The 101 Freeway. Bad traffic. On the radio, the quiet hum of NPR’s All Things Considered talking about kids eating laundry pods and getting sick, because kids are idiots.
My best friend, Jane, half-asleep/half-passed-out on her pillow. We’re driving to Temecula. Until now, Temecula is only significant as the name of a Dirty Projectors song I enjoy (Temecula Sunrise), but from now on it’ll always be associated with this day and I’ll like the song a little bit less. Normally I would never drive anywhere at 5 p.m. on a Friday in Los Angeles.
Normally, I would rather kill myself than be inside a vehicle during rush hour.
I don’t want to kill myself right now. In fact, the use of this phrase in relation to a frustration as trivial as traffic now seems absurd. You see, I am in this car at rush hour because I’m driving my best friend away from the place where she tried to kill herself.
Earlier today I decided to check on Jane. I hadn’t seen or heard from her in a few days and her apartment was on my way home from an audition. I texted her I was stopping by, but got no response. She was probably home, though, because she didn’t really have anywhere else to go.
Inside the bleak apartment she’d called home for the past few months I saw: A rope hanging on a broken clothing rack bar in her closet, violent red mark around her neck, prescription bottles, empty cans of beer, and her bloodshot eyes. Don killed me was written on the wall in red pencil. I somehow stopped myself from bursting into tears, not wanting to trigger any serious emotions in Jane. She was a shell of her former self; only the sadness and anger remained.
I told her to pack a small bag while I contacted her sister to ask if Jane could stay with her. I put the cats in their carrying case and was ready to go, but it wouldn’t be that easy. She needed her anti-depression pills and her computer. Both were in another apartment. Don’s apartment.
Jane pounded on the door until Don yelled at her to stop. He didn’t know I was there, because when I was there, he put on an act of a decent man. I knew better. I’d seen the demeaning texts. I knew how many times he’d called her a worthless whore. I’d listened to hours of arguments and watched Jane slowly break from the torment.
“It’s Melissa, Jane needs a few things, unlock the door.” Don swung open the door and I walked past him without saying anything. Jane went into the kitchen and stuffed some pieces of bread into her mouth. She hadn’t eaten all day because she had no money. She only had her own apartment because Don owned the building and had moved her into it, trying to simultaneously hide and control her.
“You clean up that wine you spilled on my rug yet?”
Don badgered Jane even though he could see her blank stare and fatigued demeanor. I hate to use this word incorrectly, but Don is literally a piece of shit. If shit could come to life, it would be him.
“Just leave her the fuck alone, you’ve already ruined that poor girl’s life,” I said calmly, but wanted to scream.
“She’s ruined mine, she needs help, I’m sick of dealing with her. Good riddance.”
Jane grabbed her stuff and we walked out.
“You owe me for that rug.” Don wanted one last jab. I lost it.
“FUCK YOU. DIE. PLEASE FUCKING DIE YOU PIECE OF SHIT. YOU ARE AN EVIL DISGUSTING MONSTER.”
I screamed so loud I hurt my throat. If I’d had a gun I would have shot Don. I wanted him dead more than anyone on this planet. But death by gun would have been too kind for Don. I wanted to bludgeon his face with a mallet, like when Daffy Duck hits Porky Pig. Instead of cartoon stars I wanted to see real blood. Even that wouldn’t repay the damage he’d done to Jane. He gave her drugs and alcohol and turned her into his helpless slave. He stole my best friend’s soul.
We got in my car and left. I had won. I’d saved Jane from the monster and was taking her to a safe place where he could no longer harm her.
Five days later, she was back at his apartment.
Melissa Stetten is at work on her first book. She tweets from Twitter.