I tightened my hold on her, imagining what kind of animal could possibly attack her when she was so small and vulnerable. It made me feel all kinds of defensive and territorial.
“The guy told me to keep my mouth shut or I would end up just like Autumn and then he hit me again. At some point, Autumn started to come around and puked all over the room they had her in. She was disoriented, scared, and getting sick every few minutes. I thought she was going to die right then and there.”
She took a shuddering breath and tilted her head back so she could look at me. “She begged me to get her out of there, to take her home. I tried to tell her that we needed to go to the police, that we had to have a doctor look her over, but she kept crying and telling me that after everything she had done for me, I had to do this for her. She wanted to go home, so against my better judgment I helped her up and out of the house, and took her home. The only reason the guy that took my phone let us go was because it was obvious how scared she was. He knew she wasn’t going to talk and he knew I had a pretty terrible reputation, so if I tried to cause trouble it would get shut down pretty easily.”
Her next words were bit out and full of so much self-loathing and disgust that I had no problem figuring out why this young woman thought she deserved the worst the world had to offer her. “I did nothing. My best friend, my only real friend, was violated, drugged, taken advantage of at a party I made her go to, and I did nothing to make that right.”
She pulled away from me and started pacing in a tight pattern again. “I bugged her for a few days to report the attack, but she kept shutting me down. I told her she needed to talk to someone, to tell her parents what happened at the very least. She pretended to listen, pretended like everything was okay, but she started to drift away. She wouldn’t take my calls. She wouldn’t look at me in the hallway. She wouldn’t sit next to me in the classes we shared. She acted like I didn’t exist anymore and what was even scarier is she acted like she didn’t exist anymore. She was so withdrawn and remote it was like she wasn’t even there. I knew we had no business being at that party and I had no business leaving her to fend for herself once we were there. I knew it wasn’t her scene. What happened to her was my fault because she wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t been there, if I hadn’t been so hell-bent on doing whatever the fuck I wanted to do, so I figured the best thing I could do was let her hate me. It was pretty easy to do, since I was busy hating myself. I was miserable and I figured she had to feel a million times worse because after a few weeks I heard a rumor that she was pregnant.”
She put a hand to her chest and bent over at the waist like she was having trouble breathing. She shifted so that her hands were on her knees and she was looking at the floor between her feet.
“I confronted her, asked her about the baby, and when she admitted that she was a couple months along, I told her that she had to tell her parents what had happened. I knew she couldn’t go through a pregnancy alone and she had completely shut me out. She told me she didn’t plan on keeping the baby, that no one was ever going to know what she had been through. She never once said it was my fault, but I knew. I knew, deep down, that it should’ve been me. I should’ve been the one going through what she was going through. I was the one that liked to party. I was the one that liked boys that were no good. I was the one that should be suffering and that should have no future, not her.” She sucked in a wheezing breath and righted herself.
I could see the fact that Avett believed the punishment she had assigned herself for a crime she didn’t commit was justified, that she honestly believed her story started and ended with what happened to her friend and her inability to do anything about it the night it happened and the carnage afterwards. That was a heavy burden for any soul to bear and was definitely too much weight for a young and wild soul to stand up under.
“That weekend, Autumn’s mom called the house and told my mom that she found her daughter hanging from the rod in the closet. Autumn committed suicide. She didn’t leave a note, so I was the only person that knew why. I went to the funeral, I watched her parents sob as they lowered her into the ground, and all I could think was, once again, I had done nothing. I hadn’t told anyone. Maybe if I had, she would still be here to tell her story. For a minute, I even thought that it should be me in the ground, but I knew there was no way I could ever do that to my parents. I made them suffer enough because I spent every single waking hour trying to.” She shrugged helplessly. “I guess I was trying to even the score. I went from being a girl that liked a party and a good time, to being a girl that was on the verge of destruction. I purposely found boys that were no good, instead of stumbling onto them like I had before. I started drinking a lot more, dabbled in drugs here and there, but quickly found out that wasn’t something I enjoyed. I wanted to hurt, to feel the pain I knew Autumn went through, and drugs made me numb and made me forget. I stopped pretending to even kind of try in school, and stopped trying with my mom. Before that night I was wild, after that night I was out of control. I wanted to hurt in all the ways I could hurt, but it was never enough. I could never make up for what happened to her, what she lost. Eventually, I went to her parents and told them what happened. I told them about the party and the attack. I told them about the baby.”
She lifted a hand to her face and pressed tightly into her temples. “I thought it would help them find closure, that they would have some solace in understanding that Autumn felt trapped.” A tear leaked, finally escaped whatever invisible force field that had been holding them back as she spoke. It clung to her dark lashes and then dropped, falling silently, until it disappeared under the curve of her chin. “They told me what I had known from the night it happened. Her mom told me that it was my fault, that it should have been me. Their daughter was a good girl, a sweet kid, until she hooked up with me. I ruined her and then I killed her. They told me I was the one that should be dead, not their daughter. I deserved to suffer every ounce of pain that was filling me up for putting Autumn in that situation in the first place. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my parents what had really happened. They knew Autumn was gone, knew that I felt responsible, but they were already so disappointed in the choices I was making, choices that were so much worse than the ones I had been making before. I couldn’t bear the thought of them looking at me like Autumn’s parents did. If they blamed me as well, how could I live with myself? I was used to their disappointment but I knew I couldn’t survive their disgust.”