Who Will Hold You When You Cry At Night?
by Maggie M. Ethridge

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In high school my friend Mandy became my friend Mandy without me noticing. I don’t know how we became friends, why we became friends or what we had in common, but suddenly every time there was a 15 minute break or lunch period, she was standing with me, talking. She was a homely girl and her spirit was tormented. My first impression of her was damaged goods and I suppose that is what we had in common–too much damage, too young. She was 20 pounds overweight and wore ill-fitting clothes and had acne smothered in thick, creamy base. She wore a shitload of eyeliner, smoked a pack of Marlboro Reds a day and swore like a porn star. I was uneasy about being friends with her but felt constantly and irrationally compelled to be around her, a storyline to follow me all my life. She was not funny, or interesting, or exciting, or charming. She was desperate and haunted and miserable and on the brink of a nervous breakdown. I could not tell what smarts lay behind her constant talk of blow jobs, bubble gum smacking and cigarette inhaling.

I knew she wanted to be my friend partly because I was very close with three boys that she was determined to get the attention of. Mandy and I were 15. Two of the three boys were 17 and one was our age. The boys joked about Mandy. She had a reputation all over school for being a slut, a whore, a nobody. They asked me why I hung out with her. I gave them my empty stare. I had no answer. Sometimes when Mandy and I were alone and she was unaware of me, I would get an angle of her plump, acne smattered cheek and curly frizzy hair that spoke to the lost child she truly was, and my stomach would fist over fist and I would clench my jaw and bite the inside of my cheek. Because poor Mandy. Of course I know now that my deepest sympathies went to the undesirables because I knew that I was one, too. Only my good looks and a certain deep and quiet stillness kept me from being Mandy in social circles. Inside, I was as hollow and muted and miserable as she. I was as carved out and left empty. I folded eyeliner thick and beautifully black across my eyes and the vivid blue color inside was safe. I am safe if no one can see me. The only part of my life that said anything different than this was my writing. The only part of my life that gave me anything different than this was art. Books and movies and art. They speak profoundly to the desolate mute. I heard the message and survived: You are worth something. You can change your life someday. I did not believe it but I believed it, in the way that if you are starving and someone says they have food behind their back, you will believe it. Mandy had no message of hope and grew more desperate and shaky by the month.

She lived in a tiny apartment with her mother in a crappy part of our suburban town where lots of drug deals went down and the police showed up most weekends. I knew someone had been shot to death in that complex recently. Her apartment had the agonizing human touches of a large, fake plant and framed, blown up photos of Mandy and her mother with their hair blown into feathered bangs, blue eyeliner and gold bracelets on their clasped hands.  They had an enormous T.V. as the centerpiece of the small, rectangle living room.  Mandy laughed and told me she wanted to show me something, slid a tape into the VCR. Moaning, grunting, panting, and people fucking each other in every position. I was sick to my stomach. Mandy watched me gleefully. She laughed again. It’s my mom’s!! she told me. Let’s smoke. We lit our cigarettes. I inhaled and instantly felt calm, comforted and more in control. Mandy lay on the floor and I saw the side of her fat, flat butt hanging out of her pink underwear, trembling from her foot jiggling. I wanted to tell her, I can see your bottom. I wanted to cover it for her like a mother and protect her from everyone who could always see her jiggling fat bottom and who laughed and never told her why. I wanted to cover her gently with a blanket and tell her it was OK to be a human being and fuck all those people who laughed at every piece of evidence that you were.  I averted my eyes from the porn and sucked down the cigarette smoke and felt the constant horrid panic that I lived with day and night. It was a river and it flowed through me and it burbled the same message at 3am or 3pm: you have to escape, this is intolerable, you have to escape, this is intolerable. I could not stand my own pain but bearing other people’s pain was even worse. I had some feeling I might be able to bear it. I believed everyone else would die of it. A storyline to follow me all my life.

Mandy and I spent the afternoon talking and smoking and doing our makeup, and at some point in the early evening she told me that a year ago, she had been at a party where five members of the high school football team raped her. I don’t remember what I said, or Mandy’s face when she told me. I know she cried, I know I held her. I know I was shocked but not too shocked. Many of my girlfriends had confided to me–usually during sleepovers in the early morning hours–that they had been raped or molested. Usually it was by an older teenage boy, but sometimes it was a step-father or uncle or tutor.

We put on more makeup and smoked more cigarettes and listened to rap music about bitches and money and fuck those bitches and went to a party with some boys I knew. I went home.

On Sunday, one of my close guy friends came and picked me up to drive around and get high. We parked by a canyon and talked in the car. Mandy gave us all blow-jobs Saturday night, he said and laughed. She’s so fucking disgusting.  I wanted to pound his face into the steering wheel and smash his teeth. I wanted to kill every boy and man that I could think of, all of them so revolting, so ignorant, so heartless. I had no idea where the men were who inhabited my novels but if I had to live the rest of my life reading or the rest of my life with this, I would read. I would read. I sat and smoked and nodded and went home. I folded it inward.

The phone rang and I answered it and it was Mandy’s mother. Mandy hadn’t been at school and didn’t return my calls and it was because she had attacked her mother with a large kitchen knife and was now in lock-up. Would I visit her, with her mother? Yes. I hung up and sat down and felt what Mandy would be feeling and what her mother would be feeling and I wanted to die. You have to escape, this is intolerable, the river burbled. I could feel the white walls of Mandy’s lock-up. I could hear the doors closing. I could feel the loneliness and desperation. I knew then that the only thing that could truly heal Mandy was love and those kinds of places have no love. They have rules and laws and punishments and they are going to teach you that you can/ youcan’t/ youwill/ youwon’t/ youmust. But no one is going to love you. Who will crawl into bed with you when you cry? I could not give Mandy the only thing I had to offer: books. She would not read.

I drove in Mandy’s mother’s small car next to her mother in the front seat. We played the radio. Her mother had large glasses and large, mannish hands and a lost face. She wore working woman slacks and flat shoes and a belt and her shirt was tucked in. She had Mandy’s curly hair. She did call me for Mandy, I thought. At the lock-up Mandy was wild eyed and not-there. I remember taking the four fingers of my right hand and stroking the top of her left hand over and over at the round table where we sat. She talked and I could see her brain was dark and sick and inside her eyes I could see the shock of what she had done curdling as it was held away from the open air and light. I remember I kept scooting closer to her. I wanted to take her on my lap like a little girl and rock her. I hated myself because I held her face and said it’s going to be OK in my best imitation of someone who knew anything and I hoped she didn’t see what an imposter I was.

On the way home I wished I had tried to love her more and better. A storyline to follow me all my life.

Maggie May Ethridge is a writer and poet from Mississippi who has lived most her life in San Diego CA. She has a forthcoming Ebook with Shebooks entitled ‘ Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From A Marriage” and has been published around in places like DiagramThe Nervous Breakdown and Role/Reboot. She is this close to completing her second novel. You can find her at her blog, Flux Capacitor.

Maggie