Jewlz wuz here
For good time: 555-6547
Make love, not war
I almost smiled reading the phrases on the wall. I had never been one for petty vandalism, but graffiti can be fun every now and then. In the past year I had even learned to appreciate it. It’s art, it breathes. Unlike the artwork in galleries and lauded in textbooks, graffiti embraces the feral beauty of society. Where pastels and oil paints fail, Sharpie markers and spray paint succeed. According to Lara, at least.
My parents often wondered how she strayed from their wholesome path. Like the little angel they wanted her to be, Lara had once followed all the rules. Straight A’s, Latin Club president, lead in the school play - Lara conquered every challenge. With snowy skin, brilliant eyes and lustrous hair, she was perfect.
I hated her, of course.
Jewlz wuz here.
Oh, that one Lara would’ve sneered at two years ago. She used to hate these restroom scrawlings. Like so many of us, Lara assumed that everyone who wrote on public property was under-educated and starving for attention. I can remember her looking at a group of poor girls at the supermarket. Dripping with pity, she gave them brave smiles. That was Lara, though. She always wanted to help the poor. Unfortunately, her heart didn’t match her actions. Starving Indian children, stray animals and inner-city children all experienced her misinformed philanthropy.
Then, out of the blue, like a bolt of lightning, somebody showed her the light. While volunteering at a local soup kitchen, Lara spotted a tattooed young man dressed in black. His name was Nathaniel, and he was the type she tried to “help.” Condescendingly, she asked his name. Without missing a beat, he told her to take her pity somewhere else. I, ever the reluctant sidekick, couldn’t hold back my giggles. It seemed that Lara had met her match.
For a good time. 555-6547
Nathaniel taught us about messages like these. Speaking from experience, he confided to her that none of those numbers told the truth. Most, in fact, weren’t even real numbers. Each day we spent with Nathaniel, Lara grew closer and closer to him. Soon it became clear that Nathaniel was going to be a lot more than a soup-kitchen friend. He began to change her in ways I couldn’t believe.
My arch-enemy was becoming true to herself, and in the process becoming a real friend. We were closer than ever; nothing could come between us. Thrilled, I helped Lara sell her clothes and buy the things she really liked to wear, rather than whatever happened to be in style. After six months, Nathaniel and Lara made their love official and dyed their hair a matching shade of blue.
Needless to say, our very conservative parents were livid. Convinced that she was doing drugs and contracting STDs, they forbade Lara from seeing Nathaniel. This only caused her to rebel; she sneaked out every weekend to be with him. Each time, I covered for her and lied to our parents. Though I spent many years secretly loathing my sister, Nathaniel brought out her better side. Instead of pitying the less fortunate, Lara became a true friend. It was then that she became a graffiti artist.
Lara wrote on everything. Her walls became covered with black scrawls. Truly, she began to see the world as her journal, and she wrote her thoughts down the moment they occurred to her. Park benches, elevators, and bathroom stalls all bore her mark. I read them all, enthralled by the changes in my sister. Through her graffiti, I learned who she really was. The words documented her whole life, from her love for Nathaniel to her sadness at rebelling against our parents. Technically, I was not allowed to be alone with her, for fear that I would end up like that, but somehow I always managed to tag along.
Make love, not war ...
These words had been some of Lara’s last. In the days leading up to her death, I saw them appear everywhere she went. The average reader might have assumed that Lara was referring to the troubles in Iraq, even I believed that. Only Nathaniel saw something else; Lara was at war with herself, and our parents were at war with her. All she wanted was for them to accept her as she was, not as the angelic child they wanted her to be. Perhaps they would have ...
“Perhaps” doesn’t matter anymore. Lara was dead, and nothing could let them forgive her. They thought she had brought the trouble on herself, overdosing on ecstasy and all. I know better, but they won’t listen. I had screamed my throat raw, screamed the truth. Why wouldn’t they listen? Brokenhearted, Nathaniel and I took ourselves to the funeral. Surrounded by the homeless and downtrodden, we celebrated Lara’s life and cursed her death. All the while I prayed that I could make Mama and Daddy see what I was trying to tell them.
It was the first time she’d even tried ecstasy. Bad luck had killed her, not the drug problem they invented. They were blind. Dejectedly, she had poured her soul into her art, which they turned up their noses at, calling it graffiti.
The tears came fast while I stood in the bathroom stall. Sharpie marker in hand, I outlined Lara’s words so that they would last forever. Below, I added my own art.
Never knew what we had
’Til we knew it was gone
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.