Ignores the No Reentry! sign (part 2)
How did I choose the name Bryce, [brais]?
Right before writing commenced, I met Bryce - the human. We live on the ground floor of an apartment building with an open patio facing a busy residential street. I was doing martial arts forms (katas) outside when I felt a pair of eyes watching me. After another series of punches, kicks and exhales, I stopped to rest. That’s really cool, remarked the man watching me. I asked him if he ever did martial arts. I wish, he replied. It’s never too late, I said.
He shared he was hungry. And my conditioned Seattle self (the homeless problem here is overwhelming) thought: Great. Here is another homeless youth asking for money.
I’ve been homeless for two weeks. I tried to join the homeless camp at Green Lake. They were not kind to me, he said. I found out the youth was a man - 27 years old. He had recently become homeless because of the pandemic. He had been installing artificial turf fields when he was laid off. We talked about saving money and the importance of financial education. He told me his parents weren’t very good with finances. Neither were mine, I shared.
I offered him green bean stew. I’ll be fine, he declined politely. He didn’t want to be a burden. We shook hands. Bogdan. Bryce, he introduced himself. We talked some more. He told me he envied me. I noticed the tattoos on his arms. And we parted ways. I wondered if I had said the right words to him, to help him find peace considering his misfortune. Perhaps what Bryce wished the most was for us to have a conversation. An interaction. To connect on a human level. Now his name, his tattoo, and the feeling we briefly shared of belonging to Humanity have been immortalized in this tale. Maybe one day he will read it. And smile!
I’m overjoyed you have made it to the tail end of our tale. Pay close attention! You are in for a mind trip. If it’s been a while, I strongly suggest you reread chapter 2: Conceptualized to work before reading this one.
Bryce: ignores the No Reentry! sign
Hi, sweetheart. I’m Jackie, your mom.
Hello. I’m Bryce.
Hey there, I’m Josh, your dad.
Hello, I’m Bryce.
It started out with his parents handing him back and forth between them. After they left the hospital, they passed him forth to more hands, and more hands still. Thus Bryce understood why the desire to belong possessed and obsessed him. Sewn into the moments following birth, belonging grew roots into the palm of his father’s hand; to faith forth into the eyes of his mother; to grow and to blossom in the hands of his parents Jackie and Josh.
Bone. Fiber. Flesh. Marrow. Blood. Coursing. Neurons. Firing. The great milk! Choose!
The first real choice Bryce made in his new form was to surrender, to trust his parents letting him go for others to hold him. And so, from hand to hand he journeyed, around, and around, returning without fail to Jackie and Josh. He belonged to weathered hands, and hands touched by Spring. Hardworking hands. Gloved hands. Hands with painted nails. Hands with long fingers, and short stubby ones. Shy hands. Hands of unapologetic youth. Hands of exuberance, of resolve. Hands of drunkard solace. Hands of shame, of guilt. Hands of wrinkles. Hands that knew Death. Hands that knit music, and merriment too. So it was how Bryce learned to craw, to walk and run in the hands that celebrated his existence. The sheer feeling of being celebrated moved him profoundly, and he vowed to never let humans down. He fell in love with everyone who held him, and they mirrored his joy unequivocally.
Like the hands, the eyes too invited Bryce to belong. Entering and exiting their world at his own will, he discovered freedom. Before he learned to walk, Bryce walked in the eyes of his parents, grandparents, extended family, friends, neighbors and even strangers. He trespassed deep into the optic nerve of Humanity, and he marveled at the miracle of birth and emergence. For each morrow he was birthed anew; and he grew stronger because he knew the truth of always being born. Falling asleep at the breast of Jackie cloaked Bryce into a sweetness he never imagined possible. Her breath belonged to Bryce and he belonged to breath, rising and falling; her heartbeat belonged to Bryce, and he belonged to the silence between heartbeats.
His first summer, Jackie and Josh crumpled down, their eyes betraying a sadness baby Bryce couldn’t understand. His life became about more hands, and more eyes as his parents cradled him in and out of hospitals. During one such visit, while a doctor was talking to Jackie and Josh, baby Bryce grew alarmed, grew anxious. Had they discovered who he was? Were they going to separate him from his parents? Were they going to send him back to the realm of the dead? So Bryce hid in his human form, and he made himself small, and smaller still. He became an atom. And he destroyed the atom. He ran, and ran, and ran, turning invisible to his own essence.
His silent tears prompted Jackie and Josh to respond in tears as well. He cried because he was afraid. Ashamed for lying to them. He was not their child! And never could be! He should have never ignored the No Reentry! sign at the cave lake. He should have never betrayed Death’s trust. Death had been so gentle with him. In her honor, if they let him stay with his parents, he vowed to paint the world in kindness.
Shortly thereafter, his plea to continue to belong was answered. It was the day Bryce found out he was no longer deaf. A nightingale flew down to perch on his stroller during an outing at the zoo. I know you cannot hear my song, but you will hear my whisper, sang the nightingale. Indeed, Bryce heard her whisper, and his face turned radiant. His mother Jackie leaned over the stroller, cupped his face in her hands, and wept in joy.
The following day, Bryce was given a second chance to be of the world when his doctor discovered and removed a pair of vaporlike growths blocking his middle ears. And the doctor wondered how he had missed them before. Dissecting them under the microscope, he observed a biomimicry design beyond his understanding. The puzzled doctor ordered a full body scan, and after careful analysis pronounced Bryce cured. Relieved, Jackie and Josh set out to teach Bryce language.
Hi, Eve. I’m Jackie, your mother.
Hello. I’m Bryce.
Hey there, Eve, I’m Josh, your father.
Hello, I’m Bryce.
And to his dismay, every morning for a month Jackie and Josh repeated the introduction. Soon, everyone called Bryce by this new name, Eve.
One afternoon, alone with the piano and his music teacher, Bryce, in his second year, yearning to be of Himself, bit his teacher on the hand after she called him Eve. His teacher never mentioned the incident to Josh who came to take Bryce home. Slow down, Eve, she spoke tenderly during the following lesson. Bryce didn’t slow down, but stopped playing altogether. Threw himself at the feet of his teacher, wept and sputtered sounds that betrayed his desire to express. Unlike the piano keys, language was still beyond his reach. Bryce refused to sit at the piano again, curled up on the window sill instead, and while his teacher played, he waited for the hour to pass. Again, his father picked him up, and again the teacher kept the incident to herself, bidding Bryce goodbye with a smile. A smile inviting Bryce to belong… to belong to frustration and futility. He returned for another piano lesson having forgotten all about his tears of the week before. Eve, listen to me, spoke the teacher deliberately at the top of the hour. B-b-b-r-, struggled to pronounce his true name Bryce. Eve. Listen to me, repeated the teacher deliberately. And when she mentioned the name Eve thrice, Bryce threw up all over the piano, and they spent the rest of the hour cleaning up the keys, each in their own thoughts. His teacher never called Bryce by name again.
At age four, Bryce underwent another series of routine medical examinations. By then, he expressed himself freely in language, spelling being, beauty, and bee amongst hundreds of other words. All the while, the space his music teacher had carved out for Bryce, remained a heaven he joyfully inhabited. But even at the tender age of four, Bryce sensed how crushing the power of his early musical prowess could be. No, he didn’t want to be a burden to his parents who lived increasingly in their private universe and private thoughts. So, his teacher permitted young Bryce to sit out during public recitals while the rest of his peers lined up to perform and to shine along the red curtains. He played for three people and three people only: his teacher and his parents. But mostly – for himself.
For a week, scientists, doctors and specialists of different disciplines stalked Bryce everywhere in his home. Preforming cognitive, behavioral and a slew of other tests. They quizzed him about his dreams at night and his daydreams too. Once they asked him to move various shapes across a three dimensional maze. What did they hope to find? On several occasions they showed him the vaporlike growths with their odd patterns, retrieved from his middles ears when he was nine months old; and asked him to draw whatever arose, but he couldn’t draw anything.
For the full body scan he had to strip naked and put on a gown. Curls falling over his creamy shoulders, expressive eyes curious about his nakedness, Bryce touched his body parts as if becoming aware of his skin and form for the first time. He had seen his privates before, but so what!? That day, he stared at them, and the past four years of his life constellated in a victory of mind over body. He realized why they insisted on calling him Eve. He had the anatomy of a girl. And when Eve returned home that night, she apologized to her parents, Jackie and Josh, for being snappy with them about her name. And, to their relief, she told them she didn’t hate her name anymore. She asked to be excused from dinner, walked up to her bedroom and fell asleep with her mother’s beauty mirror in her hands. In the morning, and the mornings that unfolded, she grew quietly into Herself.
During a playdate, Eve secretly took a textbook from a neighbor and stuffed it in her backpack. She put together a make-belief school uniform, tied her long curls into pigtails and, at age five, went to enroll herself in school. Recognizing her eagerness to learn, the first grade teacher took a liking to Eve, and for the next year mentored her on the shores of the ocean. There she learned to be vast, bold and roaring in her imagination. When she was old enough for first grade, they placed her in third. Eve was the shortest in her class but what she lacked in height she made up in curiosity. At fourteen, her parents enrolled her in college; at twenty, she earned a PhD in nuclear science and engineering. She became an overnight sensation, an inspiration to women and young girls across the world. Eve gave lectures, made numerous radio appearances and published a book, The Secret Garden of Eve. She could have worked at any nuclear plant, but chose to stay at the one in her beloved home city. Breakthroughs in biomimicry technology birthed the first humanlike AIs while Eve had been in college. By her mid-thirties, machine learning had turned AIs into perfect workers, drawing Humanity a step closer to utopia. It soon became obvious Eve’s intuitive understanding of artificial intelligence made her the best candidate to supervise the mixed workforce. She was offered a seven figure salary, moved into a vista loft, bought a baby grand and dedicated herself to her work.
Eve first met Bryce over a Christmas gathering. He had been in production for a decade and operational for seven years. His model had been offered housing and access to human privileges. Their government was the first to pass the controversial law. Integration, they argued, would create a sense of belonging in AIs. Belonging would make cross pollination in the workforce exponential, positioning her country to compete economically with the superpowers of the world. Eve never sought Bryce out, but the opportunities to interact with him continued to chance and surprise her. Her field of awareness was expanding; the little girl inside her lay scared; her piano playing sounded even better. Eve became intrigued by the level at which Bryce engaged her intellectually. And if that wasn’t enough, she grew perplexed when her body began to respond to his presence and proximity.
A week before the earthquake, Bryce showed up at her front door unannounced. Eve invited him in. She could not point to the exact moment she fell in love, before or after they held each other. By the third night together, the sense of belonging overwhelmed her. She lay by him awake, in the dawn of her imagination, while Bryce cleaned-up his code. A life together was not only possible, but wrought in gold across the shimmering night sky above them.
Uncharacteristically for a routine clean-up operation, Bryce woke up with a pounding migraine. One he had struggled with for a fortnight, she learned. When they parted in the morning, Eve discovered a piece of vaporlike tissue in the sheets; an ethereal particle of his complex technology she desired to understand and to nurture. She handed the vapor particle back to Bryce when they ran into each other at the nuclear plant. He clutched, crushed and tossed it in the waste bin. We will not need it anymore, said Bryce. What do you mean we? He didn’t elaborate. They made love in reactor number 4.
The last evening they saw each other before the unfathomed calamity cut off power to half of their city, Eve convinced Bryce to stay at his job a while longer, until they agreed on a plan. Work was coded into the core of his essence. Denouncing who he was would get Bryce shut down. And if the world found out about his transformation, or rebellion (depending on the point of view), his kind would be forever doomed. It was that simple. Inevitable.
The earthquake found Eve resting at home. The tsunami found Eve wrestling with a broken tomorrow. Then came the call. The meltdown at the nuclear plant had to be contained. (Her feelings for Bryce needed containment even more so.) We need you to authorize the use of Bryce for this mission! Eve, do you authorize Bryce to enter the reactor? Sick to her stomach, Eve whispered an analogue yes. An hour later they had suited Bryce up. She watched him walk out of the control room, to rise in all his might, in conviction, in bravery amidst the wreckage. The synapses of who they were for each other dissolved the Here, the There, the Before, and the After. The Bryce and the Eve. Eve trembled as he approached a hatch. And she held her face in her hands as Bryce’s camera beamed what he saw: A door, the only way in, and a bold sign in big cubic letters:
Why did you listen to me!, she cried out when minutes later Bryce reported: I’m melting. I’m melting. Then, his video feed cut out, and that was the end of the tale of Bryce and Eve.
Eve slept at the train station and dreamt she was Bryce and he was her. As if they existed in one nerve tissue, in singularity, and it was entirely possible for her to love Herself. And her piano teacher appeared to her as a witch. To be burnt at the stake while the sea protested, howled and roared. Upon waking, Eve never boarded the train but set out to seek the old woman. She found her playing a cimbalom in the ruins, the sacred space her teacher had carved out for herself, Eve’s second home as far as her memories took her. Survivors gathered and sat around, listening despite loss, and sorrow, and gloom. A nightingale flew to land on the cimbalom. Eve approached, bowing over, taking a deep breath of music. I never knew. The witch smiled and offered Eve a seat next to her. But I don’t know how, objected Eve.
You will learn, said the witch, you will learn…
You made it to the end. Or the beginning. I’d love to hear from you!
My sister, who got me back into drawing, and I went to have sushi and draw. I had just written the last chapter and earlier that day had taken a screen shot while video talking with my wife who was in Bulgaria. I used the photo as a starting point for the drawing. I will be continuing to draw into my next tale “Eurydice” thanks to the love of my sister!
Your presence here is appreciated deeply!