Born to Die (Young)

by Maureen Flanagan, age 14
Born to Die (Young) Maureen likes writing and sleeping and coming home after school.

“There’s a glock in my hands, and I look at it. I weigh it, shifting it from one hand to the other, letting them crack under the pressure and fall as the gun swivels each time whatever Drake song is playing drops a beat.”

There’s a glock in my hands, and I look at it. I weigh it, shifting it from one hand to the other, letting them crack under the pressure and fall as the gun swivels each time whatever Drake song is playing drops a beat. It might be “God’s Plan” or something. I’m not sure. Even though that came out in January, back when I was in Quebec City skiing with my friends and I didn’t have a semi-automatic pistol made to kill in my hands.

But things change. Oh well, whatever.

I lay the pistol flat on the square ends of the marble sink and stare at myself in the mirror, running my hands through blue hair and pining for July to be over. The tattooed letters on my fingers and rose on my cheek stare back at me, and if those didn’t tell you I think I’m something, the electric blue hair I’m kicking definitely should. It’s fake, obviously. So it doesn’t fade or anything. It’s just there, draping down to my ribcage in strands, as blue as it was two weeks ago when I swapped the pink out for something different.

I look… I place my fingers to my temples and lock hazel eyes with myself, daring to finish that thought. I look rough. I wouldn’t have been caught dead like this four years ago. It’s just some black ripped jeans, a camisole, and high tops. It’s a fine outfit. But it’s just that. It’s just fine. Fame does some crazy things to you, man. Some part of me shakes thinking a paparazzi is going to find me in this bathroom at a random party and post an article about how I’m “letting myself go.”

I look at the gun. I’m doing a lot of things — I shift my gaze to the tiled ceiling and lick my lips — but letting myself go is not one of them. If only they knew. Haha. I can’t imagine how many articles they’d write on my “questionable role model status.”

BREAKING NEWS: 23-Year-Old Singer, Jolee Theodora Ortiz, Stage Name: Common Daisy, Charged With Illegal Possession Of Firearm, Sentencing Awaits.

And then they’d have two or so pictures of me bent on a cop car with cuffs being snapped on. If that ever happens, I have to smile. For the camera. Or stick my tongue out, you know, something dumb like that — no matter what I’m going down for. I made a dare with Leslie a million years ago, and I do what I say I’m going to do. My strategy so far has just been to not get arrested.

I’m not doing so good at that now, though. I wince, realizing my problems definitely wouldn’t just end at being caught. I put my body weight into my arms and push off the counter, leaning into the closed toilet behind me, taking up as much space as physically possible. Usually I just wait for someone to knock or something. I’m not all that eager to leave anyway.

In the meantime I close my eyes and listen to the music. I’m so far, and yet it’s still so, so loud. But it sounds exactly how party music from a bathroom should sound. That’s familiar to me by now. Like home. It’s kind of calming — I mean I’ve been going to parties like these since I was thirteen. I can’t tell if they’ve gotten worse or better since then. The more I grow up, the more those lines become blurred.

Quickly I realize it’s “Nice For What.” As popular and played out as it is, it’s still a great song.

A woody thud echos in an empty room.

The door shakes as someone bangs on it ridiculously hard. My heart drops to my stomach — oh god, I think to myself before moving, if they break it down right now, I’m infinitely done for. There’s a gun — an illegal gun — that is not my gun, out right there on the sink, and here I am just sitting waiting to be caught and rot in prison.

I scramble to stand up, put the gun behind my belt, and open the door in one motion. My entire body shakes all over as I do so.

Parting my lips and widening my eyes, to say “Heyyy you scared me haha” or “could you hit it any harder,” or “sorry,” or any variation of that, I frown when I realize who it actually is. My best friend. My best friend trying to scare me, because we’re best friends, and because he thrives off of other people’s discomfort and milliseconds of fear right after he yells behind them in a staircase.

The best way I can describe the awful grin he has on his face right now is :). But evil. >:).

“HEY,” he says cupping his mouth to amplify that nothing word, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”

Everything in parties is always in caps.

I think. What am I doing here. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” I redirect. I am left answerless.

“LOOKING FOR YOU!”

“YOU’RE WEIRDDDDD,” I say stretching out the the end to make it stand out.

YOU’RE WEIRD!”

“HOW?”

“HIDING ALONE. IN A PARTY. THAT’S WEIRD.”

“STALKING ME IN A PARTY IS WEIRDER.”

“NO IT ISN’T.”

“YEAH. IT IS.”

His eyebrows furrow down at me. If I wasn’t craning my head back at a 90° angle, I’d be staring right at the rose print on his left breast pocket. I’m not even short. In fact I’m kind of tall for a girl, I’m 5’7”, but Leslie is just something else. Standing at a hard 6’3” on an easy day, him and his pale skin and shaggy bleached hair tower over me. If I didn’t grow up with him and watch him go through every inch below what he’s at now, I’d almost be scared of him. He’s not a scary dude, just tall and cocky. But it works.

He grabs my wrist. His chipped black nail polish and the orange gels I got yesterday almost go nicely together, despite the infinite differences. “LETS GO?”

I shrug, and he starts taking me through the party, doing the hard parts for me. He pushes past moshes of bodies, people who should be here and people who shouldn’t. Guys and girls. Tall people. Short people. Mediums. I see some people I know, occasionally I wave or do a peace sign or something, but most of them aren’t looking my way or at me. I see the guy I got the gun from. I should have thanked him more. He could be taller than Leslie, and he’s a big body — just… I can tell he lifts. I picked up that it probably isn’t just a hobby. It’s not like he has tear drops or anything, but I mean I just texted him asking for a gun, and he was like, got u. He didn’t even ask what for. Just said he was coming here, and I was like same, and then he was like meet me in the back, and I was like okay, and now I have a gun.

I promised myself I wouldn’t get mixed up with guys like that in high school. But he isn’t bad. I’m sure he made that same promise to himself when he was fourteen or so. You realize something as you grow up, though. Most of the bad guys you’re scared of aren’t really bad. I don’t believe anyone is just wholly bad. Some of them are born into it, or don’t have a choice — sometimes that’s just the way things are, and some of them just did it because everyone else was doing it.

I look away from him and listen to the music for a second.

“I understand, you got a hunnid bands

You got a baby Benz, you got some bad friends

High school pics, you was even bad then”

I don’t really think I’m interpreting that right, but that’s the thing about good artists. Their songs become yours. That’s the type I always wanted to be. My lyrics become what you’ve been trying to say your whole life.

Whether or not the artist originally meant bad as in bad, I took it that way. I think eventually you have to stop and think about whether you have bad friends, or if you just have friends. If you go at it long enough, things change.

“You either die a hero… ”

Anyway, he has olive skin, and his hair’s orange or something. He’s a nice guy. I think he’s got some songs out too, we could collab or something.

If I live to see it that is.

My sweaty hands trace the phone in my pocket, suddenly remembering why I have metal pressed against my hip and met him in the first place. I’ve never been more scared in my life, and nobody knows it.

And nobody knows it.

God, I don’t know how Leslie’s acting fine. I know he’s scared. How could you not be? If I could fake feelings that good, I’d never have the media on me. But I can’t. And that’s why I do.

All. The. Time.

You never see anything about Leslie Dean Gustav in the news. Even if you did, they’d probably use his stage name, anyway. “The Wraithe.” I think it’s ‘cause the whole world likes him more. But I don’t have beef with him for that. He deserves it, and I know it.

Nausea in my stomach bubbles. My heartbeat starts to hurt. I don’t want him to die. He’s too good for this world, man. I know if he dies or I die or Olivia or the-guy-with-the-orange-hair dies, to the world it’ll just be another young, trash rapper who got what they deserved. Because we’re dangerous, right? Because we chose the wrong people and made the wrong decisions and set ourselves up to die young, and it’s our fault, and we got what we deserved, and you’re not sorry, and it was called for.

I wonder if they’d even investigate our deaths. It’s like… just because we’re not perfect, we’re not people. Like, I’m sorry your kid likes my songs with cusses in it. I’m sorry I do drugs and go to parties. I’m sorry you don’t think me and my friends are worthy of living in your world.

It wouldn’t matter so much if it was just me. But we’re all treated like this. My friends are good people… but nobody cares because we have tattoos, and they don’t like our music. Ugh.

I wonder how many other people got the text. I grit my teeth. I wonder how many other people I love are in danger.

Nobody deserves to die like that.

It taunts my mind. I wish the fact it was only a text made it less scary, but it doesn’t.

“I promise one of you will die tonight.”

I feel like crying and screaming and throwing myself on the floor, preaching how none of us asked to live the lives we live, and this is what we get… I want to point out how everyone in this room is under thirty, and any one of them could be in danger right now, with their life threatened. I want to be treated like a person. I want to do so much, but I can’t. If I tried to make a difference no one would care anyway. Ouch.

Leslie pulls me in front of Olivia, forcing me to smile — not because I’m being fake or anything. I just like Olivia. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, even if she’s at this party. Even though she’s just like me and the red-headed boy.

“HEYYYYYYYY!” she screams, flashing her perfect smile and using her her yellow gel nails to push back hair that falls on her shoulder tattoos. “I MISSED YOU.” I was gone for like… ten minutes.

I pull her into a hug. She could have been texted too. She could die tonight.

She smells like watermelon, and her breath tastes like ice cream. She’s soft. No matter how much she talks and how big she tries to come off as, she’s just soft and pretty and nice, and I love her. Everyone who’s ever really met her, loves her too.

“I MISSED YOU TOO,” I say, and I did. She pulls away, and in front of me the two people I care about most in the world stand, flashing in blue and red, smiling at me. God, if he towers over me, I can’t even explain what standing next to her looks like. Olivia is 5’3”. I tower over her. He is a foot taller than her.

And yet despite their differences, they still get along. Neither one of them wants the other dead because they’re different. Wild…

Leslie does the circle-hand thing we used to do in middle school from under his waist and catches her, and lightly taps her in the shoulder. She uses every cuss in the book after that. She is angry and vengeful, yet still somehow beautiful.

“UGHHHHHHH!” she exclaims. I pull her close to me and put an arm around her, catching Leslie with the hand to that arm. I move her to the side, and jump, attempting to hit him in the face as hard as I possibly can. But I don’t do fight classes or anything, so he blocks it easy, and then we’re just roughhousing.

Olivia smiles and pets our heads. I can tell she’s about to go somewhere else. We’re all close, but in a different kind of way. She respects that. Just another reason why she’s perfect. “WELL, I’LL SEE YOU GUYS LATER, OKAY?”

“SEE YOU,” Leslie and I say simultaneously. Because this is just a party. When it ends, everyone will group off with their actual friends and fall asleep in lofts and stuff. We will see her later.

And then I remember. Will I see her later?

I can feel myself start to get sick again. I wonder if other people can tell — do I look green? Or gray or white? Am I losing my color? Do I look like I’m about to break down, I mean, can people tell that I’m about to break down.

I think Leslie can. When I look from the floor up, I see his expression. It’s full of love and fear and empathy and compassion.

“HEY.” He pulls me up — not to eye level of course, but we almost were for a second. Almost.

“HEY.”

“LET’S GO OUTSIDE?”

That’s why we’re best friends. I smile to the floor and nod, the universal “I couldn’t have said it better myself,” and start to follow him. He grabs his flannel zipper hoodie, the one I steal in the winter, off the racks, and throws the door open. He could take me anywhere. Even though he’s just taking me to the dumpsters to talk or something, he could take me anywhere, and I’d let him. I trust him with my life. I would do anything for him. Anything, anything, anything.

Going down we stay close, but we’re mostly quiet, ‘cause there’s still a lot of people right outside the door and stuff. That must suck for whoever lives near here. Is that why people would let us die? Because we throw a lot of parties?

I guess I’ll never know.

The cool sting of the air hits me, and he throws his hoodie my way. Oh. He brought it for me.

“You’re my best friend… ” I say wondrously, deciding not to cage my thoughts for a second.

He smiles, sitting outside the exit door and motioning for me to sit down next to him.

“I know.”

He’s looking ahead of me, probably lost in thought too, and for a second I wonder if he really does know or not. I feel like “best friend” isn’t even a good enough title for what he is to me. More like… platonic soulmates. My soulmate. We’ve been through everything together, and if we hadn’t, I don’t think I’d be alive right now. I never say it, but I think he knows it. He’s just never cocky where it counts, you know? I love that about him.

It only makes sense we’d get our lives threatened by the same people together, too. Sad but true. Sad.

True.

I frown. “Hey man… ” He looks over and nods, his blue eyes piercing through me — but in a good way. A safe way. Somehow he makes blue eyes seem softer than they are. “Bro, I have a gun on me right now.”

His eyes kind of “gasp” if that makes sense. “No kidding…”

I clench my hands together. He doesn’t really have the right to be all that shocked or anything, considering our lives are in danger, so his reaction is lackluster. But it still hurts. I would consider it out of character for me, I know he does, but more and more I question that. Maybe I just changed characters. Maybe I’m the person I wouldn’t be in high school.

I purse my lips together and nod, feeling tears swell and choke me, knowing I won’t be able to say any other smart thing tonight. He pulls my head to his chest. We just sit for a while like that.

I cry, and then I stop. Everything is blotched. Nothing exists but us. I try my best to stop thinking about everything wrong with the world and focus on the good that surrounds me right here in this moment, but even when I do that, I just think about him dying. Us dying.

I notice he hasn’t stopped looking forward since we got here, so with his arm around me I pull away. I look where he’s looking. And then I see the billboard in spotlights.

I look back to him. He says nothing. His jaw is gritted, and his body around me is tense, though. I know that he’s lost in thought about now. I bury my head in the crook of his neck. Issa Kilman-West. He goes by Logan now. His fans know him as Logan.

But his best friends know him as “fake.”

It wasn’t just Leslie and I growing up. It wasn’t just Leslie and I till fairly recently, actually. That hurt for awhile. I’m lying. It still hurts now.

But I’d never let Leslie or Issa know that, because I can’t. I have one person now. And we have Olivia. But that’s different.

No matter how many of my childhood and teen or young adult memories are tainted with a human being I loved and love no longer, I have Leslie now, and that’s enough.

He really is in a lot of memories, though… just us three.

We got our first bad scrapes the same day together when we were ten and found a scooter. We slowly learned together that we lived in a bad place with bad families watching sitcoms, and Disney channel. We realized how different things were there. They were really different.

Issa and I were there every day Leslie got bullied — it got out he had kissed a boy, and we stood up for him. We tried. We were both scrawny and stupid and self-conscious, but we stood up for him. We loved him, and supported him. We were there when that boy broke his heart. Leslie and I helped Issa through addiction, and they shared taking me in when I couldn’t stay with my mom and the string of boyfriends I had to call dad, anymore. There will never be another person like Issa to me. Or to either of us.

But one day, he looked in the mirror and decided he just had friends. He didn’t want to be bad anymore. I didn’t think he was bad. Then.

But he hated the scrapes on his face and chains on his neck. So he left. And along with whether or not I thought he was bad, everything else changed too.

It was an unspoken thing, but back then, him and Issa were closer than us. It has to be harder on him. I hold him closer. He doesn’t react.

“I don’t think you’re bad,” I say into his chest, wondering if he can even hear me. “I’m sorry.”

My apology is on Issa’s behalf. He never said sorry, so I say it all the time.

And so we’re in silence again. Sometimes crying, sometimes not. And then I hear it. A gunshot.

A ricochet to the sidewalk. Loud. Booming. Terrifying and horrible, I realize that no one upstairs could hear us over Drake, and no one around here is up. One of us is going to die. One of us is going to die.

I hope it’s me.

It was stupid of us to come out here. It was stupid to think we had the privilege of being safe on a sidewalk. I reach for the gun, but my hands are shaking, and I was too scared some five hours ago to realize I don’t even know how to use it. But I can try. Or I can give it to him. Or I can just collapse into a ball and ready myself for whatever Hell I’m going to.

He pulls me up immediately, placing me behind him as he takes the glock from me and leans on the wall. That’s as much as I can describe. Everything after that is nothing. It’s too loud and too fast, and I want to cry too much, but I can’t. I can’t even breathe. I think Olivia comes. And someone else, maybe… does it matter? But the next thing I know I’m holding my best friend in my arms backwards, and he’s alive, but his blood makes my camisole red.

Olivia’s face is an inch from mine when I look up. She isn’t smiling anymore. She’s covered in blood. Her mascara is dripping off her cheeks, and she presses her cold hand to my forehead. She’s saying something, but I can’t hear her. I can’t even tell if there’s a ringing in my ears or not. I can’t hear anything. I can just see… God I can see, everything.

She uses both her hands to comb my hair behind my ears, and she motions for me to stand up. But I can’t. So whatever male figure is behind her puts his phone away, picks Leslie up, and takes his shirt off. He starts ripping it into little pieces, focusing on one area close to his left shoulder but not quite.

Oh. He’s trying to stop blood circulation. Because my best friend was shot. And they don’t want him to die. Leslie and I watched Grey’s Anatomy together. I know that. Most of the time there are two patients in every episode, and one of them dies. I can’t feel my body anymore. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

The red-headed boy with my gun in his back pocket looks to me, then to Olivia, and he says something I can’t hear. I think he asked for help. I think his name is Darryl. Olivia leaves my side. I would crawl over, too, if I wanted to see what my bloodied up in pain or unconscious best friend looks like. But I don’t. So I sit, and I stare blankly in his hoodie.

I can’t swallow anymore. Leslie isn’t a kid. He’s twenty-four. He failed Spanish four years in a row and barely graduated. But he isn’t stupid. He tried in school. I watched him for fourteen years. Try.

He had freckles growing up, and his hair was corn yellow. He gets sunburnt and not tanned. He falls in love too easily. He’s never satisfied with the music he makes. Clothes don’t make him happy. The fame didn’t change him. He’s not a bad person. He’s not a bad person.

Bad people get shot. Bad people get shot by bad people, and they die. Usually. Most of the time.

But Leslie isn’t a bad person. Leslie isn’t a bad person. He’s my soulmate. He’s my best friend. But Leslie just got shot.

They won’t use his name in the articles. They’ll use “Wraith,” and call him a mumble rapper with a few hit songs, and they’ll say, “died young.” They might even call him a druggie. Or a thug. They won’t talk about how he lights up when he smiles, or how he wants to save kids from killing themselves the way he wanted to growing up. They won’t talk about me. Or Issa. They’ll ask us for one sentence, and then in a year, everyone will forget, but the people who actually loved him will remember.

I watch them take him in the ambulance. Part of me is furious they didn’t ask me to go with him, but I couldn’t. I have a feeling they’re sending another one for me or something. I don’t think I was hurt. If someone was rating me physically, I’d probably be a ten.

But sitting on the cold cement, leaning on a brick wall, I feel anything but fine. I don’t even think I have a feeling. I’m not crying, I’m not screaming, I’m not angry, I’m not sad. I’m not thinking about my bleeding friend. I can’t remember what happened. I realize I’m probably in shock. Olivia and the redhead boy drive away in the same direction as the ambulance, and they leave me there.

Why am I alone? Why did they leave me here?

I don’t care. I would put myself in a ball right now, with my head in my knees, but I can’t use my body. So I just sit. I hope I die here.

I feel tires screech against the road. Almost annoyed, I look to the left and see black Vans and black pants. They’re ripped, but skinny fit and almost formal. I look up a bit. A black tee shirt, and black hair. Black eyes. Issa.

There’s the man I hate most in the world, right in front of me, but all at once I don’t want to cuss him out. I don’t hate him. He looks a lot cleaner now… but he looks a lot more broken. A line of tears falls down his steady face. Guess he knows. I look up at him, and my eyes say everything I can’t.

“What are you doing here?”

Anyone else in the world would check to make sure I’m okay or ask me a million questions that I can’t hear… or apologize. Try to fix things. I haven’t seen him since we were twenty-one.

But without saying anything, he picks me up and pulls me to his chest. He’s 6’0’. I almost reach his neck.

That’s what best friends do. They know what you need more than yourself.

He feels like home. He smells like he did when we were ten, and I thought I got married and then got divorced to Jack from school in the same day, and when I was sixteen and had to move out, and suddenly I’m not angry at him. Not even just not surface angry, but deep in my soul, in my heart, in my being, I’m not angry at him. I’m not hurt by him. I even hope he doesn’t feel guilty. He wanted to fix himself, and I understand that. For the first time, I realized he probably missed us as much as we unspokenly missed him. He loves us.

If Leslie dies, he’ll die angry at Issa. That’s so much weight to carry. I hold him tighter, using my body. I wish I could tell him that Leslie still loved him. Deep down I still loved him too. I can’t say I was ever really, really mad… and then I repeat that. If Leslie dies. If Leslie dies. If Leslie dies if Leslie dies if Leslie dies if Leslie dies if Leslie dies.

Immediately I miss not having any emotions. I can feel the heat build up in my stomach, and tears start hitting his shirt before I even know I’m crying. Then I’m not crying, I’m sobbing. Wailing. Holding him as tight as I can, I’m happy I can’t hear myself. All I can do is scream and cry and put all my body weight into him, so he supports me up. If he got shot, Leslie and I would be right there, too. If he ever called us, we’d be there. He almost lost both of us.

I have never cried so deeply in my life. I can’t stop, I can’t breathe, I can’t feel the tears forming. I can feel my ugly crying noises shake my body, and I can feel his tears hit the top of my head, too. Even through the fake blue. I pound his chest with my knuckles.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair it’s not fair it’s not fair it’s not fair.

I struggle for air. I think I hear Issa say he’s sorry. I run my hands through his dreads.

It’s okay.”

I open my eyes, and all I see is darkness. And all I feel is cold and soaked. I promise, I think to myself, and if I could speak, I would say it — I promise the world will rue this day. I promise I’m going to do everything in my power and use every ounce of influence I have to make everybody know that everybody is worthy of life. I’ll fight for it. I will die for it.

The world is cold but not this cold. Something has to change. Snot runs down from my nose.

I purse my lips together. Issa and Leslie and I. We’re gonna change this world.

They won’t use his name in the articles. But I’ll use it in mine.

Nobody deserves to die like that.

 

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