The companion to The Dead Inside, “[An] unnerving and heartrending memoir” – Publishers Weekly

“Etler’s gutsy present-tense narration of her feelings of insecurity and isolation is interwoven with the sublime moments of joy she experiences in music, in writing, and in her relationships; her prose dazzles with infectious verve. A powerful story of a survivor whose irrepressible personality shines throughout even her darkest moments.” – Kirkus

“This is a gritty, hard-hitting, and, for many readers, unfortunately necessary exploration of what’s really behind the lures of self-destructive behaviors, and what real recovery is and isn’t.” – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Fans of Girl in Pieces, The Way I Used to Be, Thirteen Reasons Why, and Girl, Interrupted will love this YA memoir.

Discover how one teen readjusted to high school after 16 months of incarceration in the Troubled Teen Industry. Exploring themes of peer pressure, eating disorders, date rape, and narcissistic parenting, We Can’t Be Friends is relatable for everyone who wishes they had an escape hatch from life. 

High school sucks for a lot of people. High school extra sucks when you believe, deep in your soul, that every kid in the school is out to get you. I wasn’t popular before I got locked up in Straight Inc., the notorious “tough love” program for troubled teens. So it’s not like I was walking around thinking everyone liked me.

But when you’re psychologically beaten for sixteen months, you start to absorb the lessons. The lessons in Straight were: You are evil. Your peers are evil. Everything is evil except Straight, Inc. Before long, you’re a true believer.

And when you’re finally released, sent back into the world, you crave safety. Crave being back in the warehouse. And if you can’t be there, you’d rather be dead.

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A look inside…

A Good Night Turned Bad

Damien pushes a new tape into the stereo and Information Society’s sharp chemical sounds take over the oxygen and my heartbeat. I don’t have to be dancing to escape. I can be in a fast car with loud music to forget everything. When the acid beat of “What’s On Your Mind” takes over the speakers, my seat is throbbing and he’s shifting and pushing the car faster and higher and I need to scream or explode because my skin can’t contain me. If he could hear me I’d beg him to please keep driving fast and hard and loud like this forever.

And he does. He drives and drives for the whole album, and it’s ecstasy until he jerks the car into a dark driveway and stops.

“Where are we?”

“Weston,” he says. He switches off the car and gets out, so I do too.

Weston is quiet. Weston is dark. Weston is rich. Weston is far.

“Um…what’re we doing here?”

“It’s 2:00 in the morning. I’m tired.”

That’s his whole answer. He opens a door and goes in the house.

But I don’t. I stand there in my home economics skirt and my pump heels and my freezing, bare arms, and my thoughts come back. They come back like, Where the fuck am I?

And like, Weston, idiot.

And like, Yeah, but why am I here?

And like, Because you’re fucking stupid.

And like, But it felt so good! It was so fun! I needed an escape!

And like, Every party’s gotta end.

And like, So what do I do now?

And like,

And like, Hello? Help?

And like,

I go up to the door and knock, which seems stupid and weird. Then I open the door and go, “Hello?” which also seems stupid and weird.

He appears in the doorway leading to the next room, wearing, swear to God, a paisley silk robe.      

“What are you doing out there, sitting zazen?” he asks.

“Ummm…could you…could you take me back to Club 12?”

“Tomorrow, I will. I’m tired,” he says, and goes into the other room. The light in that room goes off.

 I’ve never seen a taxi in Weston. I’ve never seen a taxi anywhere in Connecticut. I reach my hand in my bag to feel for my car keys, to know I’ll be able to get myself home. Just, tomorrow. To know I’ll be fine. Tomorrow.

There’s a little thump-thump behind me, and a cat starts rubbing against my legs. Cats are good. Cats are safe. She lets me pet her once, then she walks out of the room. So I follow her. She leads me to a bedroom. Where he’s lying in a bed.

“I, um…” I say from the doorway.

“I know. I’m not going to try anything. Remember me saying I was tired? I meant that. Come on.” He pats the bed. “You’re safe.”

The cat jumps up next to him, which seems like a sign. So I step out of my pumps and lie down on the far-far-away-from-him edge of the bed. Because it’s like 3:00 AM now. And I got myself into this. And I don’t have a way out.

He turns off the light and turns over on his side with his back toward me. The kitty comes up and pushes her face against mine. I pet her. She purrs. His breaths go deep and even. I guess he wasn’t lying. I guess I’m really safe.

I fall asleep knowing my mother’s house is double-locked. I fall asleep in a bed, not in a car’s backseat. I fall asleep with my hand in soft kitty fur.

I wake up with him on top of me. “Damien.” His face is even whiter, even waxier, in the daylight. He’s not kissing me. He’s not looking at me. But he’s touching me. Hard. He’s squeezing my boobs like they’re not-ripe-enough fruit and he’s mad about it. He’s ripping my stockings to get them open. He’s holding me down by the shoulders. I’m trying to go Hulk. I’m trying to get him off me. But I can’t.

He pushes himself against me down there, where he tore my stockings. And it hurts. It feels like a brick. I’m crying and telling him, “I’m not! I’m scared! I only—stop!

He doesn’t look at me. He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t stop. He holds me in place with an arm bone across my shoulders, my neck; he holds himself up with his hand hard-squeezing my fruit. And he bricks me. He breaks me. I stop trying to fight him and I go away. I go away. I’m forgetting this already.

We Can’t Be Friends by Cyndy Etler

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