When it rains I often think of Lingzi. She once told me about
a poem that went: "Rain falling in the spring, / Is heaven and
earth making love." These lines were a puzzle to us, but Lingzi
and I spent a lot of time trying to unravel various problems.
We might be trying to figure out germs, or the fear of heights,
or even a phrase like "Love is a fantasy you have while smoking
your third cigarette." Lingzi was my high school desk mate,
and she had a face like a white sheet of paper. Her pallor was
an attitude, a sort of trance.
Those days are still fresh in my mind. I was a melancholy girl
who loved to eat chocolate and did poorly in school. I collected
candy wrappers, and I would use these, along with boxes that
had once contained vials of medicine, to make sunglasses.
Soon after the beginning of our second year of high school,
Lingzi's hair started to look uneven, with a short clump here, a longer hank
there. There were often scratch marks on her face. Lingzi had always been
extremely quiet, but now her serenity had become strange. She told me she was
sure that one of the boys in our class was watching her. She said he gave her
steamy lookssteamy was the word she used, and I remember exactly how she said
it. She was constantly being encircled by his gaze, she said. It made her think
all kinds of unwholesome, selfish thoughts. She insisted that it was absolutely
out of the question for her to let anything distract her from her studies.
Lingzi believed that this boy was watching her because she was pretty. This
filled her with feelings of shame. Since being pretty was the problem, she had
decided to make herself ugly, convinced that this would set her back on the
right path. She was sure that if she were ugly, then no one would look at her
anymore; and if nobody was looking at her, then she could concentrate on her
studies. Lingzi said she had to study hard, since, as all of us knew, the only
guarantee of a bright future was to gain admission to a top university.
Throughout the term, Lingzi continued to alter her
appearance in all kinds of bizarre ways. People quit speaking to her. In the
end most of our classmates avoided her altogether.
As for me, I didn't think that Lingzi had been that pretty
to begin with. I felt that I understood hershe was simply too high-strung. Our
school was a "key school," and it was fairly common for a student at a school
like ours to have a sudden nervous breakdown. Anyway, it wasn't clear to me how
I could help Lingzi. She seemed so calm and imperturbable.
Then one day Lingzi didn't come to school. And from then on,
her seat remained empty. The rumor was that she had violent tendencies. Her
parents had had to tie her up with rope and take her to a mental hospital.
Everyone started saying that Lingzi had "gone crazy." I
started eating chocolate with a vengeance, and that was the beginning of my bad
habit of bingeing on chocolate whenever I'm anxious or upset. Even today,
eleven years later, I haven't been able to break this habit, with the result
that I have a very serious blood sugar problem.
I sneaked into the hospital to see her. One Saturday
afternoon, wearing a red waterproof sweat suit, I slipped in through the
chain-link fence of the mental hospital. In truth, I'm sure I could have used
the main entrance. Although it was winter, I brought Lingzi her favorite
Baby-Doll brand ice cream, along with some preserved olives and salty dried
plums. I sat compulsively eating my chocolates while she ate her ice cream and
sweet olives. All of the other patients on the ward were adults. I did most of
the talking, and whenever I finished saying something, no matter what the
subject was, Lingzi would laugh. Lingzi had a clear, musical laugh, just like
bells ringing. But on this day her laughter simply struck me as weird.
What did Lingzi talk about? She kept repeating the same
thing over and over: The drugs they give you in this hospital make you fat.
Really, really fat.
Sometime later I heard that Lingzi had left the hospital.
Her parents made a series of pleas to the school, asking the teachers to inform
everyone that Lingzi was not being allowed any visitors.
One rainy afternoon, the news of Lingzi's death reached our
school. People said that her parents had gone out one day, and a boy had taken
advantage of their absence. He had brought Lingzi a bouquet of fresh flowers.
This was 1986, and there were only two flower stands in all of Shanghai, both
newly opened. That night, Lingzi slashed her wrists in the bathroom of her
family's apartment. People said that she died standing.
This terrible event hastened my deterioration into a "problem
I quit trusting anything that anyone told me. Aside from the
food that I put into my mouth, there was nothing I believed in. I had lost
faith in everything. I was only sixteen, but my life was over. F---ing over.
Strange days overtook me, and I grew idle. I let myself go,
feeling that I had more time on my hands than I knew what to
do with. Indolence made my voice increasingly gravelly. I started
to explore my body, either in front of the mirror or at my desk.
I had no desire to understand itI only wanted to experience
Facing the mirror and looking at myself, I saw my own desire
in all its unfamiliarity. When I secretly pressed my sex up against the cold
corner of my desk, I sometimes felt a pleasurable spasm. Just as it had been
the first time, my early experiences of this "joy" were often beyond my
This was the beginning of my wasted youth. After that
winter, Lingzi's lilting laughter would constantly trail behind me, pursuing me
as I fled headlong into a boundless darkness.
• On the Edge
• Rock and Roll Romance
• Escape to the Open City
• Return to Intro
back to top
from CANDY by Mian Mian. Copyright © 2003 by Shen
Wang; Translation Copyright © 2003 by Andrea Lingenfelter.
By permission of Little, Brown and Company Inc. All rights reserved.
To purchase copies of this book, please call 1.800.759.0190.