I wondered if people ever felt guilty for banishing any signs of individual thought. I decided right there that guilt wasn’t a factor in a world that didn’t leave room for human error. With that, I zoned back into my pitiful reality.
“...And that is why our world is unified in language and laws,” Ms Burns said.
The room was silent as Ms Burns looked through her tablet, choosing which historical pit of lies she was going to throw us into next. She adjusted her dark glasses, making sure they were snug against her face.
I glanced around the room. It was heartbreaking. I remembered them all. Years ago, they were wide-eyed and curious about the world. My old best friend sat a few desk in front of me. Her eyes were shrouded by her glasses and her lips pressed into a firm line. I knew they were green underneath, her eyes, speckled with yellow. She looked tense, like everyone else. Back straight. Hands visible. Both feet on the floor.
I remembered the school’s guidelines and adjusted the way I was sitting.
It was at the end of 5th grade that they gave us our first pair of glasses. Black government cars pulled into the parking lot. Men swarmed the school, carrying boxes upon boxes. They called themselves the Visionaries. They put pairs and pairs of dark glasses in each classroom. The packages were wrapped like gifts, bows tied with a pretty ribbon on top. They showed us videos of how to work them and told us we would be responsible to wear them every day. The program and invention in its entirety was called True Vision. They said it would lead us to success. People couldn’t hurt us if they couldn’t see through us. It was protection. They were a part of us now and would keep us safe.
Even though I was ten, I noticed that they didn’t leave until every one of the 150 students in my 5th-grade class was wearing a pair.
The law was put in place years before I was born. I came into the world never seeing my parents’ eyes. It was mandatory to wear them, day and night. Today’s technology allowed them to be soft on the sides, making it possible to sleep comfortably. They acted like a one-way mirror. Black on the outside but the world didn’t look any darker with them on.
The worst thing about them was the eight-year warranty. When you turn 18, the glasses will stick to the sides of your head, making them impossible to get off unless you want to carve out a piece of your flesh. It was illegal to even attempt to remove them anyway. I didn’t know this seven years ago, when the sides were rubbing against my skin, causing red marks. I took them off. I was free for ten minutes before the Protectors were called and I was taken to their headquarters. They put me through the orientation program again, making sure I would never take them off again. The school has been monitoring me ever since the incident.
To make this existential crisis worse, tomorrow was my 18th birthday. The thought of living with this veil over my eyes for the rest of my life made me want to break down and crumble beneath my own distress.
Expression wasn’t important and emotions were burdens in this world. We were not much different from the robots that slave away in every household; created to do one task and never get distracted. It was a crime to feel, to even take joy in your work. God forbid you fall in love. What a complete waste of time love was.
I grew up in this dull and emotionally muted society, making me question if the way I acted had anything to do with who I really was. If it even mattered anymore, I didn’t know. I was nothing but a shell.
The alarm sounded, signalling class had ended. We left the room in a straight line. The white tile and walls contrasted with everyone’s black glasses.
The hallways were always more lively than the classrooms. Students spoke to each other, even laughed together. I wondered how many of those smiles were forced. I could never tell. Were they as miserable as me beneath those masks?
I had a half hour of free time before lunch. I went to the place I always spent it, the library. Although, it didn’t exactly consist of physical books anymore, like the ones I’d heard about from my neighbor; who has been alive long enough to remember a world without all this technology.
Now, libraries were comprised of sim cards that contained whatever information we needed, strictly information. We would plug these cards into our tablets to review the content.
I enjoyed the library because of the silence, even though on most days I craved noise. I also had a friend there, sort of.
He was already there when I arrived and was sitting at our table, the one in the farthest corner, near the window. I sat beside him and pulled out my tablet, swiping through the pointless posts on the News Hub, as he was.
There wasn’t a shred of emotion or recognition on his face. There never was. It should bother me, I suppose. But it didn’t because he acted like me. He never spoke, never even smiled. Only sat and stood during our free block. However, there was a time months ago that I noticed the slight grin on his lips after I tripped and nearly fell. Although it was at my expense, I took pride in knowing I got a reaction from him.
I wished I could tell him of my plan for tomorrow. If he knew, maybe he’d want to join me.
The rest of the day went by in slow-motion, making sure I had time to process every mind-numbing piece information the teachers drilled into our heads.
The train ride home gave me time to sort my thoughts, and they soared. They bounced off ideas and scenarios. What would really go down tomorrow? I prayed that it would be a success. I wanted nothing more than to escape this white noise of a language that everyone was forced to be fluent in. I dreamed of seeing people wholly. With bright eyes, full of life and stories and feelings.
My neighbor, Mrs. Adams, said to me one day: “Emerie, the eyes are the windows to the soul. They say for us what we cannot say for ourselves.”
She told me that when she met her husband, Mr. Adams, she fell in love with his eyes the moment they locked gazes at her friend’s wedding. She said they reminded her of the forest behind her childhood home, deep green.
This was before the law was put in place. Thirty years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Adams saw each other’s eyes for the last time. Twenty years ago, Mr. Adams died in a car crash. I never knew him, but the way Mrs. Adams speaks about him has made my heart hurt nearly as much as hers still did.
I fell asleep thinking of last goodbyes and green eyes.
Today was the day. By the end of the day, hopefully, I would be free.
I exchanged my tablet and pens for extra clothes and hygiene products. I had to pack light and couldn’t bring any technology with me. My plan would burn to ashes if the authorities could track me.
I quietly left my room and knocked on the next door.
“Come in,” Carlin said. Her sing songy voice sounded excited. I should remind her to not seem too joyful; we didn’t want people to suspect us.
My little sister was ten years old. It was lucky for us that the True Vision team wouldn’t show up until the end of the school year. We had a chance to escape. She had a chance at freedom before she ever had to experience life under the rule of the Visionaries.
I entered the room. “Good morning,” I said and strained a smile for Carlin’s benefit as I spoke. I didn’t want her to know how nervous I was.
“Don’t forget, I’ll meet you at the front at 2:30. Okay? Be ready.”
She nodded, grinned, and even saluted. “I’ll see you then,” she confirmed.
I left the house after that. I thought of my parents and reminded myself of their busy schedules. They wouldn’t miss us. Missing someone required the absence of past experiences in their presence and wanting to be together again. I hadn’t sat down and had a conversation with Either of my parents for months, maybe even a year. Essentially, nothing will change for them. They’ll still wake up, go to work, and come back to a quiet house as they eat their dinner. And then they will both go to sleep with an itch in the back of their mind trying to tell them they’ve forgotten about something.
The rest of the morning was slow going. I zoned out of class every block, beyond tired of listening to the teachers droning on about our history, about how the Visionaries saved us thirty years ago. Even in my math class, Mr. Rex mentioned them. Twice.
As my free block approached, I began to become increasingly scared. The boy would be there in the library, as he always was. I thought of asking him to join. But that would involve speaking and trust. Two things that weren’t exactly existent in our relationship.
He was, in fact, there when I arrived. I approached and sat beside him, eyeing him from the corner of my vision. He set down his tablet and looked at me. It was quite unnerving, given the fact his mouth gave no signs of emotion and his eyes, of course, were covered. He leaned towards me. Blonde curls danced around his glasses.
“I can tell you’re tired,” he said. Slowly. “And I know you want to leave,” he continued. I stood up suddenly and grabbed my bag. I needed to leave. Now. I didn’t know anything about this guy. God. He was going to tell the Protectors. I needed to put the plan in place now. Carlin and I needed to get out of here as soon as possible.
I fled the library and went down three flights of stairs, making my way to the room that had the start of the ventilation system that circulated throughout the whole upper and lower schools on campus.
I was going to put the whole school to sleep.
I reached into my bag, clutching the bottle I’d stolen from my mother’s medicine cabinet at home. She was a doctor and had access to a lot of medications that weren’t completely open to the public.
I uncapped the bottle and poured its entirety into the vents. This particular liquid would quickly turn gaseous and would travel into every hallway, every classroom, and into the lungs of everyone except for Carlin and I. I’d packed a scarf for this specific reason. And now, I tied it around my head before leaving the room.
People were already falling in the hallways by the time I got to the top of the stairs. I bent down to each student and removed their glasses, crushing them under my shoes. I felt tears dot my cheeks for those who were already 18.
Once I heard the sirens, I walked faster. I ran towards my sister, to the lower campus where she was waiting for me. I ran faster when I saw her in the distance. But a arm circled my waist while I was mid-step. A scream left my lips, bouncing off the cement walls of the school; but there was no one around to hear it.
“Did you really think you could get awa-” a man’s voice said before he was abruptly cut off and I was released.
I whipped around to look behind me, gasping at the sight of the fallen Protector on the ground. A pair of scissors had been stabbed into his neck and blood gushed onto the tile. I looked up.
It was the boy; the one from the library. He was breathing raggedly through the jacket sleeve he had pressed against his face.
“Go. Now,” he said and began to push me.
I peered behind him to see at least five more men running towards us, which convinced me to give it my all. I nearly ran into Carlin due to momentum when we finally reached her, but the boy kept us moving.
We raced past the rest of the school buildings. The wind hitting my face only added to the effect of freedom; of breaking free from oppression. I thought that if I pushed myself any further, I could pick my feet off the ground and fly.
There were multiple times when the Protectors nearly caught us, but we prevailed. They gave up on the chase when we crossed a busy highway during a green light. It was incredibly risky but if we had stopped, we’d be in a detention center right now with criminal records and a dull, dull future waiting for us.
When we had made it out of town, we made a bee-line for the forest. We stayed beneath the trees, knowing that helicopters would probably be out looking for us. I could imagine our faces plastered on the bulletin screens and on every TV channel. We wouldn’t be completely safe for a while. For now, we continued to jog through the woods. The boy was still behind Carlin and I. For the first time, I wondered what his name was.
After what felt like an hour of seeing only trees and dead leaves, we made it to a river. I bent to the water and washed my hands, anxious that some of the sedative I’d put in the vents was coating my palms.
“We should stay here, just for the night,” the boy said as he slumped to the ground, his back leaning on one of the tree trunks.
I stood up. “I agree. However, I do have a few questions,” I said, crossing my arms. I tried to seem strong, maybe even intimidating, but in all actuality I was ready to collapse from exhaustion.
“Your body language gave you away,” he started, already answering what I had wanted to ask. “You’ve never looked so anxious. I didn’t know exactly what you were planning to do, but I stayed aware in case you needed help. You’re welcome.”
He stood. “My name is Eli. It’s nice to officially meet you.”
“I’m Emerie. This is Carlin.”
We shook hands.
It was at that moment that I realized I was still wearing my glasses. I could feel the sides putting pressures on my face, letting me know it was time to discard them once and for all. I reached up and pulled them off. With my blue eyes reflecting the sky, I crushed them beneath my leather boot.
I turned to Eli. He smiled. With one hand, he reached up to his face and threw his glasses to the ground as well. I gasped slightly. One eye was the color of the sea, the other was a deep forest green. I wondered if he knew how beautiful they were. I wondered if he knew I could see his happiness in his gaze. I wondered if he could see mine.