Chapter 10:

Lou Clemente

With Oasis (Vol. 1)

At this point, the sky had become a deep, dark blue, and the town of Charlais in the distance below us was hazy, and only really visible because of streetlights and glowing windows.

I still held Lou tightly in my arms, as she gave me her backstory while messing with her own hair.


I could feel her heartbeat in my arms.

It was getting faster.

“You were probably wondering when I’d get to the whole outhouse thing, huh?”

“A little bit, I guess.”


“Well, first a bit of background info. I was born in Albuquerque, but my parents swiftly moved to Missouri, since New Mexico is, like, one of the poorest states in the entire country. But anyway, we lived in Missouri at the time, so going hiking for a school field trip wasn’t too bizarre.


Lou hesitated, her gaze still fixated completely on her legs.

The world around us got darker yet.

“They-” Lou broke into a coughing fit, then let her feelings simmer for a while before continuing. “The trip was kinda hell in general. Since I’d become so distant from my old friends, I figured it’d be awkward if I tried to talk to them, not to mention that I hated everyone, so I spent the whole thing pretty much as isolated as I could be.

“But the one part that’s seared into my head forever… Well, I guess… I guess I already told you, huh?

“Those four.

“They surrounded me. They pushed me along into one of the outhouses. They taunted me, talking about how funny it’d be if they dropped me down into the toilet. They laughed at how scared I looked. Then they really pushed me in…”

The sky, the landscape, all the lights in Charlais, everything in sight—

Went black.

With a pained expression—

“Hey… do you know how it feels to be at the bottom of an outhouse?

“You start off thinking you died and are about to be judged by God. A part of you is scared to die, but another part thinks that maybe, as long as you end up in heaven, it’s better than the hell you’re going through right now. But then you realize you’re not dead, and you’re still conscious, but your arm hurts like hell, because you landed on it really hard. And also… you’re drowning. You’re quite literally drowning in shit and piss.”

A deeply pained expression.

“So you scramble and flail around, trying to find any way to get yourself upright and your head above the muck, and it takes you a while, and you think ‘man, is this really how I’m gonna go out? At the bottom of an outhouse??’. A part of you wants to drown, and have it all over with. Maybe then everyone will finally realize how much they were hurting you…

“You do manage to find your footing and get your head up to where you can breathe again. But then you take a breath through your mouth, and you taste it.

“You taste shit.

“And you’re not sure if it’s the smell you're tasting, or the actual thing you’re tasting.

“So you wipe off your eyes and face the best you can using the arm you didn’t land on, because your other arm hurts so bad you think it’d fall off if you tried to move it at all. And then you look u- u- up…”

Lou began tearing up. “A- And you notice that- t- that they’re still there. Lucille. Marie. Belle. Y- Yvette. And they’re all laughing at you. They’re- They’re all… All there…”

She swiftly shoved her face into my shoulder and kept it there for a solid few minutes, sobbing on and off, never wailing or anything like that… just crying. Sorta quietly.

When she finally peeled her face away from me, a string of snot connected her nose to my sleeve. Honestly, considering the tale she was telling, I didn’t even find it gross. “Oh, sorry about that. Haha…” Lou tried to fake-laugh her accident off.

“It’s alright. I bring tissues with me everywhere.”

“Oh yeah. It feels like ages ago I last saw you use one.”

I wiped my shoulder off with a tissue, before grabbing hold of Lou again, and hugging her so she could continue.

“So anyway…” Lou’s tone instantly darkened again. “They leave the outhouse, and shut the door behind them. And it’s pitch…


“I couldn’t see a thing. I was afraid that if I tripped I wouldn’t be able to find up again, it was that dark.

“And the muck… it feels like it’s sucking you in. Like every second you stand there it pulls you further under. And you’re afraid to breathe because it smells so damn bad and you don’t want any foul substances in your mouth. But you eventually have to breathe, except when you breathe in you feel dizzy and light-headed. Every breath you take disorients you more and more… I think I nearly passed out when I was in there.

“But what scared me most—

“Well, everything was really scary, so it’s a stiff competition, but if I had to choose the scariest part…

I didn’t yell out for help.

“Realistically, that was the only thing I could do to get out of there. But I didn’t try to get out of there. Because it was so ingrained in me to just weather everything. The fact I stayed completely silent chilled my heart even at the time.

“So, at the bottom of that outhouse, all I could do, really, was think about my situation. Think about what led to me ending up here. And it was at the bottom of that outhouse, covered in all sorts of filth, dearly not wanting to inhale, that I came to a few realizations about my situation.

“First, that I hadn’t done anything to deserve this. There were small things I could be blamed for, but at the end of the day, being dropped down that toilet wasn’t my fault.

“Second, that the biggest reason why it became the popular opinion to consider me a loser… is because humans inherently want to affirm their superiority in order to feel more comfortable in their own shoes. And one of the most common ways for humans to reaffirm their superiority as a person— is to put another down. I became a loser so that all the members in my class could feel less like losers.

“And third, that my friends drifted from me, consciously or subconsciously, out of convenience. They went with the popular opinion because it was easy. Because associating with me meant that life at school would become a hell of a lot more difficult for them. In fact, maybe it was more than that— that they began to believe the popular opinion for the mere fact that it was the popular opinion. But either way, they were simply going with the flow.

“Of course, as a fifth grader I couldn’t word my revelations in such clear terms. I was a disorganized mess down in that pit of muck, none of my thoughts were being formed in clear terms. But in that whirlwind of thoughts… I came to these three unfortunate realizations.

“So eventually, after like fifteen minutes of being down there, some boy comes in to pee and I meekly call up to him like ‘Yo, could you, uh, get me out of here?’. Luckily I managed to get his attention before he pissed on me. So anyway, the boy, obviously a little freaked out, gets a few teachers, and luckily one of the teachers had a rope. So, she lowered it down, I was able to grab hold of it, and she pulled me back up to the surface mostly unharmed.

“I didn’t even break the arm I fell on. All I got was a big ol’ bruise.

“They brought me to a river so I could wash off, and all the while they were asking me stuff like ‘What happened?’ and ‘How did you fall down there?’. And for a moment… I considered telling them what had really occurred. I considered telling the whole thing, from how I was bullied, to how they pushed me in and laughed at me, to how I just stayed at the bottom of the outhouse in silence waiting to be found.

“But I didn’t.

“I couldn’t.

“For whatever reason, the thought of telling the teachers what was happening to me was even scarier than the thought of it continuing on for the rest of the school year. I had it in my head that if I told the story to them, the teachers would use that information against me, or that even if the teachers did try to help me, it wouldn’t work, and the bullying would continue, except it’d get even worse because I would also be labeled a tattletale. Like no matter what, telling the teachers would only reward me with dire consequences.

“I think that was the moment when I really internalized the idea of just keep weathering. I emerged from that outhouse as someone who was so easily frightened, so distrusting of others, so angry, and so sad, that I believed that anything I did to fight back against my situation would simply make things worse.

“So, I lied to the teachers, and said I fell in by accident. I even smiled for them to trick them into thinking I was a-ok.

“After the outhouse incident, my parents ended up taking me to the doctor’s to get my arm checked, and also to make sure I hadn’t contracted any deadly diseases after being exposed to human waste. However, I was fine, physically speaking.

“For the rest of fifth grade I was known as the outhouse girl. My class never figured out why I really fell in— in their eyes, I was simply an idiot who fell on her own. Only those four, as well as I, knew the truth.

“I continued being bullied for the rest of the year. In fact, a lot of the teasing specifically revolved around the fact that I had fallen into an outhouse. There was never another outhouse incident. It was just simple old bullying, the types of tricks you expect. They got meaner and meaner, but at least it was in the realm of normalcy for bullying. The outhouse incident— was an outlier. That’s at least a saving grace.

“But… you don’t emerge from the bottom of an outhouse the same kind of person as before. I think being stuck there sparked something in me, and that spark grew throughout the rest of fifth grade as I kept on weathering.

“I began to lose faith in most of humanity. I saw all my classmates smiling and laughing with each other, and helping each other out with their homework, and being nice to each other, and I knew it was all a mask. Because they just kept to the sidelines while my life was being ruined. I began to think that most people, deep down, weren’t good people, and that the best way to navigate society was to trust no one.

“I was angry at everyone— really, I was angry at the world, for being the type of place that could let this happen. But I was also angry at myself, for allowing my classmates to get the better of me.

“And it was with those thoughts swirling around in my brain that I made the decision to completely isolate myself from humanity. No more social butterfly.

“In class, I didn’t talk if I could help it. Even if I was called on, I’d say as little as I could get away with. During recess, I ran away to whatever corner of the playground wasn’t being occupied… until inevitably someone found me and began bullying me. During lunch, I sat alone, until again I was found and bullied.

“The only exception to this was home. I still kept a good relationship with my Mom and Dad, although due to all my weathering, I was a lot more reserved around home than before. I still talked to them, and I still had fun going places with them, but I was generally just suffering. I spent a lot of time locked away in my room, shutting out the world, left to my own thoughts.

“Unless they were my family, I thought I was better off without other people. It was the only way to maintain my moral purity. Because once I’m around people, I’m not morally pure. Once I’m around people, I’m just a toy for them to play with. Once I’m around people, my autonomy and wishes go out the window. Once I’m around people, I feel like a terrible person.

“Well, that was no good. The teachers, while failing to notice the bullying at every turn, did notice that my psychological state had taken a turn for the worse, and they sent me to the school counselor along with my parents to ask me what was going on. I managed to trick them into thinking I was just really shy… But then things continued and they called me down a second time and I had to trick them a second time.

“Eventually, fifth grade ended, and I didn’t have to see those four… or any of my classmates…

“I was elated! I could finally spend all my time in my bedroom playing video games and watching anime, maybe hanging out with my parents every once in a while.

“But then, before I knew it, summer was half over. Three-quarters over. Nine-tenths over. It was back-to-school season before I knew it…

“Well, you already know this, but from sixth through eighth grade I was homeschooled. I just couldn’t go back. And that meant— I had to finally tell someone what I’d been through.

“Mom and Dad learned the whole story, from in the classroom to at the bottom of an outhouse. They were, obviously, horrified.

“However, I begged them not to tell the school what had happened, or try to get those responsible in trouble. I didn’t want to fight those who had wronged me. I didn’t even want to think about them ever again. All I wanted, I told Mom and Dad, was to not go back. I wanted to be homeschooled.

“So, my Mom became the most overly enthusiastic homeschool teacher ya done ever seen. She even bought a ‘World’s #1 Teacher’ headband! It was insane! My Mom has always been kinda reserved… It was neat seeing such an enthusiastic side of her, though I’m sure she was just doing it for my sake.

“And of course, as you probably know, when Sasha became old enough to go to school, she got homeschooled too. Well... she was actually set to go kindergarten the same year I was supposed to enter sixth grade, so I guess it was a split second decision. We became an anti-public school family.

“As for my personal development… while I never mistrusted my family quite like I did the rest of humanity, it was during my time being homeschooled that I learned to love the concept of family. They were like the friend group I never had, if that makes sense. This deeply connected support group that would never backstab me like my old friends did. Mom, Dad, and Sasha were the only people I really interacted with for those three years. They were familiar. Kind. Safe. I loved having the most silly, nonsensical conversations with them.

“I think without them, I would’ve forgotten how to be cheerful.

“I don’t think I’d be able to smile around you, Rocco, were it not for my family.

“Especially Sasha. Before she was old enough to have meaningful conversations with, I still loved just watching her mess around with whatever she got her hands on, and interact with the world around her in the way only a child can. Then, once she was around seven years old, we began talking more, and soon enough, she was basically my best friend.”

Lou laughed. “Honestly, it was a huge ego boost to have a small child who loved me unconditionally and looked up to me as a tutor of sorts.

“But as for everyone else, I was misanthropic as ever. Even the people at my church… After the service, instead of playing on the playground with the other kids while the adults talked about politics and whatnot, I’d lock myself in a bathroom stall or the car until my parents came to get me. The idea of even talking to someone outside of my family legitimately terrified me.

“Mom and Dad thought that needed to change. They tried many things to help me. They had tons of long talks with me about the importance of relying on other people and learning to trust in others again. They once tried bringing the daughter of another family who went to our church over to our house to play with me. She was slightly older than me, and they thought that me interacting with a more kindly, mature teenager would help me. But I just locked myself in the bathroom the entire time. They even tried taking me to therapy. Except I refused to even look my therapist in the eyes, let alone speak to her.

“But eventually…

“Around seventh grade we moved back to New Mexico. Well, you also knew that already. We lived here for a while, with me still being homeschooled, and before I knew it—

“High school. According to all the anime I’d seen, it was a time of new beginnings. Apparently, if I went to high school, my dream guy would accidentally trip and fall into my boobs, and after being briefly flustered, we’d both become best buds and eventually marry each other, or something like that.

"It's hard for me to explain why, but... I felt like if I didn't go to highschool, my future self would be pissed off at me.

“So, I asked my Mom if I could try going to public school again, and she said yes. I began attending Stoneswan High for my Freshman year.

"But even if I wanted to go back to high school, I didn’t necessarily want to talk to people just yet. I was still deeply traumatized. Nay, more than that, I still distrusted humanity. Everyone I saw at school, I wanted nothing to do with, because I thought that if they knew anything about me, they'd instantly hate me and bully me until I was stuck at home again. I thought for sure that everyone around me was that sort of scum.

“Frankly, my first day of high school was like, kind of a train wreck. Ahaha… Being back in a school environment brought back so many unpleasant memories, and I kept having to go to the bathroom to decompress.

“At first, my strategy was simple. Don’t talk to anyone. Stay away from people. Stay invisible.

"But it didn't take long for someone to try talking to me. This girl named Claire, or something. She greeted me like 'Nice to meet you', and told me her name. And then...

“I didn't even really think about it. I replied to her purely on instinct. In a quiet, deadpan sort of tone, I told her 'Hi'. Throughout the conversation I kept my answers brief and my voice quiet, trying to hold in my anxiety and keep my breath steady. Eventually, Claire realized that I wasn't one for conversation, and left me alone after that.

“The way I replied to people... it ensured they knew nothing about who I really was. It made sure they couldn't use any facet of my personality against me. It made sure that all attempts at getting to know me intimately were futile. It kept people away. Yet because I kept my voice quiet, I couldn’t be perceived as angry. Everyone just thought I was a really shy kid. I am a really shy kid when it comes down to it. And because I kept people away from me, it, for the most part, kept me invisible, just as I wanted. I was able to exist at school by my lonesome.

“As I got exposed to more and more people, I eventually became— I guess desensitized. It got to the point where I could talk to people at my church again. I did so in a sorta blank tone, and I didn’t reveal much information about myself, and mostly kept to myself at the swingset instead of playing with the other kids, but I could indeed talk to people, which is way better than I could do before.

“...I was certainly softening. It got to the point where I no longer felt like I was about to have a panic attack whenever anyone talked to me. But even now… if some random dude at school tries talking to me, I feel uncomfortable, and I want them to go away as soon as possible, and I feel the need to keep my voice deadpan so that none of my actual personality seeps through.


“Things stayed like that…” Lou pried her gaze away from her legs to look at me. “Until I met you.”

…I really should’ve seen this twist coming. Of course I’d be a part of this story, considering that I’m the only person at school that Lou acts like her true self around. But even though I should’ve seen it coming, somehow, being integrated into the story caught me off guard.

“Obviously,” Lou continued, “during freshman year we never interacted with each other. We might’ve shared some classes, we might not have, I don’t even remember. I was so self centered at the time, I had hardly any headspace left for my classmates.

“Then— Sophomore year, I sat behind you in history class. At first, I still didn’t think much of you. I knew who you were, since we live in the same town, and I knew you weren’t talkative, but I didn’t think you were special. But then…”

Lou smiled again, and spoke her next words— with a bizarre cadence I’d never heard before. A mix of laughter and emotional reminiscence, with a bittersweet tinge. She almost sounded hoarse. “It’s really so stupid. Such a silly, small thing. But it meant the world to me.

“Some dude walked up to your desk and tried to strike up a conversation with you, but you weren’t having it. So eventually, the dude gives up trying and asks you ‘Why are you so damn anti-social?’. And you told him ‘I just think people are overrated’. In that classic Rocco bluntness, you just told him exactly what you were thinking. And then you continued like ‘Why should I need to talk to people in the first place? Why can’t I just live how I want?’.”

I didn’t even remember the conversation Lou was referring to, but apparently—

“That… That was all I needed, I guess. I felt so vindicated… even though it was such a small, casual thing, it suddenly felt like my world opened up. Because it’s like… there’s someone else out there- no, there’s someone right in front of me— who gets it! Who gets me!

“Even more than that… it’s like, you were so open about it. You didn’t hide the fact that you didn’t want to talk to people. You didn’t hide the fact that you didn’t like people. You weren’t like me, who just stayed quiet and hoped people wouldn’t talk to me. You weren’t afraid to be dismissive, and to say what you really thought.

“I vented to my parents a lot over the years, but I was always uncomfortable with the idea of admitting to them that I hated humanity, or that I thought most people would turn on me if they got to know me. I think I once told Mom something like ‘I don’t really like people all that much’, but I did it so begrudgingly. I was embarrassed to admit to others that I was misanthropic. I felt emo, and weird. But you did what I could barely do with complete nonchalance. It was so validating to hear it like that. So..." Lou smiled. "Comforting."

“After that, I paid more attention to you. During class, in the halls, lunch hour, even study hall that one time… I realized how similar we were. It was like I could hear exactly what you were thinking at any given moment, we acted so similar. I know it’s all really silly…”

“I don’t think it’s silly.” I couldn’t help but speak up. “None of that is silly. Seeing yourself somewhere else… It's only natural to be fascinated by that. It helps us contextualize ourselves. Analyze ourselves. Accept ourselves. I don’t think that’s silly in the slightest, Lou.”

In reply, Lou grinned. “Thanks, dude.”

“No problem.”

“Anyway, that’s what made me fall in love with you. Like, wayyyy in love with you. I think for like five consecutive days I wrote about nothing in my diary except my feelings for you.” Lou’s face went pink as cherry blossoms, and she laughed. “It’s a little embarrassing to say all this out loud…!”

Admittedly, I felt a little guilty hearing that Lou was so completely in love with me, but hey, I’m working on that.

“Of course, even though I was in love with you, after we started dating, I still found it scary to trust you. But, I tried my best. I showed you small fractions of my true self, a little bit at a time. And every time, you reacted the same way.

“Not at all.

“No matter how I acted, you remained the same. You were always just your same old blunt self. I think I needed that though… If you made a big deal out of my personality changing, I probably would’ve become more hesitant in opening up to you. So… thanks for that, Rocco!”

“No problem,” I replied. Honestly, I felt like the thanks Lou was giving me was undeserved. I knew the real reason I was deadpan, and the reality of the situation wasn’t nearly so cheery as Lou was putting it. But hey, Lou’s the optimistic one of the duo like that.

Lou smiled even harder, looking like she was on the verge of tears, her voice pregnant with emotion. “After about two weeks, I pretty much never held back my personality from you. I trusted you completely. I was so damn relieved to have someone outside of my family that I could legitimately, wholeheartedly put my faith in! It felt so liberating to tell you all the stupid things that pop up in my head! So after a while, it became second nature to trust you enough to go to an abandoned building with you.”

“...I’m really glad you trust me.”

"I do. Being with you has made me feel a lot more secure, and happy."

There was a stretch of silence, as the starry sky stretched before us.

“But.” Lou’s voice became more ominous. “Well, at first, after opening up to you, I truly considered opening up to the rest of my classmates too. Talking to you made me realize just how much I missed making new friends and talking to people at school. Family is nice and all, but sometimes you need a friend’s shoulder instead of your sister’s. 

"And also... having you at school with me... it was like, before I had no place in school. I was an outsider looking in. But once I was able to trust you, it was like school wasn't so dreary anymore. It was like I had a place now, my own corner of the school that fit me perfectly. I guess I was getting optimistic... and that optimism made me wonder if I could leave all my paranoia behind me for good.


“People overheard me talking to you in the hallways and at lunch and in history class. My invisibility wore off…” Lou began quivering, as a tear slid down her cheek. “And people began talking about me again. All of a sudden, I was in all sorts of rumors. They called me a slut for acting energetic around you, Rocco. It felt like everyone had a new bad thing to say about me, like how I’d stared at them funny one time, or how I was so skeevy and unpleasant.

“At first, I was really scared. So, so scared! I thought I was done for. I thought ‘Oh, this is it, they’re gonna start shoving me into lockers any minute now’. But then I thought ‘Wait, but this time, I have someone, right? I have Rocco, so I’ll be fine, right?’.

“And then, I started to get really mad. The second I gained a little bit of trust in humanity… the second I felt like maybe I could actually begin socializing with people again… the second I thought all these years of pain were behind me... those fuckers were about to take it away from me! They were about to bring me right back to square one!

“Ever since I came back here, I’ve heard it. I’ve seen it. Bullying. Whether it be through rumors and a million voices talking behind someone’s back, or more blatant like someone being shoved against a locker, it’s still there. It made me mad in Freshman year, but now that I was being included in the rumors… my anger increased tenfold, and my fear increased even more.

"I'll be honest, Rocco. I hate school! I hate the social hierarchies, and the rumors, and how the teachers never seem to care, and how for some people, walking down the halls while maintaining their composure is a struggle!"

Lou wiped away her tears, then let out a sigh. “Well, that’s a lot of words to basically explain this: when I heard that there was a chance to graffiti the school with my very own message, I decided to use that to vent my anger.

“And as for all that stuff with Abey… I know I was acting kinda weird around her. She’s around the same age I was when all that stuff happened to me, and frankly, even seeing children around that age is enough to bring back bad memories. Specifically, oddly enough, girls of that age. Weirdly, I don’t have as much of a problem with the boys. I guess it’s because it was primarily those four girls who bullied me. At first… Not so much later on, but at first, I hated Abey, simply because of my irrational bias.”

Lou then turned towards me. Seeing as we were so close together, her face was only an inch or two away from mine at most. “That’s about it for the story. Any questions?”

“...” I felt like I should say something heartfelt here, but I didn’t really know what to say.

…Well, words are stupid anyway. I pet her on the head. I kept on and kept on petting, running my fingers through her hair, swishing her ahoge back and forth, trying to implant as much of a heartfelt reply into the motion as I could. Before finally, hand parted from head, and I said “I don’t really have any questions, I guess…”

With how much she talked, it was hard for me to have any questions.

Although, I also got the sense that I was supposed to say something motivational here. Like, 'oh, just keep going, you can learn to trust people again!'. But frankly, the entire tale hit too close to home for me to say something like that. Sure, I'd never been bullied to that extent... 

I merely thought my way into distrusting others.

Lou definitely distrusted people more than I did, but as someone who's incredibly pessimistic, I'd be lying if I said my mind didn't have a habit of coming up with ulterior motives for people's actions towards me.

“I guess I will say this though,” I continued. I tried to give her a heartfelt smile, and then said “I’m glad you were able to open up to Abey, even if it was just a little bit.”

“Honestly, last night gave me a lot to think about," Lou said. "Crying in Misted Point… talking to a grade school girl again… Abey in particular really got to me. I demonized her so much in my head… I hated her so much. I hated that she had so much power over us, that our entire futures were in her hands… Yet in reality, she was just some chill goof who's as much of a delinquent as we are. That disconnect really made me reconsider a lot of things.”

All of a sudden, Lou smiled. “Hey, Rocco.”


“I’ma be real with you. I know my distrust of people is irrational. My rational brain knows that I need to have some ability to trust others in order to navigate society, and I know that my current level of trust isn’t nearly enough. But I don’t think I’ll be able to face the world with enthusiasm for a long time. It’ll be a long struggle before I’ll be able to tell a random guy on the street to have a schmorbop schmursday.


“But tonight, I think I’m gonna call Abey! She seems like a good kid! And besides, we’re friends now, aren’t we? And since we’re friends… it’s only right that I not be deadpan around her. And Rocco... if I take things one step at a time, and slowly gain more and more acquaintances who I can trust... won't I be able to change?”

The second Lou voiced her intent to change, I felt intensely relieved. Like I was about to melt into a goopy, formless puddle that looked vaguely joyful. 

I couldn't stop myself from grinning. "I think you can!". I don't even know why, but I threw up a peace sign on top of it!

Actually, I’d been feeling things throughout Lou’s entire exposition sequence. Of course I did.

I like Lou, so hearing that those things happened to her… of course it’d make me feel for her. Of course it’d make me feel actual emotion.

As someone who’s rather estranged from this whole feeling thing, and because each feeling hit me in disorientingly rapid succession, for much of the emotions I felt, it was difficult for me to pin down specifically why I felt each emotion I did. But even if I couldn't explain why I felt them, well…

I’m glad just to relive this long-forgotten experience of mine— emotions. But although I say it’s long-forgotten, I can’t help but remember—

How recently, things have been changing.

For the two of us, apparently.