When you’re a kid you don’t know what a mental illness is.
You play with the other kids even if they sometimes act weird. It doesn’t really matter as long as the fictional scenario you are creating can proceed accordingly. When I was little I always played with my little cousin who was mentally handicapped, she could barely talk real words and just ran around most of the time, but it didn’t matter as long as she was sticking to the basic guidelines of my game. It was especially fun to play tag, since she could rarely catch me, and she didn’t mind chasing me for hours. Win-win.
Marina was the same. She was my friend and, must I say, an excellent playmate. There was something wrong with her, but I didn’t know back then. Marina is one year older than me and she was a few inches taller at the time, although that changed. She always had pigtails or braids in her hair and I never saw her without a bandage somewhere on her body from playing around in trees or riding her barbie bike around town. We met when we were both at the playground one day and decided to play together. After that we met frequently and played all kinds of games.
She was always the one who decided what we played. “Tristan, today we are playing…” was always the sentence she would start out with, as she lifted a finger or crossed her arms boldly. She was a very confident person, and that is probably half her charm. That trait has remained to this day.
The first time I became aware that she was different was probably on her 9th birthday. She had invited a lot of people from her class to celebrate, me included. Her parents had set up a table in the yard where people could eat cake. She had a bounce-castle and people were running around playing in her big yard. Back then I didn’t even care that she was rich, although it was pretty cool that we had a bouncing castle.
Inside the bouncing castle, Marina suddenly reached for my hand with a bright smile. She had gotten to wear red lipstick for the occasion. “Tristan, do you want to see something?” she asked me, eyes looking beyond excited. I nodded my head and eagerly followed after her. Her friends had been following her around all day, but no one saw us slip back into her house.
Inside the house it was almost eerily quiet compared to the ruckus of screaming kids outside. I had been to her house many times though, so even if I had some trouble getting my shoes off in the doorway I quickly joined her in her room a moment later.
When I stepped inside I saw her sitting with a large box on her bed. She was sitting on her knees and gently touching something inside of it. Her blonde braids were draping down her face, and blue eyes watching whatever was in the box.
Curiously I went over and joined her on the bed, sitting on the opposite side of the box and peeked over the top. “Oh, so cute,” I said quietly with a wide smile.
Inside the box 5 small kitties were laying bundled up in one side. They had their eyes closed, as if they had just been born, and barely had any fur. They looked like little clumps of skin with tiny legs. Their ears weren’t even perking up, but laying down their heads. One of them softly mewled.
I leaned down the box and stroked one of them across the back. It mewled again and flinched back by my touch. It was probably the most innocent and defenseless sight I had ever seen in my life.
“Do you see that one with the spot on his head,” Marina asked me, and pointed. The kitten looked smaller than the others. The others could move their heads fairly well, but that one’s head kept dropping back on the ground when it tried.
I nodded. “Yes.”
“That one was not suppose to survive. Its mother didn’t want it,” she explained and reached over with cupped hands and picked the small one up. “It’s very fragile.”
“Aw,” I whispered and let my finger gently stroke over it’s head, while it laid in her hands. I sat back again shortly after though, and started petting some of the other kittens.
I will never forget how she looked at the small cat, when I glanced back up. She was holding it under it’s front legs, so the back legs dangled in the air. With utter indifference on her face.
And then she lifted her thumbs up to it’s throat.
I could only stare at her shocked when I saw her put pressure on the neck. The kitten started flinching and weakly tossing it’s small limbs. Its blind head tossed back a bit, and it opened its mouth as if it wanted to mewl, but was unable.
Marina seemed completely unfazed by the small animal’s resistance. In the end I finally found my voice though.
“Marina, I think you’re hurting it,” I just said very quietly.
She immediately stopped and let the kitten drop into her lab. It staggered a bit, before it tumbled into her lab, exhausted. I could tell that it was breathing from the quick pumps of its chest.
She looked over at me and started laughing. “Just kidding,” she said sweetly.
Back then, those simple words assured me she really had been only kidding. As we grew up though, I realized that she would have killed that kitten.
This was also the girl I fell in love with.
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