And when I see you, I can only think about you as a boy and not as this person that you’ve become. I guess we all underestimated how different the world would look through these electronic eyes, and how much we would miss seeing the glint of an iris or the shadows and smirks that used to linger in pupils and help us to translate the intentions of others. But I can call up a picture of the good old days any time, so I don’t complain. I mostly just sit in the sunshine, and, though it looks different through these eyes, it has regained its warmth now that the haze has cleared. I’m happy, even.
And you’ve begun to make things again. I wasn’t sure we would ever see a time where you played all day, but that’s what you did yesterday. Sitting under that tree by the river, I watched you building and thinking and just existing in the happiness of your own concentration, surrounded by sticks and branches, piles of stones and little pebbles, buckets of river mud. Essentials we had thought lost. You even endured my hand on your shoulder walking to dinner last night, and it meant so much to me, though I’ll just have to trust you to know because you have no tolerance for my tears.
And things are better now that I’ve stopped asking you how much you remember, stopped asking you to tell me stories about her. Instead, I focus on what I can remember myself. Sometimes at night I try to go through each year and sometimes, if I’m so careful, I can bring up a memory from each month of each year, all six of them.
And I know that some of these are manufactured in my own mind, but it doesn’t bother me because they are seedlings, nourished by the pool of love that coats my insides, and has ever since the day I realized she would be mine. It is the same pool that gathers at the back of my throat on the rough days, since it can no longer stream down my face. I sometimes think they took our tear ducts, not because of the new eyes we all needed, but to try and help us to move on. I suspect everyone wishes they could still cry.
And I think it made us sadder for a time because there were only blank faces to express our grief, and even our relief. I remember feeling so corralled, even on release day when they led us up from under the ground and showed us the camp that so many gave their lives to build. Standing under the open sky for the first time in four years, I thought my body might burst from the restraint imposed by the lack of tears.
And we’ve lost so much, you and I. You more than I, maybe. Your entire family was outside, and again and again I see your little body as you tripped going towards the door. Your crying face was the last thing I saw as I bent over to pick you up and everything went gray. We only lost our eyes in the flash and not our lives, and I’m long past those thoughts that replaced you with her, and I know you must have had them too, replacing me with your own mother, my best friend, my love. I would have traded with her at the time, so you could have had your mother. I felt the pressure of our infidelity as an unformed bruise, blamed our love for what was stripped from us. But life is a strange thing, and, though it occasionally lets go, it always comes back. I would walk willingly into death to save another person, but I no longer desire death as I did.
And it was unfair of me. I took care of you well enough all those years underground, and even during the first year when we were traveling from shelter to shelter, before the underground space was ready. But I have a hard time forgiving myself for those days when we finally had our own rooms and I couldn’t bear to rise and leave my bed. Your face was a solemn digitized mask when you brought me food I did not eat.
And what did you see when you looked at me? What do you see now? Your friend’s mother, your mother’s best friend? Do you remember the me from before? Your mother would not recognize me. I’ve grown fat these years, and I’ve taken to wearing these thin cotton dresses, though I know I must look ridiculous at best. I’ve lost all thought for those things now. They only occur to me when I think I might embarrass you. You would never say. You weren’t a boy for talk, even then. You certainly haven’t changed in that respect.
And I want the best for you, and I don’t know at all what that will mean. We’ve come back to the surface, but things are not the same. People are nicer now, though they are quieter, as if we have finally realized the power we have to hurt one another, and it has taken our idle conversation and replaced it with a careful and silent grief-scented awe. Not to say that there aren’t fights and the occasional loud voice, but all that anger, if it is still there, is trapped in the mechanics of our new eyes. Trapped and, I like to think, dissipated in all the wires, wires like drains, vacuums, that take the hate and suck it up and vaporize it. Perhaps these wired eyes make it all better. I’m going to trust that.
And though I wasn’t sure I would ever say it, I’m glad there’s an and, whatever it might bring.