in the desert, and that it would bring down the type of rain that makes you believe in God’s wrath. Say what you will about the guy handing out our fates, but he sure has an eye for consistency. Everything about her, it all tied back to the skies above. But we don’t know whether there was a rainstorm in the middle of that huge desert. Maybe she was killed and nothing happened. The Cult has been wrong before.
To my friends and my parents, that’s the story I stick with. That Reya got tired, gave up, the Cult killed her, and nothing happened anyway. I scoff and say “Fucking unbelievable” to the whole situation. I’m determined to be cynical. I want to keep both feet on the ground.
But somehow, all the methods of sacrificing seem too bloody and barbaric for Reya. That angel on earth. So in the most hidden corner of my mind, I believe a different story. After all, no one’s found a body or even a footprint yet. So when I’m alone, I believe there’s a reason for that. I believe she found the easier way she always wanted. I believe Reya finally found a white door to Heaven, and she walked up a gently winding path, hands clasped behind her, curls bouncing with her dreamlike steps. I believe she turned her head just before she left, gave me and her parents and our friends one last smile over her shoulder. And then, the door opened for her, and she walked into the land of light and clouds, leaving the sands behind her, without a trace.