“Falling Into Fire” is a sweet love story that was born out of a tragedy. This is the back story, as told to a friend in a letter.
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I met Nöel Stensbeck here in Minnesota. Her girlfriend’s name was Sofía Santiago. She’s 33 years old now, and originally from Texas. She’d met the love of her life there in 2006. Sofía was of Mexican and American Indian descent, and grew up in Albuquerque. Sofía was a year and a half younger than Nöel. They were both raised Roman Catholic. Sofía never had the courage to tell her parents that she was gay, knowing that they were extremely biased against homosexuality. Nöel’s parents knew she was gay, but were completely unsupportive although she really didn’t care that much. At least Nöel’s sister was okay with her. Anyway, Nöel didn’t let it ruin her life. They were sitting at home in their apartment in San Antonio where they were going through their respective Master’s programs at UTSA one Saturday afternoon and Sofía’s family showed up on their doorstep for a surprise visit. It was more of a surprise than they knew. They asked them in, of course, but they couldn’t very well conceal the fact they were together anymore since there were photographs all over the apartment of the two of them doing everything imaginable around town and out on vacations. Not to mention it was a one-bedroom apartment. They finally told them that we were lesbians and that they were in love and had been for quite some time. Shit hit the fan big time and all Sofía got was the lecture on how she was going to straight to hell and she was going to be excommunicated. They also didn’t like the fact that Nöel was Caucasian and involved with their daughter. The entire time they’d been together, Nöel and Sofía attended Mass regularly, staying very devout even though they disagreed on the Vatican’s stance on homosexuality, but had shown no outward signs to anybody from the Church. All their friends knew and Nöel’s family, but that was it. And of course, Nöel’s mother always thought it was a phase that would pass. That afternoon some pretty ugly things were said and things were thrown inside their apartment by Sofía’s father. He did a lot of damage to the inside of the apartment. Nöel was always very afraid for Sofía because she was unable to let go of the pressure of her family. The surprise visit came during May 2010, after they’d had been together for four years and living together for two. Exactly one week later to the day, Nöel came home to find that Sofía had succumbed to the pressure and taken her life. Nöel went through some serious depression. About a month later she voluntarily committed herself to a center for treatment for a month. She became functional again, but couldn’t stand another minute in Texas. So she took all the money she had, loaded her car with her clothes, their cat, and all the photos of her and Sofía, and left for Minnesota, since Minnesota is a very gay-friendly state. I actually met Nöel at the wedding of Rod, a man I worked with, and his partner Howard. To this day, Nöel struggles daily. Even after years of therapy, she can’t get into the swing of life. She’s actually dated a few women here, since there’s a large and openly supportive gay community here (not to mention support for them from the community in general), but she can’t ever make it past the second or third date because she can’t let go of Sofía. Nöel and I email periodically. She listens to me missing Becky and I listen to her about Sofía. One day, maybe, one of us will heal properly. For me, I would give up my own healing if it would give her my energy to heal her. Gladly I wrote this book in memory of Sofía, and had it printed and bound to give to Nöel for Christmas. I worked hard on it to get it done in time, but it was also therapeutic for me to keep my mind off my own woes and troubles. We met up after work on the 26th, and I gave her the printed and bound book. She broke down crying, holding the book to her chest, sort of rocking back and forth for about three hours. I was sitting on the couch with her with my arm around her, just watching TV. She finally fell asleep like that. I covered her up with a blanket laying her down flat on the couch, and grabbed another blanket and a pillow and slept in front of her couch there on the floor, just in case she needed anything. When I got ready to publish the book, I emailed her and asked her if I could. She said of course, it was mine. I explained to her that no, it was hers. I’d tried telling her that the night I gave her her copy. I wasn’t giving her just the paper document. I kept the copyright, but it basically was my present to her. In the cover, there is a dedication to her old girlfriend, which reads “In loving memory of Sofía Lupíta Elena Santiago de Vasquez, a victim of hate.” I also told her I wanted to keep the dedication in the book when I published it, which made her very happy.
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