"It's too dark!" Maria yelled, apparently at random. I had just walked into the room. The lights were all on, and sunlight streamed through the open windows, leaving no shadows. She was shaking in the corner, covered with sweat and surrounded by a curving tower of empty water bottles piled on top of one another like crinkly plastic Lincoln logs. There must have been a hundred of them, stacked on top of one another like a barrier between Maria and the rest of the hungry world. Through their weird plastic distortion I could see her bright ice eyes, the pupils so dilated I could barely see the blue. It had been three days since anyone had seen her, three days since she had appeared, manic, confused, hungry, in the living room of Robin's house with a bag of cocaine. We all knew she had been using.

Her father, the bastard, was the chief security officer at our school. He was a dark, square man, with a scowl permanantly on his face and whiskey on his breath. It was his job to make sure that fights were stopped, weapons confiscated, drug dealers arrested. It was his fault that Maria wore dark makeup to cover bruises, wristbands to cover scars. It was his fault that she lost it, it is his fault that she's gone. When she disappeared, he didn't tell anyone. He never called the police, he never reported her missing, he never even signed the transfer document that removed every trace of her existence from our school, but not our lives. Officially, I guess, she's still there, in his house, crying. When she wasn't high, near the end, that's what she did.

The water bottles meant ecstasy, I knew. Maria had read that it dehydrated its users, and had begun drinking bottled water obsessively, keeping the bottles stacked randomly around her room. Robin, Zombie, Kev, and I had stayed up for most of the night before, talking about her. Robin hated her for what she had become, Zombie, when he was sober, missed the person she had been, and poor, awkward, quiet Kev loved her. That destroyed him eventually. I'm not sure why I was there. She had been a friend to me, sometimes a lover, but never someone I could feel truly close to. I guess that was why it was me that volunteered. Kev and I had driven to her house the next day, while her father was working at the school, and I slipped the bolt on the door and went in. Her bed was unused, and her room was dusty. It looked like she'd been curled in the corner for a long time. when she saw me she smiled. "I tried to kill myself yesterday," she said, unnaturally cheerful, "but it didn't work. can you turn on a lamp or something?"

"All the lights are on, Maria," I told her, and she screamed.

"LIAR! LYING PIECE OF SHIT! I CAN TELL THEY'RE OFF!! IT'S DARK! It's dark. It's dark. It's dark. It'sdarkit'sdarkit'sdarkit'sdark..." she trailed to silence, but I could see her lips forming the words. I've never seen anything so strangely terrifying in my life. I backed out the door, turned in the hall, and ran for my life from the brightly lit darkness of my friend's private hell. Am I a coward for running?

She was never happy while I knew her, not quite. She smiled and laughed and flirted with the rest of us, but she could never shed the melancholy that showed behind her eyes like a cloud that covered the sun. For nearly a year she was like that, sad, but not despairing, untill something happened. Without saying a word to any of us, she ran away from home. She didn't get very far before the police caught up with her, just to the park down the street from her house. A few days later, she did it again. The circles under her eyes got darker, and the tremors in her hands got worse. She stopped speaking to her father altogether. I have my suspicions. Later came the drugs, and the dealers. Eventually she was gone, and in her place...

We found the note the next day, pinned under a rock near the tree where we used to sit. "I'm gone. Don't look for me, you won't find me. This is not a suicide note, it's a note to say goodbye. Maybe I'll get in touch someday. I love you all. See ya, bitches!" It was signed with a picture of a smiley face, but the ink was spotted by tears. We never saw her again.

Honestly, I think she's dead. She spent so much time trying to die... Over the years, Robin came to forgive her for her mistakes. Zombie moved to Philadelphia, where I assume he continues living in the drunken stupor he inhabited for as long as I knew him. Kev was arrested for assault a few weeks later when he knocked Maria’s father to the ground with a little league bat and beat him unconscious. He was sent to a juvenile reform center somewhere in Arizona, and is scheduled to go home some time this year. I've moved several times over the past five years, and lost touch with most of my old friends, but no amount of distance could separate me from the memories. Watching my friend die slowly from the inside has changed me.

I had never been a user of recreational drugs, preferring instead just to watch my friends enjoy themselves, occasionally volunteering to drive them home after a particularly wild night, but since Maria left, drugs disgust me. I left the rave scene behind me, unable to tolerate any longer the joyfulness with which we fragile creatures destroy ourselves. Sic transit gloria mundi.

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