When Mellie was out dancing on weeknights, it was with her parents’ blessing. “In Argentina, teenagers go home when the sun comes up,” Mariel says. “We have a nocturnal culture. I also go dancing.” Maria’s mother, meanwhile, would chain the door so she could smell Maria’s breath as she entered. “My love, I trust you with my eyes closed,” Marcia would tell Maria. “But I don’t trust others. If you go out with a girl who likes to stay out dancing and drinking, even if you don’t, you’re still exposing yourself to that. The devil is the devil.”
“Mami,” Maria would reply, “you don’t want to go out, so you have no idea what goes on out there. You think because you raised us well, we don’t hear bad words, we don’t see ugly things? We see it all. You can’t hide. You have to face things.”
By the end of her junior year, Mellie was outgrowing Saint Vincent’s, and she’d found a typically dramatic way to get out. With the U.S. in the midst of war in Iraq, she said she wanted to join the Marines—and even interviewed with a recruiter. “It’s cool,” she’d tell her friends. Miguel, an Argentine military veteran, was overjoyed. Mariel and Celeste were appalled. “I’d be like, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Celeste says. “And she’d say, ‘What are you doing? You paint. Are you going to paint for a living?’ ” Eventually, Mellie agreed to put off the Marines until after college. Before enrolling at Hunter, she spent what would have been her senior year completing her high-school credits over the Internet, assembling a modeling portfolio, and interning at MTV. She also stayed in touch with Maria, who last winter recommended and trained Mellie for a part-time job at the Manhattan promotions company where Maria had worked.
At NYU, Maria came off as the type of girl who didn’t like other girls, perhaps because she’d spent so much time at an all-girls school. There were plenty of boys, though—including Nick Genovese. Their friendship upgraded into romance toward the end of the spring semester. Nick says he’s too upset to comment for this story. But his bandmates in Elysia Falls all remember how she doted on them, bringing her family’s gray Sentra in from Queens to drag their equipment to gigs at CBGB, Continental, and Luna Lounge—often taking two trips. She seemed eager to impress them; she told them she could get their demo to the band H20 through a connection that, Bianca says, was probably Mellie. At Irving Plaza last spring, Maria’s friend Ian Folkert, the drummer in Elysia Falls, remembers her making a big show of hanging out backstage with members of Sugarcult.
Maria’s father believes Mellie was a roper, luring in girls in exchange for drugs. “We’re not Jesus Christ who turns the other cheek,” he says. “We are going to clean up my daughter’s name.”
In college, Maria wasn’t earning straight A’s like she used to. Another band member, Jonathan Carpenter, says he and she both flunked a computer class in the second term. Friends would see Maria drunk in the dorms—hardly a major transgression for a college freshman. The guys in the band say they never saw any drug use, but Maria’s high-school friend Michelle, who would visit the dorms with Bianca, says Maria experimented with cocaine. “I’ll be honest,” Michelle says. “She tried it. But she wasn’t an avid user.”
The Tuesday before Maria’s death, Michelle and Bianca say, Maria mentioned a friend who was doing heroin and said she would never try it. “I wouldn’t want to have something have that kind of control over me,” she told them. A month before she died, Maria went out of her way to tell her sister Karla that if she saw her coming even close to drugs, she would smack her. But Ed Gallego, an old childhood friend, believes Maria was ready to experiment. “All I can say is, I told Maria to stop,” he says. “She wouldn’t listen. She wasn’t the happiest person in the world. Her new life at NYU revolved around trying new things, to bring herself to a new high.”
Until recently, a photo of Mellie Carballo, smiling sanguinely, was on a Website promoting a Friday dance party called Trash, one of a string of parties with names like Misshapes, Bust, and Motherfucker that together compose a sort of intro course for hipster nightlife. Replenished by a steady stream of undergrads, the scene is almost sentimentally retro—New Order is as popular as disco-punk, and the regulars dress like it’s Limelight in 1987. These aren’t places where everyone’s waiting for Tara Reid to show up: They’re more intimate and cliquish, yet every bit as naughty. By the end of her freshman year this spring at Hunter, Mellie had become a regular. “She was a familiar face and around a lot,” says Sarah Lewitinn, who runs the Ultragrrrl clubland blog. “And so adorable, so cute, always well dressed. She’d wear a band T-shirt, tattered but fitted, a cute miniskirt. She seemed pretty popular.”