Death Date. A Short Story by April Hunter

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“Dear Mom and Dad…”

     I faltered, unsure what to write. What words could possibly convey what I was about to do? I didn’t want my parents to go to prison and whatever I wrote would be analyzed over and over again as part of the trial. It had to be meticulous.

     From birth, everyone has a number on their leg, the date they will die. Try as they might; no one is able to prevent their inevitable deaths.

My death date was in three days, on my twenty-second birthday.

     My mother had been inconsolable all week. My parents decided to have children because both of them had long death dates, and they felt that genetically, it would be passed down.

     We had just lost my brother Lucas three years ago in a tub drowning. He had been one of the ones who tried his best to avoid it, changing all his patterns and staying home from school all week. He was only seventeen and terrified. On his death date, he didn’t leave the house. By dinner, the tension had eased up a little. Perhaps he’d managed to elude the impending fate. There have been more than a few urban legends about people who have avoided death through various means and tricks. Maybe his careful plotting has worked. By the end of dinner, we were actually joking around and enjoying our food.

     Lucas had excused himself to the bathroom and that would be the last time we saw him alive. When he hadn’t emerged forty minutes later, my father banged on the door. With no response, he kicked it open. The details will never be forgotten.   A Rorschach of scarlet splattered all over the side of the tub and across the white tiled floor. My mother, wailing screams behind me, shoved my frozen body aside. Lucas’s eyes wide open in shock in dark red water, and his neck at an oddly twisted angle. 

     He’d slipped and hit his head, drowning. No one escapes. Death is unpredictable and often gruesome.

     So, how was I coping? I stared at my leg, scratching at the raised skin colored digits.  There was a tiny scar across the eight from the chicken pox in second grade. Nothing had changed. The numbers were as clear as they’d ever been. There were only hours left.

     A strange calm came over me as I set the lavish, crystal gown on my chaise to admire. Tomorrow was going to be my party, a birthday bash and Bon Voyage life party rolled into one. “Alexei’s Last Ride”, I’d named it. I didn’t see the point in finishing school, but I happily ended up with a lot of friends because my parents forced me to continue. I’d planned on leaving everyone with one hell of a memory, peppered with strippers and a disgustingly large stretch limo that would make them smile forever. Or, until their own death dates.

      I had considered fighting my date at first. My friend paid a tattoo artist to change her death date numbers into the infinity sign. It was a great concept.

     The tattoo artist laughed at her. We laughed with her. She died. Everything works in theory.

 

“Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m sorry…”

     It seemed the right thing to say. But was I? 

     Ever since I was old enough to grasp what a death date meant, every birthday card with a one-fifty amero bill and any extra allowance I could put away for as long as I can remember has all been used to collect government rationed painkillers over the years to prepare for this time. Sometimes people will sell their painkillers for a steep price on the black market, usually family of the very elderly.

     Our government only allows us to grieve for a limited amount of time; five weeks and three days for a child, less for a spouse, but they don’t force us to physically suffer. Drugs are strictly forbidden and controlled worldwide, but we are allotted a certain amount when our dates, and those for which we are registered, get close.

     After the grieving period has passed, the medication privileges are revoked and drug testing resumes. You are allowed one strike within a certain period of time of Mourns End, but after that, you face imprisonment. Everyone knew someone who had been in prison or still was.

     Prisons became privatized in America several decades ago, back in the second Bush era when my parents were both just children. We’d learned in school that previously, the imprisoned population was nothing out of the ordinary. Privatizing it became immensely profitable and corporations from all over the world lined up to invest in US prisons. In short time, half of the world’s prison population was held in America, despite the fact that the US was made up of less than 5% of the world population. Nation of the free and brave. Well, maybe just the brave. People were imprisoned for the most minor of infractions, things what would not get a sentence in other countries. The strictest of countries, like Russia and China, didn’t even come close.

     The profits grew wildly and private corporations started to require contractual “lockup quotas”, demanding 90-100% prison occupancy. The US government owned and controlled by the drug companies and corporations, began to criminalize everything in order to keep the money flowing quickly.  All drugs were declared illegal, as was alcohol. Even vitamins and supplements were no longer available without a prescription. To be caught with raw milk or vitamin C and not have a prescription for it? Prison. Midwife for baby delivery without a permit? Prison. Even an aloe plant was grounds for imprisonment. Fear was the main emotion coursing through America’s veins.  

     A rumor circulated that one of the corporations created the death dates to thin the over population, except something went wrong and it spread much more aggressively than anticipated.  Soon, every child was born with a raised, flesh colored date on their lower leg. No one knew what it meant at first. It was thought to be a birth mark until hospitals became inundated with babies bearing numbers; and then some began to die on dates which numbers coincided with those on their legs. These dates just suddenly appeared in 2041, like the AIDS explosion  in the early eighties and rampant Autism in the late nineties. 

     My family didn’t know my plan, and I highly doubted they’d approve. My mother was ardently pro life and one of the head honchos that lead the push ending the era of Roe versus Wade. Once the death dates began appearing, the argument for outlawing abortion completely grew stronger with so many children dying. As luck would have it, several members of Congress had lost infants suddenly that year due to short death dates and had been forced to return to work after Mourns End. My mother struck while the iron was hot. The court case was overturned swiftly and silently without a single abortion clinic bombing, or a grisly showing of fetus photos with torn limbs.

      The UN backed this decision and other countries followed suit. The world as a whole was mostly pro-life and disarmed whether they liked it or not. The federal government had decided that instead of going after America’s guns and risking more “Constitutional Rights” stripping backlash, they would simply stop producing and importing munitions.

     Some were peaceful, like Canada and Germany. Russia, Morocco, Bosnia and much of South America were not. Bullets became worth more than gold for about a decade…then they were gone. Killing still occurred, but it took a lot more planning. Suicide was illegal. Failed attempts were imprisoned for life and if family members helped or had prior knowledge, they were too. Suicides have become unheard of since most people have a much keener awareness of how short life is.

   8887897-pile-of-pills-in-blister-packs  I knelt down to the bottom row of my bookcase and pulled out the worn bible. It was a thick book that included both the Old and New Testaments and was translated in three languages; English, Italian and Swedish, with an extra section of the Old Testament in Hebrew. Its edges were frayed and the title had faded. It was my great-great grandmother Elizabeth’s. She’d had it during The Depression early in the nineteen hundreds and had passed down, from female to female until it reached me. I don’t think my great-great grandmother had anticipated death dates or girls dying so young that they wouldn’t have had any children. Then again, it was The Great Depression. Maybe she did. I opened it to reveal the hollowed out center compartment which had been conceived by young Liz. It hid her copper pennies, bread crusts, stamps and a gold wedding ring. Being in a different sort of depression now, it held the means to an end; my beautiful collection of freedom. Xanax, Vicodin, Percocet’s, Demerol and the rare Oxycontin which had been pulled from the market for nearly fifteen years.

     My mind raced, but I refused to let the fear engross me.  I wouldn’t live that way and I won’t die that way. My numbers don’t say when. I do. The best way to beat the odds is to not be one of the odds. I didn’t feel sorry. I felt in control.

     I sat back down at my desk and picked up my pen again. Chewing the tip of it, I suddenly realized that only when you’re dying do you truly start to live. Your senses become more alert: colors more vibrant, smells crisper, details more fascinating. You realize that nothing is to be taken for granted, because it may be the last time you can enjoy your mother’s incredible sausage balls or the last time you’ll see your dog bound over to you when you walk through the door.

 

“Dear Mom and Dad,

We don’t get many choices in this world.

I’d like this one to be mine.

I love you, forever.

Alexei.”

 

     I tucked the note away into the bible with my pill stash for later. Right now, there was a party to finish planning.

 

——-

Thank you for reading. I’m new to writing fiction. 

–April Hunter

 

(Copyright & story owned by April Hunter.  All words and accounts on this blog are the sole property of April Hunter.)

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Chapter 2: The Choice.

I stood in my room, surveying the damage. My closet had been ripped apart. Clothes were strewn all over the floor. My mattress was also across the floor. My makeup and hair tools swiped off my dresser, scattered across the carpet. It looked like I had been ransacked and robbed.

But it was just my father.

He stood in the doorway, still wearing his army flight suit, dark with anger. He’d gone through my closet while I was out and found birth control. It was just before my sixteenth birthday. He clutched the pills and condoms in his hand and demanded, “Where did you get this?”

Looking at the floor, I muttered, “A clinic.” I was then informed me that I was grounded, indefinitely. Not just from TV, telephone and going out, but also from wearing makeup, doing my hair or wearing contacts. I’d be relegated to wearing my glasses and “being a kid again”.

I lived in Alabama with my father. While Mom and I had had talks about sex, Dad preferred to largely ignore it in regards to his kids and kept the household very strict. Meals were eaten with family at the same time each night. I made my bed with hospital corners and could bounce a quarter off of it. Curfew was 10 p.m. sharp on weekends and no socializing during the week. I called everyone “sir” or “ma’am” and always said please and thank you. And…I had floor-to-ceiling windows in my bedroom I’d sneak out of to see my boyfriend. I would describe him as a decent looking redneck football player. He introduced me to drag racing, Hank Williams Jr, four-wheeling and a few recreational drugs. I don’t think I even liked him that much. But he had a car, which got me out of my oppressive household of drinking, violent mood swings, early curfew and a strict military upbringing.

A few months later I was so tired, I could barely stand up. I had been granted the privilege of wearing makeup again, but began skipping it, because I barely had the energy to get to school. Normally a sugar fiend, I lost my craving for everything except protein. I’d scavenge our refrigerator for all the meat and cheese I could snack on between meals. I was nauseous all day long and dropping weight. I thought, “I don’t know what’s wrong, maybe it’s mono, but maybe I should take a pregnancy test just to make sure.” I dragged myself down to the nurses office, and when she came back with a “you’re pregnant”, a flash of hot terror sliced through me. FUCK. Fuck, fuck, fuck. What the FUCK will I do? My dad will KILL ME. He thought nothing of completely trashing my room over just finding condoms. This would be my end.

I now know that kind of severe sickness is called hyperemesis gravidarum and women usually end up in the hospital due to extreme dehydration for most of their pregnancy.

I needed to think. The clock was ticking. Every day that passed, I was running out of time to make a decision, as I was already past the two month mark and hurtling towards last call. Twelve weeks was the cut off for termination.

The sheer panic and stress over making this decision is unlike anything you can ever feel unless you yourself go through it. To this day, I’ve never experienced that same kind of gut-twisting panic. The boy and I had been seeing each other for 2 years. We talked and were on the same page as far as deciding that neither of us was in the position to take care of a child at this point. Our only option for abortion underage was to get married or tell my parents. I was so terrified of my dad, we decided to get married, but we’d have to do that in Georgia, since Alabama didn’t get underage kids get married. We planned it and I felt even sicker and what a fucking mess my life had suddenly turned into. I had ten days left.

I was stuck between a two very bad options, but I didn’t think I could go through with marriage at age 16. I knew I had to tell my Dad. It was the only way. I sat there, sick to my stomach with cold sweat for hours, trying to work up the courage. I casually walked by him sitting on the couch and said, “Dad…when you have a minute, can you come into my room? I need to talk to you.”

I sat on the bed and waited. My heart was pounding in my throat; my palms were slick with perspiration. He appeared in the doorway. I looked at him, took a breath and blurted, “I’m pregnant.”

He stared at me and didn’t say anything for a full minute. Then, he started to cry. I had NEVER seen my father cry. I was horrified. Through losing friends after Vietnam to a terrible divorce, he had never cried in front of me. Gutted, I realized how bad I was hurting him. Worse, I’d disappointed him. He turned his back to me and went into his room. I just sat there. He returned to my room and said, “Tomorrow. 8 am. Be ready.” He’d made an appointment at a clinic in Montgomery, a distance from us. Clearly, he didn’t want anyone to know about the trouble I’d gotten myself into.

“Okay.” Relief washed over me.

“I want more for you than this.” He stood in the doorway, tall and intimidating. “You’re too young and way too smart to waste your life. You can go places. But not this way and not tied to this guy. You would be tied to him and tied down for life.  For LIFE. And I am not raising another kid. I raised mine.”

I didn’t have the courage to say, “Well, you’re the one who took away the birth control. I was being responsible. Any idea how hard it was to get that being underage, with no job, no money, and no car? Not fucking easy. I think it was pretty goddamn resourceful of me. What did you THINK would happen?” I just sat there, saying nothing. I probably didn’t have to say anything. He knew.

Early the next morning, it was a near silent drive up to Montgomery from Enterprise. It was an all-black clinic. I’d never really been exposed to many other races before except Koreans on the military base. He paid the extra fee for a local anesthetic. A big Jamaican nurse sat down next to me, and patted my hand. “Look, chile…it’ll be ok. You’ll be fine. You have plenty of time for this later, after you live your life first.” I went in to a sterile, bright white room, got on the paper covered table and the doctor inserted a cold speculum. I heard the sound of suctioning. In less than 5 minutes, it was done. I got up; they put me in a cold recovery room with Cheezit crackers and a soda. I found out I had an extremely tipped uterus and was RH negative. The reason I was so damn sick is because my body was trying to get rid of the fetus naturally, and it was likely RH positive. They gave me an injection to change my RH factor. I was told to wear a pad and how to avoid infection. I was given birth control pills and told this procedure would not affect any future pregnancies. (It didn’t.) I made the judgment that all black people were kind and nice.

It was a surprisingly not unpleasant experience and the very first time I didn’t feel sick, stressed and wound up with anxiety in weeks. It was in Dad’s hands now and my stomach finally stopped churning.

On the ride home, “I’m sorry.”

Him: “I know.”

I felt better the next day. Human. The weight had been lifted. It was not a decision I’m either proud of or ashamed of. It just was.

Some of my friends have had children very young. They love them dearly and their kids add much to their lives. However, the story is usually the same. “I wish I could have waited longer.”

You wouldn’t be reading this blog if I’d chosen to have a baby. You’d have never seen me wrestle. You’d never see me model. I don’t know what I’d be doing, but it wouldn’t be this. No one has to live with the decision except me…and probably my parents, because they WOULD have had to step in.  I went on to go to college, travel and do interesting things people pick my brains about (usually in awe) all the time. I wouldn’t have seen a lot of the world or experienced life as I’ve been able to.

For me, it was the right choice. I wouldn’t change a thing. And I’m grateful that I had a choice to begin with.

This was a hard blog to write. I know some will be offended, but again…no one lives with my decisions except me. I later found out I have rapid cycling Bipolar disorder, which is genetically passed on. My father had it. I would never want anyone else to have to live with this. It’s a hard, hard thing to manage. 

The old boyfriend emailed me several years ago. He said he was doing random construction in Mississippi and has had a “shitty life”. My friend back in Alabama said he’d been in trouble several times for beating his wife. This, I know is true…I’d been on the receiving end of it a few times. It made me think that despite what we think of our parents when we’re young – or how much we THINK we know, that maybe, just maybe they really do know what’s best for their kids after all. 

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Photo – Chris Freeman Photography