The Bad Project

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Chapter 24. Crystal Tries to Fix Her Relationship with Marianne/Crystal

Crystal glanced up as she passed the big trees near the library, thinking that they had lost almost all of their leaves and looked forlorn. Their grey patterned trunks looked like caged elephants, with no hope of escape. There was a faint smell of rotting soil; damp moldering leaves littered the ground. The sky was leaden, lowering over the path she walked. But it didn’t feel fresh like rain. She tried to keep looking at the path, telling herself that the concrete blocks were irregular and she would trip if she didn’t concentrate. But she tripped anyway. Her mind wouldn’t stay focused, she was too worried about meeting Marianne. What would they say? Why had she decided to put it to the test? She went in, opened their room door, and shrugged out of her coat. Marianne was already there, fidgeting on her bed.

“You wanted us to meet, so what’s up? Are you having a problem?” Marianne looked uneasy. Her eyes kept moving while she smoothed her purple silk bedspread with her left hand, seeming to gain energy from the contact. She piled up the velvet cushions behind her and leaned back on them for a second, then pushed them aside and sat up straight with her eyes on Crystal.

Crystal hoped to take her time with this conversation so it would go right. She straightened some papers on her desk. Her mind flickered over to her mother, who had always said that putting your things into order fought the chaos in your mind. She had a pang of longing for her mother, but put that thought away and sat down on her bed. “I don’t know how to say this, but something is wrong. Are we still the Room of Our Own?”

Marianne shrugged and said, “I don’t see why not. We agreed, didn’t we? I don’t know what you mean.” A faint line appeared between her eyes, and her eyebrows were raised a little.

Crystal had noticed before that Marianne looked like this when she felt pressure and wasn’t sure she had the solution. But this was not a test. It was their whole relationship. Crystal hated the tension between them and wanted to release it if possible. She was quiet for a minute.

Marianne said, “Okay, you’re right. We aren’t… We don’t….”

“We aren’t really talking any more are we?” Crystal said, her eyes and lips turned down at the corners. “Like we talk, but it’s all trivial stuff, everyday. We used to have deeper conversations. What’s wrong?”

Marianne threw one of her velvet cushions across the room, jumped up and hugged Crystal. “I know what it is but shit, I can’t talk with you about it. It hurts you.”

“You think closing me out doesn’t hurt?”

“It’s you! You’re closing me out. You’re all frozen up about sex, and I need to talk about it for my Bad and you just can’t!”

Crystal felt like she had been punched in the stomach. It made so much sense. Marianne had gone from tattoo to drinking to plagiarism and what else could be next? It had to be the Sex Bad. Marianne patted her on the head and went back to her own bed.

“I don’t want to push you. I don’t. But that’s why we can’t talk.” Crystal was sure Marianne knew it was more than that. The Sex Bad had become urgent to her, but she could have talked with Crystal about other things. The wall that separated them about sex had taken on other significance.

“I know the Bad Project was the reason we had deep conversations. That’s true. But….” Crystal felt tears in her eyes and blinked them back. Her friendship with Marianne meant a lot. Was it going to cost more than she could pay? “Something awful happened to me, Marianne. I was…two boys raped me.” Crystal suddenly threw herself down on her bed and cried hard.

Marianne came over, sat on the edge of the bed, and stroked Crystal’s back. “Oh my God, you were raped. No wonder you can’t talk about sex. You poor thing. I’m so sorry.”

As soon as Crystal could talk again, her story poured out. “They hated me because I was smart, because I was clean. I had no idea. A girl I sort of knew set me up for them, invited me over. She said we’d do our English homework together and she had some baklava we could eat while we studied. But as soon as I got there, Ritz and Zuni came in and took me to the basement, and they….”

“I’m so sorry. What an awful experience. That must be what your nightmares are about.”

“But something even worse, Dad, he…” Crystal started crying again. Marianne got a washcloth and wet it with cold water, then used it to gently wash Crystal’s face.

“You’re safe here. It’s not going to happen again. You’ll go to medical school, be a doctor like you want.”

Crystal realized the soothing voice Marianne was using was the same one Crystal used to get her nervous cat out of a tree. It worked though. She felt a lot calmer. “Thank you. But you don’t know the worst part yet.

“Dad was driving by when I went into the building. He knew I had a music lesson in about an hour, so I wouldn’t be staying long, thought he’d read the newspaper and then give me a ride to my piano teacher’s house.” Crystal talked fast and breathed hard. She couldn’t stop talking, though. “After while, when I never came back out, he came in the building and heard the boys laughing and joking loud down in the basement and decided to take a look.

He got there when Zuni was...he had started on his turn and Ritz was standing there laughing at me with his thing out and Dad took a pipe from the floor and crashed it into Ritz’s head and he didn’t die but he was blinded and even though the rapists got prison terms, he….” Crystal was panting so hard she could barely get the words out. She rushed on, “Ritz’s mom sued Dad in a civil case because he lost his sight from the blow to his head and couldn’t get a good job when he came out of prison.

Dad was lucky not to go to prison; the DA didn’t file charges. But Ritz’ mom won their lawsuit for part of the damage from Ritz’ loss of income. That judge said Dad had to pay the difference between a minimum wage job he might still be able to get and what he might have earned if he could still see. The judge said he could have done something that would have damaged Ritz a lot less. He gave Ritz $300,000. Almost like making Dad buy a house we’ll never live in. We lost our other house, couldn’t manage that, so we all live with Grandma how. Dad’ll be paying and paying, on and on. I don’t know. I can’t help thinking I must have done something wrong to make those boys attack me like that. If that hadn’t happened, Dad wouldn’t be…” She stopped and put her head in her hands.

Marianne hushed her again. “No, Crystal. You know Joyce talked me into volunteering for the hotline with Project Sister. They trained us. The rape victim is never to blame. It was something twisted in their hearts, not in yours. You didn’t do it. It isn’t your fault.”

Crystal just nodded. ’I know, that’s what they say. But I worry that I did something to make them think I needed a lesson. There must have been something I could have done differently so it wouldn’t have happened. Once it had, though, it was like a freight train. All the bad consequences came crashing down on us and they’re still happening. And my scholarship wasn’t enough so he has to work even harder.” She thought about how, in the trial, Ritz’s mom and grandma and the football coach and parents of the other football players had lied about what a great student and citizen he had been, a stalwart of the football team. They said they were shocked he had done this rape, it was so unlike him. They blamed alcohol. Crystal was certain neither of them had been drunk.

Marianne smoothed back Crystal’s hair, wet with tears, and told her, “Don’t worry. I won’t close you out. I’m so sorry.” Crystal’s breathing slowed down. She sighed deeply and closed her eyes. She let Marianne’s gentle fingers sooth her toward slumber. As she hovered on the edge of consciousness, she wondered if she should have told Marianne. She told herself that their relationship was worth the sacrifice, and then she was asleep.

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