Before I Might: One
Below the horizontal line is the first installment of a new serialized novel, Before I Might. Enjoy!
You must know, I die at the end. And, since you asked, yes, it hurt. In every sense imaginable to humans in my time.
I could make this all a guessing game, make you work for the end or even riddle it out. But I want you to know that I die because then maybe you can focus on why.
I mean, I don’t know how long mankind has been able to witness a person’s final moments through some kind of neuropsych-carbon testing, but I’m probably not your first. You’re probably digging up everybody, because why not? It’s so deliciously voyeuristic, looking at the intimate thought process of death. Or, maybe, by some ridiculous turn of fate, I am your first. Even so, I’m not spoiling anything when I tell you, we all end the same. Dead.
From the older or smarter dead guys and gals (Do y’all still say stuff like that, like guys and gals? We don’t, actually, in my time either) maybe you already know this next bit, too, but I have to say, death changed my life, what little was left of it.
When your life flashes in your mind at the moment death approaches, you are like a god – everywhere, all-knowing – and yet, you have no power to change a thing.
And these moments, the ones you’re witnessing shortly, they are not of the variety wherein the dearly departed soaks in the love slipping like sand through her fingers, regretting past sins and looking for reward. It’s not the slow and soulful drifting sleep version, either.
I don’t want you to think, oh, she died of such and such. The end. Way to cheapen a person’s death, you know?
So, you’ll understand, I have to tell you a story. And I’m just going to lay out all the pieces. Code them into my cells for you to find and revive. An imperfect but honest picture of the major turns leading to the dirt nap from which you seek to awaken my history.
It started, as death often does, with words. Not the Big C, cancer, which y’all have hopefully cured by the time you’re getting this message. Not a threat from cops or bullies or serial killers. Not words directed at me at all.
It all started with a journal entry at school.
Yeah, right? Just take that in for a minute. Of all the stupid ways to die! Or maybe you’ve come across this a lot in your line of work, siphoning death thoughts from decaying corpses: Death by English Comp Journal. That’s what my death certificate would say if it listed all the causes of death, instead of just the most violent one.
Thunderstruck and brittle. Like a blade of prairie grass driven mad with drought and left dissolute in the summer deluge. If only the rain came softly. If only it had come sooner. ‘If only’ is the constant of my life.
Do not promise redemption to an unwilling prisoner. Don’t level comforts against a peasant. Do not counsel with all-rights and placate with the ephemeral promise of tomorrow.
Paint me red; I’ll not be shiny. Erase me now, before I might.
Those are the eighty-one words I wasn’t supposed to write. My fault. I was the one who believed Ms. English-Class when she said our journals were for ourselves. Third period Tuesday is not the time to test her honesty.
So, I sit in a meeting too big for the principal’s office, though I fail to comprehend this as a community problem. They’ll never agree on what kind of problem this is or what to do about it. About me.
“How could you not know your kid is ready to go postal?” asks Woman-with-Strings-for-Hair. I silently question her outmoded use of ‘go postal’ as if more people gun down post office customers than fellow students.
“Do you know where your kids are at all times, what they’re thinking, what they want? I’m no mind reader,” Mom says, a smidge too defensively for me to keep listening.
If only I could slip under the table with all the badly aimed Jell-O and unfortunate French fries. I could be another non-loss, missed only until the next bite, left to be swept by a night-crew janitor living off our filth.
I’m counting specks on the table when a beautiful phrase meets my ears: “We’re not gonna figure this thing out tonight, folks.” I’m Pavlov’s dog, and that statement signals my escape-y treat.
“You can’t take her home!”
“She can’t be allowed to fulfill her threat.”
“Who knows what she’ll do?”
Dad stands in the center of my lynch mob and speaks without retreat. “I’m taking my daughter home.”
Sheriff NitWit busts the mirage: “You choose — she can go with you to the hospital or with me.”
Mom only nods. Just in case I’ve never known betrayal, this moment makes betrayal and me intimate. Not BFFs but Mortal Enemies who’ve seen each other’s underwear.