by Paula Bomer
Dead Darlings is a series in which writers share and reflect on the darlings they killed— the text they cut from their work— along the way to publication.
Greatly under the influence of Philip Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman in my twenties, I wanted to create a character that could both stand in for myself as an autobiographical tool and work as an alter ego, a character who did things I would never do, lived a life I never had. The character that was born of this idea was Madeleine, and her name had two functions for me at the time. She represented Proust’s cookie, a portal to memory, and also she was “Maddie”— she was “mad,” crazy, angry.
Like Roth, I hoped to use this character throughout my writing life. I didn’t want to retire her after one book. But when shaping the novella Inside Madeleine, I cut many chapters about Madeleine and many about her boyfriend turned husband, Mark. The story here, “College Days,” imagines Maddie after all of the events of Inside Madeleine, imagines her still struggling with sex and love and newly struggling with substance abuse, her relationship to food now fairly stabilized. It portrays her as “progressing” in life, or at least trying to improve her life.
There were later bits, after her college days when she is living in Brooklyn, too. None of them fit into the narrative of the novella, because they didn’t fit into what ended up being a linear story. But one of the clichés of writing that I adhere to is that we often have to write more about a character than we actually need in the book, for our own knowledge. In writing “College Days”, it was helpful to me to imagine her moving forward in her life. A less romantic take would be this: when editing a book or a story, some things get cut.
When I was a very young writer, I remember reading (usually male) writers being interviewed and talking about how one should burn their early writing, about how much of their writing gets thrown out. I find that a very masculine bravado thing now, something entirely against my way of life, my way of writing. I keep everything. One could say as a writer, I’m a hoarder. Excavating is an important part of writing and of looking back on my work and my life. Examination of the past is essential to who I am in every way. I firmly don’t believe in “living in the moment.” Trying to make sense of our past actions may not stop us from further mistakes, but life is precious, and the past is our life. And so even though “College Days” never made it into my novella, it never belonged in the fire. - Paula Bomer
"College Days," a story cut from Inside Madeleine:
Madeleine moved to Boston after two abortions, a quick, brutal divorce and a hospital stay. She was nineteen, thin and generally tense. She took literature classes at The University of Massachusetts and lived in a freshman dorm. She cut her hair short and wore small red mini skirts and shiny black boots. Her Midwestern accent changed within months and her jaw ached occasionally from the strain. Her roommate, Katie, was from Marblehead and this was her first time away from home.
Katie spoke to her mother every other day for half an hour in her high, breathy voice and went home on the weekends. She was a shy and flirtatious girl, with a thick mane of brown, scratchy hair and she had a habit of looking up demurely from her crop of oversized bangs. After a few weeks at college, she began talking to her mother less often and no longer went home for the weekends.
Madeleine was happy about that. She had been spending Friday and Saturday nights in various dorm rooms, the lights turned down low, bottles of cheap whiskey and bowls of pot being passed around. There was Ed and Lance and Sheila and Lucy. There was a long haired boy named Richared. But when Katie started hanging out more, Madeleine felt grounded. The two girls ate breakfast together in a diner nearby, picking at each other’s greasy eggs. They went to matinees and walked through the Boston Commons, telling each other the most lurid details of their lives. Madeleine’s life was particularly colorful – being a divorcee and a Midwesterner – and Katie’s life appeared strangely normal, almost boring. She was the youngest of two girls (just like Madeleine) her parents were divorced and had steady jobs. She studied Psychology and shaved her legs every day. Madeleine felt much more experienced than Katie and resentful of her friend’s calm existence. Katie, on the other hand, felt intrigued and outshone by Madeleine’s seedy history. But she was also comforted to know her life wasn’t as fucked up. Their relationship therefore grew in intensity quickly as a result of hostility nurtured from their perceived differences.
The two girls did most everything that best friends in college do together. They went to keg parties and drank too much and had sex with guys in unoccupied bedrooms. Bleary eyed and hungover, they took aspirins and had sex with guys in unoccupied bedrooms. Sean’s small penis and what a disgusting kisser Carl was. Yet soon enough Katie was sleeping regularly with Richard, the long haired boy. He was exotic and gentle and from the Northwest. He studied philosophy and smoked green, sticky pot out of a long, blue bong. Katie started hanging out with him on weekends and although it was usually within a large group of students that included Madeleine – Madeleine began to feel left out. And Katie began to change, too. She let her bangs grow out and stopped wearing make-up. She bought long cotton skirts and started saying “wow” a lot. She became even more shy and Madeleine became annoyed and acted out – drinking that extra shot of tequila and throwing up the next morning and saying mean things to Katie and not remembering it.
Katie and Madeleine started to avoid each other. By the time Katie returned from Richard’s room (where she now slept every night), Madeleine would have left, having gotten up early so as not to see her roommate. Katie knew when Madeleine’s free periods were and went to the library instead of their dormroom. On weekends, Maddy hung out in Sheila’s room if she knew Katie and Richard were hanging out in Ed’s. Their movements became carefully planned around missing each other, with the exact fervor that they had once always planned on being together.
They began to vent their aggression to the various people they shared their lives with, trying desperately to stake their turf. Madeleine told everyone that Katie was a slob and a baby and Katie told everyone that Maddy was mentally unstable and had had abortions. When Katie talked about Maddy her eyes would get wet and her hands would gesture dramatically.
“She masturbates in the dorm showers.”
“Her ex-husband used to shove vegetables up her ass. I mean, she’s so fucked up.”
After her outbursts, Katie would sit back nervously and smoke an extra big bong hit. The room, titillated by the secrets, took a while to resume to a safer subject. There were pauses and giggles. Some kids would get offended and leave the dorm room, only to go to another and pass information on. By second semester freshman year, Madeleine was known as a slut and a pervert, doomed to throw herself off some desolate roof and splatter herself on a sidewalk.
But Madeleine discussed Katie with equal disdain and people imagined Katie’s future with dismay as well. She was seen as vulnerable and needy and most likely would head back to the boring community of Marblehead after she graduated – if she graduated at all.
“She cries about homework assignments in Psych 101. Literally the easiest class there is. Then she goes whimpering to Richard who tells her what to do. It is unbelievably pathetic.”
Madeleine would get extremely drunk, splitting bottles of Jack Daniels with the biggest drinkers in the dorm Lance and Sean. The more she drank the louder and more fanciful her stories became, especially those concerning Katie.
“She hates sex. She’s never had an orgasm. When Richard fucks her she just closes her eyes and waits patiently for it to be over. What a loser. What a fucking child. Don’t fuck if you don’t like it, you know? Jesus Christ.”
Soon Madeleine, Lance and Sean discovered cocaine and the three would stay up until dawn two or three nights a week discussing all things important with dry, crusty mouths and dilated eyes. Sometimes Maddy slept with Lance and sometimes with Sean and sometimes one would watch while the other was with her. Often they were too tired to do anything and the three would fall asleep naked and wrapped around each other, lungs raspy from smoking, eyes swollen from drugs.
After a particularly extravagant night out that culminated with crack smoking and Madeleine being fisted by Sean and then Lance on the hood of a car outside of a rock club, Madeleine stumbled back to her room, feeling the incredible desire to be in her own bed, her legs curled up and her mouth open. Maddy was surprised by the sight of her once friend who she no longer ever saw, of whom she only detected the presence by trails of changed clothes or a chair pushed at a different angle. The fury that Maddy associated with Katie, the drunken rages which she spewed, were not inspirted by the sight of this small, breathing person in the bed opposite hers. She threw herself on her bed, rather comforted by Katie’s appearance, and slept.
When she awoke, Katie was sitting up in a chair, her thick hair pulled up in a ponytail. She held on to a cup of coffee and blew on it as she looked at Madeleine. “Want a cup of coffee?” she offered to her roommate.
Madeleine’s head hurt and she was afraid. When was the last time she saw Katie? As Katie bent over to pour a cup of coffee she noticed Katie’s ass. It had grown. This comforted her a bit and she pulled herself up and propped herself against a pillow.
“Here you go.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“I haven’t seen you for a while.”
“Yeah, that’s for sure.”
“Richard and I broke up a week ago.”
Madeleine felt a smug sense of satisfaction.
“I don’t know what happened. We just fought all the time.” Katie’s eyes became wet and she looked out the window. “I don’t think we liked each other anymore.”
“Well, I told you the guy was a burnout.”
Katie turned her head and began to cry.
“You shouldn’t cry about it”
“What do you know? You just fuck anything. It’s a sick sport to you.”
“Fuck you, Katie. All of a sudden you want to be friends now that Richard dumped you.” Maddy’s face turned blotchy. “After you forgot I existed when things were good with him. Fuck you.”
Madeleine spilled her coffee. She jumped out of bed, the coffee scalding, revealing her pale, tired body and a dark patch of blood smeared on her stomach. Katie made a noise like a bird and ran out of the room.
“Katie, wait. It’s my period, Katie, wait.”
Two years later Maddy was working as a cashier at a health food store and Katie put down a carton of soy milk in front of her before she realized it was her old roommate.
“Are you still in school?”
“How long have you been working here?”
“Four months.” Maddy felt self-conscious. Her hair was shoved into a baseball cap and she had recently gained weight. She was hungover and depressed. She rang up Katie’s soy milk and put it in a recycled plastic bag.
“I don’t need a bag.” Katie took the carton out of the bag and smiled. “See you around.”
The next time they saw each other on campus they stopped and chatted for a while. Katie’s mother had been sick and Maddy’s sister had gotten married. They exchanged phone numbers and decided to get together for lunch over the weekend.
The day was bright and warm, the school year was almost over. They met at a small and popular Vietnamese restaurant known for its endless cups of tea. Katie arrived first and chose a table near a window. She had a daily newspaper with her and was reading it when Maddy walked up, surprising her so that she jumped.
“Oh, that’s OK.”
The two girls searched out one another’s eyes only to look away immediately. They both started sentences at the same time and then stopped talking at the same time. Finally, the waiter came and gave them menus.
“Have you had the summer rolls?”
“Yeah, they’re my favorite.”
“Are you still friends with Sean and Lance?”
“I see Sean around. Lance moved back to Utah.” Madeleine put a finger in her tea. “He never finished school.”
“I don’t think Boston was the place for him.”
“No, maybe not. Do you ever see Richard?”
Katie laughed. “No, never. I’ve had a new boyfriend for more than a year. John Severs. Do you know him?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“He’s graduating in a few weeks. We live together.”
“That’s great.” Maddy poured herself more tea. “You know, I’ve become friends with Richard.”
“Really.” Katie pursed her lips and said unconvincingly, “That’s so funny.”
“I know.” Madeline shifted in her seat. “He hangs out with a group of Communication School people I hang out with. I transferred to Communications. I’m getting a degree in Advertising.”
“I thought you were a literature student.”
“I was. I’ve been trying to be more practical.” Madeleine looked embarrassed. “I’ve been trying to get my shit together. I want to be able to get a real job. I’m going to move to New York.”
“That’s great.” Katie didn’t eat much of her food. She offered it to Madeleine, who accepted.
“So how is Richard?” There was a noticeable testiness in Katie’s voice.
“It’s so funny how bummed I was about him.”
“Yeah, you were upset.”
“And you were no help.”
“What?” Madeleine looked up from the plate of Katie’s food she was working on.
“I mean, I was in a bad way and you just weren’t very helpful.” Katie crossed her arms in front of her, appearing determined.
Maddy put down her fork and waved a hand awkwardly. “That was a tough time in my life too, you know. I wasn’t really in a position to be helpful to you.”
“It wouldn’t have been that much to be kind. I didn’t need you to save my life.”
“Listen, Katie, I’m sorry, alright? What can I say? I was doing a lot of drugs and I was fucked up.” Madeleine didn’t sound sorry. She sounded angry.
“Do you still do coke?”
“Do you still drink a lot?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” A red glow covered her face. “I’m thinking of stopping.”
“I’ll never forget that morning you had all that blood on your stomach.” Katie looked at her old roommate dead on. “I was so terrified.”
“It was just my period, Katie.” Madeleine pushed the plate of food into the center of the table.
“People said that you had sex with Lance on a car outside of The Ratskeller that night.” Katie whispered, leaning across the table, a concerned expression on her tight features. “You made it hard to be your friend.”
“Why are you bringing up things that happened years ago? It’s over Katie. I had just gotten divorced and I did some weird things.” Maddy straightened her back. “I don’t think about that stuff anymore so why should you?”
“That was the last time I really saw you. That was when we were friends.”
“Well, it was a long time ago.”
They paid their bill, splitting it right down the middle. They left the restaurant quietly, wishing each other good luck.
Katie went home and had sex with her new boyfriend on the floor of their living room. They never had sex anywhere except in their king size bed with the flowered sheets. As she pulled him on top of herself there in the living room, she turned on to her stomach, letting him enter that way. He was nervous and his erection wavered. When she felt him get it in her she sunk her face into the plush carpet. It was almost painful, getting fucked like that and she thought of Richard, who had fucked her like that a lot, and she thought of Madeleine, of her ravenous vagina, bruised and bloodied. She put her hand on her clitoris, her face stinging from rubbing against the carpet, and came.
You can read Bomer's story "Real Names" in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Epiphany.