“Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!” It’s seven o’clock in the morning. My alarm clock is blaring, wailing. I can’t even move. I have a mean hangover from last night, and I don’t really have the stomach to get out of bed, literally, I don’t, I wanna hurl so bad. I’m still wearing my clothes from last night: a white tee, red basketball shorts, and white tube socks. I’ve never gotten that drunk before, which is what I’ve told myself every morning for the past couple of months.
Oh nah, I haven’t been going to parties or nothing. At least not anymore, that shit gets old after a while. I usually drink by myself now. Every Friday night, while all my roommates are out partying, I go to the liquor store, buy a bottle of brandy, and I just sit in my room and drink myself silly. I’ve spent this entire weekend, killing that bottle of brandy, all by myself. Now it’s Monday. I don’t have class on Mondays, but I usually just study or something. I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to do anything with this fuckin’ hangover. I feel like shit, even more than usual.
My mom died of breast cancer two months ago. I couldn’t believe it. We all thought she was gonna make it, and when she passed, it hurt all of us. I think I’ve taken it the hardest. My mom was my support system, she was all I had: my father left when I was a year old, so I’ve never met him, nor do I care to meet him. When the depression and anxiety started, she was there, for all the psychiatrist visits, the therapy sessions, the anger management classes, all of it. I started going through it in the tenth grade, and she was there for all of it. When I started college, she used to text me inspirational shit every morning, right up until she started chemo, which was about a year ago: Bible verses, quotes from famous people, even shit that she would just make up.
She had this rhyme she would always sing to me: “Good, better, best! You must never rest, until your good is better, and your better best!” When I was a kid, she’d sing it to me every night before I went to bed. She was the best mother I ever could have asked for. Sometimes, when I’m feeling extra shitty, I go back and read some of the stuff she’d send me. That’s what I did last night, and I felt so shitty that I tried to drink myself to death. Yea, I tried to kill myself. I didn’t die. I thought I did, though. I just passed out, and I woke up the next morning, alive.
Not only did my mom pass away, but me and my girl Bria have been going at it lately. I’ve been sleeping around, and I guess she’s heard the rumors. The last time I spoke to her was last Wednesday, on the phone, when she told me that I was a piece of shit. She won’t even acknowledge me in public, she hates me right now. Maybe she’s right; I am a piece of shit. When my mom passed, she came over to my apartment and we got high and cried together. Bria knew my mom, my mom was cool with her. She and I have been dating since the ninth grade, and the only reason I go to this fuck ass school is because I wanted to be with her. She’s done so much for me, and I’ve been an asshole to her.
“Buzz! Buzz!” My alarm continues to wail. I don’t want to be thinking about all of this right now, I need to be worried about getting out of this bed, but I can’t. I suck my teeth in. I stumbled out of bed, walked towards the alarm clock and hit the snooze button. I staggered back towards my bed and jumped in it. I fumbled with the covers and got back into the bed.
Ten minutes later, the alarm goes off again. The hangover still hasn’t gone away, and it’s even worse now. It’s like the more I thought about the fact that I had a hangover, the worse it got. My mattress is drenched in sweat, my face feels like it’s melting, and my head is about to explode.
“You gotta get up yo,” I thought to myself. I calmly walk over to the dresser, where my alarm clock is and turn the alarm off. I start to walk towards the door, but before I do, I look around my room for a little bit. In front of me is the door, my bed is on the right, my study desk is behind me; and my nightstand, where my phone and an empty bottle of brandy are, is on the left. In moments like these, all I can do is just look around, and just wonder how the hell I got to this point.
I pick up my phone. I have a text, from Bria. It must have come in while I was passed out.
“I’m tired of the games,” she said. “We’re done.”
I don’t know what to think or how to feel. I could call her, beg for her forgiveness, but I’m not going to chase after her. She wants to leave, and I think she has every right to. She deserves happiness, and I haven’t given it to her. After that, check my e-mail. It was a message, from my European history teacher.
“Now this bitch wants to respond,” I think to myself. I open the message, and I read it:
I want to help you, and you’re putting in the effort, but I just don’t know how you’re going to be able to pass this class. I’d say just do good on the next paper and the final, but I really can’t make any pro…
“I ain’t readin’ this bullshit,” I mutter to myself. I threw the phone on my bed, in anger. The house was eerily quiet. All of my housemates had gone to class, but I didn’t have class today.
The only thing left to do at this point is to take a shower. So I grab my towel, open the door of my room, and stagger out into the hallway. Right in front of me is the bathroom. Once I get in, I take my boxers off. My head was still pounding and sweating from the hangover. The steaming hot water, combined with my burning, aching head, makes the entire experience unbearable. As soon as the water touched my skin, I felt like I was going to explode. I feel so weak that I don’t even have the energy to pick up the soap bar and rub it into my washcloth, but I’m gonna try. I stretch my arm out towards the soap bone and grab the bar, rubbing it all throughout my body. Finally, I turn the water off and staggered out of the shower, grabbing the towel and wrapping it around my waist.
I couldn’t even brush my teeth I was so messed up, so I just rinse my mouth out with mouthwash and walk to my room. I get on my knees to pray.
“In Jesus’ name,” I utter, before suddenly stopping.
I can’t finish. I have prayed before, but I don’t have the strength anymore. I feel that God hates me, otherwise, why didn’t he keep my mother alive when I cried and begged him too? I feel that he is far away from me and that I am far away from him; maybe we will never be close again. How could we be? All I do is lie, cheat, drink, and get high. Maybe Bria was right: Maybe I am a piece of shit, and I’d hate me too if I was her or God. With my towel still around my waist, I get off of my knees and climb back into my bed, hoping to sleep off this hangover.
I wake up again around 12:30 P.M. Thankfully, the hangover is gone and I can actually function. It’s really weird; all I had to do was sleep it off. This is proving to be a really weird day already. Anyway, so I put on my clothes: a green and yellow flannel, khaki jeans, and a pair of brown moccasins. I go downstairs, turn on the TV, and begin making breakfast: an orange, fried yam, scrambled eggs, with a bottle of water on the side. The news is on: “This just in! A Black woman has been shot and killed by police officers in Detroit!”
This was followed by a grotesque image of the woman stepping out of her car with her hands up, prior to getting lit up like a Christmas tree – yet another killing and, of course, we’re probably going to hear more redundant conversations about “community policing” and “body cameras.”
“We’re going to have a field day at the Black Student Union with this,” I say to myself.
This was followed by another story: “Protests are going on in Washington, D.C. over the president’s ongoing denial of climate change.”
At this point, I was done making my food and ready to eat. I turned the TV off, I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I finish eating all of my food, grab my book bag from the storage, and left the house. I jump in my car and take the fifteen-minute commute to my school.
I arrive on campus, park my car and I walk straight to the library, doing my best to avoid anybody I know. I’m not in the mood to talk to anyone. It’s just one of those days, you know? I walk up a big flight of stairs and the library building is straight ahead. I get to the library. The library is a big building of five floors. There is an automatic sliding door in the front entrance. I pass the sensors; the doors slide open and enter the library. On the first floor, we have stacks of bookshelves on all four walls. In the middle are computer desks, separated by an aisle. There are study desks on the other floors, and right as you walk in, there is a reference desk. I have a paper to write, so I head straight to the computers in the back. I don’t want to be seen or bothered, and then—
“Hey young man,” the librarian at the reference desk says as I enter. She’s a middle-aged, White lady with short, red hair. “How are you doing today?”
There goes being low-key.
“Fine,” I say, sheepishly.
I’m doing my best to go on with my business, but she just keeps rapping. I mean, she just won’t shut the fuck up. She has this big smile on her face. She’s really nice, but I’m just not in the mood to entertain her. I do it anyway though; I didn’t want to be disrespectful.
“Fine weather isn’t it?” The librarian asks. “Hey, did you know we’re open twenty-four hours a day?”
“Oh my God yo,” I think to myself. \\
“So you can study,” she continues, “Read, work, do whatever you want. All day, every day!”
“Yea,” I say, beginning to walk away. “I know.”
“Well have a nice day young man!”
I’m already headed to the back when she finally stops talking. On my right-hand side, are rows of computer desks, there are some on my left. There is a large aisle down the middle, where I’m walking. I go to the computer desk all the way in the back. On this desk are four computers, and I go to the one furthest from the aisle. I put my book bag on top of the desk and begin taking my books out. Afterward, I log into the computer, put my flash drive in, open up the file, and I go straight to work.
The paper has to be ten pages long, and I’m only on the fourth page. It is due in two days and I started it about a week ago. I wrote maybe one sentence before I got stuck, so I go on the internet and look at some memes. The paper is for the same class that I’m failing. It’s not a subject I’m particularly interested in, but I need it to graduate so I didn’t have a choice in signing up for it.
About half an hour later, a woman runs in. She is in a panic.
“There’s a shooter outside!” The woman says. “The entire campus is on lockdown! He’s headed here, to the library!”
“Oh shit,” I say, nervously.
I’ve read about Columbine and all that shit. It was bound to happen here as far as I’m concerned. The things you have to deal with here sometimes, man, I get it. But I ain’t trying to die, not like this. There’s no other exit other than the front, and the whole thing is going on outside, so that’s a no-no. Everybody starts going wild, screaming, panicking, and running around. I take my chances and run straight to the men’s bathroom, tackling the door open. There were two urinals on the right, close to the door, and four stalls going all the way to the back on the right. I go the stall all the way in the back, and sit down on the floor in fetal position, trying my best to avoid the puddles of piss. I didn’t even get my books, there was no time.
Then, I start hearing more screaming, and then gunshots. People are getting killed, I can feel it. I don’t know if I’m safe in here.
“This is the beginning of the revolution!” I hear a man say, in a loud voice. “All of y’all gonna die!”
I hear more gunshots.
“This is for all the shit y’all put me through!”
There’s another gunshot, then another one. I don’t own any guns, but knowing what I know from movies and video games and all that, those sounded like shotgun blasts. You can hear people crying, begging for their lives, and getting killed. It’s a surreal moment. Tears are coming down my face, not only because those are actual people dying, but because I know I’m next. Here I am, fearing for my life, but just last night I tried to kill myself.
I don’t want to live, right? So why am I so scared? It didn’t really make sense. Or maybe I just don’t know if I want to live or not. Suicide is weird like that. They say that people who are suicidal just want the pain to go away. Maybe I do want to die, but on my own terms, not at the hands of some crazy dude with a piece. I planned to OD on alcohol last night and die, so it was cool, even though it didn’t happen, but I didn’t plan for this. I don’t want to die like this. I didn’t pray this morning, maybe that’s why this is happening. So I bow my head and fold my hands.
“Dear Lord,” I pray, closing my watery eyes. “Please, don’t let me die.”
I pause for a minute, to listen to what’s going on outside: more gunshots and more screaming. Why the hell is this happening? Today of all days?
“I’m sorry,” I continue. “For everything.”
“Who’s back here?” I hear the man ask, outside. A door opens, maybe it’s the women’s bathroom.
I hear a scream, followed by a gunshot. Whoever was in there is gone. I’m sick just thinking about that shit. Then the men’s room door opens. He’s in here. This is it. No, this is what I want, right? I was scared before, but not anymore. Why feel scared? Once I’m gone, I’m not going to feel anything anyway, so what’s the point? I’ve wanted to die for the past few months, so fuck it. Let me die.
“I see you back there!” The man says. “Right behind that door! You better open that shit yo. Don’t make me repeat myself now!”
I sigh. I scooch towards the latch, and pull it to the right, releasing it. The door creaked open. From underneath the stall door, I could see his black boots stomping towards me. He pulls the door open. He was Black, like me. He was really tall too. He was wearing black jeans, black boots, and a green, black, and brown camouflage jacket with a white t-shirt inside of it. I only caught a quick glimpse of him. I couldn’t look him in the eye. So I stare at the floor. He points his gun at me, I flinched a little. He doesn’t shoot though, so, finally, I turn to look him in the face. I can actually see his face now. His eyes are wide open and pure white like he’s possessed. They’re not red, so he wasn’t high on something, nor was he crying. He kind of looks familiar. He goes to this school, but I’ve seen him somewhere in particular and I can’t remember where.
He still hasn’t shot me yet, and now we’re looking each other in the eye. There’s an eerie silence. All of a sudden, I no longer wanted to die. Now I’m scared again. I mean, pissing-my-pants scared because I don’t know what he’s doing. I started shaking.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere yo?” He finally asks.
I still don’t know where I know him from, but I play along.
“Yea,” I reply, nervously.
“Let me think,” he says, pausing for a bit. “Yea, I do know you! You was at that rally, remember?”
It started to come back to me. I know this dude.
“You mean after that girl got stabbed?”
“Yea,” he replies. “I be seein’ you around too!”
A Black girl got beat up and stabbed by these two White dudes three semesters ago, she didn’t die though. They called her all sorts of names while they were doing it. The school did virtually nothing about it, other than release a statement, telling everyone that it was “under investigation.” I don’t even think the woman’s attackers were ever found. The incident opened up a lot of racial tension on campus, and a bunch of student organizations, fraternities, and sororities organized a rally for everything that was going on. I was there. This guy was there too, he was one of the organizers. Things got out of control, the police tried to intervene, and there was a huge riot. The whole campus got torn up: windows got broken, shit got destroyed, and we started fighting the cops, throwing whatever we could find at them. He, I, and eighty other people got arrested that day. It was all over the news. Luckily, I didn’t get kicked out of school, they couldn’t really prove that I was involved with the riot, even if I was there, and the only thing I got was a fine. I never saw him again, until now.
“I remember,” I say, nodding my head and wiping my face. “We all got arrested together, and you was sittin’ next to me in the van.”
I start to relax a bit. I don’t think he wants to kill me, but I wouldn’t bet my life on that if I was the best gambler in the world.
“How you been man?” He asks.
“I’m straight,” I say, nervously.
This guy is really trying to shoot the shit with me, literally and figuratively. It’d be funny if it wasn’t real life. Like, bro, you got a gun in my face. How the fuck do you think I feel? Of course, that’s not what I said. I’m not that stupid.
“What’s your name again?” I ask.
“Ned,” he says, smiling.
“Yea,” I reply, “Ned.”
There’s more silence. We’re still looking at each other, and he still hasn’t shot me. Why? Why is he doing this? The thought is irking me. Here goes nothing.
“What are you doin’ man?” I ask him, before closing my eyes. What the fuck am I thinking?
He pauses, briefly, but it felt like eternity.
“It’s crazy,” he finally yells, “But I had to do it, man! I just had too!”
I open my eyes and turn back to look at him. I don’t know Ned like that, but based on what I know from the interactions I’ve had with him, he was always a good dude. The folks who have done shit like this in the past were known for being crazy but this is, by all accounts, a normal person. What made him snap, to where he wants to kill people?
I’m not gonna try to reason with him, tell him to stop and turn himself in, or whatever. He’s already in too deep. Besides, if I say the wrong thing, that’s my ass. My objective right now is to get out of this building alive, not to play hero. I’ve already established that know this guy, so let me bond with him a little, see what we have in common. Maybe if I talk to him and be cool with him, he won’t kill me.
“This motherfucking school man!” Ned yells. “They’re fucking racist! After the march, they just kept fucking with me!”
Now I was interested in having a conversation. I’m a little more relaxed, now that I see that we have something in common.
“Damn,” I replied. “How?”
“When we got arrested,” he explains, “They recognized my face in the mug shot. They took my scholarship money away. I didn’t have any way of paying my tuition and I didn’t take out any loans, so they dropped all my classes and kicked me out.”
“That sucks bro.”
The whole thing was a year and some change ago. I figured that’s why I haven’t seen him on campus in a while.
“Yea,” he says. “That girl got stabbed and they didn’t do shit about it! We did. Now you wanna try to punish me for that shit?”
“Right?” I responded.
“Then I got fired from my job a week ago,” he continues. “And my folks kicked me out the house. I moved in with one of my homeboys, this is actually his gun. I stole it. I hope nothing happens to him after all this.”
I start to feel for him. His story is really messed up. It’s obvious that the school was trying to punish him and that’s what made him snap, but again, that’s none of my business. I’m trying to get out of here.
“You hear about that lady in Detroit?” Ned asks.
“Yea,” I said. “I seen it on the news this morning.”
“I’m doin this for her too,” Ned says. “I’m gonna go all out. Then I’m gonna get the fuck out of here. I’m tryna catch a plane to Cuba or something man, they ain’t never gonna stop chasing me.”
Ok, taking everything into consideration, this dude is crazy. He’s “gonna get the fuck out of here” alright, either in a police car or a body bag, the latter being most likely. He just killed people, a lot of people, and by this point, you can hear the SWAT team outside – sirens, helicopters, and all. I don’t even say anything to him after that. I want to laugh because of how crazy he sounds, and I’m trying so hard not to. How can I even laugh at a time like this?
About six minutes have gone by, and both of us are quiet. He still has his shotgun pointed at me, and he still hasn’t shot me. I think it’s safe enough to ask what he plans on doing with me.
“So are you gonna kill me?”
He pauses for a bit. I close my eyes and brace myself for the worst. This pause feels even longer than the last one.
“Nah man,” he says, shaking his head and lowering his gun. “You straight. Get out of here, go home.”
I got to my feet, using the handicap rail above my head to pull myself up. He steps out of my way, using his free hand to hold the stall door open. I walk past him and just keep going. I stop and turn around to look at him, my mouth opening, strangely, to say thank you, but the words couldn’t come out. He is posted up against the wall, his shotgun in his right hand. He nods at me. I smile sheepishly at him. I walk briskly towards the door, hoping that he doesn’t change his mind.
I kept walking, and I go out into the library. It smelled like blood and something else, like sulfur, maybe gunpowder. I see people everywhere, laid out all over the floor, and under the desks: people, some alive, wounded, moaning and shaken, but alive, and some – I’d rather not say. I walked towards the exit, and to my right, I see the lady at the reference desk who greeted me when I came in. She’s gone, laid out on the floor with holes in her chest, and her mouth and bloody.
This fucks my head up, bad. I didn’t want to talk to her when I came in here, and now she’s gone. What if I did actually talk to her? It’s meaningless now, and it probably wouldn’t have changed anything then, but damn it, what if I did talk to her? Have a conversation with her? Maybe even thank her for what she does, and tell her how much I appreciate her. So that she could have left this world on a good note. She’s a person, just like me.
Everyone caught up in this whole thing, including and especially Ned, are people. They have (or had) struggles, feelings, and people out there who care for them. I realize that now. Anyway, as I stand here, looking at this woman, I hear a door open. The sound is from the back: Ned is coming back out. I’ve forgotten about my books, but I don’t even bother going back to get them. I just hauled ass, charging through the sliding door. I stop running abruptly, once I notice the SWAT team positioned outside, surrounding the whole building.
It wasn’t raining when I came in, but it was raining now. There’s SWAT, news crews, and a crowd of students and faculty outside. One of the officers approaches me and I immediately put my hands up.
“Don’t move!” He commands.
He pats me down and sends me on my way. I turn back, and through the glass doors, I see Ned behind the reference desk, reloading his gun and taking his position. He pauses to look at me, and I look at him before goes back to what he was doing. He’s finally come to the realization that he’s not going to Cuba.
“Son,” the officer says, in a southern accent. “You need to get out of here right now. We’re fixin’ to charge in there.”
I look at the officer, and nod, before making my way through the crowd and carefully avoiding journalists. I can’t talk to anyone, not after this. Finally, a friend of mine stops me, a guy.
“Yo,” he says, “You good?”
“Yea man,” I replied. “I’m straight.”
“Was it really Ned?” He asks. “Did you see him?”
“Yea,” I said, shaking my head. “I gotta go, man.”
The guy says something else, but I tune him out as I’m walking away from him. I had to get out of there. The fact that I’m alive right now is the only thing on my mind. I’m happy to be alive. My life matters, my life is important – and it took staring down the barrel of a crazed man’s shotgun for me to realize that. Death is final. There’s no coming back from it. If I had died last night, I would have never been able to come to this realization. God did hear me when I prayed in that stall, and I think He wanted me to realize how precious life is. They say that He works in strange ways, and this whole thing is definitely strange.
I feel good now. Sort of happy, but in a weird way. I stop walking, and I turn back towards the library, to see that the SWAT team is charging into the library.
“Ned,” I think to myself.
It’s too much running through my mind right now. I see a bench ahead of me and I sit down. I need to unpack all of these thoughts in my head. My face is sweaty, and I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that I was pissing-my-pants scared when I was in that bathroom. My pants are dry now, but I still smell. I’m tired, exhausted, shaken up, but I still have my life and I’m blessed for that.
Ned is going to die. He has killed, and now he will be killed. That’s the way the universe works: you reap what you sow, it makes sense. I just can’t stop thinking about him though. He really wasn’t that different from me: He was a Black man living in a White world, like me and millions of other people, and had to deal with all the alienation, despair, self-hatred, and rage that comes with that. I know I deal with it, every day, which is why I wanted to die. When things like this happen, a lot of us don’t realize that the people who do these things are human. Of course, they’re murderers and they rightly should be demonized and remembered as murderers, but they’re humans too, who deal with shit.
I mean humans deal with shit all the time. The world we live in is just a ball of shit floating in space, and as we know, shit stinks. Some people can just lie in a pile of shit and deal with the smell. Others can’t take the smell of shit and begin looking for a way out. People like me, people like Ned. Some people just aren’t mentally built to withstand shit and need something to keep them from losing their minds.
Even the people who can’t stand the smell of shit are all different, and they cope with the pain in different ways: drugs, sex, music, suicide, name it. I mean, I tried to kill myself last night just to get away from the shit, and fucking Ned just flipped out and started killing people: people who just their live their lives every day, trying to endure the smell like him, but just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Look at all the shit that’s thrown at us from the day we’re born. We didn’t choose our names, the colors of our skin, the countries we live in, but we all have to pay for this stuff.
I need to do some serious soul searching because, with all the shit I’ve been dealing with over the course of the past couple of months, it easily could have been me in that library with a shotgun. We all need to do some soul searching because, no matter how much we like to see ourselves as civilized, Godly, and moral little angels, all it takes is a bad day, just one bad day, to make us flip out like Ned.
We don’t want to do that though. So when it’s all said and done, when all this clears up, we’re gonna blame stupid shit like weed and video games. We’re gonna blame Ned’s parents, we’re gonna blame the psychiatric field (why I don’t know), and we’re gonna blame the friend who owned the gun he used. I mean he’s Black, so you already know they’re gonna pull up his criminal record, and we’re gonna hear the same old, tired shit about single mothers, rap music, and “Black-on-Black crime.” Only Ned, and Ned alone, is responsible for the horrible stuff he did today and he’s going to have to answer to God for that. The world we live in has made many people like Ned though. He’s not the first to do something like this, and he won’t be the last either. I wonder though, can’t we just try to make things less shitty? Just for once? Is it even possible?
Anyway, the only thing to do now is go home and live. I’m going to deal with all the shit in my life, instead of running away from it. I’m going to be a better person, loving myself and other people in the face of everything I deal with. It’s what my mother would have wanted, and it’s the best way I can honor her.