That’s all I am to everyone. Just a pretty little puppet waiting to do their bidding. They don't bother to search beyond my perfect face. They don’t see the cracks beneath the surface. They don’t know the strings that tangle themselves around my mind. Or the voices I hear. Commands that breathe into my ear, engraving themselves in my skull. No matter how hard I try, I can’t find a pair of scissors to cut the strings free.
All I was meant to be and all I will ever be.
All right Drama Queen. That’s enough. A voice shears through my thoughts. A metallic hum fills my brain as he enters my mind and begins his work. Sifting through the files of my brain. Plucking the ones that displease him. Shredding them to dust, so that when I try to pull them back, I grasp nothing but fragments.
It’s not a painful process. In fact, it doesn’t even feel like I’m losing anything. So long as I don’t bother to go searching for it, I will never know that thought existed.
It isn’t fair, I know. I should be free to think whatever I like without interference. Without tiny machines deleting my thoughts, like if they work hard enough they can hide the fact I’m imperfect. That I’m human. But it’s not the machines that are the problem. Even Mason, the pesky voice in my head, only does what he is commanded to do. It is the fault of my father. He claims he has my best interests at heart, that he wants to keep me safe.
Once, when I was small, I was brave enough to ask him, “Safe from what? From my own brain?” I had braced myself that night, expecting the worse. Instead of exploding like I had anticipated, he merely sighed. He had given me a subtle, sad smile, that had suggested that he had been waiting for this to happen. That suggested that I was missing a piece of the puzzle. That if I listened to him, soon I would understand.
“Sage, my beautiful child,” He had said, “I am trying to protect you from the harshness of the world. You have never known pain, or suffering. And thanks to Mason, you will never know the burden that comes with poisonous thoughts. Venom that begins in your brain, and will spread to your heart, if given the time to grow.” He lightly tapped my head, then my chest, showing me a poisoned heart was a disease I could prevent. At the time, it had been a justifiable answer. My dad just didn’t want me to get hurt. Every night I would remind myself, This is the only way to avoid a poisoned heart. The only way to keep venom out of my brain.
I had been so sure Dad knew what he was doing. But now, I'm not so sure. Does he realize his way of protecting me, is molding me into someone else. The daughter he wants to see. Not the daughter I really am. Some days I wish he would see who I am….
I wish I could see who I really am.
The sun’s going down, bathing the world in it’s warm, tired glow. I stretch out my hands, cupping the sun. It was like holding a tiny ball of flame, even if I couldn’t really feel it. Today has been one of the harder ones. I’m living on my own, and life hasn’t gotten any easier. My thoughts have been racing more than usual. Most times the hectic days barely allow me to think about anything else besides the task at hand. I try to avoid talking or going out unless I have to. I’m not very good at interacting with people, even with Mason’s advice.
It is nice to have some time to myself, though. To slow down. No one is there to see me playing with the sun. No one to watch my inner battles. No one to reach out and cut my strings. It seems the more I grow, the looser they get. If only they would snap.
I lean farther off the balcony, my stomach digging into the rail. I wish it were like this all the time.
Me too, Sage. It’s especially gorgeous today.
What did I say about eavesdropping?
It isn’t eavesdropping if we share a brain.
This is my brain, thank you.
Maybe, but you have to admit I made you who you are.
I growl. You do not make me who I am. Yo do not control me. I feel my face warm, my thoughts crashing into one another. So much for calming down. I’m going to watch the news. You stay out of it.
Sage, don’t do that. It is not helping the “sophisticated optimist”look we’re going for.
You, are not helping my inner optimist right now.
Nonsense, I just helped you make dinner, talk to the cashier, save money…… Wait did you say you were going to watch the news.
Yes, keep up supercomputer.
Ha! You’re funny. You know you can’t watch the news. You never watch the news. Your father forbids you.
My father is over 300 miles away. He can’t stop me.
You can try. But why go through the trouble? You can always get rid of a few news clips.
Silence fills my brain as Mason analyzes my last comment. I don’t wait for his permission before whipping around and stalking into the apartment.
Fine. His voice comes in so softly it feels like a whisper.
Watching the news isn’t a common practice for me, but something was nagging at me. Like something important was happening right now. I flip channels wondering to myself how a person can be whole but broken. How they can exist but be invisible. How one can be surrounded by people, but still be alone. I never understood. I guess it is kind of like how I am one person, but have two voices.
Suddenly, my eyes catch a headline that make my heart skip a beat. My mouth falls open. No way. No way!! But sure enough the news headline remained the same.
20th Micro-Sonic Breaching This Year - What The Company Has to Say
Micro-Sonic. The company that put Mason in my brain. That let my father turn me into a puppet. Mason, this is why you never let me turn on the news. You want me to stay clueless. To my surprise, there is no reply. Usually Mason is quick to respond in his, logical, friendly way. Not this time. Not today. It is actually unsettling, being alone with the silent void of my mind. Hey Mason, are you still there?
Sorry for the inconvenience, Sage, but you’ll have to fly without me for a while.
Then just like that he’s gone.
Not knowing what else to do, I let the news run for a while. None of this makes much sense. It’s like putting a puzzle together, only realizing I have all the wrong pieces. Scrambled phrases rush through one ear and out the other: improper use, privacy problems, disabled, we formally apologize, puppet, chip removed, What do they all mean again? Wait, what was that? There it is again. Puppet. Such a cruel, tormenting word. The world moves around me in a fuzzy haze. This is too much.
Suddenly, a numbing truth falls over me. A puppet. Tears well in my eyes, filling me with clinging disbelief. A puppet. A tear drips down my cheek, paving a twisted path. A puppet. Just like me. Someone noticed. Someone understood. Someone cut his stings. Someone gave him freedom, so maybe I can have it too.
Maybe I don’t have to wait for a savior. Maybe there is no knight in shining armor coming around the bend. Maybe… maybe I can save myself.
A few short phone calls later, I vault off the chair and snag on the first coat I can find. It’s rough like sandpaper around my neck, but I don’t mind. With a deep breath, I glance at myself in the mirror one last time. Sorry, Mason, for what I’m about to do. It’s nothing against you. I promise. I give myself a shake, before pivoting and marching out the door...into the unknown.
If it does that one more time, I’m going to go insane.
I can almost hear Mason’s reply. It’s light & snappy, but reassuring. I shake my head to clear it and frown. Mason isn’t here. He was turned off last night and never came back. He isn’t here and I’m happy. Right?
I clutch the folds of my coat awkwardly. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. They said as soon as the operation was over, I am free to go. I am free. It’s a beautiful word. Free for the first time in my life. All I have to do is walk out. So why can’t I move?
Maybe I’m scared. Scared to see who I will be without him.
Across the room the door clangs open, it’s handle smashing into the wall. A young figure appears in the hallway, cautiously peering into the room. He is tall and looks about my age. “You too?” He says.
“Oh... the chip. Yeah.” At that moment, my phone rings, buzzing angrily in my lap. I tilt the screen toward me: Dad. The last person I need to see right now. I quickly silence the phone and smile apologetically at the boy.
“I’m sorry, Continue.”
“It’s fine.” He shrugs, even though he knows those types of phones aren’t common anymore. Everyone carries their personal information in their fingers, now days. “I’ve been here for a while. Just wandering in circles. I guess it’s hard to realign yourself.”
“It’s nice to know I’m not the only one having trouble.”
“I found a good place to start. Follow me.”
“Where are we going?”
I hesitate, as he turns and marches out the door. He leads me down the hall and through a pair of double doors. We emerge into the world together. It is gorgeous. The city sprawling before us, like a blanket of twinkling lights. Always bustling. The city stops for no one. “It’s pretty. Seeing it with my own eyes.” I whisper. Not daring to disturb the silence.
“No. Not the city. Look up.” I do. The sky was dyed a midnight blue on the edges, fading carefully into the warm glow of the rising sun. Out of habit. I reach out, guiding the sun as it inches higher. The boy reaches to join me, his hand brushing against mine.
This is our new beginning. Our fresh start. Because we were puppets, held up by strings. It turns out we didn’t need someone to cut our strings. We could do it ourselves. We are strong, and slowly, will find ourselves. It will take time. But I am patient.
“My name is Sage, by the way.”
“Mason. My name is Mason.”