Chapter One- Evelyn
“The internal chaos has always been the cause of fighting; the procedure has eliminated war creating a peaceful society. Without the procedure, without any doubt humanity would fall back to the old ways and we would find the downfall of mankind.”-The Book Of Law and Integrity
When the procedure was first suggested, I’m sure there was a sigh of relief, a universal sag of the shoulders. The war before the procedure was a long decade of blood and violence. Almost 100 years ago the American people decided that they didn’t need to be under the rule of the government, by this time a series of events that had begun generations before started to unravel. Angry, irrational Americans decided they knew best and took action against the government. Nobody called a war and nobody knew there was a divided country, until it was too late. Sometimes the deadliest things come quickly and quietly in the night. A crowd of hushed whispers will eventually turn into a scream if there’s enough force and escalation. The same way that charcoal can turn into a diamond if the right amount of pressure is applied.
The once united Americas decided they were scared, but more so they were angry. The government couldn’t slap a Band-Aid on every little problem the citizens had. The American people had decided to take matters into their own hands. It’s like everyone realized everything was wrong all at once. There were radical movements to change the way the government worked, but they came so fast and led to a governmental collapse. It was like everyone got the same wake up call and decided to do something about it. It was a shock to the system and anger lead to mistakes. The mistakes escalated into a war that would last a decade, that humans will remember for lifetimes to come. The war was finally put to a halt when most of the American population was dead. Then President Randall Cox with the help of a team of doctors in New York City came up with the procedure which would eventually spread across America all the way to the West Coast. After the war looking at information spanning out over decades, they decided there was an imperfection in human anatomy that we had to get rid of ourselves. Nature wasn’t taking care of this flaw fast enough, and we could simply not allow evolution to run its course.
The procedure is our saving grace, a small, minimally invasive surgery that takes place as soon as the brain matures by the age of 24. As soon as the brain matures, usually age 24 in men and 22 in women, citizens are put under to get a small section of the brain removed forever. It was a blessing, and the little committee was happy to have come up with such a great solution. Following the procedure, a perfect system fell into place. The system evaluates you based on several tests, and plans out your future which eliminates the stress of having to decide for yourself. After graduating high school, depending on your class, citizens get put into two groups. The upper and middle class goes to college for the basics before they get their procedure and are assigned a career and a university. While the lower class is shuffled into the workforce. It is this way because the numbers end up being equally divided. Everyone has a place and a purpose.
No one is really sure of exactly how the system works but we’re happy to follow along since it works so well. Evaluators tell us who we will marry, if we are applicable to bread, and how many children we have. It is one of the most respected careers, and given only to those who are incredibly intelligent and observant. The evaluators relieve stress from the citizens so that there is no worry about whether or not the right decision is being made for such crucial factors of our lives. I’m excited to undergo the procedure, and finish up my evaluations and though I know the date is very close I feel like it’s so far away. It’s like no matter how far I stretch out my hand I will never quite reach It has always been a thing set in the future for me.
We are not taught that freedom is bad. We are told that it is scary, most people just can’t handle it. I know this is the truth because even the idea of freedom is daunting to me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have all of the emotions I have swirling in my head right now, and also have to make important life decisions like who I’ll marry. Freedom is like being in a dark, unknown room and not being able to find the light switch. You might have a general idea of where you’re reaching for, but you’re likely to stumble and miss. There were old stories whispered in the halls in high school, showing how freedom was something nobody could fully comprehend, yet for some reason people still craved it. There were other stories, about humans slaughtered each other for seemingly no reason before the procedure. There were psychologists who tried to get inside the mind of someone who would do bad things; but there was no good answer. All they did was point a finger. It was always the moms, the teachers, and the R rated shows that caused this to happen. It was only coming to terms with the fact that crazy emotions caused them to kill their fellow Americans that made our society willing to agree to whatever solution the government came up with. In this case, the solution was the procedure.
The procedure is such a short and minimally invasive surgery that removed the part that allows the mayhem to exist in the brain. Humans have all these parts we don’t use that do more harm than good like wisdom teeth. The mayhem is kind of like that. It’s an evolutionary flaw, sometimes we keep things to us because it’s hard to give them up and to let them go. We have all these crazy thoughts that make us act inhumane. This might have once been a part of our basic needs to survive but it’s developed into something dark and unnecessary. All of this is common knowledge; something we learn in elementary school. The war has been ingrained in our brains since we were children. I just happen to know this in even more depth than your average twenty year old because I’m surrounded by big promoters of the procedure.
My father is President Sovereign, he has been President for three years. He seems like he was born for the job, to me at least. His soothing voice eases the crowds away from doing anything rash. He’s a good man, and he would never use his power for anything that wouldn’t benefit the American citizens. If I know nothing else, I know in my heart of hearts that this is true. I believe in his campaign more than anything, and to watch him oversee Seattle with the compassion and clarity that the citizens needed makes me grateful to be so close to the source and to proud to be the president’s daughter. Crime is at an all time low because of the new strategic systems my father has put in place, things are going better than they ever have before.
Jade and I sit patiently in my bedroom chatting about our classes at the university, she’s always been invited to events like this. Her parents; Dina and James are part of the lead surgical board for the procedure, so we’ve know each other since we were little. Jade is essentially family, always included in our family photos and when we were young and her parents would leave town she would stay with my family. Although my parents are immune to intense emotions thanks to the procedure, I firmly believe they are fond of Jade. It’s hard not to be.
“What are you thinking about, Eve?” Jade sits on the floor, cross legged flipping through a sketch book. Her thick brown hair falls down around her shoulders in waves. She’s always been so casually beautiful. I’m jealous, and I hate myself for it. There’s no reason for me to be jealous of Jade, we’re not competition we’re on the same team. I still feel jealous even if it’s a quiet feeling and a side effect of that jealousy is shame. I can’t wait until my procedure when I won’t have to worry about things like this.
“Remember when we got kicked out of class on our first day at the Academy?” I laugh. The Academy is a private all girls high school that Jade and I attended. Our first year of high school were placed in the same art class and I was so excited. It was the only class Jade andI had together, and it was the last class of the day. All day long, I walked around the school feeling the heavy weight of anxiety in my chest. I’ve always been nervous around other people, worried about the whispers shot in my direction. I always worried about coming off as snobbish, when I didn’t talk and when I did I didn’t know what to say. This art class was supposed to be a break from my nerves, a break from words which have never been my forte. Walking into the classroom, I was expecting to feel nothing but relief from the immense amount of stress I felt from trying to fit in. I knew that no matter what someone who really liked me would be in the class, and it’d be easy for me to be myself. It’s hard for sure to know that people will like you if you act like yourself if you don’t know for sure if you like yourself or who you are. With Jade I didn’t have to worry about this.
“Of course I do, you thought it was going to a painter’s workshop and when we walked in and Ms. Madison told us we’d be painting fruit you lost it.” Jade laughs tossing her head back, her eyes squinting, mouth open wide. She’s right, I thought I’d be able to paint to my heart’s content, filling canvases with the Seattle skyline and different views of the ocean and every beautiful thing that would transfer from my head to my brush. The class was so formal, that first day when Ms. Madison told us that we’d be spending the semester working on still lifes I had sighed deeply, and Jade and I locked eyes. She rolled her warm brown eyes, dramatically which inexplicably made me crack up. It could have been the combination of stress and frustration at learning the program wasn’t what I hoped for it to be, but suddenly I was doubled over laughing.
“And you went right along laughing with me, even though you had no idea what I was laughing about.” I reply, gigling at the memory. Ms. Madison had sent us out into the hall, it was so out of character for me to draw attention to myself but there I was first day of class holding my sides from laughing so hard. Jade and I sat shoulder to shoulder our backs against the cool wall between us and I was overwhelmed with emotions but the main one that sticks, even now is joy.
“It’s easy to laugh when your built in best friend is losing it.” Shaking her head Jade looks up at the door, my aunt stands in the entryway her cool green eyes watching us. A smile on her face.
“Evelyn, your mother wants you girls out back patio to take pictures, for the newspaper on Jonathan’s matching celebration.” my Aunt Shelly tells us before turning and walking back downstairs. Aunt Shelly is my mom’s older sister, and they couldn’t be more different. My mother has short red hair that falls around her face in straight layers.. She is also small and compact, very precise in every action. She is an avid reader, and she was perfectly happy to leave her office job to take care of my brother and I. Aunt Shelly has long, dark hair she wears on top of her head braided in an attempt to look tamed but failed. They have the same icy blue eyes that captivate me and remind me of the beach water. I’m the spitting image of my mother with the exception of our eyes. I got my green eyes from my father, they are very green and it’s a startling contrast to my bright flame of red hair.
“Thank you,” I tell her and try to match my tone to hers. Like I mentioned I haven’t had my procedure yet and I felt the impossible distance between me and everyone else attending this small party. I rub my hands together instead of on my coral and white flower dress, I knew I looked fine and fidgeting would be something to do that would further set me a part of the cool and collected crowd. I yearned for my procedure date; it meant I could take Seattle on with ease. I try to casually stroll through my kitchen, past the dining room, and find my way to the opened back door. The moments are well practiced, I’m sure I appear to fit in but they feel forced. I say little phrases in between my walking, just one word in between each step so I don’t walk to eagerly.
When I walk out into my green backyard, sunsetting in the background to make for a perfect family picture. We have white lights crossing corners to each side of the yard to illuminate everyone’s eyes, highlight their procedure marks, and to make it just dark enough for me to almost trip and get embarrassed. My mother has her arm looped around my father’s bicep to represent solidarity. It’s a thing my mother created. Not too intimate for pictures, but not too distant as to show separation, the casual contact is a good example to the citizens of how she supports him. I see my older brother Jonathan next to my father. His hair color is the same as mine, a lick of fiery red hair he couldn’t tame as a child. Now he has it weighed down with gel, and he is freshly shaven for the pictures we are taking. They all have matching expressions on their face of complete content. Nothing to fret over, nothing to panic about, no hatred or anxiety, only peace. It’s always been irritating to see everyone with this serene look on their faces. It was like looking at someone who was sleeping, while you were dying from exhaustion. I’m desperate for the procedure the way someone who hasn’t slept in days is desperate for rest.
I slide into my spot next to my mom, feeling so distant from her although we’re mere inches apart. I don’t know where to put my hands so I just clasp them in front of me and try to slip on the mask of contentment that my parents and brother have. I feel like this makes it worse, I slip on this mask of what I hope looks like everyone else’s. But what I am forgetting about is the eyes. Everyone else’s have no sparkle, just a sea of ease. I feel it taunting me, for I know that I have a glint in my eyes that shows my jealous and every emotion i’m trying to hide. For some reason, I think of how the calm expressions I want so badly would seem like a very srange thing to someone who existed before the procedure. Which is weird, since I grew up this way.
Whenever I fell down as a kid, which was often, since I was pretty clumsy; my parents wouldn’t react. Or at least not in the way that I expected, no, the way that I wanted them to. I would have to cry twice as hard to get some sort of concern from them since my parents couldn’t or wouldn’t react properly. I know I shouldn’t say it like that. I should be glad that my parents were able to keep a level head whenever I got hurt. I wouldn’t be able to, so it was good that I could always count on them to properly assess a situation.
It’s more like they handle situations efficiently. This always made me feel comforted in a weird way, watching their calm faces as they assessed my scraped knees. I knew that I didn’t have to cry because if it was serious, they would tell me. Instead I would watch with wide eyes as my parents passively cleaned my scrapes with the first aid kit, doing my best not to wince at the disinfectant they would spray over my cuts. I would watch with amazement as the little rivers of blood mixed with the disinfectant would flow down my elbows or my knees, until they had patched me up. My father would talk to me throughout the process, telling me that it wasn’t more than a scratch and if I took care of it it wouldn’t even scar. It was very reassuring to hear this. I knew from a young age that I could get through anything as long as somebody explained the process and went through the outcome with me.
When I was younger, I remember going to a school with boys and girls. Boys were foreign creatures that no girl had a map to. Then again we were in fifth grade and nobody made sense then. I was shy as a little kid, so I didn’t have very many friends and I didn’t make them easily. Luckily, I didn’t have to suffer too much embarrassment at the hand of being surrounded by boys, my parents plucked me out of that school and into the Academy once I was ready to go to middle school. Academy is an all-girls school that prides itself on being a middle school and high school focused on challenging the future women of America. After that, the only awkwardness I had to deal with was being really shy and quiet and of course, being around all the other girls.
I hate the bubbly feeling of anxiety, having it manifest in all sort of mental and physical ways. It felt like a big orb of anxiety taking up all the room in my stomach. Anybody could read me like a book, and I didn’t even know the first thing about my peers. They probably thought I was snobby, that I think i’m above everybody because i’m the president’s daughter. I’ve simply never been very good at talking, or doing anything. Not to say that I’m bad at everything, just that I feel an immense amount of stress trying to fit in and I always worry that I am angering someone or making them dislike me. I feel relief followed by the knowledge that I didn’t have to worry about it too much longer, the weight of heavy emotions on my chest. I have eight months until i’m 22, which is when I will get my procedure done.
A few months under a year until the part of my brain that causes me so much anxiety is gone. It’s a little intimidating to think about the fact that they’re literally going to cut it out, but it’s also comforting to know that there’s the possibility that I’ll become an entirely different person. That the awkward Evelyn that exists now will be replaced with someone who just carries over the good parts of me, that the girl I am now will be fully changed into someone calm, cool and collected. I look forward to the day that my brain is changed like the way that some people look forward to their matching day.
“You look pretty stuck in your head today, kiddo. Anything going on?” My older brother Jonathan’s voice startles me out of my train of thought. The photos are over, and everyone is pouring into my kitchen for cocktails and appetizers. Today is a celebration for my brother, his matching day is scheduled for two days from now. Even though Jonathan is only three years older than me, sometimes it feels like we’re more than a lifetime apart. He also likes to call me condescending names like kiddo to remind me just how much younger I am than him. I’m sure he didn’t mean to do it for that reason, but it always had a bitter taste when he said things like that.
“I’m good, just thinking about my procedure and my matching day.” I smile at Jonathan, it’s not really a lie but it feels like one, hardly slipping between my teeth. He runs a finger through his short red hair, and laughs a little. It barely moves because of the amount of hair gel he put in it.
“I know exactly what you mean. It’s daunting, but it’ll be here sooner than you know it Evelyn. And you’re a bright girl. You’ll get everything you’ve ever wanted in life, all in due time.” He pats me on the shoulder before turning to follow everyone else inside. It’s one of the nicest things he’s ever said to me. Not that Jonathan and I don’t like each other, in fact before his procedure we were pretty close. After his procedure, something changed; but I’m hoping that once they perform my procedure it’ll be easier for us to communicate the way we used to.
Crowds have always made me pretty nervous. My mother has always described me as anxious, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to hear it or not but it’s the word she uses to describe me to Aunt Shelley when they’re drinking wine in the living room and knitting blankets. Jonathan is driven, and I am anxious. My aunt doesn’t have any children, she’s always said that she would be a terrible mother and that she preferred being our aunt to being a mother anyways. Chatter fills the kitchen and I do my best to blend in, as usual. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes when you get your results back, they tell you that you are better off single and not reproducing. This happens very rarely, and I overheard my parents talking about it one night. My mother was wondering if it was something wrong with their genetics. Although her results were obviously different. My father tried to reassure her that maybe her sister was just unique, special somehow in a way we would never really understand. I was surprised to hear this coming from the President.
“What do you think Evie, dear? He’ll be matched with the most beautiful girl in Seattle that’s for sure. Hopefully a bright one, that’d suit him you know?” Shelly holds a glass of champagne in one hand, and in her other she holds a rolled piece of ham. Munching on it, talking with her mouth full. Shelly isn’t the most polite but she’s honest. I like her, she’s always made me feel comfortable when I’d feel lost otherwise.
“He deserves a bright girl, he’s always been the smart one of the two of us.” I nod in agreement, noticing that my stomach is rumbling. Glancing towards the table that is covered in platters of food, I weigh my options in my head. Option one; go to the table to get food, make awkward small talk with the adults who I’ve either never met or I’m not very comfortable with. Or, option two; be hungry. Option two it is.
“You don’t have to be self-depreciating, honey. Just because Jonathan is smart, it doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. Besides, you’re much more than smart, Evie. You know that right?” Shelly is smiling, and her blue eyes almost show something more, a little sparkle or something. It might also just be the light. She’s the only person that calls me Evie and I can’t explain it, but I really love it. I feel like it’s something special between us. It makes me feel important. I’m sure her ‘more than smart’ statement is going to be followed by a discussion about me being creative. Which I am, I’ve always loved painting. The problem is, for whatever reason after the procedure it’s often hard for people to create art even if they were pretty good at it before.
“I know, thanks Aunt Shelly.” I smile, wanting to leave the conversation but not sure of a polite way to exit it. With perfect timing, my best friend makes an appearance saving me from yet another awkward discussion about how I should share my art and how she would love to hang it up all over her house.
“Hey Shelly, long time no see. How are things?” Jade smiles, walking up next to me. She’s holding two plates of food, and offers one to me. In this moment, I feel an almost overwhelming urge to hug her, but resist the impulse. Physical contact isn’t frowned upon. It’s just weird to touch someone with no reason. If your reason to want to hug them is because they saved you from awkward social contact and starving, then it’s better not to follow through. Most people use the term ‘best friend’ to describe their favorite friend from a group of friends. I use the word best friend a little differently, Jade is without a doubt one of the few humans I will every truly connect with and I’m pretty thankful for that.
Jade and I became friends from the moment we met, after I switched to the Academy. I was really excited about this art program the Academy had, and my parents immediately enrolled me in it when I expressed my interest. The very first day, my hopes and excitement were absolutely crushed. I had imagined a painter’s workshop of sorts, where I could paint to my heart’s content. Paint my heart’s desire by filling canvases with the Seattle skyline and different views of the ocean and every beautiful thing that would transfer from my head to my brush.
As I said, my hopes were crushed by the formality of the class. There was no painting skylines, or oceans. Day one our instructor told us, we’d be focusing on fruit. I had sighed, probably with exasperation and Jade was sitting at the table next to mine. Our eyes locked for a minute, and she rolled hers. Showing the whites of her eyeballs, and inexplicably it made me laugh. Really hard. It might have been a combination of stress, and frustration at learning that the program that I was so looking forward to was nothing that I wanted it to be but suddenly I was laughing loudly. Drawing attention to myself, something I never intentionally or accidently did. And Jade was laughing just as hard as was. Our instructor sent us into the hall so we could get our laughter out of our systems, since it was inappropriate.
“I’m Jade.” She extended her tanned hand and flicked her long black hair over her shoulder. Her smile was genuine, and when I took her hand my smile was too.
“Evelyn.” That was it. That was our first conversation and from that moment I had this built in best friend, someone to talk to about well… everything. Jade knows everything about me, and she’s always there to save me from myself when I need it. She’s always around at the exact right moment, and I think I’ll be forever grateful for her because of that.
“How is the apartment?” Shelly picks a black olive off of my plate and pops it into her mouth, I consider her question while nibbling on a square of cheese. I thought about all the laundry I had been putting off accidentally because I was worried about who was attending this party, so I couldn’t exactly tell her that it was a mess. Jade watches me with her wide brown eyes, and pops a grape into her mouth, chewing thoughtfully.
“Just about time for spring cleaning,” I smile at Shelly. Jade is staring across the room, I follow her gaze to the back of Jonathan’s head. I’m not surprised. She and Jonathan had feelings for each other, at least he had feelings for her before he had his procedure done. Jade told me once she wanted to be matched with him, and even though they’re not in the correct age criteria I can see them being a good match for one another. Besides, if Jonathan and Jade were matched, Jade and I would be sisters. An official label on what we basically are now.
That night after the party, after catching a ride to our cute apartment, we were in the living room eating brownies and talking.
“It just really hurts, I know it shouldn’t but it does.” Jade sighs deeply, burying her face in a pillow. She and Jonathan had kissed, and… she told me she thinks she loves him. One night, four days before his procedure Jonathan admitted to me that he thought he loved Jade too. There’s no point in telling her this now, it’d just hurt her. I can’t imagine what she’s going through, what chemicals are being released in her brain to make her feel the way that she does. It’s a terrible thought, but I’m glad I’ll never know how she feels now. I felt a rush of relief at that thought, then the guilt swooped in right after to consume me. The least I could do was help my dear friend Jade try to get through a boy, my brother nonetheless.
I’m painting the Paix, with a fiery background. I love painting sunsets. There’s something really relaxing about blending colors and throwing them onto a canvas. It’s always been a therapeutic process for me, listening to Jade talk while I paint. Almost immediately after our friendship was formed, so was this ritual. I’ve never been good with words, but with Jade it’s different. Talking with her comes as easily as breathing, but mostly during these times I listen. It’s therapy for both of us. I had always tried to comfort her during these nights where we would spill the myriad of thoughts flowing through our rage filled minds, but I found I had no words to ease her aching soul tonight. It made my heart ache for her, I’m thankful that I will never have to feel a pain like that.