Princess Jenni, Hero to All
by Eric J. Krause
When I was 15, my girlfriend gave me an iPod even though it wasn't my birthday or any other special occasion. I wasn't appreciative, but not for the reasons she thought. Not entirely, anyway.
She screamed at me that just because I already had one doesn't make the new one any less special. I knew that. My problem was more because she--her family--couldn't afford a cheap mp3 player, let alone an iPod. My fifteen year old brain couldn't put those words nicely into context, however, and I'm sure I said something cruel. (As if I don't remember every word, every syllable, I yelled at her.)
She slapped me and ran off sobbing. I slumped down and felt tears rise in my own eyes. That could have gone better. I wasn't much with words, but I vowed I would think of something to say to make things right between us. I really did love her.
As I walked home, I examined the iPod. She'd knitted a cover for it, and inside was a small note. "I wrote and recorded these for you." That stopped me in my tracks. I had no clue she could play an instrument, let alone write songs.
The earbuds were on in a flash, but there was no music loaded on the player. Was she playing a prank on me? No, that wasn't her style, nor would she have gotten so upset. I went back to the main menu and tried podcasts. There they were. Hundreds of recordings. If she'd written and recorded these all for me, where had she found the time? Damn. As if I didn't feel like enough of a jackass.
I scrolled down to the first entry and pushed play, not sure what I would get. Jenni's voice came on, and without any buildup, she dove into a story. At fifteen, I hated to read or use my imagination in any way that didn't involve naked ladies, so I guessed I would turn this off soon enough, or at least hate every hour I'd have to spend listening to get back into her good graces. What use did I have of elves, unicorns, and flying horses?
Instead, the story drew me in. Her voice--a soft, sensuous melody I'd never heard--dropped my defenses and allowed the words to lift me into her fictional world. I lost myself in the make-believe easier than with all the special effects of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Time ceased having meaning. I don't remember the walk home, the trip though my house, or anything. If my mom hadn't knocked on my door announcing dinner, I don't know how long I'd have sat there listening. I wouldn't have remembered to eat, that's for sure.
After dinner, before I could get back to my room, Jenni called. She wanted to do something, but I blew her off. I had to get back to the story. It wasn't until a few days later that I recognized the hurt, the pleading, in her voice. I can't recall exactly what we said to each other (really this time), though I wish I could. I'll never forgive myself that the last words I ever heard from her, at least not on a recording, dripped with such pain.
When I hung up the phone, I didn't give the conversation any more thought. She'd forgive me on Monday when I gushed about how great her story was. I spent the rest of the weekend with the earbuds planted firmly in place.
I approached our normal Monday morning meet spot outside the cafeteria to the sight of sobbing students and a jumble of flowers. When I was close enough, I saw pictures of Jenni mixed in. Friends and acquaintances hugged me and offered condolences. My blank looks only brought out more tears.
Her parents found her late Friday night with foam dripping from her mouth, a dozen pill bottles by her feet, and a suicide note pinned to her blouse. Any hope was gone by the time the paramedics arrived. No one at school knew what the note said, and for that I'm grateful. Later, when I read it, it was all I could do not to join her.
You'll excuse me if I don't share what the note said, which, contrary to the rumors, was not written in her blood. Some things I'll take to my grave. Though I was not named, her parents knew it was me. That was why I had to wait until Monday to find out. It was also the reason I wasn't welcome at the funeral. That hurt almost as much as losing her.
It took a few months, but life, as it is wont to do, slipped back to normal. People still asked me if I was doing okay, and I always put on a brave face and said I was. I missed her, but life goes on. What no one saw was what I did with my free time. It took quite a number of college-ruled notebooks, but I managed to transcribe every word from that iPod. Only then did I feel ready to tackle the challenge at hand. Using her world, the one she'd taken so much pride and joy in creating for me, I wrote the story of Princess Jenni, champion to elves, conqueror of ogres, and hero to all.
Someday I'll share those stories so my sweet princess will gain the never-ending life she so desperately deserves.