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It was the day the Autos came for me. I always knew the Autos weren’t real people, but I knew this for sure when I heard their metal bodies clanking about outside our door. Mommy held me in her thin arms, saying that she’ll never let them take me and that she’ll never let me go. We both knew the truth. I thought about how this was the last time I’d see, hear, or touch another person. It was a hard thing to think about.
Mommy always made sure I knew what was coming. After a child is a certain age, he or she is blinded. Mommy said they took her to a room and made her fall asleep. When she woke up, she couldn’t see a thing; her eyes were broken. After that, they took her to a new room to live in, and she never saw her mother again. Mommy told me it is horrible, but I have to be brave. I didn’t know what brave was; either way, the job would be done. Being brave and being afraid… what was the difference if the outcome was the same?
I clung to her as we sat on the cot in our tiny, white room. The Autos orchestrated everything. There was a schedule we lived by, and it was fabricated to make sure we never came in contact with another human being. We were thoroughly alone, and I wasn’t even sure how many other humans there were in existence. Mostly, we were kept in the solitude of our little room, with its white walls and plain cot growing smaller every day. I never learned much. I was never told how things came to be like this or how things might have been before. I knew little about how things were now. I knew even less about what things would be like in the future… if there was any real future for me at all.
Hastily, I looked around our small prison, looking for splashes of color for me to hold on to after they break my eyes. What if I forget what I look like? What if I forget what it’s like to see colors? The few playthings on the floor were colorful, but I always preferred to look at the colors that weren’t put there on purpose. I liked the orange-brown stain on the wall. I liked the pink of Mommy’s lips. I didn’t like the white of the walls or the coarse gray of our clothes.
“I’m scared, Mommy,” I whispered into her gray jumpsuit. She didn’t answer. The sound of the Autos grew louder. It felt like we were about to fall into a big hole in the earth, but we couldn’t see how deep it was or how much ground we had left before the nothing started.
Mommy peeled away from me and grabbed my hands. She put a hand on my cheek to make sure I was facing her. Her pale, sightless eyes searched for me in her darkness. She was crying, and some part of me was glad for that because at least that part of her eyes worked. I don’t think they could take that away.
“Tell me what you look like again,” Mommy rasped. I took a breath and savored her touch, skin on skin.
“Brownish hair to my shoulders, Mommy. Freckles on my arms, remember?” I said, forcing light-heartedness into my voice. “I’m up to your hip now, I think. I’m a big girl.”
“Yes. You’re a big girl,” she repeated. She closed her eyes and nodded. When her eyes reopened, her breath was ragged. “Your eyes, honey. What color are they?”
My bottom lip quivered. “I don’t know, Mommy. I can’t see them.” Her shoulders dropped. The Autos were almost to our room; our time left together was short. She pulled me into her arms once again, tighter than before. Suddenly, a huge wave of fear and urgency made me feel light-headed. “Mommy!” I squeaked, looking up at her. She nodded, sniffling. “The floor is called floor,” I said.
“Yes,” Mommy answered.
“Walls are called walls,” I said.
“Yes,” Mommy answered. I paused.
“What am I called?”
Her face transformed into a pitiful threnody. Before she could speak, the door flew open. Autos rushed in, mechanical and unfeeling in their movements.
Mommy squeezed me in her arms and put her body between the Autos and me. She screamed inhumanly, shrieking, “NO! DON’T TAKE MY BABY! YOU CAN’T!” I could feel the tears dribbling down my chin. I must have been yelling, too, but my voice was lost in the chaos. Suddenly, Mommy’s body convulsed and spasmed, and then she collapsed quietly to the cool tile. Her chest rose and fell as she breathed, but other than that, she was motionless. Cold, metal hands grabbed me and pushed me toward the door. I cried and screamed for my Mommy, but no one would listen.
At last, we were out the door and traveling down a length of hallway. My feet trembled with every step. They stole my mother from me, and now they were going to steal my sight. How many children like me had gone through the same thing? I was still crying, and my heartbeat jumped in my ears. Would it hurt?
I noticed something then. They could have blinded me when I was a baby. They could have taken me away right after I was born, so I wouldn’t even know my mother. That would hurt less. Everything was on purpose. They let me see and let me love my mom to make sure I’d remember it. I will always remember it, and I will always remember how they took it away from me. It occurred to me then that I hated the Autos. I never liked them, but that was when I truly started hating them.
It’s not fair. They can’t do this. It’s not fair.
Too soon, we passed through a doorway and into a darkened room. I was strapped down onto a hard, skinny bed that had a bright light above it. It was too bright. What a bright light for such a dark room.
There were figures around me, moving, looking, poking, and chattering. At first, I thought they were Autos. But they weren’t. They were humans! Real ones, with eyes that worked! More humans than I’d ever seen before! I was relieved…
No! How could I be so stupid? They were going to blind me; they were as unfeeling as the Autos. I realized my stupidity. I thought that the Autos were in charge of everything, but I was wrong. The Autos were just machines. Real humans were doing this to real humans, and they had been doing this all along. One of the people stroked my head, and I grew angry. Only Mommy was allowed to do that.
One of them whispered, “Separating humans prevents violence.” I don’t know if he or she meant for me to hear it. Maybe it was a self-reassurance, a person trying to justify what they were about to do. It sounded like something that person repeated often, or perhaps it was just something they were told over and over.
My heart thumped furiously, and I was hyperventilating. They attached a sticky wafer of plastic to my skin, just beneath my clavicle. A cord connected the plastic to a menacing machine that had a screen and some dials on its face. Someone pressed a button, and the machine beeped and flashed. I began to feel light and queasy. Sleepy.
This was it, then. My body wanted to give up; it would be so easy to just fall asleep and forget. However, some strange part of me didn’t want this. I guessed that’s what brave is, even if you just think bravely instead of acting bravely. I forced my eyes to stay open.
Right now, falling asleep would be like dying, I thought. And dying would be like falling asleep.
My wrists were bound, but I could move my fingers fairly well. I could just reach the machine if I tried hard enough. Before anyone in the room knew what was happening, I grabbed the first dial I could reach and turned it all the way to the right. The screen blinked angrily, reading: DANGER: FATAL DOSAGE.
The people sprang up in alarm. The dial was stuck, and the machine wouldn’t turn off while in use. They pulled at the plastic on my skin, but it clung to its spot. None of their scissors could cut the cord; it wasn’t meant to be cut. They soon realized they were powerless to stop what was happening. What was done was done.
I relaxed back into the bed, feeling not as imprisoned as before. Darkness wanted to drag me under, but I went willingly. It was warm in that darkness, and it was much kinder than the darkness they put in Mommy’s eyes. I caught a glimpse of my reflection on one of the other machines beside my bed. Brown eyes. Brown, Mommy. I’ll call myself Brown Eyes. It’ll do.
As nighttime closed around me, the corner of my lip pulled into a sad, relieved smile. I waited.