The Bad Project

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Chapter 40. Guilt and Pain/Marianne

Marianne found she was going about life in a cloud, nothing looked clear and sharp. Instead, life was gray and she felt disconnected from everything around her. In the back of her brain, like a piece of glass she was wrapping in layers of disconnection to make an evil pearl, she knew that if she hadn’t allowed Andy Sandstrom to get involved with her, not only would the meeting where she’d told him it was over never have happened, but the librarian might never have visited him, and he might not have been so desperate on that drive down the mountain. So she felt guilty; she couldn’t help herself.

But that wasn’t all that was wrong. She was going to disappoint her parents with their dream of her becoming a doctor too. With continued hard study and help from her tutor, she might possibly be able to raise her biology grade to a C, but it might be a D. Either way, no medical school would look kindly on it. It might have been a relief to feel like she could escape the pre-med track, if she had felt more confident. But in her present state, it just felt like a failure.

Also, when she had gone to register for her courses for the next semester, she couldn’t get into any of the writing courses. They had wanted to review a sample of five pages of her writing, which wouldn’t have been a problem except that it had been due the day after Andy Sandstrom’s death. She hadn’t turned it before the deadline, because she had been enormously distracted worrying about what to do about her relationship with Andy and her possible pregnancy. But now, she saw that as another failure.

And the day before, the literary magazine for the semester had come out, and Lindsay had not moved the Kardarko essay, it was still in Jim and Marianne’s section. She wanted to be upset about that, but she felt too tired and empty to produce a response. It was just one more failure.

Every day, it seemed like Marianne sank deeper into the pit in the ground her mind was digging for her. The weather was overcast and foggy; her mood was even more foggy. For the first time in her life, she couldn’t even read. She took all of her books back to the library and didn’t have any desire to choose more. That was really depressing.

Crystal kept trying to cheer her up, took her off campus to dinner and a movie, came and met her to go to the dining hall. But she couldn’t respond, although she dimly perceived and appreciated the support. She knew she’d picked at her food and sat through the movie like a zombie. She felt like a failure at friendship too. She and Crystal had been close, and she had been good friends with Sharon too, and her co-editor Jim, and Jen-Wei, but she could barely relate to them now. It was like they were on another planet.

“What are you good for?” she said to herself. “Your Bad Project brought down your parents, brought down Liu, brought down Crystal worrying about you, brought down Professor Sandstrom—Andy—and his family. You’re no good. You’re not only a failure, but your Bad idea messed up so many people’s lives. Think of one good thing you’ve ever done.” She stared at the ground as she walked to the library to study. But when she got there, she sat in a study cubicle and stared into space. People went by the glass door and looked curiously at her just sitting there, but she was oblivious.

The more she thought about it, the more she focused on what a problem she had been to Crystal. She remembered her roommate’s warnings, her trying to tell Marianne that she wanted to “do no harm,” the times she had worried about the consequences of what Marianne wanted to do. How much had that concern messed up Crystal’s life too? Marianne thought it had been a lot. Having to drag her back to the dorm completely, staggeringly drunk. And just the empathy had been so hard for Crystal.

Marianne had seen the wrinkles between Crystal’s eyes when she looked at Marianne. Helping her plan plagiarism and try to avoid its consequences had been hard for Crystal too. She knew she’d been a burden. And choosing to do sex for a Bad had meant she’d purposely excluded Crystal from the project, after she was involved. That had hurt Crystal, doing things she couldn’t even think about without freezing up.

Marianne couldn’t concentrate; thoughts drifted through her mind. One thought that kept coming back to her was about Virginia Woolf’s suicide. She had analyzed that event in a paper in high school, and had read everything Woolf had published. She had enjoyed both the book and the film version of The Hours, but she still felt that the suicide was mysterious. She kept a paper with Woolf’s suicide note on it inside her copy of A Room of Her Own. Now she got it out and read it again. Woolf had wanted to prevent her husband from feeling guilty, or like he could have done something more to help. Marianne thought the only person she felt that way about was Crystal. She had tried so hard to help, but now, there was absolutely no way she could be helpful. In fact, just being around her made Marianne feel more like a burden.

Once back in high school, Marianne had gone on what she called a “Romantic Death” kick in her reading and had read a number of romantic classics with themes of death of a young lover. Those came back to her too, particularly “Romeo and Juliet” and The Sorrows of Werther. Her lover was dead, had died in part because of her. Why was she alive? Did her life have any purpose? Oddly, even though she wanted so much to be a writer, she couldn’t write much about these feelings. Only a couple of sentences in her journal every once in a while. She kept the rest inside and pondered over the thoughts.

At some point, sitting in the library staring into space, without any conscious decision point, Marianne found she was trying to make up her mind about HOW to commit suicide, not WHETHER to do it. It seemed inevitable to her. No one needed her, her life lacked meaning. She didn’t feel like she belonged here at Carson College, and she surely didn’t feel like she belonged with her family in Silicon Valley. A disconnected, purposeless being who brought harm to those who loved her…what else could she do?

Girls she had known in high school had tried to commit suicide by cutting their wrists with razor blades. But, all of them had been rescued and brought back with bizarre lumpy scars along their wrists, wraiths but not dead, still trying to connect to reality. She didn’t want to use a method that was apparently so prone to failure, and also she hated blood. Virginia Woolf had filled her pockets with rocks and walked into the river. Swimming out into the ocean was a possibility; if she did it at night, it could be successful. But the ocean water was so cold. Marianne swam very well but hated cold water. “No, not drowning. I wouldn’t be able to avoid swimming back at the last minute,” she thought.

The best idea seemed to be taking an overdose of sleeping pills, perhaps with alcohol. Sometimes that didn’t work either. Irene from her high school had taken sleeping pills after failing at wrist slitting, and that had failed too. But, she thought Irene wasn’t very smart and hadn’t arranged things so she would be dead before anyone found her. She could arrange things better, and be successful. But where could she get the sleeping pills? The really effective ones were by prescription only.

Then, the Mental Health Center came to mind. The Dean of Students’ office had tried to send her there after Dr. Sandstrom’s death, but she hadn’t been willing to go. She was still not sure how the Dean of Students’ office had found out she was upset, but someone must had told them, maybe the librarian. Anyway, she wasn’t going to tell her business to “a bunch of shrinks” as her family tended to refer to psychologists. But those working in the Mental Health Center could prescribe things, she had heard about that from Mandy’s roommate Bella, who seemed to want to take a pill for every problem that came along.

They could give her sleeping pills. She’d just have to tell them she was upset, and finding it hard to sleep. She’d keep the details to a minimum. They usually wanted to see you several times, so they could hope she’d open up later on. Ironically, at this point she didn’t find it hard to sleep. She could have slept all day and all night, but she was trying to follow her normal patterns of activity in a futile attempt to pretend all was fine.

She pulled out her cell phone and called the Munitz-Dailey Mental Health Center from the Library. She made an appointment for 2:00 PM the next afternoon with a Ms. Chitz. It wouldn’t hurt to get the pills, she told herself. She could decide for sure whether to use them later on. Having done that made her feel a little better, so she did some of her Biology problems after all, and then walked slowly back to the dorm.

Crystal was there working on Chemistry problems. She looked up and said, “Marianne, you’re gonna waste away. Gotta eat! You always were tiny, but this is ridiculous.” Marianne noticed the motherly tone, and smiled wryly. She’d left home, but that sound could show up anywhere. Crystal beckoned to her, “Let’s go to dinner, now.”

Marianne didn’t answer, but got up to go. She was getting good at going along with a program that she barely noticed, with her mind busy elsewhere. She trailed off to dinner. She wondered if Crystal would feel guilty if she took those pills. She felt protective of Crystal, and hoped she could write a note that would convince her that she had done everything possible. Had Virginia Woolf’s note convinced her husband? No one knew.

She picked at some so-called Chow Mein, ate a few pieces of limp celery in glutinous paste. She didn’t even feel like complaining about their terrible Chinese food any more. It just wasn’t important. Crystal was telling her a long story about how the boy who had refused to be her lab partner had been caught cheating in Biology and was probably going to be asked to leave Carson because it was his second offense. Her mind swooped in and out of gear, but it sounded like Crystal’s Bio prof had taken it a lot more seriously than Professor Snow had taken Marianne’s plagiarism case. It seemed so trivial, though, so totally unrelated to her.

Thinking about Crystal’s biology class reminded her of one thing she was proud of doing, one way she had helped Crystal. She had told her to challenge her professor about the lab partner rejection, and when Crystal did that, the professor had apologized and said he’d always assign lab partners for both halves of the semester from then on. He had arranged for her to work with Mia Chase, one of the other smart students in the class. Marianne knew they had hit it off well, and even studied together for exams. So her pushing for justice had one good result for Crystal.

She felt better for a few minutes, but then went spiraling down again as all the things that had gone wrong came back to her mind. She soon forgot about that one success, and resumed her withdrawn feeling. Was there any way out for her? It seemed like she was doomed to this frozen waste forever. The one way out was suicide. Virginia Woolf, her heroine, had done it. Would she have the courage to do the same? She wasn’t sure.

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