We met in class. I sat next to her and rested a forearm on the desk, watching her draw a pair of eyes.
She looked up. “Can I draw yours?”
I wore my hair pulled back into a ponytail, a t-shirt with sleeves that went to my elbows and a bare face; Mallory had black hair that hung in wild waves and dressed in a skirt with tights. She was the type of girl who collided into every situation and experienced moments with the full force of her body.
“Sure,” I said. I let her in.
In the years we knew each other we spoke through our hands. Hers were darker, longer and always embellished with silver rings and color-threaded bracelets, while mine are lighter, speckled and always plain except for dark nails. She painted pictures with acrylics and I wrote stories on paper. She would walk on the center of the train tracks and hold my hand, while I walked on the edge. I remember spending summers smoking beside Taco Bell dumpsters and drawing upside down crosses on brick walls, thinking we were those type of girls. I remember telling our parents lies and running to places made of teen fiction and MTV shows. We lived within angsty teenage school days, dripping paintings and music heartbeats. On a winter weekend night, she disappeared into blackened thoughts wearing an anxious face of sixteen.
Mallory is a secret.
I remember one night when her parents had gone to sleep and the only light on in the house was from her bedside lamp, she sat on the carpet with a guitar in her lap, softly strumming. I lay on her bed, looking up at her speckled ceiling and watching it make designs.
“What do you think love is?” Mallory asked. She pulled out a bottle of Smirnoff vodka from the bottom desk drawer and passed it to me.
“Love? I don’t know,” I said as I touched the bottle to my lips, scrunching up my nose when it rushed into my mouth and letting out a strangled cough.
“Yes, you do. You think it means something.” She took the bottle and took a fevered drink.
“Yeah, I guess I always thought it was when you want to be with a person forever, when they make you happy. But I don’t know, it’s hard to describe. I love my family and I love you.”
“Yeah,” she tilted her head down, “I can’t see myself loving a person, though, you know?”
“What? Like loving a boy?”
“Yeah, or anyone.”
I fell back down to the bed, squinting my eyes at the ceiling in an attempt to make the patterns become more clear.
“Eh, we don’t need boys anyway,” I said, squinting, still.
She’s kept away in a shoebox under my bed next to the Girl Scout badges and my high school yearbook.
We’d sat amidst bushes in the canyon behind her house while she drew swirls and flowers on my arms. I remember the sun was hot and hair clung to the back of my neck. My head was a foggy, kind-of fuzzy from the joint between my fingers.
“Close your eyes,” she said. I shut them and felt a soft, wet touch against my lips and jerked my eyes open. Her dark eyes with the blue liner on the upper lid twinkled, and I smiled and laughed.
“Okay, my dear,” she said putting the cap on her pen. “You are art.”
I raised my arm against the sun and watched the swirls dance.
One afternoon after school, we were downstairs on her living room couch when we heard her parents’ voices, her mom’s sporadic shouts echoing through the ceiling. The voices grew louder, following the rhythm of a drum battle—chaotic and beating. Then, a crash sounded. A door slammed. Footsteps thudded down the stairs. Her dad’s hunched figure walked into the kitchen, a malt glass with remnants of brown liquid clutched in his hand. He went behind the counter, and placed it on the speckled granite. Only then did he glance up at the two of us trying to turn back to the TV screen.
“Mallory,” he said, while turning to the cabinets above the sink. “I think it’s time your friend goes home.” He pulled out a bottle.
I turned to Mallory. She narrowed her eyes at this balding man, and ran up the stairs. I followed after her, but not so quickly. She had gone into her bedroom, closing the door. I stood in front of it and pushed my hands into my pockets, scrunching up my shoulders toward my ears. My eyes scanned around me as my face grew redder and my hands tingled. I saw some scrap paper on the bookshelf behind me, grabbed it, and found a marker on the hallway desk.
In small print, I wrote, “Is everything okay?” Below, I added a box that said “No” next to it, and a box that said “Yes” next to it. I folded it in half and slid the note under the crack of the door and sat down, cross-legged, in front of it.
The paper returned to me.
“I don’t know.” It read in shaky font. The door opened, I stood up and circled my friend’s waist with my arms, felt her tears drip into my hair.
One winter weekend night, she promised me she’d come over for beers, drugs and play. My parents were gone for the night. I was sixteen. When my boy-crush asked to come over, I couldn’t say no. I said yes to joints and Jack and boy touches, forgetting where I put my phone, and forgetting about Mallory. It wasn’t until past midnight, when a silence hangs within lamp-lit walls, that I became intoxicated to the point where sounds blended together and everything moved too slowly. Then, I remembered my friend.
“Mallory?” I messaged. “Are you still coming over?”
Panic heightened everything. I felt every single heartbeat speed up in my chest and my lungs squeezed tighter like someone grabbing my arm, cutting off the circulation. I sat, shaking, begging for full breaths and a clear mind. Memories became unstable and full of repeated phone calls and needless messages until my boy-crush took me upstairs and covered me.
I woke up the next morning, caked in crusted sweat and alone in my bed with crumpled bed sheets. My phone showed a message from my boy-crush, something about leaving early to work, and a phone call from Mallory’s parents.
My eyes flickered to the oil painting Mallory had done of us—the two of us in bright blues and oranges with our cheeks touching in wide, laughing grins – when those few memories of last night collided into my pounding head and alcohol-churning stomach. I hit play on the voicemail and pressed the phone to my ear.
“Hi,” her mom said through shaky breaths. “Mallory is in the hospital. We’re still waiting… to hear more.”
“We don’t exactly know what happened,” her mom continues, choking on each word. “We found her really late last night….she looked very sick…she’s in the ER now. We’ll call you when we know anything.”
Everyone knew. But me. Those senior girls with the curls taunted insults, and we would turn up the television in her living room to drown out her parents’ shouts through the ceiling. If only I knew.
I thought I understood everything about my friend. I thought I knew what she hated and loved—her obsession with My Chemical Romance, the crush on the curly-haired boy in our geometry class, how she hated to wear sandals because of a middle toe that was longer than the others. I knew her every birthmark and pet peeve. She used to tell me about plans to cover walls of buildings with her musings and to not give a shit because we don’t have to speak to people if we have nothing to say. We had favorite spots, games and songs, like that one from Lion King, we would yell in Target parking lots. I’d sit silently on her bed while she drew my limp waves, eyes and round nose. Sometimes it’s not enough.
I memorized the way she brought her knees to her chest while smoking a cigarette on the patio; the way she stuck one leg out of the quilted bedcover while sleeping with slow breaths and fluttered eyelids. It’s not enough. There’s a part of a person that could be hard to understand. People hide secrets, like Mallory’s fear of the future, and just like her story.
I stood in front of my full-length mirror, smoothing out a black dress paired with black flower-patterned tights. Sexy.
Mallory would’ve liked it.
Stained-glass lights reflect on the wooden bench where I sit and look down at my boots bruised with dirt. I sit in the back row because I can’t face our classmates, who knew her as the girl who could draw or her family who kept thinking, but we didn’t know. Eulogies drone on and echo into a kind of rhythmic hum in my head and I chip away at my nail polish watching specs of it fall on the tiled floor. Two rows ahead of me the boy with the curly fro bows his head and his shoulders shake.
People are supposed to look peaceful in death, the ultimate sort of calm. Not her. She laid in an eternal bed dripped with satin and the stillness. It looked wrong. Her lips. Her ebony hair.
I don’t stay.
I drive to her empty house.
I go into the backyard and settle myself underneath a rusty basketball hoop next to her German Shepard, its head lazily resting onto my lap, and remember.
Samantha Perez is a 22 years young Southern California native. A recent post-grad from University of California, Santa Barbara she is a current marketing coordinator, aspiring editor and amateur yogi. She loves to sing, but doesn’t go out of her way to be heard and will always make room for Reese’s chocolate. You can find her work in The Catalyst, Matchbox Magazine and HerStory. She has also contributed to The Santa Barbara Independent, Spoiled Minds and “Her Campus, UCR Edition.”