OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD a novella by Alex Miller Osama bin Laden is Dead is about growing up in a sad little town in the middle of nowhere. It’s about going to high school with a bunch of rich kids who hate you because you buy your clothes at Walmart. It’s about your parents manipulating you into enrolling in a creepy Christian college where morons go to be brainwashed. It’s about dating a girl who won’t put out. Osama bin Laden is Dead is about Mark, a high school senior who can’t imagine how his life could ever stop being pathetic. Mark is neither happy nor well adjusted. He likes to pretend that Osama bin Laden is some kind of anti-Christ superhero who can save him from the bleak hellscape that his life has become. “Osama bin Laden is Dead” is about all of Western civilization crumbling and collapsing on top of you. It’s about war and terrorism and making out with your best friend’s girlfriend on a sticky couch in her basement. It’s about finding a new way to live.
CHAPTER 1 When Osama bin Laden died, it felt like a punch in the balls. He was a prime douchebag, and everybody was happy he died, and I should have been happy, too. Believe me, I tried. But as soon as I heard the news, I got all twisted up inside. If you’re reading this a thousand years from now—and it would be very cool if you are—then you might have forgotten that Osama bin Laden was the same asshole who masterminded the airplanes that blew up the skyscrapers in New York City. He hated the Americans who wouldn’t worship Allah. He hated how America gave guns to Israel to kill Palestinians. He hated all the dictators in the Middle East and Africa, especially the ones propped up by American money. He wanted to kill the dictators and make a new Islamic caliphate. Osama bin Laden hated music and gay people and Jews and premarital sex and whiskey and credit cards. Osama bin Laden hated a lot of things. I grew up down South, in a small town not far from Nashville and, consequently, met a lot of people much like bin Laden: all ripped up inside, spiteful and cruel, looking to bust skulls over some imagined slight. Whenever I encounter these people, I tell them to relax. If you’re reading this a thousand years from now, you probably don’t remember the night Osama bin Laden died. But I do. I sat on the floor of my friend Nolan’s bedroom. Everybody important was there. Dallas, notably, was absent. Nobody liked Dallas, anymore. I remember how my T-shirt kept sticking to my chest. The room hardly had space for the four of us. Nolan talked about college and skimmed through a Vanderbilt catalog. He’d been accepted on scholarship but didn’t know what to study. “I’d rather die than major in communications,” he said, flipping pages, scanning a list of possible majors—computer programming, public policy, pre-law—all of life’s possibilities laid out in Helvetica type.
Marcy massaged his shoulders. She and Nolan never dated, not exactly, but sometimes they fooled around. I wanted to murder him for it. “Come with me to NYU,” she said, massaging away. Marcy also had a scholarship. In a few months, she would move to New York City to major in art. I wasn’t sure how she would make money with an art diploma. Probably by fooling around with more guys for me to murder. “New York makes me vomit,” Nichole said. She had blond hair and looked like a model for Seventeen magazine. “New York is godless. I don’t ever want to go to New York.” “I don’t want to design websites,” Nolan said, slinging the catalog toward a stack of old Dungeons & Dragons books. “Just do something that makes money,” Nichole said. She tapped the surface of her iPhone with long fingernails painted pink. That’s when Nolan’s mom came running up the stairs. Her heavy feet thudded against the carpeted steps like a bass drum keeping a beat. She pounded on the bedroom door and then yanked it open, squeezed her porcine body into the room before any of us had time to reach for the knob. “Osama bin Laden is dead,” she told us, inhaling like a marathon runner, eyes lit up like the first day of spring. “Turn on the TV. Osama bin Laden is dead.” The newscasters looked like they wanted to high-five each other as they read the report. U.S. forces had raided Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Pakistan. They shot him and took possession of the body. The newscasters looked like they all wanted to have sex with each other. We watched well-groomed politicians and smug terrorism experts. We watched crowds celebrating outside the White House and Ground Zero. It felt good at first to see all the happy people. His death brought relief, a great release of stale breath. But after a while, after watching all the douchebags dance and cry with the American flag in front of TV cameras—I don’t know—I felt weird, like even though he deserved to die, everybody didn’t have to be so excited about it.
I leaned back and propped myself up with my hands on the carpet. I tried to make up my mind about bin Laden. The carpet felt stiff like Velcro. If I grinded my hand against it for an hour, the skin would just wear away. Eventually, Nolan’s mom waddled back downstairs. Her son rubbed a patch of orange stubble on his chin. He turned to us like he had something important on his mind. “When I grow up, I want to be a terrorist,” he said. Nolan was psychologically crazy. That’s why I liked him. Anyway, I knew better than to take him seriously. It’s important to know when your friends are full of shit. If you can’t tell, then they’re probably not your friends. “I’ll steal a boat, a Navy missile boat,” Nolan said. “I’ll sail across the ocean, and whenever I find an oil rig, I’ll blow the fuck out of it.” “That’s stupid,” Nichole said. She examined her fingernails. Nobody cared what Nichole thought. She had this idea the two of us were going to Brandover next fall. Brandover is this Evangelical college in Florida where morons go to be brainwashed. She didn’t know I would rather shoot myself in the face than accompany her to Brandover. Nichole was my steady girlfriend.
CHAPTER 2 Later, I tried to give it to Nichole in the front seat of my father’s Chevrolet. That’s where I always tried to give it to her. It wasn’t a very romantic place to fool around, but it’s not like I had an apartment or dorm or anything. I would have sexed her up in a Renaissance castle, if I had one. I parked down an overgrown driveway off Claremont, past where it turns to dirt on the way out of town. Nichole called her parents to tell them we were still at Nolan’s and watching the news about Osama bin Laden. I didn’t call my parents. I wanted Nichole to think I was the kind of guy who didn’t give a fuck. “Yes,” I overheard her say to her dad as I switched off the headlights, “I’m happy he’s dead. I feel so…I don’t know…I feel lucky. It feels good to be alive.” I enjoyed messing around with Nichole but felt guilty because I didn’t like her very much. And I didn’t even have a good reason not to like her. She was actually very nice, very attractive, and popular—much more so than I could ever hope to be. Also her family was loaded. The worst things about Nichole were she was boring and always telling me what to do. The most important thing for you to know about me and Nichole is that I wanted to dump her. During rare moments of honesty, I would admit it to myself. Then later, I’d reconsider. I didn’t have a strong reason to dump her. I wondered if it would be immoral. But sooner or later, I assured myself, I would dump her. Me and Nichole made small talk forever. At one point, I even started to dump her but chickened out. Breaking up was impossible. A great deal of momentum was at play. Nichole expected us to get married eventually. So did my parents. And her parents, even though they hated me. Her dad and new mother thought I was trash. That’s what they told Nichole. They wanted her to break up with me but wouldn’t force the
issue—not after last summer, not after Vanessa’s party. And anyway, I was an easily manipulated piece of trash. Her parents knew I wouldn’t put up a fight when they started plotting out my life for me. After a while, Nichole asked what was wrong, and I told her nothing was wrong. I was fine, just fine. Then we made out. Nichole acted very horny. I felt the heat from her crotch through my blue jeans. Guys always say girls smell like tuna down there. It’s not exactly true, but it’s close enough. Anyway, it made no difference how hot her crotch burned. She saved herself for marriage or Jesus or whatever. The scene wasn’t as sordid as I’ve made it out to be. Something about being in the car with her made me sentimental. Nichole had the whitest skin, the fairest hair. The moonlight colored her blue. When I saw her that way, I understood the blue to be her true color, and the sunlight that had bleached her white a lie. We made out until we sweat. I kissed her on the neck below her hair, tasted her skin. I liked Nichole best when we grinded against each other and she tasted like salt. She wore a thin dress with a flower pattern. A fringe of lace ran along a wide neckline. Nichole was seventeen. I had one hand up the dress and the other tugging down the neckline so I could get at her tits. She unhooked her bra but left it mostly in place. All the same, I saw plenty of blue cleavage. Her tits framed a silver crucifix. It swung forward like an ax when we kissed. “I love you, Mark,” she said. “I want to stay with you forever.” I felt so horny, I didn’t know up from down, but even still, I knew I didn’t love her. Sometimes I didn’t even like her very much. “I love you,” I said, reaching farther up her soft thigh. Saying so bought me some time. She rested her head against my chest and parted her legs. I put my hand on her crotch but hesitated stupidly before going further. I needed a second to plot my next move, to consider the angles. She took advantage of my indecision. “Not now,” she said. “Not here.” She waved an upturned hand around the interior of the Chevrolet. Dust iced the dashboard like a cake. The cup holders held crumbs and sticky pennies. It was no Lamborghini.
I’d never had sex and wanted it more than air or water. Whenever me and Nichole fooled around, we came so close to it. The possibility of sex drew us together, wrapped us in chains. Back in high school, nothing in the world seemed as important as sex. “When can we do it?” I said. “Not until we’re married.” “I can’t wait another day. I’m losing my mind. I can’t wait until we’re married.” “Please,” she said, kissing me, flattening her palm on my chest. I felt her weight against my heartbeat. A tear, brilliant and cold in the moonlight, slid down her cheek. The crying and her breath turned me on. “What will we do for tonight?” I said. “I’ll suck you off,” she said, “like always.”
CHAPTER 3 After all the fun, I dropped off Nichole at her parents’ house. She lived in one of the hoity-toity neighborhoods outside town. The developers named it the West Hills to make it sound like California, even though it was bumble-fuck Tennessee. Mr. and Mrs. Stanford lived in a McMansion bigger than any three homes on my street combined. They employed a gardener and a maid. It was all very swanky. I didn’t want to walk her to her door, because I knew the Stanfords would invite me in. They didn’t like me, but they usually invited me in. In the movies, the guy always kisses the girl on the porch at the end of the night, but the Stanfords didn’t want me kissing their daughter. I don’t know what they thought we did on dates. Maybe they thought we baked cookies for Sunday school. Whenever I had five minutes alone with their daughter, I tried to give it to her. Despite my better instincts, I took her to the door. Mr. Stanford met us there with a cigar and fake smile. I said hello in my best imitation of a friendly voice. Then I told Nichole goodnight. I squeezed her hand instead of kissing her. Mr. Stanford lit the cigar and told Nichole to “run along inside” because she had school in the morning. I tried to leave. He asked me to stay. I wondered if he’d ask me if I’d tried to give it to his daughter lately, but all he did was smoke his cigar and occasionally flash me his big fake smile. It was May, and it wasn’t cold anymore or hot. I admired some early flowers blooming in the bushes. The lawn looked nice and made me sad. It was more expensive than anything I would ever own. I would have enjoyed standing outside, except Mr. Stanford made me feel awkward as hell. One of these days, he would greet me on the porch with a firm handshake and a punch in the balls. A night-breeze blew, and I shivered and the skin on my forearms tingled as it scrunched into goose bumps. “Good news tonight, hmm?” Mr. Stanford said, smoke from his cigar trailing out into space.
“Yes,” I said. “They killed that bastard. Killed him dead. Aren’t you glad they killed that bastard?” “Of course.” “One down, a billion-and-a-half to go,” he said. “You know what I mean? A billion-and-a half to go.” I wasn’t sure but could pretty much guess. Every time he talked to me, I wanted to shoot myself in the face. I smelled cigar smoke on his breath. It smelled sweet but also like the inside of a running shoe. “Are you excited to be graduating from high school?” “It’s all gone by so fast,” I lied. It seemed like I’d been in school since the birth of Christ. I couldn’t imagine not being in school. “Nichole is excited about Brandover next year,” he said. “I’m glad you will be going with her. I’m glad she’ll be at a good school with such a thoughtful and responsible young man. Are you excited about Brandover?” I told him yes. I had to. When you’re talking to a guy like Mr. Stanford—a guy with all the power, a guy who could fuck up your life and not give two shits about it—when you talk to one of those assholes, you better tell him what he wants to hear. Mr. Stanford reminded me how he could get me a job at the factory if I graduated from Brandover with a business degree. He was a big shot at the factory. He probably thought that’s why I dated his daughter. I’d rather have shot myself in the face than work at the factory. He asked about my parents and grades. He implored me to think about my future. That’s what everybody always told me to do, to think about my future. Not that they cared. All they really wanted to know was how I’d fit into the future they’d picked out for me. It didn’t matter what I wanted. My parents and teachers and everybody always made sure my life went a certain way. The crickets chirped all around us. There must have been a billion of them in his super-sized lawn. Mr. Stanford kept asking questions, and I lied to him some more.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alex Miller grew up in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and lived in Nashville for a few years. He’s a newspaper editor who lives with his wife in Hilo, Hawaii. He misses the South, and especially all the hot weather, poverty, crime and rampant unemployment, but—if he must—he’s willing to go on living in Hawaii for a little while longer. Or maybe forever.
Published on Sep 26, 2014
Osama bin Laden is Dead is about growing up in a sad little town in the middle of nowhere. It’s about going to high school with a bunch of r...