I can think of at least a handful of times where I thought about stopping, but the most recent was when I made Laney cry.
While it wasn’t first time I had ever made anyone cry, I will say that it’s the only time I have ever made someone cry tears that burned my brain like dripping candle wax that just won’t cool.
She cried all night. I thought she’d stop blubbering around midnight, but it never seemed to stop. Perhaps she did eventually stop crying that night, but I was so used to the noise that it echoed in my dreams.
I can’t say that I think I deserved it. All I had done was ask her about where she got that pack of Oreos. When I had returned to my room that night, I saw Laney munching on a fresh pack of those white and black cookies, facing my side of the room as if she were a bated hook.
Unsurprisingly, I was curious immediately. I perched myself on my bed like a bird and stared at her motionlessly from across the room. She leisurely inserted one cookie after another into her chubby little face. I think she must have learned to ignore me by that point, which spoke volumes about her patience when I compared her to any of my previous roommates. Good for her? Not really.
We had been roommates for about a month at this point, but I still hadn’t decided I was ready to say words to her yet. In the beginning when she tried to speak to me, I would make animal noises.
“Good morning, Ashley!” she would say to me.
Straightaway, I would jump out of bed and respond to her with a bark, like a guard dog. Her initial jump backwards was extremely satisfying, but it unfortunately did not last. My behavior seemed to disturb her greatly for the first few days, but over time she became used to my squawks, snorts, and grunts. I became bored again.
The next week, I started changing things up. I started taking small things like candies, then bigger things like a mug. A decorative pillow from her bed. The spare charger for her computer. Scissors. Her stapler. Some photographs of her family. I waited for her to notice.
“Hey Ashley, have you seen my stapler?” she eventually would ask me, as if she wasn’t scared of me at all. I shrugged my shoulders, knowing downright that the stapler was under my pillow, and continued reading my Cosmo magazine about sex positions that I didn’t understand. “You know,” I remember her continuing to speak to me, her pale, rotund face unmoving besides her plump, puckering pink lips. “You know, I doubt Ms. Moody would want you reading that magazine.”
Ms. Moody was the housemother in our dorm; the only person that didn’t hate me. She was kinder to me than my actual mother. Laney didn’t know shit about what Ms. Moody wanted or didn’t want.
Laney didn’t know shit about anything, really. She didn’t know I had stolen this magazine from the garbage can in the teachers’ lounge, or how I always read Cosmo in front of people I didn’t know so they knew I was tough. She didn’t know that no one else had taught me how to put on makeup, or how to wear my clothes, or what sex meant. She didn’t know about how any of that stuff might be important to me at 15 years old. I could see her perfect nail polish and her rosy red cheeks and her designer shoes and I resented her. I wanted to scream in her fat little face.
But I didn’t.
I stared into her face as I counted up to five in my head. Then I jumped off of my bed, rolled-up magazine in hand. She tried to ignore me, she tried to not act scared, but I saw her twitch when my feet hit the floor. I knew she was mine.
All I needed were two, two and a half large steps before I had pressed Laney up against the wall in our dorm room and started breathing on her face. She tried looking away from me, she tried escaping my breath, but I just breathed harder until she was whimpering and squirming to get away from me. I looked at her as mean as I could, but instead of barking as I had in the past, I simply whispered: “Woof.”
I took my rolled up magazine and jabbed underneath her fat little chin a couple of times, then threw it into Laney’s lamp without breaking eye contact. I didn’t mean to break the lamp, but it added a nice dramatic effect. She was in house and now she knew it.
I stepped away just in time for Ms. Moody to appear at our door.
“Girls! I was walking the hall and I thought I heard a crash.” She scanned the room for disorder. “Is everything okay?” I jumped on the opportunity.
“I’m so sorry,” I pleaded. “I think I accidently broke Laney’s lamp. Please, please don’t be mad.” I covered my mouth to look concerned. I felt my face redden as I stifled my laughter.
“No, no, don’t worry.” She looked at Laney, whose face was red and flustered. “Sweetheart, we’ll just have to get another one. Not the end of the world, all right? You don’t have shoes on, so go ahead and hop up on Ashley’s bed and we’ll get this picked up.” I watched the sweaty porker climb on to my bed as Ms. Moody directed me to get some wet paper towels. She left to retrieve the vacuum cleaner. When I returned, Laney was still sitting on my bed, but this time she had her stapler, which she must have found underneath my pillow, in her hand. Neither of us said a word. Neither of us needed to.
The next day, I returned to the room to find Laney eating the Oreos. And this is the story of why Laney wouldn’t stop crying.
I was in a good mood, so I said, “Hi Laney.” I climbed on top of my bed and sat like a bird, watching her movements. She didn’t look up at me. “Hi Laney,” I said again, more loudly. “Where’d you get those Oreos?”
This time, she did look up. “Ms. Moody gave them to me,” she said without missing a beat. She was clearly trying to get a reaction out of me.
“Really,” I said. It wasn’t a question. “Yeah. I guess she must really like me.”
“Or she just feels bad that your lamp broke.” “Either way,” she said, “they’re delicious.” She continued sliding the cookies into her mouth and chewing loudly.
“You know,” I said as I felt around to see if any of the other items I had stolen from Laney that week were still there. They weren’t. “You know, I hope you enjoy them.
Honestly, you look like you enjoy cookies quite often.” As I lay down, I made two pig snorts and closed my eyes. I heard the sobbing begin.
Laney and I didn’t speak for three days. We did not acknowledge each other for three days. My guilt was inexplicably tremendous. Maybe I felt bad because she was chubby. Each night, I heard her sobs from across the room, but whether she was crying again or the sobbing was replaying exclusively from my memory, I do not know.
On the fourth day, I decided that I would do something extremely unfamiliar to me and apologize, at least to stop the crying. I bought a pack of Oreos and headed to my room.
Ms. Moody was there to greet me, along with two tall, police officers, one of them bald. Ms. Moody’s eyes were red and puffy, and although I shouldn’t have wondered, I wondered what I had done wrong. I entered the room and stood in front of the trio, my back facing the doorway.
That’s when I noticed Laney’s absence from our room. “What’s going on?” I asked as I felt my heart drop into my stomach.
“I think we’d like to ask you the same thing,” said the baldy. Ms. Moody buried her face in her hands as he lifted up a Ziploc bag containing all of the family pictures I had taken from Laney. Each person in each of their pictures had their faces carefully cut out. In addition, one smaller plastic bag filled with one large brown-green nugget of marijuana was in the bag. I didn’t need to have experience with the drug to know what was happening. “We found these in your pillowcase.”
I heard a person step into the doorway behind me, but I did not turn to look. As the police officers and Ms. Moody began to converse, all I could hear was my heart pounding in my ears, and one small, confident whisper from behind me. “Woof.”