“Wait,” Sandy said, chow mein hanging from her lips, “Wait…the Lemmings thing is bullshit?”
“Apparently so,” Derek replied, wrapping his own noodles around his fork and bringing it to his mouth, “Apparently every single thing they’ve ever told us was bullshit. Lemmings don’t commit mass suicide, going swimming after eating won’t give you a cramp and trust me, you can wait much longer than 5 seconds to eat something off of the floor.”
“I don’t like how much you said that last with such confidence,” Sandy said, biting into an egg roll.
“Please, like you’ve never eaten something that sat on the floor,” Derek said, “I’ve watched you eat week old pizza.”
“Yeah, that was in a box, in the fridge. I’m not pickin’ up gross ass musty pizza off the ground and eating it after it sat there for a week,” Sandy said, stuffing the rest of the roll into her mouth and chewing before picking up her drink from the table and taking large gulps to wash it down with.
“You know, I bet there’s tons of shit they just never expected us to stop believing,” Derek said, turning one of his spare ribs over in his hands and biting into it, “You know, shit like that. Is there anything your parents told you that matter, that they made you do that you’ve now stopped doing?
Sandy put her drink down and thought for a few seconds, twirling a few strands of hair around her finger before replying, “Flossing, I guess. I haven’t flossed since I was like 17.”
“What a scam,” Derek responded, nodding, “I agree with your decision not to floss. I’m sure a dentist would tell you otherwise but that’s because they need to protect the brotherhood, continue the scam.”
“Exactly,” Sandy said. As they laughed and continued eating, it was minutes before they noticed someone watching them from a table across the restaurant. Nobody said a thing at first, until finally Derek motioned at the person to come on over and they did. It was a young brunette girl, she looked barely 20, dressed rather modestly. She stopped at the table and stared at Sandy for what felt like hours.
“Can I…help you with something?” Sandy asked.
“You’re Sandy Price, right?” the girl finally asked, and she nodded cautiously. The girl sat down next to Sandy and stared at her. Nobody made a move or a sound, almost as if Derek and Sandy were wildlife documentarians and they’d just stumbled upon a rarely seen majestic beast in its natural habitat, that the idea that any sudden movement or sound could scare it away and end the magic.
“I’m…Amber Gross,” the girl finally said, “Um…a few weeks ago, I was attacked by a man in my apartment complex and while he tried to assault me, I killed him in self defense. They said this man was…um…that he’d done this before, and one of the names that came up was yours.”
“This…this man,” Sandy spoke, softly, almost as if she didn’t want anyone in the world to hear, “Did he have sorta blonde hair? A mole on the right side of his nose?”
“Yeah,” Amber replied, “His name was Rufus.”
Sandy flashed back to that night in the apartment with Derek for a moment.
“Is this about Rufus?” Derek asked, hushed, like he was afraid of what would come next. As if saying this name would spawn forth from the depths of hell a million demons hellbent on the destruction of the earth, and often when regarding Sandy’s anger, that wasn’t a far off analogy. Sandy slowly turned back to the window and swirled the gin in her glass.
“Rufus has nothing to do with any of this,” she said coldly, “Besides, how could he be involved in anything when he’s a thousand miles away…”
“He’s…dead?” Sandy asked, and Amber nodded.
“I just thought…I thought it might help, once I knew what he’d done, if I went around and told the other girls he’d hurt or tried to hurt, so maybe they could-”
And with that, Sandy leaned forward and hugged Amber Gross as tightly as she could, the two on the verge of tears the entire time. And while a part of Sandy was thrilled someone had finally given the guy what he’d had coming for years…another, much deeper part of her was immensely ticked off that it hadn’t been herself who’d done it. Who told this random girl she had the right to kill Rufus? Rufus was a part of Sandys past, and now this girl just waltzes in, sight unseen, and lays it on the table, “Hey, the guy who nearly killed you is dead, you’re welcome!” Sandy felt weirdly violated, like a part of her private history had been touched by this stranger, just as she’d been touched by Rufus himself.
“I’m sorry to do this so suddenly,” Amber said, now smiling a bit, “I really wasn’t sure how to approach you about this. I figured you’d want to know, and-”
“Oh yeah, no, I’m…I’m really very thankful that you came and found me and told me this,” Sandy said, “I have to…I have to use the restroom. Excuse me,” she said, making Amber get up so she could get out of the booth and then scurrying off to the bathroom, like a frightened rabbit. Amber sat back down and looked at Derek, who was watching Sandy go. Without looking at her, he sighed and said it.
“You reaaaaally fucked up,” Derek said, and this took Amber by complete surprise.
“But she…she seemed happy!” Amber said, “Why did…how did I-”
“Let me tell you a little story,” Derek said, now facing her, hands on the table, “It’s titled ‘Commitment; An Exercise In Trauma’. Once upon a time, there was a young lady, let’s call her S for this, to keep it simple. S met a man named R, mostly because S was mad at this other man named D. S and R had enough in common to really hit it off, and after a while they were becoming quite the serious couple until one night, in a fit of jealousy, and after a two hour fight in the kitchenette of his apartment, R attacks S and attempts to strangle her to death.”
“That’s what happened isn’t it?”
“Because of this situation, S has trouble trusting anyone again. D has to jump through various hoops and hurdles, all the while taking some abuse and unrightfully doling out abuse back at her simply because D is, well, frankly he’s kind of a jackass. S cannot live alone, she’s terrified R might come back, despite not having seen him in years now, and she won’t live in D’s place because she can’t stand the idea of living in another mans apartment. What if D did the same thing to her that R did? So, D relinquishes control of his own apartment and moves into S’s, so that she doesn’t have to move into his, and she’s in control of the place.”
“Are you D?” Amber asked.
“You’re not a very good storytime listener,” Derek said.
“You’re not a very good story teller, so,” Amber replied, making Derek smirk.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I’m glad you did what you did, but you just show up out of the blue after years and drop this in her lap? That’s a lot to deal with, and we already have a lot to deal with. On top of inheriting a shitty economy, unfeeling parents, a government that wants us to die and living just barely above poverty level, and that’s IF we’re lucky, we also have to work through trauma. Trauma, which, for the record, most people older than us don’t take seriously and say we’re making too big a deal out of.”
“I’m sure people your parents age had trauma too,” Amber said, shrugging.
“Yeah, the thing is, they didn’t discuss it. They buried it. That’s why they don’t understand, and that’s why they scoff at it, because they’re just not capable of comprehending the concept of confronting trauma and recovering from it,” Derek said, “We don’t want to do that, because we don’t want to become like them.”
Amber nodded, starting to understand.
Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Sandy couldn’t breath. She stood over the sink, hands gripping it firmly, not wanting to look in the mirror. It was taking everything she had not to break out screaming and curl up on the floor, eventually hyperventilating. She thought about the last time she’d seen Rufus, the last thing she’d ever said to him.
“One day somebody is going to fight back.”
Somebody finally had, and while it was well deserved given how he’d treated people, she was still so angry it hadn’t been her who’d done it. She pulled out her cell phone and flipped through her photo album, finally getting to the last picture they’d taken together, right before things got really, really bad. It was on a ferris wheel, and they were smiling. She had cotton candy in one hand, about to take a bite of it, and he’d taken her phone and taken the shot of them together. Why did this hurt? Why did she miss him if he’d been so cruel?
She collected herself, put her phone away and went back out to the table. Amber let her back into the booth, and then stood up, collecting her things and looking at them awkwardly and uncomfortable.
“I guess I’ll go,” she said, handing Sandy a piece of paper with her number on it, “This is in case you want to talk to me about everything. I’d like to listen. Nobody should have to go through this alone.”
“Thanks,” Sandy said, taking the paper from her hand. They watched Amber turn and exit the restaurant. Derek looked at Sandy and sighed, running his hand over hers on the table.
“Parents bring you up telling you not to lie, and then all they tell you throughout childhood are lies,” Sandy said, “And the worst one of all was ‘people are good’, but people aren’t good. Even the good people aren’t all that great, and frankly, I’m reaching my limit on people in general.”
“I understand,” Derek said, “You want to get some ice cream and go home and watch crappy ghost documentaries?”
“That sounds okay,” Sandy said. Derek nodded, got up and went to get some boxes for their food. As he left Sandy there alone, she looked back at the photo on her phone and exhaled deeply, wondering what it’d felt like when Rufus realized he was finally getting his comeuppance, or if it had happened too fast for him to even grasp the reality of the situation. Sandy knew it was wrong to think that those who hurt people deserve to be hurt themselves, she was staunchly against the death penalty, thinking the whole concept of teaching murderers that murder is wrong by murdering them was ludicrous, but she couldn’t escape the fact that inside, for just a little bit, she felt really, really good that somebody had killed Rufus. That somebody had finally taken control away from him, and shown him what all those women felt when he did it to them. She was just mad it wasn’t her, but then again, she wasn’t sure she even would’ve had the stomach for it. If she had done it, she would’ve not only had to live with the overall experience, but also that guilt on top of it.
It was soon after Rufus that Sandy started to try and dance again regularly, as a career.
It was soon after Rufus that Sandy and Derek started really trying to be together.
It was soon after Rufus that Sandy felt like she’d gotten her life back.
Abuse, especially physical abuse and violence, is hard to come back from. It’s hard to trust someone again, and while she watched Derek talk to the person at the front desk about getting boxes, she realized that while Derek had flaws, everyone did, nobody was perfect of course, he would never ever hit her, and that that’s how low the bar was set for most women. That was sad. “Well, he might yell at me from time to time, but at least he doesn’t beat me!” but the thing was, Derek rarely yelled at Sandy, and he did everything in his power to make her comfortable.
She’d weathered the storm, and gotten a lighthouse out of the deal. Somebody to guide her towards recovery, and that was more than others got.
I’m Maggie. If you like this thing I made, you might like some other things I make, like my depressing webcomic “In Space, No One Can Hear You Cry”, the satirical online newspaper of “Nowhere, US”, my podcast “Coping With Tonal Shifts In Reality” or my writing over at Medium.
Wanna donate to me directly? You can do that via PayPal! Wanna support me ongoing month to month and get content early? You can do that via Patreon! Wanna support me but can’t do it continuously? You can do that via Buy Me A Coffee! Thanks for whatever you can spare, I really appreciate it!