Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
The first time I met Jaime Cortez was in second grade.
We never spoke much. He was a troubled kid and I was a kid gunning to stay out of trouble, so ultimately we steered clear from each other. I don’t think Jaime ever noticed me during that time, but I knew him. I watched him sometimes; the way he spoke, joked, and played, and I guess a side of me wanted to be part of it too. But mother always warned me to stay out of trouble, so I obeyed.
However, there’s a day in second grade I remember; a day when the teacher went around asking what we wanted to be when we grew up. Most kids said cool things like an astronaut or Prime Minister. I said a doctor since mother told me I’d amount to nothing less. But when the question reached Jaime, he said dead.
He didn’t mean it as a joke, or at least I don’t think he did. As soon as he said it, laughter burst out of me for the first time that whole year, and kept going, and going, and going ‘til they pulled us out of class. And that day, Jaime finally noticed me.
We both got into shit for it. Mother never forgave me, which was tough, but I couldn’t stay away from him despite all the harsh glares I received from her. Soon enough, I forgot about mother’s warnings and scrutinizing looks, and I replaced her with Jaime. I hung out with him every day, followed his plans no matter how ridiculous they were, and hung onto every word he said. We were growing up together—finding ourselves through childhood and adolescence. So even though his mother often called me his shadow, I wasn’t offended.
Jaime’s life was much grander than my own. His mother had him at the tender age of seventeen, which was probably why Jaime was the way he was. She raised him by herself up until he was about fourteen years old, right around the time she met his rich stepfather. A Cinderella story, I guess, though Jaime and his stepdad never took a liking to each other. He wasn’t a bad guy, in my opinion, but Jaime wasn’t interested in him and his stepfather was only interested in his mother, so ultimately, Jaime drifted and raised himself. I stuck by him when his mom and stepdad were absent half the time, and he stuck by me when I stopped hearing from mother and her glares came to an infinite rest.
And maybe that devoted loyalty was what made me accept his offer to Montreal when we graduated high school. “We can leave them all behind,” he told me. “It’ll just be the two of us, nobody else.”
Part of me knew he was only bringing me along because he didn’t want to be alone. He was terrified of the thought of not having anyone to see him the way I saw him, and I was scared of not being seen at all. So I accepted my offer to the University of Montreal, packed my bags, and headed off.
Jaime survived about three weeks in university before dropping out. I stayed a little longer, and as months passed my room filled with medical books and term papers while Jaime’s room turned into a stoner’s dream. I got a job even though Jaime’s parents were gracious enough to get us an apartment. They didn’t know their son dropped out, leaving his life of higher study for questionable substances and obscure nights.
As for me, well, I knew I didn’t belong in medical science, and Jaime knew that too. I remember one night in particular, while watching The Fresh Prince and sitting in the thick air of Jaime’s blunt, he turned and said, “Who are you on the inside? Really?”
And the thing is, I was nobody. Still am. I never thought of it before and the realization made me hellishly sad, but it was the truth. I was nothing and nobody, so I told him that.
Jaime got sad. “Everybody’s something,” he said. “You’ve just got to find out what.”
I guess it’s a bit stupid now that I think about it, but it was important to me back then. It was important to us. So I started smoking a bit even though it wasn’t really my thing. I took to drinking, to swearing, to spending forgetful nights in our apartment or aimlessly prowling the streets at dawn. He caused a shift in me, I will admit; something that would’ve made mother have an aneurysm.
Jaime helped me through the transition. I skipped classes to do experiments with him and sold all my medical books and papers just so we could have enough money for the things I knew we shouldn’t have taken. We’d take lines of speed and talk, talk, talk ‘til the sun rose up and the workingmen trudged out of their homes to their nine to five jobs. We spoke about the past, the present, the future. We delved into ideas about the cosmos, the universe, his mother, my mother, and everything in between. Everything during that time held a celestial glow, some special light that only he and I could see. But through all the hazy nights and drugged revelations, we couldn’t find me.
We tried ecstasy next and mixed it with lines of speed. Jaime went wild. He hopped around the house sweating, talking about many things that made him trip over his words and bite his tongue until it bled. Despite me taking an equal amount, I struggled to keep up with him.
And I told him this. I said, “Jaime, I can’t keep up with you,” so he gave me more just so he wouldn’t fly off the end of the world by himself. But he was running so much faster than I ever could, and there was nothing we could do about it. He stripped every article of clothing. He shaved his eyebrows. He ran out the apartment stark naked and hysterical, screaming about God knows what.
“Jaime? Where are you going? It’s the middle of winter!” I said again and again, but he didn’t care. He told me something about finding Heaven and kept running ‘til I had to chase after him.
And that night, I’m sure Jaime found who he was.
Cops got us somewhere downtown in an alleyway, several blocks away from home. We’d been passed out for hours. Jaime was naked, and even though I wrapped my clothed body around him, nothing stopped him from turning an abnormal shade of blue. We weren’t entirely sure how we got there—not even until this day have I figured it out—but there we were.
We were arrested for drug possession and public indecency. Jaime was eerily calm and in his element while I was completely out of it. I kept saying, “Jaime, what will we do? I lost my scholarship, my job. What will we do?”
But Jaime was cool, collected. He requested for a phone call and when he got one, called his mother immediately. In a few harsh whispers and tense breathing, he hung up. Sat down. “We’ll be fine,” was all he said, and the tension just washed away.
They didn’t let us leave the station until Jaime’s mother came, and since she lived a few hours away we wasted half the day. Jaime and I barely spoke the whole way through. He had his thinking face on, one where there were creases where his eyebrows should’ve been and cracked lips downcast. I knew he was thinking about last night—what it all meant to him. I should’ve been happy for him, I guess, but I wasn’t. Jaime found himself and I didn’t. That was the only thing going through my mind.
When Jaime’s mother showed, she was livid. They both looked the same—two short fused characters just ready to blow. She wore designer everything except for the dented silver cross hanging on her neck. When she saw her son behind bars, she touched her forehead, chest, both her shoulders, then did what she needed to do.
“It’s a miracle you’re still alive,” she said when we finally left the station, but I could tell that deep down, she was annoyed by this too. “Good Lord, what happened to your eyebrows?!”
But Jaime was far gone. He sat in the backseat and looked out the window, eerily content despite his mother’s screaming. From that point on, I only knew one thing: the boy from second grade was right.
Jaime Cortez was dead.
When we got home that day, Jaime’s mother forced him to stay with her. She found out about the dropping out and the drugs and the drinking and didn’t want her son to have any part of it. Any part of me. So in a few months with quick planning, Jaime and I split ways without much a goodbye. I tried calling him at first, and a few chats a week turned into two chats a week, then none at all. When he stopped picking up my calls, I turned to texting, sending messages every other day without any reply. Soon enough, I gave up, and Jaime was out of my life just as quick as he came in.
And me, well, I’m still living even though I don’t want to be. However, I guess Jaime taught me something: finding yourself is dangerous business. I mean, nobody ever knows who they are. We only know fragments of ourselves—pieces we’re sure of, but never the full picture. But sometimes it’s best not to know.
When you do, you’ll only end up wanting to kill it.