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It’s tough to see your best friends become famous and find yourself left behind. It’s even tougher when you were supposed to be a part of it. But that’s what happened to me.

We were always a close-knit group; we hung together, partly because we didn’t belong with anyone else. A bunch of misfit teenagers — we’d joke and tease and sass, give each other a hard time — but underneath our barbs and banter, we had real feelings. None of us had parents in our life, at least not any that would matter. There was a father figure, but even he was of a different kind. He could teach us, but he’d never understand exactly what it was like to be us. We only had each other.

Those were tough times back then, and we lived in a tough place. Crime rates were soaring. All sorts of nasty characters came into our world — seemingly a worse one every week. And we were in the worst part of it, the absolute gutters of a dying city. There wasn’t much for us to hang our hopes on. No heroes, no role models, no one who was going to make a better life for five kids who didn’t belong to anyone.

I was the first one to suggest we do something about it. It was my idea. There’s always pressures for young people in rough places to end up in gangs, but I realized we could be our own gang. We could fight back.

You see, I had fallen in love with the Death Wish movies. Sure, looking back, they haven’t aged well — but you have to understand what it was like back then. It was a symptom of the times, of a society fraying at the seams. I saw Bronson fill lowlifes with fear and bullets, and I saw our redemption.

I couldn’t possibly have seen that I was starting a process that would bring my friends fame and fortune and myself resentment, but maybe I should have.

Right from the start, we didn’t see eye-to-eye. We differed in methods, in style, in our whole vision for what this was going to be. They wanted to look cool; I wanted to make these lowlifes pay. They wanted to laugh and have a good time; I wanted to see fear in the eyes of those who had instilled it in me for so long. They wanted a party; I wanted a biblical reckoning.

We show up for the first day of our new thing, and these idiots, they’re decked out in flashy clothes, bright colors — I’m dressed in all black. “It helps us stand out!”, my buddy — the jokester — says, smiling like an idiot. I didn’t want our appearance to stand out; I wanted our deeds to. “You want attention?’ I hissed at him. “You want them to remember us? Here’s how they’ll remember us!” I stepped out of the room, and returned with a duffel bag.

“Go ahead. Open it.”

They were laughing and joking as he ambled over to the bag, thinking this was all a joke. Then they saw his body — a small-time thief, but one whose face we all knew — battered and bloody, lifeless in the bag.

“What the hell, man?” They all recoiled at me, like I was the face of evil. “I thought we were just going to, like, tie the bad guys up and leave them for the cops!”

“The cops?” I snarled. “After all we’ve seen, you want to rely on the police? The ones who’ve turned a blind eye to all this decay and depravity? The ones who’re willing to sit back and watch us kill each other, as long as we stay underground!?”

“This isn’t who are. This is sick. We’re not killers, dude.”

“Don’t call me dude.” I was seething. “We’re going to cleanse this place of evil. I thought you were on board.”

“We’re on board with cleaning things up,” the supposed ‘smart’ one said, “But not like this. You’ve let this place change you. You’ve become as bad as the people you want to stop. We’re sorry. You’ve always been a little too aggressive for us, but this is a line we can’t cross. I don’t think we can hang out with you anymore.”

“Fine. Leave, you cowards. Go ‘hang out’. Have your fun.” They left, and I got on with my plan. No one mourns a dead criminal, but they sure appreciate when the streets start cleaning up. I’d beat a guy to death — my signature weapon was a pillowcase full of doorknobs — and dump him in the sewer. One less foot soldier in the war on society.

What I hadn’t banked on was the fact that my so-called “friends” would get all the credit for it. They started prancing around in their garish costumes, swinging their silly useless toy weapons around, and people thought they were responsible for the safer streets. They started getting on television! Kids loved them. Kids!

Kids, let me tell you something. A pair of nunchucks might look fun, but a sack full of doorknobs is what gets the job done. A funny catchphrase might get you on the television, but the willingness to take a life is what gets filth off the street.

Those idiots have never been in an art museum anyways.

You know who my favorite artist was? Goya. He saw the world as a violent place, one where you would devour or be devoured. He saw the world how I saw it. Not a pretty painting by Michelangelo or Raphael, but a dark place full of violence and pain.

Anyways, I learned a lesson from that. Don’t be beholden to your friends just because you came up together.

Leave the group if you have to. Do what needs to be done. Believe in nothing except for yourself.