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It isn’t easy to remember what my life was like before. Before the numbness and the beatings. Before the death. Before I was a walking cliché with perfect bags under my eyes.
And yet I do remember. I remember how easy it was. I saw the world through a rose-colored glass. I had every reason to. I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, the only child of a successful Jewish surgeon and a former beauty queen. I had three Versace purses by the time I was twelve. My friends and I would write shocking things on the mirrors of our school bathrooms in red Prada lipstick, a sign of our rebellion. My life was so simple. When I remember it, I miss only the simplicity.
I remember the first time I took dex, although it wasn’t memorable. I was at a dinner party with my mom at the country club. She kept handing me glass after glass of champagne, pushing it on me to make it less appealing. I laughed and flitted with the daughters of her friends until I was too tipsy to do so. I went outside and sat on the stone stairs, sick and starry-eyed.
I remember just what she looked like when I first saw her. She was mousy, beautiful in the youngest way, wearing a black dress that draped over her thin legs. She said it so nonchalantly. It came as a breeze from her flowered mouth, as a curse from her flint-grey eyes.
“Want some dex?” she asked. I shrugged a drunken shrug. Who was this girl? What was dex, and who really cared? My open hand found a box of Cough and Cold, nestled in my lifeline, sitting upright.
Mystery-girl passed me a bottle of Pellegrino, and I washed down twenty of those suckers in zero time, a reckless fizz in my stomach, a new burning in my throat. The lights grew brighter, the sounds grew louder, the steps I sat on grew harder and colder. My movements looked jerky to me; my arm robotically raised and lowered. My face was numb. The trees started to move. I stopped feeling anything.
What seemed like weeks later, I asked the tiny girl her name. Her voice came clear and shrilling through a slow, murky world. “Ryelle,” she said, her hands leaving trails in the air as she moved them. “This stuff can really mess you up.”
Well, that was certainly the truth.
I remember waking up in my bed the next morning, worried at the way my stomach lurched. The walls of my room closed in on me. The sun was blinding. I tried to walk but I flew instead. I was flying, flying slowly, flying slowly across my room. My mouth tasted like cardboard.
I was still high.
For three days, I winged in interments, my feet barely ever touching the ground. I threw up everything I ate without even trying. I lost three pounds.
I remember going back to the club on Friday, looking for Ryelle, wanting her companionship and the high in equal amounts. When I found her, she tossed me another box of Coricidin Cough and Cold, without a word or even an implication.
“So what’s your name?” she asked, leaning against the railing, looking like a child with her shapeless, thin, body.
“Emmette,” I answered. I remember that my eyes were closed, and yet I still felt my feet leaving the ground.
“I like you,” she said, frankness in her manner, in her small voice. “I like how you look good in gold and no one else does.” I laughed at her. She laughed with me. She shrugged. “This stuff is probably bad for you, somehow.”
“I don’t care,” I insisted, wobbling on my new legs. “I love this. I love to fly.”
I remember when Ryelle told me that she was a part of a “drug family” that was centered around Seattle, far from our rich Washington neighborhoods. I remember her telling me their name, and me laughing at how cheesy it sounded, like a kid’s soccer team name. “The Red Devils”, she said. I snorted from laughing so hard.
I remember when I met the people that lived in the main house, the ones that more or less claimed themselves the leaders of The Red Devil’s. They were nineteen and twenty year olds. The most memorable were June and Cameron, a couple that could not be more opposite if they were north and South Pole magnets. June wore jumpers and flitted around worrying about everyone like a mother. Cameron was leather-clad and possessed a horrible temper. They worked so well together. I remember loving that about them. It was really the only thing I ever loved about them.
I remember my first party at “the home”. June and her friend Elizabeth insisted that I come, as though it was a Tupperware party, as though it was innocent fun.
I remember that I sat in my own corner with Ryelle, popping the evil-looking red pills like they were candy. They were our candy; our harmless treat. I remember how we talked about where our lives were going to go as Cameron and his friend Adam eyed us warily. We felt no fear as they looked at us.
“I love this kind of life,” I mused to her. She nodded in agreement.
“I love it too. I love how freeing this feels. How free we really are,” and I think that we really believed that.
I remember Cameron approaching where we sat. He dragged me to my feet, laughing at my dazed expression. I remember his fingers clenching, his rough knuckles baring their teeth, his wiry arm rising, but I don’t remember the blows. I laughed at how he pushed me down and I did not feel the floor. I laughed at how Adam’s foot found my stomach and I did not feel the pain. I only felt all my air escape me, and then I felt the restful darkness of sleep.
I remember that when I woke, I wanted to die. Even the flying had lost its charm. I was still numb, and yet I felt the concentrated sting. I almost wept at the sight of my face in the mirror, but I didn’t want to feel fragile. I still remember how I looked that first morning after. My eyes were swollen, bordered by yellow and green bruises. Blood and marks decorated my forehead. My nerves throbbed. It can only accurately be described as not knowing my own reflection. Already, I was becoming a cliché. My agony, even, was trite.
Ryelle was in even worse shape. An angry meth-mouth had scratched at her face with scraggly, mean nails. Her complexion was like mincemeat, her eyes like unseeing holes.
And yet. And yet we didn’t leave. We knew better than to take dex with all thirteen of them again, but sometimes we simply couldn’t avoid the beating. Some of them had no chances to avoid it. June had marks on her face every morning from Cameron’s uncontrollable slaps. She never blamed him. She never felt it.
I remember when Will came to the home. He was the youngster there, thirteen years young. He was rowdy, sensitive, a runaway. I found him crying one night, huddled in a corner upstairs. I still could be sensitive back then. I sat down and put my slight arm around his slighter shoulders. He sobbed into my neck, a helpless, wounded teenager. “Why do you cry like this?” I asked him gently. I remember the way he shook.
“I hate how alone I am.” He was direct.
“There are so many people here,” I choked. “How can you feel alone?”
“They call themselves a family,” he spat with hatred. “Who do they really take care of? Only themselves. They beat each other. They don’t have pity for anyone. This is not a family. This is a hell.”
I remember nodding into his scalp, agreeing with him in my actions but knowing I could never agree with my words. He took what I could give. His little arms found their way around my neck.
I remember the night that I couldn’t find Will. With fear in the very marrow of my bones, I followed the noises that my senses begged me to ignore. There was the steady beating of a fist and the whimpering pleas of a child.
I remember finding Will, bloodied beyond recognition, Cameron raining down his fists on the boy’s face. I didn’t stop him. I didn’t even attempt. Will’s eyes met mine, his tears tinted orange. I turned away and abandoned him, forsaking a baby being devoured by the beast. No one receives mercy, I told myself. Not from the family. Not from the drug.
I remember when I packed up a few tee-shirts and some shoes and left my house without a single glance back. My parents cried bitterly, watching their only child go, wondering what they had done wrong and clutching at the air. “You did nothing,” I whispered as I left. “This was my choice to make.” But I knew they could not hear me.
I remember when Cameron started doing crack, unable to get even a buzz from dex anymore. His beatings become intense, angry, purposeful. I remember when I woke up one morning and rolled over to see a disfigured Ryelle. She had been able to feel it, clean, cold and sober, as he bashed her face in, breaking her nose. I remember waking her up and getting her dressed, leaving the home without a single word. I don’t remember why I didn’t take Will.
I remember living in an alley in downtown Seattle, watching Ryelle’s ragged breathing as she slept, shivering on a heating vent. I remember denying, adamantly, that she was ever going to die. She would not be allowed to die.
I remember hearing that a certain Cameron Duran, twenty two, Caucasian, was in prison for murdering a certain William Trap, fifteen, Caucasian. I remember sitting with Ryelle in a Burger King, hearing the news over the radio, and breaking down and crying.
“How could he?” I begged her to have an answer. “How could he die?” Ryelle looked out the window, numb and uncaring. She was a zombie. She was a walking dead.
“How could he not?” she asked back. I wept into my hands.
We woke up this morning, huddled together on the wet pavement, snow decorating our half-blue faces. I already knew that Ryelle’s body was failing. She had become too weak to stand. She had started peeing blood. She begged me to get her dex for breakfast instead of hash browns. I didn’t resist. I somehow knew it was her last day.
For old time’s sake, I stole some Pellegrino from 7-11. She laughed at the gesture. “I love you, Emmette,” she said, the walls of her mind closing in, the old familiar tingle taking over her face. I choked on an answer and put my hand over hers instead. It was ice cold, like blood hadn’t been inside it for days. She seemed to understand that that small gesture was the best I could do. She smiled into the dirty grate.
Around noon, her breathing became shallow. She started laughing hiccup-y laughs, her small frame racked by them, starting to become racked by her wheezing. She writhed out of her blanket, her body exposing itself for what it was. A vacant phantom. A skeleton alone. She tried to breathe around the lump in her throat and failed. She was a young woman chewing on death, a child choking on her candy.
I feel no shock when her body lays still, her tongue lolling slightly out of that flowery mouth. I feel no guilt as I drag her, my only friend, behind a dumpster, and cover her with a dirty blanket: her shroud. Not a single ounce of guilt is felt as I walk away from her, back to the home. I know that someday, I will be paid back for what I’ve done to her and to Will. At nineteen years old, I have accepted that I am going to join Ryelle someday, my body dragged into an alley, my entire existence quickly forgotten. I will get what I deserve. Ryelle will not always be alone.