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How To Live Forever
I never thought I would do anything significant with my life, and I think it’s safe to say no one else did either. No one except Mia. My best friend, my savior. So naturally, she was the first person on my mind when Noah Williams stepped into room 213 during 4th period physics and pulled out a gun.
Mia has been my friends for as long as I can remember. It all started the day she climbed onto her little pink bike and rode down the street to my house where I was playing in the front yard with my brother Scotty.
“I’m Mia Ann Kathleen Smith and I’m going to be a Journalist.”
And that’s how our friendship started. That very day, just like that, she picked up the frisbee I had just let slip through my hands and continued telling me her life plans. Very abnormal behavior for a five year old I thought. But I guess that just about sums up Mia: abnormal.
I couldn’t help but think Mia would know exactly what to do in the situation in which I now find myself. She could talk to Noah in a way that would cause him to see reason and put the gun down. To let everyone go home unharmed. But Mia was not here and no one seemed able to talk any sense into Noah.
By high school standards he was a no one. Not even worth making fun of or giving any thought to what so ever. And that was precisely this reason he was here.
“None of you has ever seen any reason to speak to, or acknowledge me in anyway. But I know all of you. Emma, you and Charlie have been dating for what? About six months?”
He pointed the gun her direction nonchalantly. The tiny, dark haired girl looked terrified. Tears were streaming down her beautiful oval face making her emerald eyes turn red. She looked to Charlie for some explanation as to how this freshman knew so much about the lives of the seniors. Charlie ran his hands through his dirty blonde hair and offered no answer.
“Yea scary how much people pick up when they pay attention huh? But no, you were too busy being class president, applying to Harvard and talking about working for NASA to notice a freshman who is taking all the same classes as the seniors!”
His voice started to shake as he went on.
“But really this isn’t just about you Emma. Or even you Charlie. It’s all of you, collectively. I thought that maybe once I got to high school people might be a little more grown up you know? Treat people like they are actually worth something.”
I understood where he was coming from but really he was only a freshman. What could he possibly know about the realities of life? There had to be some reason other than the one he was offering for him to want to kill people.
“I know I haven’t been very welcoming to you or anyone else really. I should have I’m class president that’s supposed to be my job! How about we start now, I’m Emma.”
“Nope it’s too late for that, but I will make you an offer. All of you.”
The class of 28 people looked at each other still in shock.
“I have been treated like my existence means nothing. Not just by you, but by my father, my brother, even my mother chose to kill herself with no concern for how it would affect me.”
So his mother killed herself. Poor kid. I wonder when it happened. Did anyone ever know? Or bother to ask how he was doing? And what about his dad and brother, were they drunks like the men in my family? My father is in prison, it’s probably the only way he would ever stop drinking. And my brother has decided the bottle is more important than his four year old daughter Shannon. I baby sit her after school most days. And most days we end up watching Peter Pan. I remember one particular day we were sitting on the carpet in front of the television when she said, “Aunty Alex, why does Wendy want to be around all those mean boys?” I didn’t have an answer for that. It seemed like my mother didn’t want to hang around my family too long so she took off to god knows where. So what was it that compelled Wendy to take care of these boys? Love? Seemed unlikely to me, that’s why I took care of Shannon she was my own flesh and blood but Wendy had no ties to these boys. I was brought back to reality once Noah had stopped crying and continued speaking.
“It seems to me people don’t care about anything but themselves. That’s why I’m doing this. Because no one is willing to step up and help another person out and someone has to pay for that. So it can be one of you or all of you. I will keep everyone in this room for one hour. If in that time one person stands and decides to die for everyone else who has ever wronged me, I will leave everyone else alone.”
Immediately eyes singled people out expecting them to jump at the chance to be the hero. But when it came down to it no one wanted to be.
By the time it was decided that no one could be forced into dying for everyone else ten minutes had passed. Five more went by in complete silence. I thought about Mia again. I thought about the night I asked her about Wendy and the Lost boys.
“Well if you want the biological answer it was probably hormones or something like that. But personally, I think it’s human nature. People want to help other people.”
“Then how do explain war, poverty, and domestic violence?” I asked.
“I didn’t say they always know how to help, I just said they want to. Look Alex, the lost boys are the worst sort of people. They don’t know what they want so they end up hurting themselves and the people around them in the attempt to make themselves happier. The lost boys left home, which was probably devastating to their parents and now they are lonely and trying to fill a hole in their lives that just can’t be filled on their own. That’s why Wendy helps them. She’s the only one who can save them. She is the only one who can show them what it is they are missing in their lives.”
“I guess that kinda makes sense, but how do I explain all of that to Shannon?”
We both laughed and continued talking.
The memory made me smile. At least I had some good times in the little bit of life I have lived. I looked up at Noah from my place on the floor. He was sitting at Mr. Lopez’s desk. Mr. Lopez had gone to the office to get some more staples and probably to escape the endless chatter of the classroom. Then Noah came in, locked the doors, and started all of this. Had Mr. Lopez called the cops? Did anyone know this was even happening?
“I didn’t know my mom either” I told him
“Yea? She off herself too?” He asked angrily.
“ No she’s still alive but she ran off a couple days after I was born. I don’t know where she is and frankly I don’t want to. But you know Noah, I don’t think you need to go through with this. I’m sure life will be better once you get out of high school. You could move, start over, you know?”
“No I don’t know. Look I’ve thought this through. It’s a sort of poetic justice and I need to do it. I need to be remembered. It’s the only way people will know my name.”
Really I didn’t feel sorry for Noah. His life was just about the same as mine and I didn’t go around threatening to kill people. I didn’t really feel sorry for myself either. Death didn’t scare me. I didn’t have a lot to live for. I didn’t have plans for after High School, I didn’t really care for my family beyond Shannon, and Mia was my only friend. I did feel sorry for the rest of the class though.
They didn’t know what they had done. How alienated they had made this kid feel. They still had hopes and dreams for the future. Now they were all going to die. I looked around at my class mates still thinking of Shannon and her favorite movie. Maybe that’s what Noah wanted, to live forever. Sort of like going to Neverland. People never to forget him the way he is now, hurt and in need of help. He didn’t realize I was the only one who saw him that way. The families of these students would see a cold blooded killer who deserved the death penalty. And maybe I was trying to be Wendy. She was always the character I understood the least, her actions seemed so—useless. Nothing she did ever turned out well. She just ended up hurting people. But I suppose in the end, everyone comes back to save her from Hook. But why? What good did she ever do for them? She nearly gets Peter and the lost boys killed.
Funny how I’m spending my last moments analyzing a children’s tale. But Shannon’s question still bothered me, and Mia’s answer didn’t seem to fit all the way.
A total of 50 minutes had gone by and no one had spoken up. I started to wonder how he would do it. Execution style like in the concentration camps in Germany, or just open fire so he didn’t have to look at them? For no reason at all I thought about Graduation. It held no excitement for me. I didn’t know many people and I didn’t have any plans, nowhere to be. Then I thought of Emma and Charlie, they had plans, so did the other 25 students. What were Noah’s plans after this? Had he thought that far? Could this little kid really kill someone? I assumed he didn’t expect anyone to step up and sacrifice; he was too jaded for that. But if it should happen, could he look that person in the eye and pull the trigger? Would it be painless? Maybe that person would be remembered. Maybe the school would dedicate a bench to them or hold an assembly. Or maybe no one would care. Maybe life would go on like it always had. People looking out only for themselves. Only I wasn’t one of those people. Maybe I was the only person in the world who looked out for others.
I had never thought about it but I didn’t really do anything for myself. I spent my extra money buying things for Shannon. And most weeks I would go down to Wal-Mart and buy a sandwich for Ray, the homeless guy on the corner. I remember the first time I gave him food very clearly. I was just driving by and hadn’t finished my lunch so I offered it to him. He had said, “Well thank ya kindly miss. Not many people round’ here stop to give an old black man a chance. I didn’t use to be here, no ma’am I was a saxophone player in a jazz club.” I stayed around and talked to him awhile. He was very nice and had just been very unlucky. His club closed and he lost everything. Before I left I remember him saying “ Miss Alex, if you don’t mind me saying so, I don’t think you give yourself enough credit. I’ve met a lot of generous people but they do it for all the wrong reasons. They want to make themselves feel better. But you miss, you don’t even realize you’re doing it, that’s how I know you’ve got a good heart.”
Maybe Ray was right, I don’t give myself enough credit. But that’s the way I am and always have been so why change now when it was all so close to being over? I looked around the room one more time. If Mia was right and all those things she had told me about what happens when we die were true, I didn’t have anything to be worried about. I could still take care of Shannon, watch over her or whatever. And I was the only one who wasn’t afraid. I am the only one who knows I’m going to die and I’m not afraid of it. Maybe that’s why Wendy does it. She knows she can’t stay in Neverland. She knows everyone has their time and she wants to make the most of it, she wants to live forever too, but not the same way as the lost boys or Peter. She just wants to be forever remembered for being kind and helping another living thing to the best of her ability. That’s why we are here anyway right? Because no one was kind, not even me. No one cared. But I could start now. I could be Wendy. I could live with dying for the right reasons. As long as I went helping someone out. All I could hope for was that others would see it that way, and maybe decide that’s what they want too.
I stood up.
“I’ll do it” I said.
Noah looked confused. My earlier assumption had been right, he never expected anyone to volunteer to die, none of us anyway.
“I’ll do it.” I repeated.
Everyone was looking at me confused as well. I couldn’t make eye contact with any of them, I was afraid of what I might see. I didn’t want them to pity me, or idolize me. I just wanted them to be grateful. I wanted them to realize how they had caused this and be grateful for the “do-over” I was giving them. But maybe these people, who seemed perfectly content to ignore me for the past 12 years, wouldn’t change.
That thought scared me more than dying did. The idea that humanity was beyond saving. The idea that no matter what I did, or how many adults told us that we are the future, or how many stupid times we say we aren’t going to be like our parents- we always will be. We will continue to repeat history because we can’t understand one simple idea. One idea that every child understands. The idea that money, social standings, and looks really don’t matter because we only have limited time. And when our time is up that’s it. Children can understand that our time is better spent being happy and making others happy than worrying about stupid s***.
Here was a 13 year old kid about to kill me. Someone who had done him no wrong and no right. I deserved and expected nothing from him and he was about to kill me. I would let him.
“I won’t be mad at you. Any of you. This is my choice, I choose this. I choose to die so the rest of you can live. Just don’t waste it, alright? All I ask is that you just don’t let this happen again. Anywhere, to anyone else. Just be kind to everybody okay? Give the guy down on the corner by Walmart one last sandwich for me kay?”
Suddenly I found myself crying. This is what I wanted, I had thought this through. I wasn’t sad and I didn’t feel upset so why was I crying?
“Oh, and if anyone knows who Mia is, could you tell her that she means everything to me, and that I’ll be sure to save her a place wherever it is I’m going? That all I guess, I’m ready.”
More silence. I walked over to Noah and stood in front of him. I summoned the last of my determination and looked into his eyes. They were brown. Nothing special, everyday brown eyes. His eyelashes were thick and had clumped together from his tears. These were not the eyes of a killer. They were the eyes of a lost and hurt boy. As I closed my eyes I thought of Wendy.