Detroit, Michigan--Wednesday, April 15, 1998
Adrian knelt on the pavement of the Detroit RiverWalk, next to the railing and bars that separated him from the water, and poised the razor blade over his left wrist. Above him one of the overhead streetlights reflected off the blade. He shivered. Tonight was a little cool for his favorite "You've Mistaken Me For Someone Who Gives A Fuck" T-shirt.
The empty bottle of cheap wine stood nearby. One of his sometime friends thought maybe he deserved a present today, it being his seventeenth birthday and all. He'd tasted better, but it was enough to give him a light buzz and relax him. Of course, the wine was probably stolen, like most of the things he got from anyone who gave a fuck about him.
He shivered again. He'd expected the wine would warm him up more than it had. Real cheap wine. He wasn't buzzed much, either. Maybe all those bets he'd won for being good at holding his liquor had made him immune.
Most of his friends were no better off than he was. No, that wasn't completely true. Some of them had parents still alive, for whatever that was worth, even if they were abusive or drunks--or both.
He stared down at the razor blade less than an inch above his wrist. "Is this a coward's way out?" he said.
No one answered him because no one, except stupid people who didn't know any better, came out on the RiverWalk this late. Nobody around to watch him leave the world. "Lots of ways to die out here." He tilted the blade and pressed the side of it against his wrist to feel the cool metal on his skin.
Across the river the distant lights of Windsor, Canada, stared back at him. This was as good a place to die as any, more exciting than South Dakota had been--not that he particularly enjoyed living here with his loser cousin, the one who taught him how to gamble and run drugs to help pay the bills.
He lifted the blade away from his wrist and studied the clear, moonlit sky. "Why'd you have to go and die on me?" His words slurred a little. "Isn't there some rule against parents leaving their kids all alone?" He was only eleven when he was sent to live with his Aunt Louise--his mother's sister--and Uncle-I-don't-give-a-shit-about-you-kid. Their son, his cousin here in Detroit, ran away from home at sixteen because he didn't like getting slapped around, either.
"Fuck, it so wasn't fair! My parents..."--Adrian tried to blink away the tears he'd sworn he wouldn't shed tonight--"...loved me."
He sniffed back the snot running from his nose. Just after he'd turned twelve, he stole money for the bus trip, packed his small suitcase, and came here. At thirteen, he had his first taste of drugs--speed or X, he didn't remember which. Whatever, it made him so sick he thought he was going to die. Cocaine gave him serious nosebleeds every time he'd tried it. And he was the only one he knew who was allergic to pot.
Must be drugs didn't mix well with his Native American metabolism. His cousin didn't seem to have a problem with any drugs, though. Maybe that was because he was only half Native. Alcohol ... now that did him just fine, once he learned his puke level.
It seemed like only yesterday, not a year ago, that he'd won a new PC from a gambling debt. He'd thought maybe things were looking up for him when another of his friends taught him how to hack into other people's PCs. So far, he hadn't been caught. A couple of times he'd thought about doing it for a living. "I coulda made enough money to get out of this fucking hell hole," he muttered, "if--"
Nearby, a loud splash in the water startled him. His left arm jerked up. "Ow!" His wrist stung, then it began to burn like from a giant paper cut. "Fuck. They said it wouldn't hurt much if I used a new blade." He watched the line of blood trickling out of his wrist. He'd really done it.
He should cut the other wrist, so it wouldn't take so long for him to bleed out. But, fuck, it hurt! Before he lost his nerve, he did the other one. Yeah, that hurt even more.
His blood, dark and rich in the moonlight, dripped onto the pavement. He lay down on the deserted walkway and stared out across the river. Soon, no more pain, no more suffering.
Two years ago, right here, on his fifteenth birthday, he'd run into Marcus. That was the night his life turned to complete shit, although he didn't find out it had until a long while afterwards.
Marcus, several years older than him, had given him a low five. "Ya comin' over to my place tonight? We're havin' a party for you, with a special surprise."
The usual pizza and drugs party. "I guess. What's the surprise?"
"Wouldn't be a surprise if I told ya."
That evening, Marcus set the mood by having them all sit around six large candles. After the pizza and plenty of beer, he brought out a brand new syringe, still wrapped in the packaging, and a small bottle like doctors gave shots from. The liquid inside it had a golden sparkle under the candlelight. "This is mighty fine shit."
Adrian shrugged. "I'd rather have sex."
One of the other guys, already trashed, giggled.
"Fuck, ya can get laid anytime," Marcus said. "An' it's over way too fast. This keeps ya goin' a lot longer." He grinned at Adrian. "The birthday man gets ta go first."
"I'll wait." He didn't like needles.
"Suit yourself." He watched Marcus do the others. They barely flinched. The looks on their faces said it was everything Marcus promised. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. The needle was small, and Marcus seemed to know his shit.
While the guys moaned on the floor, Marcus filled the syringe a quarter of the way. "Your turn." He flicked the needle. Adrian slowly stuck out his arm so Marcus could tie the rubber hose around it. "Nice veins. Ya ready?"
He forced himself to look, pretending it was someone else's arm, so they wouldn't think he was a wuss. He clenched his fist. The needle barely stung when Marcus slid it in. Then Marcus pressed the plunger, and all of the misery had gone away. For a while. But that was two long years ago, and things hadn't gotten any better since.
The water lapped against the shore of the RiverWalk. Well, the past is the past. No way to change it.
Adrian inhaled the scents of the water. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Shoulda stuck to the liquor; coulda said no to Marcus; woulda lived longer. If he'd taken the needle first, like Marcus had offered, he probably wouldn't have gotten infected. With his bad luck, it was the "rapid onset" kind, which meant soon he'd be suffering like one of his now-departed friends had.
"What a fucking stupid thing that was," he mumbled.
He'd kind of wanted to see the new century. It was just two years away, but lately he hadn't felt all the great. Not much chance he'd last two more years. Not much at all. He closed his eyes and imagined his tombstone: