In high school they used to make us write papers on famous works of literature. We had to do a new one every year, as their way of forcing us kids to read something. The only problem was that we weren't allowed to choose the books ourselves, and after all the hours spent having to dissect Hemingway and Hawthorne, we usually ended up hating them. I remember that one year I had to write about Kafka's "The Metamorphosis", and I hated that it was such a typically high school selection; that is, something that every student knows they will have to face at one time or another. Every high school student in the world will read Kafka someday, just like every student will read Shakespeare, or Oscar Wilde, or any number of authors that have, over the years, become essential parts of any high school cirriculum. If I had my choice, I would have written about one of Kurt Vonnegut's short stories, "Harrison Bergeron". At the time it was because I knew I could easily produce a college level assesment with little effort on my part; I could mention the political aspects of the work, the idea that such extreme laws could only be enforced by creating the fear of an equally extreme punishment. Or I could have examined the loss of identity that comes with physical and mental handicaps. I think that I was searching for approval back then, that I was trying to impress my peers by making a case on something that they'd probably never even heard of before. When I look back on those times, my typically high school problems seem so small and trivial. Back then, feeling anonymous meant having no friends (not that I wanted any) and not getting invited to the senior prom. But now, feeling anonymous could get me killed.
That was the first thing I realized, when I woke up inside the compound.
The first thing I noticed wasn't the television, or the duffel bag that lay at my feet. It wasn't even the splitting headache, or the ringing in my ears. Actually, it was my shoes. There were those little canvas sneakers that I usually wore during the summertime. They were white, with forest green laces. And they weren't mine. This discovery prompted me to examine the rest of my clothing, which I soon found out consisted of a green windbreaker, a white T-shirt, and blue jeans. On my lapel there was also a small patch, which had a number seven on it. I didn't see this right away, and it only registered in my brain when I saw it reflected in the television screen that sat in front of me. I had barely concluded that something wasn't right with this situation when it flickered to life, and then I listened to the voice that followed. I was too stunned, I think, to understand the words at first, and even today I doubt that I could accurately recount what was said. But I did get the jist of it, and as my face appeared on the screen, "thiry seconds" and "outside world" seemed to be playing themselves over and over in my head.
And I knew that I had to do something.
I have no idea why, but in that moment I flashed back to high school, to trying to convince my teacher to let me write about Harrison. I was explaining how badly I felt for him, how awful it must have been to hide who he truly is underneath a mask. How terrible it must have been to carry weights on his shoulders, to constantly have his train of thought interrupted. To hide his intelligence. And as I said these things, I began to realize that I didn't have to pretend to know what he must have been feeling. Actually, I knew. Because for all of my life, I pretended to be less smart than I really was. I tried my hardest not to get too excited about things, so that I didn't stand out. Yes, Harrison and I were held back for entirely different reasons, and by different people, but we were still in the same situation. And with that in mind, I smiled into the camera.
I said hello. Hello, and my name is Taffy. This is who I am.
And then I said thank you. Thank you for allowing me to have this chance, these thirty seconds to let you all know that I won't be holding back any longer.
I am Taffy, I am Number Seven, and I am no longer anonymous.