My name is
Courtney, and I was born at 5:15 AM on October 26th, 1988. When I was born my parents didn’t ask the doctor
if I was a boy or a girl, or if I was healthy.
Instead they asked, “what’s the number?”
braced for the doctor’s answer. My parents
held each other close, both openly crying as they prayed for good news. “Her
number is…” started the doctor, flipping my right wrist over and reading the
black numbers that spread across it. “152310232048.”
cried in relief.
I would live
a good life.
I had a
in my world, everyone is born with a 12-digit number on their right wrist. What does the number mean exactly? Well—the number gives us the day we die. We don’t know how we will die, but we will—at
that exact time. Think of it like the expiration
date you see on a jug of milk. After the
expiration date, you throw away the milk, right? Well, that is what the marks on our wrists
mean. We obviously don’t get thrown away
in the trash, but we cease to exist after that date. And just like that jug of milk buried in some
landfill, we too will be buried in the ground.
means that at 3:23 PM on October 23rd, 2048—I will die.
live to be 59 years old.
I have a
good number. It isn’t the best
number. My brother is going to live to
be 88. My parents, couldn’t believe it when the doctor read his number out
loud. He will live 29 years longer than
me. He will see so much more than me, experience
so much more than me. He might even live
to see his great-great grandchildren—I’ll be lucky to see my
get jealous when I see his number.
is my life.
change my number.
It is permanent.
money, and miracles do not change your number.
You can certainly die earlier then your number, but to die before your
number is rare. People just tend to be
more careful. After all, when you are
constantly walking around with a literal reminder of your time left on earth on
your wrist, you tend appreciate the life you have a little more.
I have a
reminded of this when I see other people’s number.
time this happened was when I was 5 years old.
first day of school, I was in kindergarten and I’ve never really interacted
with any other kids besides my older cousins.
I was nervous, so when recess was called, I decided to go to the
swings. Anyone who liked swings as much
as me—well, they were cool in my book.
On my way
to an open swing a wild boy with a dinosaur shirt, and brown eyes full of mischief,
performed a back flip off the swings and nearly knocked me over in his crash
landing. He jumped up, dusted off his
pants and smiled at me and said, “My names Devon, and I am going to live to be
such a typical kid way of introducing themselves. Adults tended to be more secretive of their
numbers. Wearing watches, or long-sleeved
shirts to cover up their numbers, but five year olds—we didn’t understand the
concept of subtlety.
body quickly landed next to him, this one thankfully on their feet. It was a red-haired girl, with two perfectly
braided pig tails. “My names Fiona, and
I’m going to live to be 62.”
body landed next to her. He stumbled a
bit on his landing, and his glasses fell down the bridge of his nose as he
found his balance. “Hi, I’m Oscar,” he
smiled, shaking his long brown hair out of his eyes as he pushed his glasses up
his nose. “I’m going to live to be 17.”
were in kindergarten. We were literally
learning our ABC’s, learning how to tie our shoes, and zip up our coats, but
the concept of numbers—that we didn’t
need to learn. Our parents made sure we
knew what our number was, and what their number was, and what grandma’s number
was—numbers were literally ingrained into our minds, much like the literal
numbers that adorned our wrists.
meant even at 5 years old, I knew that Oscar—well Oscar, had a bad number.
have showed on my face because the boy—a boy who I didn’t even know, hugged
me. And as he squeezed me, he said, “It’s
okay,” before pulling back and smiling. “My
dad’s say that seventeen is plenty of time.
They said it is isn’t about how high your number is—but it’s about what
you do with the number you get.”
back now, as an adult thinking about having my own child—I’d probably say the
same thing to my child if they were born with a bad number. What else can you do? You can’t change your child’s number. You can’t give your child more time, no
matter how much you wish you could take the numbers off your wrist and place
them on your child’s—you just can’t.
Your job as a parent is to protect your children, but you can’t protect
them from the inevitable, so instead, you give them something else.
gave him hope.
were great people. I grew close to them
as we progressed through school because obviously, Oscar, Fiona and Devon and
me—we became best friends after the day on the swings. We called our group “The Swingers,” much to
the embarrassment of our parents. We
didn’t understand why they didn’t like our group nickname when we were young,
but we finally understood when we were 15—and thanks to the internet, we
learned exactly what “swingers” were.
But even after learning the sexual nature of our group nickname, we
still kept it, because honestly, what teenagers didn’t like tormenting their
where are you going? It’s late!”
I can go to Oscar’s house!”
“And what will
you be doing at Oscar’s house?”
are just having a swinger party, can I go now?”
of embarrassment on my parent’s face was always perfect—especially in public.
of Oscar’s house. His house became the “hang
out” spot for us four. Mostly because
his dads had an awesome basement, and his dad Jerry was professional Chef,
which meant we ate good there. But back
to Oscar’s dads—they were awesome. They adopted
Oscar when he was just an infant. His
mother gave him up when she saw his number. It was an epidemic in our world. Foster homes were full of children with bad
dads, they didn’t see his number. They just
saw Oscar. This happy, intelligent,
beautiful blue-eyed child who just so happened to be destined to die young. They didn’t see his number—instead they just saw
and I—we only saw Oscar too.
the kids in our class didn’t really attempt to get to know Oscar, because
honestly, what was the point? He wouldn’t
be around for long. So, it was the four
of us—for as long as we had the four of us.
experienced our first kisses.
We had our
drunk once—never again.
high—more than once.
We just lived.
Swingers” lived every day to the fullest—until the day came when four was about
to become three. Oscar’s day would land
just a few weeks before our Senior graduation.
We always knew his number, but it never seemed real until it came so
close to the actual date on our calendar.
accelerated courses so that he could graduate before—his number came up. The school planned a graduation ceremony just
for him the day before his number. His dad’s and his extended family fills the stands, the rest of his class sit in the chairs,
the very same chairs they will soon fill in a couple of weeks when the class of
2007 would all walk together. The principal
called out Oscar’s name, and he stepped up to the microphone.
the schools valedictorian. He stayed late
after school, he studied well into the night, he worked hard—so hard, that his
dedication to his studies really got in the way of “swinger” time. One day, after another late night of not
seeing Oscar because he was studying for a Chemistry test, I yelled at him. “It
is just a Chemistry test Oscar! If you get a B, it won’t be the end of the
barely blinked an eye at my outburst, instead, much like that day in front of
the swings—he pulled me into a hug. “Look, this is the only time I have to be
great,” he said. “I don’t get anything
after this. So, if this is all I get—I’m
going to be the best.”
grade point average
score of 1560.
And he never
filled out a single college application.
cleared his throat in front of the microphone, garnering everyone’s
attention. “Thank you for everyone who
came today. It means a lot, to me. Very
much like my life, I’m going to keep this speech short.”
echoed through the gym and Oscar smiled.
not meant to be a joke. Please don’t
think that I am making light of the fact that tomorrow is my number. Instead, I say that I will keep this speech short—because
I think the world tends to greatly underestimate the power of something short.”
gave me up for adoption when I was only 1 minute old. As soon as the doctor read my number, she
signed over custody of me to the state.
I always wondered, how can I be judged of my quality of life, before I’ve
even taken my first shit.”
from the students, gasps echoed from the parents, and grumbles of disapproval
echoed from the teacher’s and administration.
But Oscar just smiled, as he looked back at the principal. “Feel free to give me a detention this weekend
for cussing,” he joked, earning another chuckle from the students.
wrong—by the way,” continued Oscar, his gaze going back out to the gym. “Anyone who ever stared at my number, and
looked at me with sadness—you were wrong.
I have lived—not as long as our parents and not as long as you all will
live—but make no mistake, I have lived. My
life may have been short, but it doesn’t mean it has been any less significant
as someone who lived well into their 80’s.”
Taking in a breath, he gave his parents and then the swingers a shaky smile. “Every
second of every single day for the past seventeen years—have been lived to the
fullest because simply, I didn’t have the time to waste. Every moment of my life has counted, cherished
and loved—can you say the same thing about yours?”
on 2:13 PM on March 16th, 2007.
number said, he lived to be 17.
He had a
didn’t let his number define him.
lived every day, until his number was called.
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This. Was. Amazing.