Joseph Liebgott's ribbon made its first appearance right on schedule, on his 13th birthday. He sat with his mom and dad at their kitchen table, watching as the dully glowing red line wound its way around his left wrist. His mom breathed out a sigh of relief, rubbing at her lover's noose, low enough on her neck to be easily hidden by a shirt's collar. Joe knew that the ribbon around her neck bothered her, heard the snide comments from his friend’s mothers, saw the stares as they walked around, knew that it haunted Joe's mom like a specter that even Joe’s dad couldn't chase away. She stood up from the table, brushing a kiss across her Joe's cheek, looking relieved that he didn't carry the same stigma with him.
David Webster's soul ribbon, on the other hand, came later. At 17 years old, David stood in the doorway of his childhood home, still wearing his rumpled uniform as his father pitched bag after bag full of clothes out the door.
He had been staying late after school for weeks, fooling around with Bob Leckie under the bleachers, both of them escaping for an hour or two from the confines of their families’ expectations of them, no real expectations of a relationship, just stress relief. It was heaven, an island of peace, for a while. Until that afternoon when Mr. Webster had shown up to bring David home earlier and caught them, shadowed by the stands, tongues down each other’s throats. He had ripped them apart, slamming Bob back against the bleachers, and grabbing David by his hair as he hauled him back to their car. As soon as they got back to the house, David’s father had stalked inside and thrown David’s life into bags and begun tossing it out onto the street where he had left his stricken son, hot tears of shame rolling down David's flushed face.
It was then that his neck began to itch and chafe. His father stopped mid throw, looking taken aback for a second.
"Not only a queer but a sissy one at that," He sneered, disgust contorting his features horrifically, pulling apart his usually composed affluent disguise to show the hate inside.
He spat at David and threw the final pack at David's chest. Turning on his heel, David's father slammed the door, cutting David to his core. It struck him how so much had changed in an hour. An hour before, he had been with Bob. An hour ago, his plans for life were laid out for him. Finish high school, go to college, get the inheritance, get away from the choking, cloying presence of his parents. Now, Bob would be too scared to come anywhere near him, his parents would cut off his money for school. No high school degree and no place to live. The urge to just give up, to break down swelled high in his chest.
Suddenly, he felt a light tug at the end of his bond - a tentative pull sending calm resolve down the bond. He wasn’t totally alone. He had a soulmate. He pulled his shoulders and spine taut, realizing that his parent’s neighbors were most likely peeking through their shutters at the commotion. No, he thought, he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of seeing him break. He had that much. David felt another wave of emotion spiral through the ribbon, his soulmate's resolve setting into his bones as David pulled out the phone that he'd had the presence of mind to hold onto, even though he knew it would be disconnected soon and dialed an old friend.
“Pat? It’s Web.”