Burnt out

Alex Ridgway via Flickr

As with most of my fiction writing, this post was based on truth with the blanks filled in by my imagination. Even though I didn’t know her personally, this short story was written in memory of my cousin.

The couple met at a mutual friend’s party. Her hair was the fiery kind of red matched only by the passion in her partner’s heart. That long mane was the first thing that attracted Kathy to her — the kind of locks that stood out in the crowd gathered in such a small apartment — her eyes drawn to it like the proverbial moth to a flame. If love at first sight was true, then this was it. Kathy felt she’d found her soul-mate.

Their relationship was quite risque for the time period, and neither of their parents approved. Society itself generally disapproved, as if it was anyone else’s business. The women were willing to keep their connection under wraps as long as they could be together, and every moment in each other’s arms was worth the pains it took to conceal their love. Social constraints meant those feelings were kept a secret.

No hugs held too long in the open, no kisses except those on the cheek between “friends,” and certainly no hand-holding anywhere but behind closed doors. The conservative public wasn’t ready for same-sex couples to live comfortably as such, so they referred to one another simply as roommates.

Up to that time, there was no verbal spokesperson in the public eye. Celebrities suspected as gay who served the communal archetype — the Freddie Mercurys and Martina Navratilovas — were cast off in private conversations as the “exception to the norm.” Basically, they were pitted as unacceptable. Kristy McNichol was an American television sweetheart who kept her personal life to herself. A major star like Rock Hudson had to live in secrecy until his untimely AIDS death surprised and awakened the nation. Living “in the closet” was an idiom of the future. There was no OUT magazine yet, hardly a concept of being “out” to most heterosexual people.

And keeping up appearances of a double-life eventually took its toll on Kathy. She was determined to live her truth, but her pleas to be an openly gay couple went unrequited. She couldn’t keep her feelings contained, this bold love inside trying to burst her body wide open with its intensity, and her temper flared as hot as her love’s crimson hair. Arguments got out of hand and grew more frequent over time, putting pressure on the couple’s once blissful bond.

Returning to an empty house one day, with her girlfriend’s belongings gone and her life stripped bare, was too much for Kathy to handle. The woman’s fierce nature was weakened immeasurably by the blow.

The burden on her soul became too much with her father’s untimely death from a heart attack upon return from a vacation when carrying heavy suitcases at the airport. That final gust extinguished the remaining will she had to survive. It severed what she felt was her final connection.

Kathy’s mother knew her daughter’s depression well and rushed to check on her one day when phone calls went unanswered. She found Kathy’s lifeless body in the driver’s seat where she’d poisoned herself by vehicle exhaust within the garage’s confines. People say there is no loss greater than that of a child, and her mother bore witness to that truth.

Society’s rules were too imposing, and her daughter was gone. No more secrets to keep. No more lies to live or tell.  And one less woman’s ardor to control.


*Another Studio 30+ writing prompt – “her hair was the fiery kind of red” from Joe Scott’s post at Mostly Harmless Drivel.


  1. Another great story Katy. Thank you for describing the life that too many have to endure…hopefully our society is changing…

    • Thanks, Lanea! I’m hopeful that is in, in fact, changing but unfortunately not quickly enough. How bizarre is it to think that not so many years ago inter-racial marriage was illegal?

  2. Nicely done, Katy. I like the understated emotion in the final few paragraphs. No over-the-top description; it’s almost matter-of-factly presented, giving your audience credit for being on the same page as you.

    And yes, it’s still sad and silly that we have something called “gay marriage” or “same-sex couples,” when really they should be referred to as “marriage” and “couples.” Someday, maybe…

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Joe. I shake my head in amazement at how a vocal group (who I hope will eventually be the minority) thinks their “values” are the way the rest of the country … or the world … should live.

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