Before Now

Sitting on a piece of driftwood, looking out at the water. The sea glitters with the reflection of a thousand stars. I am calm as I write these words in the moonlight. My last words. Our last words.

We took all the pills. One or two at a time so we wouldn’t throw them up, until we finished the last of forty; sitting, looking out at the reflection of the stars in the black Pacific Ocean, watching the white-tipped waves gently kiss the land. I gave Cole six extra of mine; he asked for them because he’s bigger and weighs more. We’ll never see Mexico, but we’ll be together. Always.

I can’t feel any of it yet, but soon it will be all I can feel.

I want you, whoever finds this journal, to know we were happy. We are happy. We’ve made our decision—the only choice we really had. People think suicide is for people who hate themselves.

But they don’t understand.

This was not an act of annihilation.

This was an act of self-love, of protection.

We would rather die than pay for other people’s crimes.

My father would never understand this. The way he insists he’s seen everything just because he’s a cop, but he couldn’t even see what was going on right in front of his own eyes. He thinks he’s the one who experienced all the adversity because he’s an immigrant, came up from nothing, that he can sit and tell everyone what to do. Not just me and Cole, but everyone has to follow his rules. And I’m supposed to achieve all the things he couldn’t. I’m supposed to be in all the honors classes, not because I like it or I want to learn, but because it’ll show everyone who our family really is.

He cares so much about how people see us. He pretends he’s got working-class pride, but he has working-class shame. “They see us as trash,” or “they discriminated against us.” But then he discriminates against Cole! Hates Cole. My mother wanted me to be with some good Christian boy whose parents are doctors or lawyers and who live up in Edina in some fancy house, like if I did that I would be winning something for them. Ridiculous! Like any of those country club boys in the Minneapolis suburbs would date a brown girl named Atabei Taton. If they’d really wanted even a chance for it to be different they would have named me Abby or Emily or Hannah.

Cole and I were their worst nightmare. I found a boy from the building. A white boy whose family is always in trouble with the law. And my father, dutifully sworn to “protect and serve,” couldn’t stand the idea that I would spend even a moment in their apartment. He would come back after patrolling in Hawthorne or Longfellow saying things like “I saw the mother of that boy wandering down Pacific Street today—you know it will come to no good.”

As if that had anything to do with Cole.

Cole tried to comfort me, but it didn’t work. I’m too angry. Too scared that at any moment the police will come find us and take us back, that some do-gooder will walk down the beach with her golden retriever, recognize us from a “missing” poster at the supermarket, and turn us in.

Cole talked about his mother, and it made me feel selfish. I shut up because I know I’m lucky compared to him. His mom, Jennifer—he never called her Mom—nodding out on the couch or rifling through kitchen drawers looking for a few hidden dollars to pay for dope.

He is the only person I have ever met who gets it about freedom. Because if there’s anyone who has experienced adversity, it’s Cole. But they will hunt us down and take him away for something he did for me, things he did for his mother. Assault and battery. Selling drugs. Missed court dates and broken probation. Accused of kidnapping! Half of it isn’t true. None of it’s his fault. And the people who really deserve to be locked away are walking around free. Are seen as respectable.

Here, on our hidden beach, our last chance to be ourselves.

Before we took the pills, I stood knee-deep in the water, my back to Japan and the expanse of ocean in between, watching Cole twist something in his fingers by the shore.

“Atty, look out!” he called.

For a second I thought that we had been caught! But then I was knocked forward by a six-foot wave that sent me sprawling to his feet, spun head over heels like clothes in a washing machine. Cole’s head lifted up, and he laughed so loud that I panicked and thought for sure someone would find us. But the thought passed, and I stood, covered in seaweed like an old movie monster. I rushed at Cole and knocked him down, grabbing him around his chest. He rolled me around the sand, his arms gentle and strong. We laughed, gulping down air and pressing against each other until we landed intertwined along the water’s edge.

“Look,” he said suddenly. “I made this for you.”

Cupped in the palm of his hand was a tiny braided ring made of rope strands that had washed up on shore. Round and delicate and perfect. I slid it onto my left index finger and kissed him, tasting the sweetness of his breath.