My new life
Lauren came to bring me food later that night. And a bucket to pee in, which didn’t bother me as much as I thought. Unlike expected, I was starving by the time she walked in. Being bored out of your mind does that to you. My fingernails had carved my name into the crumbling paint on the wall. It was the only thing to keep me mildly entertained.
She made pasta, mixed with sausages and vegetables. It was a weird combination, but I liked it anyway. At first, I didn’t even want to taste whatever she offered me. There could’ve been some drugs stuffed in the sauce. Or maybe worse. But she stood by me for a half an hour, so very patiently that it surprised me. Then she sat down on the ground and grabbed the wooden spoon to treat herself with a taste. It was to prove to me that there was nothing wrong with the food. Except it gotten cold.
“Bit too much salt, but that’s okay. John likes salt.” she stated.
That’s when I took the spoon from her offering hand. My hands were still tied together, but I managed to eat decently anyway. When one’s hungry, any method will do.
“You do everything to please him?” I sighed exhausted, while stuffing my mouth full with food.
It took her a while to think about that. Eventually, she nodded. I guess nothing else mattered to her. She didn’t know any better.
“Will he hurt me?” I asked, accidentally spitting out some parts of the pasta.
She watched me eat as she sat a couple of inches away from me. The lack of reaction made me look up. The scary thing was that, maybe, she didn’t remember what hurting meant. Like she said, she’d been in this house for years. God knows what he had already done to her.
“I don’t think he will. He hasn’t hurt me anymore. Not in a long time, anyway.”
“Because you do as he says.”
She nodded, completely oblivious about how crazy that proved to be. But confusion and anger and fright suddenly all hit me at once. I didn’t understand anything about this whole situation.
“Why are we here? What did we do to deserve this? I mean, I never thought that … What is this shit?” I started crying.
I threw down the spoon and covered my eyes. Lauren sighed deeply and cleared her throat, not really knowing how to respond.
“I don’t think this is shit.” she softly uttered in a faint attempt to calm me down. “This is my home.”
I looked up to her and realized I was giving crap about the one thing she knew best: this house, this way of living. The innocence in her eyes almost made me feel sorry for her.
“Things will get better, Mariana. I promise.”
Her desperate strike to cheer me up warmed my heart for a second, because I could tell she actually meant it. But she didn’t realize that nothing about this was in the range of anything between average and good.
“Do you want a pillow to sleep tonight?” she asked.
“I’d rather have a hotel room in town with room service and Netflix.”
My sighing, yet sarcastic response made her smile. At least I stopped crying by that time. Hell, I even managed to pick up some of my bitchiness. She had no idea what I was talking about, though. She quickly informed me she’d never been in a hotel in her whole life. Only by watching movies, she knew what they looked like. That didn’t really surprise me. It’s not exactly a place where one brings his teenage abducted semi-child, is it?
After thinking about my level of sarcasm, she rested her head on her fist: “You’re weird. I like you.”
“You are weird, Lauren.” I disagreed with her, slightly offended.
And she had no idea. She didn’t seem to mind my comment. The girl just sat there, covered in an oversized hoodie and some black pajama pants. Her hair was pulled together in a ponytail, surprisingly neat. Nothing about this appeared to be strange to her. I guess she was overly excited that someone was finally here, to talk to her. The way she fascinatingly stared at me gave it away.
“But I like you too.” I admitted, actually genuine.
She stayed for another hour by my side, as she asked me a lot of questions, but I wasn’t sure if she’d blab about them to that John guy, so I barely answered a few. She didn’t mind. Maybe to her, I was just being shy. My body was exhausted by the time I finished the plate. Exhausted from crying, from yelling, from trying to get out of this rope’s grip. All I ended up with was fainted hope and the realization that there was no way to run.
By the time a week had passed, John visited the basement a couple more times. It always took him some minutes before he got bored and locked the door behind him on his way out. I quickly gathered he didn’t intend to rape me. Not right now, that was. Maybe he would change his mind soon. But I was filthy. I was incredibly filthy and I had a bad smell. It was disgusting to be in this room by myself, still wearing the same clothes, not have had a bath in days, not haven’t been able to touch a peppermint in ages. After the first night, Lauren brought me a mattress and a pillow. They smelt bad, but so did I and I accepted every level of comfort I could get. Lauren gave me a blanket on the third day, because she worried that I might be too cold at night. I was – the basement wasn’t exactly heated or anything.
Lauren didn’t seem to mind my lack of hygiene, apparently, since she spent most of her days next to me. She liked having me here, she said. It was the truth. After a week, she convinced John to loosen my rope. He got me a longer one, and while he changed it, he warned me that if I would dare to make a move, he’d tie my feet up as well. That skinny guy was a first class creep. Something in his eyes told me how messed up he was. Sociopath kind of messed up. My position taught me that obedience was my best shot.
“Lauren will explain the rules to you once again. Then, you might be able to walk around a bit.” he said that evening.
In his mind, it was an act of kindness. But he wasn’t kind at all. A day later, when I was sick and tired of going crazy in his dungeon, I briefly got rude to him and called him an asshole for doing this to me. In return, he kicked me so hard against my legs that they were sore for four days. The pain it caused was like never before. I cried out for help, but nobody was there to help me. When Lauren sneaked into the basement that night, her eyes almost popped out of her head when she witnessed the bruises and the blood. She told me John was asleep, so she ran upstairs to grab a couple of self-aid instruments to clean me up. It didn’t seem to bother her that John might find out and hurt her as well. She was used to it, I guess.
While she dabbed my bleeding knee to disinfect the open wound, I studied her movements and the way she bit her lower lip whenever she expected it would hurt me. But she didn’t hurt me at all. She was gentle and careful. She was compassionate and sweet. That’s when I started crying again. I hadn’t cried in three days. Not even as he kicked the living shit out of me. But seeing her care about me made me soft and weak, because it reminded me how much I gave up on caring. I felt numb and invisible. She, however, pointed out that I still existed. How did a monster raise such a beautiful person?
“What happens to the girls that disappear from here after a while?”
My curiosity took over my fear of knowing. Nursing Lauren looked me in the eyes and sighed defeated.
“I don’t know. There’s a man. He takes the girls with him after a while. He gives John money. All I know is that the girls never come back. But he does, to get new ones.”
So, human trafficking? Sex slaves industry? Something about it didn’t even bothered me a much as it should’ve, sadly. My hope to get out of here unharmed had faded by then, and a desperate need of acceptance had found its way into my mind. Like, there was nothing I could do about anything he’d do to me, so why would I even worry about it anymore. Being locked up made me give up. She didn’t understand, because she couldn’t remember that happened to her many, many years before.
By the time he untied my hands completely, a month had passed. My wrists were so sore that the skin started peeling off. They hurt so badly that even Lauren’s worrying, midnight care didn’t release me from the pain. My muscles were cramped and the first time I opened my arms widely, I thought I was eighty years old. The worst thing was the lack of sensation in my butt: it felt numb from all the hours I sat down on it.
I had nowhere to go for weeks – literally – and there was no one to talk to except Lauren. My own thoughts and mind were driving me crazy. The silence in the basement was deafening. There was hardly anything left of the old Mariana, except the last part of my stubborn attitude. I refused to talk to John, no matter how many times he asked me the same questions. And I was convinced it wasn’t even his real name. He thought I was too difficult to crack as well. It’s like he hardly made an effort, except for kicking and slapping me until the blood gushed out of my skin on a regular basis. He liked that a lot, to see me cry and hurt. That’s the only way he could hurt me, he gathered. He was right. I surprisingly kept on challenging him. My mother’s stubborn nature passed onto me. John learned.
Luckily, the innocent, unknowing girl with the freckles seemed to like me. She kept a close eye on my presence, like she wanted to know for sure that I was fine. She knew John did all those things to me, and nothing about that felt good to her, but there was nothing she could do, except take care of me when John was out for work or when he was asleep. I liked that. Because I really wanted to like something – and Lauren was so, so very easy to like. She had taught me the rules on moments when we were left alone at the house. John didn’t like a lot of noise. He didn’t like when we were disobedient. He enjoyed peace and quiet, just like he enjoyed a night out, knowing that Lauren and I couldn’t run off. Lauren was never allowed to leave the house, so she didn’t. Whenever he left, he locked the door with so many keys that trying to get out would be a waste of time, she told me. The furthest she had gotten was the garden, and the field where John had planted lettuce and carrots. She kept an eye on the crops, as they grew, as they were ready be harvested. In fact, the young blonde did everything for him. She cooked, she cleaned, she washed, she kept an eye on me, … I listened to her stories and pretended they weren’t happening right in front of me. It was easier to believe that it all was just a fantasy – and on one warm, summer day, I’d wake up from this nightmare.
John did nothing, except insult us, or beat me up or yell at Lauren when she protested. He kept repeating how he was close to finding me a new ‘owner’. Owner, such a disgusting word. But, more time had passed, and eventually, there was nothing left of that strong, determined Mariana someone might have known a while ago and I finally stopped putting up a fight consistently.
“So what now?”
“Now you can go wherever I go.” Lauren whispered the first time she opened the door while I was being set free.
It didn’t feel that way. Truth is, I could have run. I could have whacked her over the head and took a courageous leap at freedom, but there’s no way to describe how awfully scary that sounded. John had this thing, you see, where he would walk into the basement every single night to paint the picture of the things that were way behind me. My mom stopped searching for me and focussed on teaching again, he said. Without me, she finally found some time to help others, people that were more grateful than a sarcastic bitch like me. My dad never had so many patients once my disappearance went public, so the money just came flying in, according to him. And, finally, my grandma found happiness in taking care of foster children, now that I was gone. They were all better off now that I had vanished from their lives. The first couple of days, I spit him in the face as soon as he started talking that shit. That’s when he’d hit me hard, or kick me in the stomach. After a week, some words didn’t seem so unbelievable anymore. I mean, I did behave like a bitch the last couple of years. Puberty and popularity did that to me. Honestly, I couldn’t remember the last time I told my family I loved them. Maybe they didn’t realize it. Maybe they thought I ran off. Two months of his lectures had passed and I started proving John right: I wouldn’t search for myself if I was lost either. I was a horrible person and John clearly agreed. He started threatening how he’d get rid of me as well, because ‘no one could live with a person like me’. He swore he didn’t want me around the house anymore, because I was whiny and dull and stupid. Such a regret to have taken me with him, he said.
Funny thing is, you might fight it at first, but the more someone repeats the same story, the more of a stigma it becomes – you actually start believing it. And since there was no other voice of reason, no one to prove him wrong, I gave up on trying.
And so the moment was there, the moment where anything could’ve happened. The door was open. The possibility was there. But I chose to stay close to Lauren and hold her soft, warm hand. She was the most comforting thing around, and I didn’t dare to give that up. It was all I had left. For a second, I refused to leave the basement I had loathed for so many lonely hours, because it was the safest place I could remember. That old house I used to live in felt so very far away. Every second that had dragged me along while I was locked inside this one, had felt like an hour, while the memory of my past seemed like a hasty dream.
John did this to me, but it felt okay. Because despite everything, he made this feel all right by giving me the sweet Lauren.
“Are you going to stay close to me?” I nearly begged her, while squeezing our hands together tightly.
She nodded and showed a faint smile: “Of course. I won’t leave your side. Okay?”
It felt like a hopeful promise. Because it was better than another lonely night in that rotten room.
For now, I’m spending most of my hours in the kitchen. We cook for John, while he’s out for work. Judging by the clothes he’s wearing, he must be some kind of handyman. His trousers are always dirty and worn out. Lauren washes them as soon as he comes home, that’s sort of a routine. Then he puts on his clean clothes. She never looks him in the eye, except when he gets mad. He then grabs her by the chin and forces her to make eye contact. It was stunning to learn that she never really feels anxious when he threatens to slap her. Truth is, he never actually does. Me, on the other hand, I’m somewhat his training puppy who gets the regular amount of physical punishment. A Mariana Diaz is a rare breed. It’s someone who had never shut her mouth before, who always had an answer, and who always refused to keep quiet. It are all the things John hates, so he decided to break off my rude and sarcastic talents day by day.
My cheerleading sweats are replaced by some dull, brown clothes. As much as I provoked people in the past by wearing short skirts and tight tops, my figure is now faded and all there‘s left of me are some bones and faint muscles, hiding under a pile of smelly fabrics. Lauren doesn’t seem to mind wearing these rags. I guess she never experienced the importance of fashion while growing up here. Given, there are other things to distract you when you’ve been held from childhood.
“Fuck!” I swear, as I drop the knife I was holding with my finger’s blood on it.
Lauren, on my right, looks up to me and frowns deeply: “Oh, Mariana. That wasn’t really smart.”
Really? Sometimes she’s rather oblivious.
Compassion doesn’t come naturally to her, but since I’m here, she has told me that she feels the need to take care of me. I soften her up, apparently. That’s a first.
Her rough fingers take the bleeding hand and pulls it under the rusty, old crane to my left. This is such an old house. The paint on the walls peels off, the kitchen cabinets stand askew, the cutlery hasn’t been used for ages. For a handyman, he sure doesn’t put a lot of effort into his own place.
I’m afraid to wonder how many girls like me have eaten in this same room. Then again, Lauren let it slip that the others never left the basement. That makes me the only one, apart from her. I wonder why. It doesn’t make sense. None of this makes any sense.
“Why does he keep us here?” I ask, while turning my eyes away from the blood.
It stings. As if I’m not decorated enough with bandaids, she gets me a new one in the cabinet to our left.
“What do you mean?” she calmly counters my question, a bit uninterested.
Her hands scrambles through some stuff behind a wooden door. I look up to her and wait until her stare catches mine.
“You’ve been here ever since you were a little kid. And me … I thought he was going to find me a new owner or something.”
His words still don’t make a lot of sense to me, but he keeps repeating them, so I guess he’s pretty serious about it. She shrugs and I can tell she actually has no clue. This girl’s been kept in the dark for too long, in all the ways possible. Her feet bring her near me again.
“There must be something about you that convinces him to keep you close.”
Probably not my charming personality? She almost seems to flatter me with the words. Like I’m worth having around.
“Besides, I asked him to let you be my friend in here. I like having someone around and I’m afraid that if he does sell you … something bad will happen to you.”
Like being here isn’t bad. But sweet, gentle and innocent Lauren warms my heart with her declaration. She really does need a friend. And in her own way, she’s trying to protect me. I can’t imagine what it must have been like, growing up with a sociopath, and no one else to talk to. She puts the band-aid around my fingers and caresses the fabric softly.
“There. All better.”
She likes to pretend that a little sticker takes my pain away. I play along.
I put my pampered hand on hers and smile the faintest of smiles: “Don’t worry. You have a friend now. It’ll be okay.”
Worst promise ever.