The only revenge I’ve ever executed took place in a now-defunct movie theater in Wisconsin. The girl’s name was Lori and we were both 14. I hadn’t recognized her picture when the police first showed it to me. But I’d been finding out about her ever since.
When we were twelve, she’d told her therapist my mother’s name. It was the finale to a long-winded confession. My mother, who — back then at least — had hair like a llama and a nervous way of fluttering her hands whenever topics turned “inappropriate,” was the one who had molested Lori, Lori said.
Two years is a long while to gather clues. I found out Lori carved curse words into her arm with pencils. I knew she was anorexic and bulimic, which, when you’re fourteen, are sort of valorized ailments. Secretly, I associated her with some of my most shameful moments. Like when I found the police report in my mom’s office — inside a binder labeled “Privileged” — and snuck it up to my bedroom, where I struggled with feelings of arousal while pouring over phrases like, “made me lick her wet crotch.”
The charges had been dropped due to lack of evidence. Certain key, verifiable claims — including one that Lori and I had been on a gymnastics team together — proved false. But the whole thing did not go away as quickly as it should have. The police in our small, suburban town were sick of doing PSAs about razor blades in apples. They wanted to be heroes, and arrested my mother on the strength of Lori’s allegations alone. While my mom sat in a holding cell giving away her baloney sandwiches to jocular prostitutes, the paper printed her name. They kept her there until some judge asked what the hell was going on? And the officers had to admit that nothing was.
On almost a nightly basis after she got home, she would sit on the carpet looking broken, and convinced me through tears that everybody knew. So when I saw Lori at the movie theater, I had a lot on my mind.
She looked plump, for one thing. Not like any of the anorexics I’d seen in those pamphlets they handed out in health class. She was with friends. They were seeing Chocolat and eating chocolate. They laughed with their mouths full and I stared at them, clutching a plastic bag containing a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and my movie ticket.
The hydrogen peroxide was for my newly pierced ears, which were infected. Apparently I had some kind of metal allergy, which I was trying to cure without taking out the earrings. I’d been warned the holes would close otherwise and the potential for that felt like a potential for failure; better to keep the wound open, I thought. Maybe most teenagers don’t think like that.
From what I’d witnessed, it seemed like most 14 year olds were like Lori was that day: giggling through braces while buying candy — on the way to see some movie because of Johnny Depp and a French title. Lori was supposed to have issues.
“Pastor Bill said we’ll go crazy asking ourselves, ‘Why?’” my mother’d told me. “This girl Lori probably has problems so bad that ours pale in comparison.” She sounded determined. Hopeful.
But here, at the movie theater, Lori looked happy. I stared hard, caught her eye, and smiled nervously. She and her friends scurried off. I was seeing a different movie but went in after them anyway, and sat down a few rows ahead. When the previews started, I went up to Lori.
“You’re fat,” I shouted. And then I poured the entire bottle of hydrogen peroxide on her head.
In Lori’s written statement to the police, she drew arrows pointing to supplementary exaggerations, underlined certain half-truths for emphasis, and wrote in the margins to fit everything she needed to say. The finished piece succeeded in making her into more of a victim, but was nevertheless false. It was very imaginative, though. Sometimes, when I am feeling gracious, I think that maybe she should have been a writer.
“She saw me and ran from the theater to go and buy her weapon, thinking only of my demise, and would not stop laughing.”
In his report, the cop who came to calm her down described a chalky residue on Lori’s cheeks. I guess the peroxide dripped down her face. But I didn’t see that because I was too busy running away, flailing my arms. And perhaps Lori was right about one thing. Perhaps I was laughing.
They caught me, obviously. They took my mug shot and tried to make a trial of it. But once again some judge said, “What’s going on here?” and told them to go back to luring lost dogs into their squad cars with ham. That’s what my mom told me anyway.
“Thank God for judges,” she said, uncorking a celebratory bottle of wine. “And thank you for defending me.” After a few glasses she started to cry.
“I love you,” I pleaded. I didn’t know what was going to happen. It could shut itself off in a few tears or last the whole night. Certain feelings are a straight shot with a finish line and certain ones are mazes that unfold forever.
In the ensuing months, I memorized Lori’s AIM screenname — duckybubbles999.
I put it into my chat box so I could see whenever she was online. I felt like I could learn something that might demystify her. It was an early version of Facebook stalking. Her away messages were almost always sad.
Show me the meaning of being lonely ~BSB
I tried to feel sorry for her but couldn’t.
I also continued my field research. Whenever I ran into someone from my old school, I’d ask about Lori. I learned she now had a ring of bleach blonde hair on the crown of her head, which she said was from the hydrogen peroxide I’d dumped on her. When I heard this, I felt confused and vaguely jealous; I had tried to lighten my own hair with hydrogen peroxide many times, but it had never worked.
“She probably dyed it herself,” said my mother.
Even now I wonder almost constantly, though I am still uncertain. Was it actually Lori’s dad who did it? — The guy who, during the three days my mom was in jail, refused to be interviewed?
And if that’s the case, did Lori simply need a name? Someone to pin it to who they might never find? I’ve heard that’s common — to project a childhood trauma on someone who won’t hurt you.
Perhaps it was this: she vaguely remembered me, but figured I was long gone at another school district, and the police would never find us.
In my most certain moments I think that fear and anger can only bloom to a certain point before you want to punish someone and innocent people get hurt. There was an ugliness brewing in Lori’s gut and she was looking around wild eyed for easy prey.
I still struggle to feel sorry for her.
One day I was watching Lori’s screenname, listening to my heart pound in my ears, when Duckybubbles999 blinked. She had changed her away message. Only this time it was not a snippet of sadness from some boy band.
SHOOT FOR THE MOON EVEN IF YOU MISS YOU’LL LAND AMONG THE STARS! :)
My wrists started sweating in that sick way, like when you have the stomach flu. Here I was, scrutinizing a screen for hours, and she was rattling off upbeat quotations. She was staring at her computer like I was staring at mine, and unlike me, she was fine. For all I knew she was over there singing along to the Spice Girls, or something.
“It’s me,” I typed. “Could you please just tell me why you did it?” My palms itched. It said that she was typing, but then it didn’t. So I sent a few clarifying messages.
It’s me Kathleen.
I just need to know.
I’m sorry for calling you fat.
She didn’t respond.
I was at my dad’s house that night but somehow they still found me. About an hour after I chatted her, there was a knock on the front door. I looked out my bedroom window to see a cop on our stoop.
I tucked my nightgown into my sweatpants and shuffled downstairs. My stepmom was already there, chatting with the officer. She gave me a look.
“You know that girl has bigger problems than you do,” she snapped, and left me to talk to the policeman.
I didn’t recognize him from mom’s debacle but you could tell from his voice that he’d probably heard about it. He seemed appalled. “You think after everything else the girl needs this?”
“Those charges were dropped,” I said, my voice catching in that way that happens right before you sob. “We sued them back for defamation of character but we lost a lot of money and now there’s nothing we can do.” I heard my stepmom rattling pans in the kitchen and lowered my voice. “Just because Lori is messed up doesn’t mean I’m not.”
The cop raised his eyebrows. “Aren’t you the one who attacked her with some kind of chemical?” He crossed his arms. “I wouldn’t go around pointing fingers if I were you — you’re the lucky one.”
“Okay,” I said, and burst into tears — which was embarrassing, because now I couldn’t see. Certain animal responses are blinding, like rage or a good cry. It was only when I heard his footsteps drifting off — the unlatching and the slam of the squad car door — that I realized he’d gone and left me to unpack whatever this was turning into.
A few weeks ago, when I decided to write this, I Googled Lori’s name. She is now working as some kind of inspirational speaker.