It took 5.4 seconds for Arianna to die.
But when you’re bleeding from bullet wounds, it’s like someone switched the outside world into slow-mo and hit fast-forward on your brain. A story can have a hundred different beginnings and she wondered which one had led her to this end.
She could start at the very first one. The beginning of her life at 5:37 AM on October 16 at McAllen Medical Center. After all, aren’t we all born to die?
Or maybe she should start with her earliest memory. The way her father pronounced her name.
“Are”-ianna. So guttural and authoritative. It reminded her of a deep, dread-inducing organ chord. The sound hell might make.
She preferred the front-vowel a. “Air”-ianna. Saying it that way felt like floating on a cloud.
Dad’s diction was as tough as he was. How else could he have swum in the swamp of crocodile smiles and tears that was Washington, D.C. for all of those years, while Arianna’s mother raised her (if you could call it that) back in a poor border town near Edinburg, Texas? That was where her mother and her father were both from. She and her mother had moved back there from D.C. after the divorce. Her father swore he’d never step foot in that hopeless place again, and he never did.
That was where she first met the church.
Her father didn’t get to where he was by playing nice. “Airy”-anna, on the other hand, didn’t have a mean bone in her body. Whether that was a flaw or a virtue, she could not say. In theory, it seemed swell to love everything and everyone, but part of her was sure it was a cop-out.
She was the one her friends would call to talk about their problems, and there she would be, dishing out sage advice, which was usually just a regurgitation of some sermon she’d heard that she herself wasn’t even sure she completely understood.
In her darker, more private moments, she wondered, Is it not the weaker person who loves their enemy? Is it not the stronger one who stands firm against them? Does not forgiveness (at least sometimes) amount to cowardice?
But then she would remember the church. And she would repress these thoughts. Feel airy. And float away.
She remembered how her mother used to call her a “mostly-Mexican beauty.” Mom had told her that there was some gringo in there somewhere, but she couldn’t say exactly what kind. Both of her parents were fluent in Spanish, but they never taught her, so they could, as her mother would say, “talk about you without you knowing.” Arianna would snicker and snort at this.
She was a nerd and she knew it. Thick prescription glasses. Faint freckles peppering the coffee skin around her nose and cheeks. In her free time, she read, preferring fantasy novels. Tolkien was her favorite. Most people assumed, given her appearance and hobbies, that she was a straight-A student. In fact, her grades were abysmal.
She didn’t blame anyone, but she knew she didn’t have the stability other kids had growing up. Her mother was a loving but negligent alcoholic and her father was absent. Affection was a foreign language to him. She remembered smoking weed for the first time when she was ten. Her first taste of alcohol came in sixth grade. By fifteen, she was completely sober. Most other kids raised the way she was would have been lucky to have made it to twenty without a police record, drug addiction or death certificate.
But those kids never met the church.
That’s why she’d moved to Los Angeles. For the church. She’d found a shitty hostess job at a trendy burger spot downtown, earning minimum wage plus tips. She moved into the only place she could afford—some dump in South Central—and divided her time 70/30 between her church and hostessing duties.
Initially, the move to L.A. was nerve-racking. She wasn’t sure she’d belong. Fortunately, hipsterism was the in thing and what were hipsters but wannabe geeks with a dismissive streak? She knew she already had the geek thing down. A few trips to Urban Outfitters with her church friends, mix in a couple Bible-verse tattoos and instant hipster missionary. She fit right in.
But for someone who grew up so fast, she worried she was naïve. Believing the answer to every problem, no matter how complex or multifaceted, to be “love.” A notion as simple as it was abstract.
She thought of Sean from Tipperary, who she’d met last month when he helped her at the Central and 7th bus stop after she’d been mugged and had her phone stolen. He’d moved to L.A. with dreams of becoming a cinematographer.
After they’d reported the mugging to the cops, he’d invited her for a drink. She’d declined, then invited him to church. She’d told herself it was so he could be saved. Definitely not because she thought he was cute.
She’d been texting him only moments earlier. When she’d still had her whole life ahead of her. She was in her small ground floor studio apartment.
Did you go to church?
In hindsight, she should have looked twice at the large black vehicle looming on the street outside her barred window.
I thought you didn’t speak Spanish?
Lol. Why do you think I spelled it por k? Why didn’t you go?
She should have been paying attention.
Ask me in Spanish.
Punk. I’ll ask you in Irish. Po-Ta-Toes. Boil ‘em. Mash ‘em! Stick ‘em in a stew!
Maybe she would have heard her killer in the hallway.
Are you quoting Lord of the Rings? You do know Irish people and hobbits aren’t the same thing, right?
Could’ve fooled me.
She might have heard the footsteps getting closer.
I’m about to walk into the movies.
Geez. What is it with you and the movies? Don’t you have Netflix?
Streaming will be the death of cinema! Good night!
Arianna grinned and began to type “goodnight,” but she only made it to the letter “n” before the gunfire cut her off.
Her message was left unfinished. It would never be sent nor received.
And as she lay on her apartment floor, her heart pumping precious blood through dark bullet wounds, she wondered, Where are the angels? The bright light? Why did she feel so fucking cold?
She’d never thought it would be like this. She’d never imagined she would feel so alone. And in her final moments, she was terrified that God was a crock of shit and that she had lived her life as a coward.