Ding, dong, the witch is back
A worked up woman is pacing up and down in front of me, while I’m sitting on a couch, smartly remaining quiet. The person in front of me is not happy. My publicist rarely ever is. She’s holding the last few rough drafts of my work in her right hand. She doesn’t like it. Hell, I don’t even like it. Something about it just isn’t right.
“This isn’t working, Mariana. I mean, look at your last three chapters. They lack finesse. They lack an emotional input. You’ve been rambling and rambling about the interior of the house for ten pages.”
I crunch my nose and shake my head doubtfully. It was a very unique house, though. Of all the things I hated there, the structure and bold posture of that Fortress was the least of it.
Ellen is standing in the room as well and objects in a supportive way: “It can’t be that bad.”
But Edna, my publisher holds the papers towards her: “Front and back!”
I try to come up with a decent comment, but somehow, my words aren’t exactly going to make it any better. Ellen, who has promoted herself to my never-gets-paid manager, can’t refrain from interfering.
“Then what do you want? Medical details about getting beaten? Bloody selfies? Is that what you want, pictures? Because, I’m sorry: she didn’t exactly have her smartphone with her at the time.”
I hold my hands up, trying to calm the ladies down, and get up on my feet. Women.
“Calm down, Ellen. She wants emotion. She wants a story, not a manual.”
“How is the entire story not about emotions?” Ellen asks with a half smile, kind of to ridicule me. “This guy mysteriously kidnapped you, he sadistically tortured you, he kept you locked up in horrendous basement and made you his human punch bag.”
Edna seems impressed with my friend, though: “Wow, she’s like really graphic. Maybe she should write the book.”
I ignore whatever bitchy cat fight is going on around me and keep my eyes focussed on Ellen.
“I know what he did to me, Ellen. I wrote it all down – every bruise that I can remember, even though I think there’s a lot that have escaped my memories. But that didn’t matter to me in there. It was all about Lauren. It always was.”
Ellen sighs as she puts one hand in front of her eyes and licks her upper lip. She’s getting tired about the fact that every single thing in my life has to be about Lauren.
“And you can’t write about that, right?”
I nod calmly. I couldn’t do that to her. I would be pushing her out of the closet. She’s been pushed around enough in her life.
“What about your friendship? Leave the kissing and sexy details out and you have a beautiful, slightly weird friendship. You can write about that, no?”
I’m not sure. What if I give too much information? What if somehow, people will tell? Ellen reads it off my face and puts her hands on both my shoulders to get through to me.
“If you don’t write about her, people will start asking questions, Mariana. Only then.”
She could be right. It would be wrong not mentioning her. People would think we have something to hide. Technically, we do.
“Okay. I’ll give it another try.”
Edna, with her dark hair up in a ponytail, is leaning against her desk and smacks her lips.
“One more try, Mariana. Or I’ll have to bring in a ghost writer. I’m sorry.”
Somehow, I can’t be mad at the lady. I understand.
“I remember sitting in the kitchen on a cold afternoon. Nothing really ever happened in the fortress, so there were boring moments as well. I dosed off. I couldn’t help it, it was the result of long nights of suffering the cold and isolation in the basement. John just got me out of there, you see. I had to spend three days in that place, without seeing anyone or hearing anything else but the sound of his squeaking shoes on the concrete floor when he brought food once a day. He even turned off the light the entire time. It’s the worst thing in the world, having to spend time with yourself, staring into darkness. Silence is deafening.
Being alone with yourself is torture. Being without Lauren was horror.
When he finally came to get me, Lauren started crying the second she saw me crawling up the stairs. He had forbidden her to come down. In fact, he took three days off to make sure she didn’t even try. John pushed me up the stairs, kicking my feet each time I missed a step. It’s not like the house was such a well-lit place, mostly because of all the things barricading the windows and the doors to keep us inside, but when I saw a ray of light for the first time in days, I got a migraine so badly that I immediately had to throw up. John got mad about it, and pushed my face into my own dirt. I didn’t care. Somehow, I hoped God would take me away from that place that second.
Lauren yelled at him, begging him to stop, protesting with the argument that I had suffered enough for a while. She said it right: a while. He listened to her, like it sometimes happened. He got up and left me lying on the ground. That’s when she rushed towards me to take care of me. She always did. I collapsed in her arms and started hyperventilating. I was so happy to finally see her again that tears finally came running down my cheeks. But I was so very tired.
And so, the next day, he found me dosed off, in the kitchen. Without waking me up first, he just yanked me off the chair, holding on to my hair.
Sometimes people wake up from a hard noise and need some time to realize where they are. That never happened in the fortress. The stinging pain of someone pulling your whole body weight along with your hair immediately does that realization for you. John called me lazy, then he called me ugly. I didn’t scream or yell. I certainly didn’t beg him to stop. My clothes were dirty as hell, my hair was all messed up. He just mentally cracked me in that basement, how the hell did he expect me to care any longer? I grabbed his hands, though, and pulled myself up with the few muscles I had left to release the pressure from my scalp.
‘So you are tired?’ he asked me, determined to wake me up for sure.
Before I realized it, he held me under the running tap, mouth facing the flow of ice cold water. It was hard to breathe. I guess people call it waterboarding. I call it horror. My lungs shut close each and every time I finally saw the opportunity to grasp for air. All I could think of was Lauren. She wasn’t around, she was upstairs, folding laundry. I wished and prayed she’s be on time to see this. Maybe she could make him stop. I always relied on her.
But she didn’t return for the next three minutes that seemed to last a lifetime. The water was so cold that it hurt my skin. My nose and mouth were filled with water. When I opened my eyes in panic, all I could see was his smiling face. He had one hand around my throat. The other one was keeping me from fighting back. I did my best, though. I tried kicking him in the balls, but his strong legs kept me in a strategic grip. Even a straitjacket would’ve given me more room to move. Eventually, everything around me faded out. I felt my body slip away and there was nothing I could do about it.
I found myself lying on the ground when Lauren ran over to me in a panicking way. She had no idea what happened, though the wet look and still running water probably gave it away. She held my head in her embrace as I grasped on to her sleeves anxiously trying to breathe again. It hurt enormously. Every movement did.
John had disappeared. The second I passed out, the fun was gone, so he no longer cared.
‘I am so sorry, Mariana.’ she whispered, while rubbing my wet hairs back.
But it wasn’t her fault. And I didn’t care what he did to me anymore. As I said: I was just tired. So very tired.”
Ellen closes the laptop and heaves a disturbed sigh. She seems impressed by whatever she just read. I had a moment of inspiration and showed it to her. Now she knows why exactly Lauren is so important to me. She has saved me life countless times – even when she didn’t realize it. I leave the room to find some comfort on the sofa. My miraculous progress has disappeared. And I can’t find it back anymore.
“You want to hear something funny?”
I’m annoyed as hell today and I don’t know why. So instead of actively paying attention to Ellen, I just sigh and turn to my iPhone – God, how I’ve missed a cell phone.
“Coming from you, it’s probably not …” I sniff with a smirk.
An impatient Ellen violently pushes my feet off the couch, which catches me by surprise. People have this way of handling me, you see. They treat me as if I’m made out of glass. They think I’m unapproachable and that every single word they tell me might hurt my feelings, which is incredibly ironic since I’ve heard and seen quite everything hurtful the last couple of years. No, wait, that’s not ironic … that’s tragic.
“We used to be best friends.” she continues all worked up. “We did everything together. You told me all about your dreams and expectations. About how you wanted to go to New York as soon as you got out of high school. You told me I was a bitch when I acted like one. And you called me fat when I gained a pound that one time. You said I’d make the Cheerios’ pyramid collapse. Now you can’t even look at me in the eye when we have some shallow conversation.”
It went well for a while. But the healing process includes ups and down, my therapist told me. It’s a bad few days now. I look up to her as I lock my phone and put it away. Well, she certainly has my attention now. My analyzing eyes make her shut up for a whole of three seconds. After that, I shake my head with desperation.
“Yeah, see: not that funny, Ellen.” I try to ridicule her.
She heaves a sigh that might as well grew from the bottom of her heart and closes her lips by pressing them tightly together. Another few moments pass and she decides to sit down on the couch across the coffee table. Her behavior confuses me. This is not the Ellen I remember from a long time ago. Maybe my mind’s got me all fucked up about that fact.
“No, seriously, Mariana. You need a friend. Lately, you’re so off, so …”
But that’s the first funny thing I’ve heard coming from her, if you ask me.
“I’m damaged goods, Ellen. I wish I could apologize for that, but someone else screwed me over that way.”
It’s almost a comical comment, except it’s not. She nods.
“I know. What that guy did to you … I …”
She sighs as she stumbles over her own breathing. Then she looks at me with the most sincere eyes I’ve ever seen.
“I am so sorry that happened to you, Mariana.”
I need a moment to work through that emotional apology, because it’s the first time I’ve ever heard Ellen being this scared to bring out her own words. I know how responsible she feels about letting me leave alone that night. She thinks it’s her fault that someone kidnapped me. If she would’ve been with me, riding our bikes together like any other day before that one, John could’ve left me alone. Except no, he probably would’ve taken us both. I tell her that all the time.
Hesitation and confusion takes over my entire being, right before I swallow deeply and nod nearly invisible to the eye.
“Me too.” I tell her. “I lost my family because of him. And my best friend.”
Her emotional stare flares up to me and a faint smile accidentally takes over. It must be the awesome memories we share that pop up inside of her head.
But I’m not ready to be myself again. Somehow, things got worse the last couple of weeks again. Ever since she left a second time.
“You got them back, Mariana.” she assures me, almost making it sound as a promise.
But nothing about the tone she speaks in convinces me. I shake my head without saying why I disagree, but I assume she can put one and one together. I came back as a broken person. I realize that. They stayed exactly the same, yet I’m not the daughter or granddaughter I used to be. I realized that my grandmother could be right. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. It’s not their fault. It’s John’s fault. I can never be normal again, because I’ve witnessed abnormality in its cruelest form.
“I also lost my innocence, Ellen. I’m not sure if I can actually put a name to it, but what that guy took from me … I don’t know – my hope, my youth, my ignorance. Heck, even my ability to dream. I feel like there’s nothing left.”
But that mother fucker did give me Lauren. That almost makes me smile with gratefulness.
“Remember one thing, will you? I’m here for you. I’ll always be here for you. The good, the bad. I’ll call you fat if I have to. You need a best friend, Mariana.”
A confident shrug turns the atmosphere around, almost as if our conversation has a comical nature.
“Who needs a best friend when I have me?” I ask, while smirking self-confidently.
But she’s not done telling me my truth. My behavior pisses her off massively. It’s something inevitable, though. Laughing with the things that hurt me comes easier than talking about it, or shedding some tears. I learned that in captivity. Like an animal.
My fingers play around with the hem of my shirt. A frown discolors my face.
“I don’t think I need a best friend, Ellen.” I try again, softer this time. “Maybe I need a pet to open up? Maybe I need a cat. A cat could be nice. They’re as bitchy as I am.”
Still laughing away the truth. I’ve never heard a noise as mocking and disagreeing as the one coming from the inside of her entire body, though.
“You don’t need a freaking cat. A cat would take one look at your pathetic life and run away from you as fast as it could. You can’t even take care of a fucking fish.”
But her out and about expression surprises herself. Back to that conscious lesson, where people can’t be frank and rude when it comes to me. Because I’m the fucked up one, you know. Strangely, it’s the first time I’ve completely recognized my old friend that kept me company in my dreams all that time and I start laughing about it.
“I’ve missed you the most, Ellen.” I admit, softly reminiscing the past.
Shyness always had a way to make us uncomfortable around each other, so instead of blushing, she tells me words that make me more at ease and as happy to be home as I’ve ever felt: “Shut up, idiot.”
We both giggle sillily, which warms my heart for the first time since long. This is the first time that our past comes to slap me in the face this comfortably.
“What about Lauren?” she bluntly asks.
It surprises me, therefor shuts me up immediately. A minute passes and I shrug.
“I will always want her.”
“And what does that mean?”
My exhausted body sighs desperately: “I don’t know. It means that she doesn’t want me. At least not now. She just can’t. But, you know what? I guess I’ve been through worse.”
The shape of her expression shows doubt and sympathy.
“Yeah. I think so too.” she nods, while putting some hairs behind my ears.
I tell her a lot about John. She reads all my drafts. She knows the big lines of what happened in the fortress. And she knows how much I love Lauren. She is my best friend.
“You know, nobody’s perfect, Mariana.” she tells me, in an attempt to wake me from my perfected dream in which Lauren is my savior.
“That’s right,” I agree. “Until you fall in love with them.”
She smirks: “Put that in your book!”
“So you’re, like, totally into girls now?”
I smile shyly, slightly embarrassed and I don’t know why: “I am.”
Is this an official coming out to my friend? We haven’t exactly discussed this yet. Our bodies both bend over the sushi that’s in the middle of the coffee table in front of us. My cold hands offer her some chopsticks. I’ve had too much wine and it’s not even seven P.M.. My dad’s going to be pissed at me when he returns home.
“So do you want a new girlfriend?”
Great question, really. Do I? Life is so very confusing right now. I just barely survived being locked up, thinking that I’d never see my family and friends again. And now here I am, mostly pretending and trying to forget it ever really happened, coming out to my family and friends and losing half of them over my sexuality again. Life just can’t give me a break, so it seems. How can I possibly be worried about dating someone right now?
“You know … I’d really, really love to have a girlfriend, but – to tell you the truth – I’m a bit worried she might get in the way of my passionate, happily ever after relationship with wine, partying and my favorite television shows …”
Ellen holds up the chopsticks clenched between her fingers, some noodles held in between them, as I raise mine as well. We toast the food to the realization and giggle. And just like that, the old times re-enter my life again.
The sushi’s great. But not as great as the wine. We’re legally not exactly allowed to drink, but honestly, that has never stopped us before. Look at Europe, most of those countries allow their youngsters to drink from the age of sixteen. I support that. Sometimes, a girl deserves a drink! Ellen’s quite the lightweight when it comes to that, though. One glass and she’s lisping and stuttering. It’s totally adorable. Bit disturbing as well. And now, after having the whole three glasses of red wine she’s fucked. Her body’s draped across my couch, staring at the ceiling. She tells me it’s spinning.
”I really support the gays, you know, although I’m not … I’m not gay. I’m just …”
She hesitates for a slight second. It’s enough time to make my brain work. I expect her to say ‘straight’. I expect her to say ‘normal’. Something as ignorant and casual straight people say all the time without realizing it might hurt others.
But she surprises me by saying the following: “I’m just massively boring and regular … and mainstream. I’m the most stereotypical girl in the history of the world. You’re awesome and badass and you take life and beat the crap out of it when it bites.”
I smirk over her adorable and intensely passionate formulation.
Suddenly, she stares at me as if she has some kind of epiphany: “I wish I was gay.”
I burst into laughter and jump from my couch to hers to straddle her. She starts laughing.
“Trust me, Ellen: you don’t. You’re a dirty penis loving eternal student with a desire to sleep with as many men as possible until you find that true, rich one.”
She opens her mouth widely to laugh out loud and fails at trying to push me off of her.
“You are so right.” she admits.
We end up fighting a bit more, up until the point where I teasingly lick her cheek. Ellen’s face immediately turns into on of joyful disgust. She squeaks and scream, ordering me to stop, but I just laugh hysterically. It was dead funny to see her all startled.
“You are disgusting, Mariana!” she shrieks, while rubbing her face against the fabric of her shirt.
She can’t move a muscle, I’ve got her pinned down strategically. I remain on top of her and continue my tickling and teasing spree. My best friend nearly pees her pants.