If you need to be mean
be mean to me
I can take it and put it inside of me
-Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke”
I have a picture of us from when we were ten years old — Rose, Audrey, Sam, and me. We’re standing on the gravel shoulder of the highway that cuts across our hometown like a life line across a palm. Our arms are wrapped around each other, affectionate and possessive with the weight of preteen desires. Have you noticed the way young girls cling to each other in photographs? Maybe we knew then the terrible possibilities of separation. If we hadn’t held on to each other so tightly through childhood, how would things have ended?
That was all before we grew apart. That was before I hopped on a plane, before Rose came to meet me, before we ended up in the mountains of Italy, alone in a 300-year-old farmhouse. That was when we still lived in our small universe of Halfmoon Bay, in homes secluded from the highway by long gravel driveways and undisturbed forest. What would have happened if the ghost had shown up then, when we were still so connected, instead of a decade later, across the world when there were just two of us in the middle of the night? More… “Gone Ghost”
Just don’t leave me alone
Wondering where you are
I am stronger than you give me
– Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke”
Sometimes being a girl is like being possessed. I look back on us, on our childhood on the Coast, on running away, on returning, and I wonder: Did any of this really happen?
There’s a picture of us as kids. I used to have it in a frame, but somewhere along the way I started using it as a bookmark. I won’t think of the girls for months, and then I’ll pick up a book and the picture will fall out. There they are; how could I forget them? Rose, Audrey, Sam. I say their names aloud and it becomes a spell — like magic, I’m ten years old again. More… “Ghost Girls”
Part of the development of a socially maladjusted teenage girl — right around the same time she starts carrying Sylvia Plath’s Ariel with her everywhere she goes, scribbling in the margins; hacks at her own hair with dull kitchen shears; and discovers a copy of Hole’s Pretty on the Inside — is an obsession with the Salem Witch Trials. The more she learns about the 19 women and men who were executed in a little over a year, the more it reinforces her cynical theories about society — specifically that, as a woman, if you refuse to conform you will be left vulnerable.
The targets of these trials were not just those women who were unable to fulfill their womanly duties — the postmenopausal, the barren, the spinsters and widows. Women who stood up for their rights —… More…
Right before the girls in the house started peeing in each other’s shampoo bottles, we went on a wilderness retreat. It was not a good time at the group home where I was working. We were understaffed and the house was, for the moment anyway, filled with the kind of teen girls who possessed enough misdirected rage and disinterest in self-preservation to pee in their roommates’ shampoo bottles.
I did not want to go on a trip to the mountains with these girls. On my 60-hour shifts I had been on enough trips with them — to the YMCA, and the grocery store — to know that this trip would not go well. Managers of both places we frequented wanted to expel us — the grocery store for run-of-the-mill shoplifting and the Y because the girls had repeatedly stolen cigarette butts out of the outdoor ashtrays and tried to smoke… More…