by Nya Jackson
I wasn’t able to bail Violet out of jail the third time she got arrested because she died in police custody. She’d only been in the holding cell for thirteen hours, three of which I’d been spending making the long drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco where she’d been detained. Arrested for battery and disorderly conduct, Violet was given a lot of leeway because of her status, the very status that kept me afloat and gave me access to backstage red carpet events. While I haggled with Benjamin, Violet’s personal driver and most recent lust interest, she was sleeping on the floor of a cold cell for the last time. The cause of death was uncertain as were the incidents leading up to it. Before she died, Violet had attempted to abandon celebrity by cashing out her credit cards and taking one of her many cars out in the middle of the night with no intention of returning. With her fiancé Frankie asleep, there had been no one else to stop her from leaving. The security guards on the estate, the maids, the chefs – they all believed her when she’d said she was going out for a quick midnight drive, not uncommon because in driving, Violet found a rhythm and in midnight, a peace. By the time the pills had worn off and Frankie woke from her induced stupor, Violet was long gone. Over three days, we looked for her and tried to track her, tried and failed to explain her volatility to the cops. Three days of repeated failings built up to the relieving but anti-climactic reveal that she was arrested which flat lined into a gaping hole when it broke down to the reveal that she’d died. Before I could even get there. They called when we were crossing the underpass along highway 60 to give the news with complimentary, empty condolences. The part that made my stomach stiffen into steel was the fact that, even after the news, I had to keep going. When the first call on her arrest came, my concerns were how to talk about this behavior and the press with Violet again, on how I could hide another stint in rehab from the paparazzi, on what kind of breakfast to have ready for her when she got into the backseat. The weight in my stomach became pronounced when I realized how all those little plans, the ones that seemed minute and unimportant, had turned into the one big plan of planning a funeral.
When I did arrive, Violet’s auburn hair had been dyed jet black and cut into uneven, spiky clunks. All that was in her possession was a facemask, a baseball cap, $50 on her person ($50,000 in her car), and an unopened pack of cinnamon gum. She’d really been ready, I recall thinking that she must’ve really been ready to disappear completely.
The weeks leading up to Violet’s disappearance and subsequent death had been marred in controversy after controversy. One television “personality” posed a question vita twitter which was then echoed by her 15 million followers: “how can someone be in hot water so many times and still come out so dirty?” That first week alone had been a mess starting with a short clip on her Instagram story that had her criticizing and questioning the legitimacy of gay porn (while watching gay porn). That only upset a small group of reasonable people but that group grew into a humanity of its own when Violet openly insulted one of the top recording artists on the charts, claiming that the melodic voice their fans had come to adore was really the voice of someone told they were too ugly to be famous. Violet had gone on to declare that she preferred ugly authenticity to eye-catching illusions. People were insulted, people were offended, and her publicity took a high-tide rise because everyone secretly loves bad behavior. It gives them something to talk about. Her bad behavior wasn’t just apologized for by me on account of her fame either. The bad behavior, the sudden denouement into becoming the woman people loved to hate, was excused because Violet was beautiful. Wide brown eyes and soft, Bratz doll lips made for the combination of innocent and sexy that closeted perverts wet their jeans over. She had been the object of every boy and every man and every woman and every girl’s affections. She was ideal for them. Cute and innocent and sexy and badly behaved and bisexual (another perfection for the men who fetishize lesbian relationships but still like to fantasize about humiliating her with their dick alone). More than that, Violet was the first person any and all women followed on Instagram. Her selfies were beautiful because she was beautiful and never gave a single fuck about what was appropriate or expected. For every woman, whether their admiration was tinged with lustful affection or not, felt that they could be their true selves just because Violet was unapologetically her true self. And now she was dead.
During Violet’s first steps into the spotlight, she would take me with her on red carpet events. She’d hold my hand, the both of us dressed in clothes from our own closet and our amateur make up done by our own hands, and stop for the cameras. The word on everyone’s lips in those early days, the one that died down with my own insistence, was “Hazel.” Me. They all knew Violet, at least to an extent. They knew her as the Cannes breakout actress with the killer, unconventional fashion and the commendable talents. It was too early in those days to know just how much of a modern Renaissance woman she was but, regardless, they knew Violet. But I was new to them. I was the girl on her arm who looked exactly like her but a little different. There was a light in her eyes that had dimmed from mine. Though we both had cynicism coming off us in waves, hers was humored and Kafkaesque while mine was just bitter and the difference showed. Still, “and this must be Hazel” was a common way to steer the focus to me during her interviews where I was present. Twin fever was always hot and it was back then and it still is now. People wanted me to act alongside her or for the two of us to cash in on our genetics like the famous twins before us but I wasn’t interested. But before I put my foot down on that publicly, Violet and Hazel Saito became the siblings of Tinsel town. One, a beautiful multitalented and outspoken performer. The other, a beautiful agent who was somehow smart enough to sneak her sister’s audition footage right into the hands of the casting director who put her in one of the most highly regarded films of that year.
It doesn’t happen right away. The weeks following the official announcement, after her name trended worldwide and people who’d just been cursing her began saying that she meant a lot to them and that they wished peace upon her, were quiet. Depending on the status of the person and the impact of the tragedy, there can be a grace period where vultures keep their distance from the rotting corpse instead of circling over it. That period soon dwindles and rekindles itself back into incessant parasitic curiosity and soon people wanted to know what happened to Violet before she died, they wanted someone to blame, someone other than themselves and their putrid lust for celebrity. The thing that had snapped Violet badly enough that she’d wanted to cut off all her hair and embark on a journey back to anonymity couldn’t have been a result of a building nervous breakdown. Someone had to have been responsible. She had to have been assaulted, threatened, abused, broken down, using drugs, using sex, using and abusing in a constant cycle. There was no other way that she could have died. The first call came a whole three days after her death, when her preparations for her burial were still being arranged, and it came from the last of the gossip magazines that people picked up while waiting at the cash register but never actually bought.
“First, I want to extend my condolences to you and your family,” the journalist had said, her voice Splenda-sweet. “I can’t imagine what you must be feeling or how hard it is but I’m extending all my positivity to you. I wish you the best.”
When I didn’t say anything, she continued: “Hazel, I wanted to know whether you’d be willing to arrange an interview? To discuss Violet’s life and the influence the two of you had on the industry, I know her fans would really love to hear from you. It would comfort them to hear from you.”
“I’m not interested in–”
“A big question on everyone’s mind is whether you’re going to step into your sister’s shoes. It’s rumored that there were still pivotal scenes left to shoot for her last film, would you be stepping in to complete her final performance?”
I wasn’t a performer and I wasn’t interested in participating in the circus show that Hollywood deaths become. It’s always interesting to watch from the outside, when the celebrity death in question isn’t someone related to you be it by blood or a shared IMDb credit, and to see how it turns vulture journalists into incubi and succubae. A couple of years before, Ruby Vaughn, an actress Violet had worked with on one film early in her career, died in a violent car accident after berating club-goers. Her death was met with scrutiny and her corpse put under a magnifying glass. I don’t believe there’s always peace with death but, even so, there was no peace for her on this side or the other. Her case was pried open by everyone, ripped a part, pieced back together until it was unrecognizable, and put up for display in exposes and documentaries. While the journalist talked on the other end, I flipped through a catalogue and looked for a casket that resembled something as regal as my sister once was. “I’m not. I won’t. Thank you.”
I hung up before she could argue.
The second call came in as did the third as did the fourth until they were all flooding in such quick succession that I couldn’t tell who was who or when was where. Every paparazzi trash site called for information as if Violet being dead meant I’d stopped being her twin and stopped wanting to protect her. After all she was dead. There was nothing I could protect her from, no reason for me to keep secrets. But even when her body is six feet under and her soul has gone to its destination, I’m still going to be her sister and her agent. The apologies and the excuses don’t stop just because she’s dead. The only difference between now and then is that now when I explain away the issue, no one can criticize her for not speaking on her own behalf.
Violet wasn’t afraid of death. Dying, the act of it, did not rile her with emotions. She didn’t cry. In the face of danger or mortality, she wouldn’t panic. She wouldn’t plead. Once on our way to Prague to film an art house piece that never got distributed, the turbulence became severe and while many people on the plane yelped and shouted and the aisles became full of whispered prayers to fake deities, she sat with her shoulders sagged and her gaze on the clouds below. Death, she’d always say, is unstoppable. It will happen regardless of whether you’re ready or not. It will happen to the young and to the old and to the sick and to the healthy. It will happen when you least expect it or when you do but the point is that it will happen. According to her, it being a fact of life meant there was no reason to be afraid of it. “We all know we’re going to die,” she said once. “We know that everyone is going to die. So why be afraid?” The only reason Violet ate healthy was because she had to maintain a figure for her career otherwise she’d be eating junk food casually because there was no reason to try to protect herself from something inevitable. What Violet did fear, however, was what came after death. She believed in life after and she feared that life after would be tumultuous if she wasn’t a good person in this life. Sometimes when she was either sleepy and sober or wide awake and stoned, always vulnerable either way, she’d ask me whether I thought she was a good person. I’d tell her that I think she tries to be and leave it at that. Violet was so sure of her beliefs but mine stayed muddled no matter how many spiritual renovations I tried to execute. I don’t know if I believe in anything that she did and I don’t know if I don’t.
Finding the right casket became my sole mission, the one thing I truly had to focus on because it would be the last thing I could do for her. If there was a possibility that she was right and that there’s life after death, shouldn’t I do my best to make sure the body that she used to know is taken care of? If she was wrong and life after death is just death, shouldn’t I try to ensure that her sendoff is a good one with a pretty casket that’s lined with satin and soft pillows for her eternal slumber? Shouldn’t I try to give her a nice tombstone with something poetic written on it like “a celestial body returns to the stars” or something stupid like that? Yes. Yes. Yes.
I look for caskets in the city-woods at night to avoid the vultures. During the day, I look up funeral homes from the safety of my apartment and call in to request a private visitation which is always met with strong resistance before I tell them whose casket I’m looking for. Then they bend. If I was an asshole, I’d make them stay open until two a.m. just because they’d let me. When I’m not determining what homes will have the best caskets and not browsing whilst envisioning my sister in lying in one of them, I’m envisioning her body on the observation table. The cause of her death is still up in the air (along with her spirit, according to all the “well-wishers”) but the collective thought of the public is that she died of a drug overdose, most likely the prescription pills she used for the anxiety no one knew about. The gossip columns and the Perez Hiltons have all had their fair share of theorizing what took place during her final hours to the entertainment of the fans obsessed with her death. The death of a famous person, someone once told me, was like watching a star fall from the sky. It was a spectacle. It was unnatural. And it was macabrely beautiful to witness. One of those gossip blogs has an entire article dedicated to tracing the last hours of Violet’s life from the last red carpet event she attended to the gas station she went to just before she was arrested, the article was littered with inaccuracies and false time stamps but people ate it up. I don’t know why I read those blogs. But in the morning, over coffee, or in between phone calls with the funeral parlor, I check to see what latest theory is circulating. I wonder what results are going to come up in the autopsy report and wonder about her body being observed and prodded and poked. I had a nightmare that a pervert who worked the night shift at the coroner’s office had parked himself in between her thighs and got off on how cold her body was and how she couldn’t put up a fight. It bothers me. It aches me to think of anyone taking advantage of her. Even in death. Part of the reason I became her manager was because I didn’t trust anyone to not screw her over with binding contracts or scams. I don’t like to think about it. But I can feel it.
On the same day that I find the perfect casket, a lilac tinted one lined with purple satin, the results of the autopsy reveal that Violet died of a heart attack with no alcohol, prescription pills, heroin, cocaine, or any other drug in her system. The news isn’t publicized as the full autopsy results have to be prepared thoroughly before public release, the coroner who oversaw the autopsy called me to quell any unease I might’ve had. Drugs would have been easier to swallow. If it had been an overdose at least I could have been pillowed by the thought that her death was an affair that she barely noticed, too numb and strung out to feel every cell in her body die slowly. Instead, she felt everything. She felt her chest start to burn and her arm go numb and breathing get more and more difficult until she was gasping for something she couldn’t inhale. That makes sleeping impossible. Her funeral ends up falling on a Tuesday on a rare day of rain in Los Angeles. At the funeral, there are distant relatives, Frankie (who was never really invited), and no one else I recognize – people who considered themselves close friends, who likely took a selfie with Violet in an attempt to break the internet and who even likelier got drunk with her at some point. I don’t recognize any of them but they smile at me like they know me and I can tell some of them, at least for a second, think they’re looking at Violet. Shortly after the funeral, I start packing up my life into cardboard boxes small enough to fit it and prepare for something new. When you’re an agent in the show business and you only have one client and that client dies under mysterious circumstances, you are no longer an agent. You pack up your things and get a job somewhere that won’t judge you for losing it all. But apparently when you’re an agent in the show business and you only have one client and that client was not only the most recognizable celebrity of her generation but also your twin sister and she dies, your career makes a rocket launch. Before I finish packing the first box, one call comes in and sets the tone for the rest of my life. On the other end of the line, the voice on the other end of the line is one of doe-eyed readiness and the final drop of aspirational, a trend that continues with every call that comes in.
“Speaking. Who’s this?”
“I’m…I…I’m calling you because I like movies. I like – I want to be an actor.”
I toss another book into the half full box. “Why are you calling me?”
“Because you’re the best agent out there.”
I pause. I stop packing all together and sit back to stare at the phone sitting in the middle of the table. “Who says?”
Violet once said the industry reminded her of a factory where the product on the line was beauty, the profit was fame, and the waste was just a pile of sold souls. “What’s your name?”
She hesitates. “It’s Daisy Hernandez but I can change it.”
“I don’t want you to change it.”
“I’d like to change it.”
“…Daisy, what would you like to get from being an actor? You said you like movies. You want to make your mark, is that it? Just want to be a part of it?”
Daisy takes a deep breath and on the other end, I can almost hear the weight on her shoulders lighten with the exhalation. “I want to be respected.”
“Both. But if I had to choose between the two, I want respect. I always told myself people were going to stop looking at me like I was a doormat and I consider myself to be a woman of my word.”
Despite myself, I smile at the phone. “How old are you, Daisy?”
“I’m about to be nineteen in two weeks.”
“Two weeks…give me another call in two weeks and I’ll see what we can set up.”
“If I still want to, yes.”
“Thank you. Really, thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. Tell me, Daisy, if it all happens and you do change it, what kind of name did you have in mind?”
“I like Yolanda. Not sure of a last name yet but I like Yolanda.”
I don’t ask about the choice until a month later when the two of us are getting headshots for her, a month before I get her into an audition with a notable independent filmmaker whose next project is already a trending topic. I don’t ask her about ‘Yolanda’ until after she loses weight and stands tall on heels she had to train herself to walk in and her selfies start to inspire make up tutorials. I don’t ask her about the name until it becomes the name on everyone’s lips whether they’re speaking out of affection or abhorrence. It’s only after more aspiring younameits, each one hungrier than the last, come looking for a Hazelesque sustenance and a Violetesque rise that I wish I’d asked about the name choice earlier. If I had known the reason behind the choice or even just looked up its meaning, I would’ve told her I wasn’t interested and I would have stopped at least a single loop in the eminence cycle. Instead, I took her and others on as a client and every single one of them said they wanted to be a performer, a patron of the arts. What they all really meant, what I didn’t know until my hands were sullied with more sold souls, was that they all really wanted to be Violet.
About the Author:
Nya Jackson is a college student studying for a degree in directing & screenwriting. She enjoys writing short stories as well as poetry in her free time. She also spends a great deal of time imagining scenarios that will never happen, doodling, and delivering famous cinematic monologues to anyone who will listen. This is her first publication.