Die (Everyone's Doing It)

1. Breathe

The weather was in freefall that first day, like so many other things. It was cloudy, still chilly from winter but beginning to slip haphazardly into something a little more like spring. All the trees still looked dead, all the grass was still yellow and dried up. Just another afternoon in a Midwestern United States town: bland, damp, and uninteresting but for the little social dramas that always seemed so important. Kelly slept with Johnny. Laura hasn't eaten in days. Thomas has pot in his back pocket.

I, Delilah Patterson, did not appear in the gossip that day. I rarely did, but I usually paid attention anyway. Today, the most important day of my life, changed that.

This was not the day my parents got divorced. It wasn't when my childhood pet died or my teenage sister found out she was pregnant or I failed my first class. It wasn't a car crash. It wasn't a mid-air collision.

This day, this most important moment, was a simple realization that left me reeling, mentally stumbling around for a few seconds as I tried to find something to hold onto that still seemed real.

The realization? I didn't matter.

Right now you're thinking that was anticlimactic. You're thinking this sounds like typical teenage angst. This sounds like average disillusionment with the system. This is a phase.

Maybe it is, but then again, maybe it isn't. It didn't feel like a phase. It didn't feel common. The way I could barely breathe through the shock, the way I suddenly felt small enough to disappear, that couldn't be normal. You get over phases; it didn't feel like I could ever simply get over this. This sort of truth wasn't something you could force yourself to forget or overlook.

I was insignificant. Every day of my existence had been spent busying myself with not making a difference. When it came to the Big Picture, I was a speck of dirt on the corner that would inevitably be flicked off.

Welcome to reality. The little details in your life don't matter anymore than you do. You aren't changing anything. You will be forgotten.

During the most important moment of my life, I wasn't doing anything noteworthy, just staring at a whiteboard in a prison-cell classroom, not listening to my teacher not-teach. It was math if I remember right, Geometry—something I'll never use in my life even if I manage to live past the age of twenty. You don't need Geometry to flip burgers or use a cash register. It didn't matter anyway because I didn't understand it, the girl sitting next to me with the cigarettes tucked into her purse didn't understand it, and I doubted that my middle-aged, mid-life crisis teacher understood all of it either.

Anyway, I was in Geometry when it happened, the spark. I don't know what caused it, why I suddenly saw through the mask reality had pulled over its face. The trigger took place in my head, I guess, in those tiny electrical charges skipping between nerve endings. It wasn't really that important. Something somehow flipped a switch.

And I was left with the sudden coherence of my irrelevance.

It didn't make an audible noise even though it felt like it should. No big bell in the sky ringing or light bulbs popping up over my head. All that happened was that I sat staring at the same spot longer than usual, so long and with so much concentration that I didn't even notice when my pencil rolled out of my hand and bounced halfway across the classroom. A couple kids looked at me, then at the pencil, back and forth, waiting for me to pick it up, but I didn't even register their bored looks because I was too busy having a cataclysmic mental breakdown without making a sound.

I, Delilah Mary Patterson, mother's maiden name; Morton, sometimes Sara Rainier when I hopped bars and needed to be someone else, was of absolutely no consequence to the progression of the human race. I was a social security number, a multi-digit student ID, a little check that went to Washington every year to pay for the air I breathed, not a real person at all, but a sequence of characters that I had been labeled with at birth.

And I was going absolutely nowhere.

In front of me, the contrast of the black marker against the whiteboard seemed to throw the numbers sharply, but I still couldn't read them. They were just lines drawn in chemicals to my stumbling brain.

It's not like my life was particularly hard or meaningless. I lived in a middle-class neighborhood with my divorced mother, my sister and her kid, my drug-addict brother. An American statistic. I showed up on the high school social radar the average amount, with the average number of friends. I pulled average grades with average looks in an average town that wouldn't stand out on a map anymore than I would stand out in a crowd. I blended in perfectly, an average chameleon, adapting flawlessly to the world around me.

The most important moment of my life, I realized that to make a change, you first have to stand out.

I did not stand out.

That's a pretty big idea to swallow for someone who can't seem to understand the difference between Gucci and Prada, the Pythagorean Theorem and Murphy's Law. It was hard to fit the implications of my epiphany in my head and I spent the rest of that period just wrapping my mind around it. I'm sure the few people who actually noted my presence were wondering what my problem was since I sat completely motionless in my metal/plastic hybrid desk for almost an hour. My best friend grumbled from across the classroom, annoyed by the fact that her whispers were being ignored, but I barely noticed, not bothering to acknowledge anything outside my head until the bell rang.

It drilled its persistent and mind-numbing way into my skull eventually and I forced myself to my feet, wondering how I could possibly go back to living my cookie-cutter, conformist life now that I knew what was really going on. Maddy wandered over to me, face clenched tight with irritation.

"I was trying to talk to you, airhead. Wake up," she ordered, glaring down at me. I stared back, straight through her, still lost.

Wake up. Breathe. Consume, consume, consume. Breathe. Breed. Consume some more. Die. The story of the rest of my life was now alarmingly clear and unwelcome. Everything I do, I do because everyone else is doing it. I shivered as we stepped into the cold, antiseptic-and-sweat hallway, then paused. Maddy huffed impatiently, hands going to her hips.

"Come on, Deli. What are you waiting for?"

What was I waiting for?

It wasn't much of a push, but it was all I needed. I decided, right then, that I would do everything I could to break out of the mold. Start over. Clean my slate. Set everything around me on fire and watch it burn just to make a difference, cut my mark.

You can't control it? Destroy it. You can't trust it? Raze it to the ground. Complete chaos was the only way that I would be able to become more than a plastic card or a reconstructed pile of ash. To exist—I mean really exist—I had to change things. To change things I had to stand out. To stand out, I had to change myself.

And to change myself, I had to break. Nothing would matter until I could do that.

Saying 'nothing matters' sounds very depressing and suicidal though, so let me clarify. By 'nothing matters', I don't mean that I no longer have any reason to keep on living, although that may be true. I haven't reached that point in my realization yet—I'm not that advanced.

By 'nothing matters', I mean anything goes, everything goes, nothing I've ever had can be left behind when I clean out the closet of my life and burn everything that was ever inside. By 'nothing matters' I mean I'm finally free of all the social expectations and moral issues that no one ever really obeyed in the first place. I can finally live exactly how I want without worrying about how what's-her-name is going to react, about what whoever-he-is will think about me afterwards.

Again, it has something to do with destroying everything I have so that I can find something better. If there is anything better. After all, I'm insignificant, a number in a chart, and there's really nowhere for me to go but straight to hell.

If I'd known right then what I know now, maybe I would have hesitated. Maybe I would have had second thoughts. Because the problem with doing everything as wrong as possible in order to do something right is that things always seem to escalate. Spiral wildly out of control. Imagine a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger, and dirtier and dirtier. It could smash you flat if you don't move fast enough.

Flash forward to the present, to me standing on the edge of a skyscraper, watching the lights of our collective police force move around like fireflies. It's a really tall building and a really long way down, but it doesn't matter. The bodies and the gunshots, the snipers on every other rooftop and the loudspeaker blaring my name don't matter anymore than the all-consuming smell of gasoline in my nose. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was at school still, mostly normal, mostly sane, just another sheep in the flock for the moment. But I was an enlightened sheep, remember. I'd forgotten what I was doing, where I was going, but the fingers of my best friend and fellow conformant snapping inches from my nose hauled me back into the teenage world of gossip and popularity contests.

"Deli, what are you doing standing around, class starts in, like, two minutes!" That infamous 'like' was thrown into her sentence, a filler for our generation's conversation like the mystery in hotdogs.

To anyone who could connect my unmemorable face with a name, 'Deli' was about as good as it got. No, I do not serve freshly cut meat. No, I am not open until six. My name was shortened due to the fact that the average teenage attention span is only about two syllables long.

"I got distracted."

I watched her face carefully, trying to read her expression through her makeup—eyeliner, mascara, foundation, not an inch of real skin showing. Her face didn't show anything unusual that I could tell, so I stepped up to her side, ready to follow another lead.

My best friend's name was Madeline Scott, also known as Maddy, also known as 'that girl I shouldn't associate with'. Maddy had habits, but don't we all? Joe likes needles too much, Cara likes to feel loved a little too often, Susan cries herself to sleep. Almost everything we do is just a habit because we do almost everything more than once. My current parent (Mom) thought Maddy's habits were a little more destructive, a little less healthy, but that was just another reason for me to befriend her freshman year. Even back then I knew there was something wrong with doing everything right.

Maddy had big, curly brown hair that stuck up funny sometimes, big brown eyes that were always extra bright with too much household inhalant, and tiny, delicate features that had her ending up on her back (or her knees) far too often. She was tall, leggy, stripped naked in class everyday in the minds of the hormonal boys sitting around her. Nothing like me, but that's beside the point. We'd been friends for two years, both now seventeen and living it up in our junior year, trying to pass our classes with average grades. We'd never exactly had a perfect friendship, but that had never stopped her from being the closest thing I had to a best friend.

Looking at her now was making me a little confused, though. I'm unremarkable, as I've mentioned; flat blonde hair that never seemed shiny enough, never really had enough color to be that golden, model-blonde pretty. I have brown eyes like Maddy, but mine don't glitter and they're darker, almost black all the way through. Everything about me is toned down to dull, faded, hand-me-down colors. Washed out, like paint spread too thin or a picture of a picture.

The point is that Maddy had no reason to be friends with me. Up till now, my personality had been the same as my appearance, just as plain. Maddy was always the pusher, shoving me headfirst into the social scene. I don't gossip and I don't drink (at least not as much as Maddy), but I guess I was the prop she needed. All I had was an older brother who knew all the parties, all the dealers, and all the best escapes. I guess that could explain it. I was a means to an end just like every other human being on this planet. Consume so everyone else can keep on living, keep on taking in oxygen and letting out ruin.

Excuse me if I'm bitter. My whole life and everything I believed in just crashed and burned.

Maddy had been chatting away at me as I contemplated the depth of our friendship, speaking Cosmopolitan and Seventeen without really wondering if I cared. I tuned in for a split second, quickly realized there wasn't going to be an opening where I would be required to speak, and sunk back into my thoughts. Maddy and I had been through a lot together--my first party, first drink, first boyfriend. But was any of it for real? Now that I thought about the actual relationship instead of how much better people saw me with Maddy around, I suspected that Maddy wasn't really friends with me; she was friends with what I could give her. So maybe it would just be better to leave while I'm on top.

After all, wasn't today the most important day of my life? I was starting over, burning bridges, disassembling my life so I could make a new one that didn't make me feel like I was suffocating on everything everyone else was doing.

Cease introspective babble. Begin meltdown.

"I'm gonna go." My voice somehow managed to break through her endless string of nonsense fashion tips and sexual positions, sounding flat even to me. I really needed to work on having emotions. Enough years spent smothering every feeling I'd ever had in order to fit in and maybe I wasn't even capable anymore of making my tone of voice change to anything besides bored or teenage-girl-ecstatic.

Maddy sent me a look that made me feel strangely violent, a facial expression that clearly asked, 'What's your problem?' while somehow managing to degrade me to the point of dirt for deigning to voice something other than words already printed in a retail magazine. I didn't know what the problem was. We were five minutes late already and she was offended that I'd interrupted her useless chatter? New revelations, new ways of thinking, and now I was wondering why I'd let this relationship go on for as long as it had.

"Whatever, I'll see you later," she replied airily, sweeping away on those too long legs in her too high heels. I watched her go, wondering vaguely how she managed to walk at all in those little stiletto heels that pushed through into the ground if you walked on anything but hard surfaces.

I stared at the poster-littered walls of the school hallway for another few minutes, trying to get myself under control. I was already so late to my class that I might as well skip.

I'd never skipped class before; even with Maddy as a best friend I'd always managed to be a pretty good kid. No hardcore illegal drugs, drinking binges, or teenage hook-ups for me. At least I didn't conform that much. Skipping class would be a step up for me in the misdemeanor-ladder of my life.

But wasn't that exactly what I was going for now?

I promptly turned away from my assigned class, listening to my cheap sneakers squeak against the gaudy linoleum floor as I headed for the closest exit. A few times I hesitated, wondering if this was really the best way to go about altering my life, getting rid of the stagnant, blended-together days of my changeless existence. Once was when a teacher passed me, completely oblivious and headed for the staff lounge where he could drink coffee and try to forget about his dead end, thankless job. I was breaking the rules put in place by those that controlled my every waking thought and action.

Why not just pick up a hobby? Play a sport. Learn how to knit. Why not just find a new friend who could spice up my life a little?

Because filling my days up with even more useless activity wasn't going to make them any less meaningless, any more my own. I'd just be a better conformist adapting to crush the knowledge that I wasn't really changing anything but the lists in a schedule. Each step closer to the door led me closer to another moment I could never walk away from or purge from my memory. It was like walking to my death in a roundabout manner, but at least I'd be choosing the mode of my casualty instead of going along with it.

That's about when I realized that it felt absolutely wonderful.

My heart was pounding with adrenaline, each and every one of my nerves lit up with fizzly abandonment as I betrayed every impulse that had been ingrained in me from birth. I felt like I was on fire, even smiled a little as the teacher passed me by, an authority figure that didn't know it was losing one of its sheep to the wolf in her own head.

The ends of my fingers shook slightly as I pushed on the cold metal bar of the door, flinching as the hinges squealed but loving every shiver that raced up my spine at the prospect of getting caught. Blatant 'catch me if you can' thought patterns flitted through my head, daring someone to notice me for once. No one came and I was outside before the jittery, thrilling nervousness could get the better of me, out in the heavy spring afternoon air.

I was at the back of the building, staring out at the barren football field. The grass was still misted with dew and a sprinkling of rain, the peeling yellow paint of the goal posts coated in wetness that couldn't quite glint through the fog that blocked the sun. The space was huge and silent with a backdrop of trees, a little patch of woods littered with discarded beer cans, cigarettes, joints. Behind me the school's red-brick surface pushed me forward into the emptiness, throwing shadows across the half-trampled lawn.

Another step forward and I was out of the doorway, not listening to it click and lock behind me as I drank in the lung-piercingly chilled air. I was alone for once, probably the first time in weeks, and I was soaking up every second that I didn't have to pretend. Out here I was just Delilah, not Maddy's friend Deli or Bennett's little sister or that one girl at that one party. By myself I didn't have to worry about all the titles I'd been given that I didn't want, only the one that everyone seemed to think defined me as a person because my parents had thought it sounded pretty. It was a little easier to breathe with all the pretenses off my shoulders.

I pushed one hand through my dead-animal-bone white hair, for once not caring that it was getting frizzy from the water in the air, then began walking out onto the football field. Once or twice I almost slipped, but I managed to keep myself upright, my eyes peeled wide as I really took in the school grounds for the first time. Like I'd never seen them before.

The woods were a little eerie, a little dark, but I shoved the first branches out of my way anyway, settling my feet onto the thick layer of fallen leaves coating the grassless dirt. Everything that was threatening before was now open game and the copse of trees where kids I'd never had the guts to associate with spent their time was now prime ground. I was doing everything I wasn't supposed to in order to not achieve what my peers didn't really expect of me. And I was also confusing myself, but that was better than being a drone like the rest of my friends and family.

I think we're about to the point where I tell you about my family, my past, the little details of my life that led up to what's going on. There isn't really much to tell. Divorced parents, currently living with my mother in a three-bedroom assembly-line house. Younger sister (Genevieve) with a son, older brother (Bennett) with an addiction. Father with another family, mother with a dead end job, separated when I was ten. That wasn't even a big deal back then because my parents were never really together, just living under the same roof and breathing the same air. There was nothing about my life that would make me stand out from my next door neighbor or the kid down the street.

I think I've mentioned how average I was. Note the past tense and jump to me on that building sometime in the blurry future of my narrative. The flashing lights and the blood on my hands. It's all another loop inside a looking glass, but I don't know that yet so forget what I just said.

Anyway, until the moment I realized everything I've been telling you, I was an everyday, completely normal piece of wallpaper in the lives of those around me. I still was, but at least I now had the option to change that as much as I could. This was only the first tiny, baby step; skipping class and taking a trek through the woods. The most important day of my life was spent gathering scratches on my arms from thorns and tree branches that I could never quite dodge.

Of course, it wasn't too long before I knew I wasn't alone in the trees and the smell of gasoline was starting to drift in my direction.

Operation: ignition.

Edited: 5/14/09

a/n - Here 'tis, the new story! Any of you who are over here from How High, I hope you aren't disappointed by how different the writing style is. And those of you that are here from Bittersweet; you can see that I've reverted to first person once again. What can I say, I like to experiment and keep my options open. :) Also, I promise the semi-angstiness of this will let up and there will be plenty of action. I'm too much of a junkie when it comes to action. Anyways, hope you, my lovely readers, decide to drop a review! There will be cyber-candy in store...

Oh, yeah, Disclaimer: I don't own or have any affiliation with any of the brand name things I listed. Just to let you know.

Music: "Battles" by The Spill Canvas