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A friend can hasten your end

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

“Said he wanna be … Some day he’s gonna be … Shorty’s gonna be a thug.”

The rap music of 2Pac pumped bass all the way down the block. “Kase” came out the back door of his house, bobbing his head to the beat then arching back as he blew a puff of marijuana smoke into the sunny air with exaggerated satisfaction.

He was the tallest and toughest kid at Riverside Middle School. I was his main friend and the after-class routine was most always the same: Kase would crank up the “All eyez on me” album and strut around, finding targets for his pent-up violence.



On this particular day Kase had a gun in his hand when he came out of the house. It was only an air pistol, and I didn’t think much of it until he furrowed his brow, raised his left arm to the side and fired randomly toward the school across the river, looking at me the whole time.

A screaming wail of pain shot from the basketball court ” “Oh, Jeez … !” An unfortunate kid fell to his knees on the blacktop, pressing his hands to the side of his head. Kase laughed, then turned the gun on me as I started to run away in the backyard, the sting firing up my leg like a hot electric poker. I limped around with an infection in my left calf for two weeks. The moment he shot me was the moment I knew I had to escape the “friendship” ” but that was easier said than done.



I had thoroughly tangled myself up in a lifestyle for reasons I wasn’t even sure about. I’d let Kase carve a “tattoo” of a cannabis leaf on my right shoulder, using a knife and green ink (still have a scar); I’d wrestled him every day to the point of bruises, alienating most of my peers and teachers in exchange for … what? Part of me liked (and still likes) the presence of unpredictable danger. Even now, I have a fascination to understand the point of view from the lowest pockets of society, to observe wolves in their natural habitat. To dance with darkness and think you won’t be touched by some of the sharp things it hides, however, is a delusion.

When I started to seek sanctuary from the emotionally twisted soul, I found it scarier and more difficult than anything else up to that point. Worried what Kase would do if I told him face-to-face to leave me alone, I tried to simply avoid him completely. That didn’t work. He stalked me around my house, even after I’d moved and been away for a summer. He came up to me at school and, with his arm hooked stiffly around my neck, made threatening reasons for me to come back into his fold. Things went missing. Breathing, hang-up calls disturbed my mom and me at all hours. Finally, after months and months of me hiding, Kase started to get the message. I gradually made new friends (some of whom I still know) and my grades improved. Kase continued his downward path, selling higher volumes of drugs imported from Colorado Springs. He didn’t last long into our eighth-grade year before he was sent off to military school. I never heard about him after that, but his presence in my life continues.

I see kids like me, I see kids like Kase. I see kids that are adults, so insecure or confused they don’t seem to know why they do some things. Even at this moment I have an acquaintance I suspect is getting pulled into meth use and all that lifestyle entails. I yearn to yank them all up by the arms and point them in a direction with a future.

So, when I’m out in the streets, I look them in the eyes and try to hear their words. I’m not quick to nod my head in agreement, nor to preach ” I know how hollow those words would be. The best thing, I think, is to stand among them, strong enough to hold my boundaries but aware I’m never more than equal. I walk with them on occasion so they know I’m there. When we part ways, as I get in my car and crank up a 2Pac track, I hope they also know they’re free to ride with me for a change.

One day … Shorty’s gonna give a hug … or he’s gonna die a thug, bloated ‘n’ washed up, stuck inside a drug.

These days Derek Franz is living the “Plug Life” in his new job at a greenhouse where he plants sprouts of growth all day. Holla at ‘m: rockgripper8000@yahoo.com.


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