Mari’s eyes slowly fluttered open.
She expected to see the soft cream paint of her bedroom ceiling above her head, and feel the soft warmth of her bed beneath her…
Instead, she saw darkness. Blackness. Emptiness. And she felt, well… nothing.
What the hell?! Am I dreaming?!
“Hello?!” She called out.
Again, nothing. There wasn’t even an echo. It was like the endless void had sucked up her voice the moment it left her mouth.
Mari felt a chill run down her spine – the first sensation she’d been able to feel at all since the moment she’d opened her eyes. She couldn’t even feel any air on her skin – she couldn’t tell if the room she was in was hot or cold, dry or humid… She couldn’t even feel the ground beneath her feet…
At last, she looked down.
Holy SHIT! What the fuck…
A wave of panic suddenly crashed over her. This had to be a dream, didn’t it?! But what if it wasn’t? What if…
This is really it, isn’t it? The realization hit her so suddenly. It’s over.
And worst of all, it was exactly as she’d feared. There was no light. No happiness. Her parents, her sisters, Lucas, Jonas… Nowhere to be found. And why should they be?
She didn’t deserve to see them again. She didn’t deserve an eternity of happiness. Not after everything she’d done. A whole lifetime trying to atone for her sins would never be enough. She’d always known that, deep down. But that didn’t make things any easier.
Mari held her face in her transparent hands, heavy sobs wracking her entire body, yet making no sound. She wasn’t sure how long she cried, just that when it was all over, she felt no better. She was lost, scared, alone.
It almost felt like she was a little girl again…
No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than a pair of indistinct figures appeared up ahead. Mari’s eyes widened at the sight. She hadn’t expected to find others down here. “Hello?” She called out, drawing closer and closer to the figures until they finally came into full view.
What is this?! Mari wondered. A vision? A hallucination? A memory?
“It’s not FAIR! Lina did it too! How come I’m in trouble?!” The little girl’s cries sounded so far away, yet Mari could make out every word clear as day. “You’re so MEAN! You’re the worst daddy EVER!”
As quickly as it had come, the vision vanished and Mari was alone in the darkness once more.
God, what a little bitch. She shook her head sadly. No wonder she was always getting in trouble as a child… I was such an ungrateful brat. How could my parents ever stand putting up with me?!
Mari could hear more voices up ahead – familiar ones. And, despite her feeling of dread, she could not resist continuing forward until yet another scene materialized right before her eyes.
“I love you, Mari… And I’ll wait for you as long as it takes, okay?”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Of course… You’re worth it.”
She watched as the vision suddenly melted away, just as the other had.
Lies. So many lies. She wasn’t worth waiting for. She wasn’t worth anything.
The sound of Diego’s voice was replaced by crying this time. Mari instantly recognized the tears as her own, yet she knew the sobs did not come from her lips…
She did not have to look long to find the source of the sound.
Don’t do it… Mari felt as though she were going to be sick as she followed the vision deeper into the darkness.
And what she found was exactly what she had feared.
“You stupid slut! STOP!” Mari cried helplessly. “What are you DOING?!”
But it was no use.
Mari covered her face, willing the terrible vision away. And just like the others, it quickly faded… Only to be replaced by something else.
This time, it was a chorus of tears that reached her ears. She didn’t even have to open her eyes to recognize whose.
Her parents’. Her sisters’. Humberto’s. All the people whose lives she’d ruined back then.
“I’m sorry!” She called out, her voice hoarse. Mari didn’t even have the courage to look at them. “I never meant to hurt you!”
In an instant, she was alone in the silence once more.
But not for long.
Their tears were worst of all. Her precious babies, crying out because their whore mother had left yet again to get drunk and fuck a stranger. Too broken and cowardly to ask for help.
“I’m sorry.” This time, the words were a whisper. “I’m so sorry.”
It was all such a blur then.
She saw Jonas, recoiling as she argued with him for what had to be the thousandth time. He was too good for me. I never deserved him…
She saw Tobi weeping as she yelled at him for getting Colette pregnant. God, I was such a fucking hypocrite…
She saw herself screaming at Josh, simply for wanting to know his own children. I should have given him a chance sooner…
She saw Stefan screaming at her for not supporting his move to Willow Creek. No wonder he left me…
She saw Clara pushing her and Jonas away when they tried to help her. I was such a terrible example. I’m a horrible mother…
She saw Jocelyne leaving the family while she did nothing to stop her. I should have done more… How could I let this happen?!
If there was anything after that, Mari did not see it.
She crumbled to the floor, her grief and shame finally overtaking her.
It was a long time before she’d calmed down enough to think straight again.
So this is Hell. Mari thought miserably. Reliving all of my mistakes. Remembering how many lives I ruined. Seeing the huge fucking mess I left behind me… This is what I deserve.
“No.” An unfamiliar voice whispered. “It’s not.”
Mari leapt to her feet so much quicker and easier than she’d been able to in life. The voice had sounded as though it were whispering right in her ear. The shock had sent a jolt through her entire form…
But when she looked around, there was no one there.
“This is what you think you deserve.” It continued. “You created all of this. Not me.”
“Who are you?!” Once again, Mari felt like a terrified little girl. “Who said that?!”
It ignored her questions. “It’s my turn now… Keep going.” The voice commanded. “There’s one last thing you must see.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Mari obeyed.
The scene she stepped into was completely unfamiliar to her. This one isn’t a memory… Mari realized. She drew closer, studying the tear-streaked faces and dark clothing of her loved ones.
“That service was lovely, wasn’t it?” Colette asked softly. “And that eulogy was so beautiful, Clara.”
“Thanks.” The woman sniffled softly, wiping away a few tears. “I just wish I’d told Mama half that shit when I had the chance… I don’t think I ever really thanked her, y’know? For everything she did for me…”
Beside her, her husband nodded slowly. “I know. I mean hell, my Mama had to drag me kicking and screaming to my first piano lesson… Mari’s the one who made me fall in love with it. She’s the reason I discovered music. Without her, I… I never would’ve…” Florian’s voice broke and he shook his head, unable to continue.
“She always believed in doing what makes you happy…” Stefan almost smiled. “I can still remember all those nights she stayed up helping me finish science fair projects or cram for a test, even when she had to work the next morning… All because she knew how much I loved it.” He sighed almost wistfully. “I know she had such a hard time when I left, but she never stopped believing in me.” He turned to his twin. “Remember all those football practices? Or how she’d never miss a game?”
Tobi nodded. “And she always gave the best advice too, no matter what was going on. Back when I was a kid dealing with stupid school drama, or when Lettie and I had the twins, or… Or when we lost Lucas and Hazel… And I was…” His voice trailed off suddenly for a moment. He cleared his throat softly. “She always knew exactly what to say.”
“And she was so welcoming.” Colette chimed in, her voice shaking slightly. “I know it was so hard for her when I came to live with you all those years ago… But she never showed it. She was always so good to me. No matter what. I was family from the second I walked through the door.”
Mark nodded solemnly in agreement. “You’re right. Mari always made me feel welcome here. Even way back when things were… difficult.” For a moment, Tobi and Colette seemed to struggle to meet his gaze. “She was never anything but lovely.”
Jocelyne took one of Mark’s hands in hers for a moment, giving it a small squeeze. “No matter what happened, she was always on my side. Our side. I could always count on her for that.”
“We all could.” Auggy agreed. “I don’t think I ever told any of you this… But Oma was the first one I ever told about Noah. And she’s the one who made me feel brave enough to invite him to dinner for the first time…”
“What are we gonna do without her?” Zayne’s voice was very small. “She changed my life… She helped me get my shit together. I never could have done any of it without her.”
Clara managed to smile through her tears. “I guess we all have a lot to be grateful for…” Her voice faded away into a whisper.
And just like that, they were gone.
Mari held her face in her hands, weeping yet again.
But this time, it was not from sorrow.
It was so overwhelming to see them – her family. Her loved ones. Her babies. The people she loved most in the world. The ones she’d tried so hard to nurture and support. To encourage. To stop from making her same mistakes. To teach to be better than she ever was.
And hearing them say such lovely things about her, learning how much they felt she’d given them… Maybe I did something right after all. She realized.
“That is your legacy, Mariana. That is what you leave behind.” The mysterious voice whispered once more, breaking through the deafening silence.
“You thought you’d found yourself in Hell, but can’t you see? You’ve already walked through your own personal Hell years ago. And look at all the good that came of it.” Mari could almost hear the unseen speaker’s smile. “I think that deserves more than an eternity of emptiness, don’t you?”
Somewhere off to her left, a bright light shined onto her face, breaking through the endless sea of black. It was both blinding and beautiful.
Mari drew closer to the dazzling wall of white as more familiar sounds and voices reached her ears – louder and clearer than any of the others. Sounds she hadn’t heard in years.
Her mother humming one of her favorite lullabies.
Her father flipping the pages as he read one of his bedtime stories.
Her sisters’ bright laughter. Lucas playing his guitar.
And a soft, soothing voice – the most beautiful voice in the entire world – calling out her name. “Mari.”
A pleasant warmth washed over her as she stepped into the light at last.
There are no words. Truly none.
I love you, Mari ❤
Peaoorko made a beautiful tribute to Mari that I think captures her life and story perfectly.