"For she was the maker of the song she sang."
--Wallace Stevens, "The Idea of Order at Key West"
The first time, the very first time a boy told Amanda "I love you" -- it was a hideous lie.
Fate had granted her a brief, tantalizing glimpse of Val. She was out with the "Debs," the in-crowd. This group of 16-year-old girls had previously shunned her, gossiped about her behind her back, and cut her viciously. Arlene, the leader of the clique, had singled her out for numerous pranks and minor cruelties.
Amanda was fat, and Arlene never let her forget that. "You've gotta have the world's biggest butt, Mandy. You're so grossly fat that I can't figure out how you manage to squeeze through the hallway. In fact, if it weren't for for us, nobody in the whole universe would ever speak to you. But that's what friends are for."
That's what friends are for.
On this one particular occasion, for some unexplained reason, they had invited Amanda along for a late-night drive. Deep in the expensive neighborhoods of a far-eastern suburb of the city, they pulled into a long, winding driveway. With a theatrical flourish, Arlene rang the doorbell. HE opened the door, but didn't seem to notice Amanda -- a geeky, pimply, chubby fifteen-year old, dressed in mismatched dress and blouse, staring up at him with mouth agape. He had on a short-sleeved pinstriped Oxford shirt cut in the style popular in that year, and his well-developed 16-year old biceps shouted MAN! in bright, flashing red neon letters. He chatted and joked with the others, but ignored her.
All the way home, the girls were whispering and giggling, but Amanda sat totally immersed in her daydream. She and Val could...
A week later she was saying, "I love you too, Val." Her trembling affirmation of a nonexistent bond flew back over the phone line.
"Mandy, guess what?
"This isn't Val. It's ... ARLENE! I love you ... ha, ha, HA!"
Her world came crashing down.
She seriously considered running away to a place where no one knew her. Entering a religious order. Living as a hermit in a wilderness cave. Learning to walk a tightrope and joining the circus.
In the end she did nothing. She just continued to live with her shame and suffer the taunts of her classmates. It was months before she could endure the stares and giggles. The pain was often more than she could bear.
Packs of animals single out those of their number that are different -- and drive them away or hound them to death. Groups of humans, especially adolescent humans, do so with especial cruelty.
The purpose of selecting a scapegoat is to submerge the identity of the individual members of a mob in a frenzied ritual of bloodletting. It bonds them into a single close-knit coherent unit, a social group in its most primitive form.
Had she been a weaker person, Amanda might have taken an overdose of pills or slashed her wrists. Yet she managed to stagger through the remaining couple of years until graduation. But she carried with her deep wounds and a heavy burden of unworthiness. Unworthy of love. Worthless. A waste. A total waste.
Later, much later, she was still alone. Alone and lonely. Miserable. Unloved. Unlovable. In her mid-forties still a virgin, and not by choice. No man would have her, it seemed. For that matter, she could hardly bear her own company. "I love you ... ha, ha, HA!"
Then, in the depths of despair and self-hatred, the realization struck her. Someone once had professed love for her ... even if it had been a malicious lie. Arlene, in the guise of Val, had spoken words of love. That was enough. There had to be a certain compelling logic in I love you that transcended the boundaries of intention. It was a magic powerful enough to break down barriers and open floodgates.
Let's assume that part of the problem is my perception of myself. I am nothing without the approval of others. Nothing.
What's the mirror image of that? I am myself, and sufficient unto myself. I need no one and nothing.
Go a step further. Arlene (that little shit!) gave me the key. She was only the first of many who will award me love. But her successors will mean it. I accept from you, Arlene, the gift of being loved, the realization that I'm worthy of being loved. Even if your intent was twisted, you did utter that fateful word -- love. I herewith reclaim it from you.
There must be some way of recasting my fate, of taking back from Arlene the happiness that should have been mine all these years. And if that means upsetting the Grand Plan of things, so be it. Even if it involves snatching something away from Arlene ... somehow draining her of life force and psychic energy.
How? Incantations? Conjurations? Spell-casting? Voodoo? Crazy, but what have I got to lose?
In certain urban neighborhoods there exist hole-in-the-wall shops called "bodegas." They sell figurines and candles with dark associations to a mysterious belief system known as Santeria, a strange amalgam of Christianity and Voodoo.
The windows were dirt-smeared and and the floor unswept. Bare lightbulbs overhead cast alternating bands of harsh glare and dark shadows. The gray-haired woman behind the counter was jabbering at her in the local street dialect. Amanda had taken several years of Spanish in school, so she managed to more or less get the gist of it. Yes, she could buy curses and love potions and the like here.
"Yo quiero ... I want something to remove a curse, or actually to reverse it. I want the admiration and love of my fellow humans. I want my birthright back. And I want those who robbed me of it to suffer."
"Si la señora ... If the lady would step this way..."