I am at an academy of sorts, a small community composed of all the people I know and knew. Something is brewing — tensions are rising, divisions are widening, and our overall humanness is at its peak.
We are told to choose a side by the governing body of the campus-like setting. One side gets baseballs; the other gets bats. Only we aren’t playing a game. These are our weapons. I’m on the side with the bats, and I choose to carry two. The goal is to keep as many balls from hitting and hurting us as possible. It’s overwhelming; our side gets pelted and I swing and swing alongside my teammates. Irritation keeps escalating; we grow angrier and angrier at the other side, and them us.
The battle ceases and for a little while, we resume our lives. But we harbor hatred and anger for the other side. I sit down with a couple of women from my past that I did not at all get along with; they fake nice, but I can hear them saying things about me, like that I take things too seriously and that I need to relax. I can feel my indignation beneath my skin like an infestation.
Soon, the governing body tells us once again to prepare to fight the other side. Only this time, they give us guns.
There is no battle plan. They do not tell us to get into formation, or to engage dodgeball-style like we did with the baseballs and bats. They simply tell us that we have a choice: when we see a member of the “other,” we can either shoot or be shot. So be on your guard.
I carry my gun with me everywhere I go. I am scared of it. I do not like guns, but if someone points theirs at me, it might be my only hope of surviving. This goes on for days, and the constant hypervigilance is wearing at me. Hues of vivid pain color the edges of my vision and I want it to just be over. But the governing body tells us we cannot stop, we cannot let our guard down, that this is life or death.
I run into old friends who are on the other side and we mourn the loss of our connection. “Oh, I didn’t know you were one of those,” we say to each other, lips curled in disgust. There’s an unspoken agreement that we won’t raise our guns; we simply walk away. With each footstep you can hear the sounds of our hearts breaking.
I feel the weight of the gun in my hand and in my heart. I look at the people that I once was so hateful towards and wish that we could just put our weapons down and embrace. I’ve grown weary of hate and animosity and survival that is reliant on divisions between humans. But if I put my gun down, I run the risk of being shot, and of being condemned by those that make the rules. So I keep it close, with the safety off.
The final scene before I wake is like that of a movie: a loved one turns a corner, but we’re not on the same side. We both raise our guns. A shot rings out; my eyes fly open. I try to remember which of us was hit as I launch upright in bed, back sticky with sweat, breath coming short and shallow. Then I realize that it doesn’t really matter.