(Here’s the backstory. All the rest is mine.)

You remember scheduling the appointment to have your wisdom teeth removed. You remember the mask being lowered over your nose and mouth. You remember the world slowly turning black.

You’ve just regained consciousness. You’re on a train. There’s a briefcase handcuffed to your wrist. Searching your pockets, you find a note.

Or, at least, it feels like a note. The pitch black interior of the container car offers not a single beam of light to illuminate the carefully-folded paper. Frustrated, I crumple it and toss it aside. I sit back, resting my head between the ridges of the stiff metal wall. Oddly enough, panic has not yet struck me. But it will. No matter where I’m headed, I can be positive that my anti-anxiety meds will not be traveling with me. Sighing, I lean forward, cupping my face in the palms of my hands, trying to make sense of the situation. A bead of sweat inches down my spine.

I drift off to sleep to the sound of the train’s creaky wheels.

Awakening a long while later — I have no idea exactly how long, since I cannot see outside –, I decide to explore the car. (After all, I could be in here for a while.) Feeling along the walls, I encounter what seems to be a lever. I tug desperately, yet it does not budge. I search the lever with my hands, finding a large padlock. It immediately occurs to me that normal container cars have the locks on the outside, not the inside. Puzzled, I let go of the lock, letting it clang against the door. “Who’s there?” a stranger’s voice trembles. Still tracing the sides of the car with my right hand, I make my way to the source of the voice, and sit down beside her. We speak briefly; I learn that she, too, is from Yuma. “Where do you last remember yourself being?” she inquires, and I reply, “The dentist. I was just going under anesthesia.” “Me too,” she responds. What can this mean? Are we being kidnapped?

My thoughts are interrupted by the screeching of the train’s brakes. Two voices from outside the car pass us by. From what I can gather, the two men are opening up the cars, presumably to let out passengers. Soon our door slides open, and I am immediately blinded by the harsh sunlight. My eyes slowly adjust. I get up off the floor of the car, and follow the woman out. She’s cute, I think to myself, but this is no time to be worrying about that. “Andale!” one of the men shouts, and I fall into line with the other captives. We climb into the back of a truck, bound for god-knows-where, and sit down in the familiar darkness.

Hours must have passed since we left the train. Not a single soul has spoken. I infer that there must be at least a dozen of us, based on the body odor.

The door to the truck lifts, and we step out onto a loading dock. A white man in an even whiter lab coat points us to a hallway. I notice that everyone else has a briefcase cuffed to their wrist, too. Then, the two men who let us off the train start separating us, each into different small, dark rooms. I sit down on a metal table, awaiting my fate.

The man in the lab coat, the doctor, enters the room and switches on the lights, closing the door firmly behind himself. The white light once again blinds me. Before I get the chance to open my mouth, the doctor instructs, “Lie down.” I do. “Welcome to San Ignacio,” he declares with a practiced grin. “Let me see that briefcase of yours.” Lifting my arm, I look around. I see a cabinet, a sink, and a lamp. He sets the briefcase down, removes its contents — paper documents —, and leaves the room.

A few minutes later, he returns with two young men dressed in white scrubs. He sets the papers down next to me, and I read the first page: kidneys, check; lungs, check; liver, check; heart, check; pancreas, check; eyes, check; blood, O-…. My heart pounds. The doctor flips the pages until he reaches one titled “Instructions.” The two men pin me firmly to the table, and the doctor fits a mask over my nose and mouth. The world slowly turns black.

A Completely Fictional Story

Many centuries ago, a young knight was passing through a neighboring kingdom when he ran into a former acquaintance, someone with whom he had shared many fond memories in the past. In their excitement the two chatted for hours, beginning the familiar process of rekindling a friendship, pushing away cobwebs and dusting off old memories. The knight and the princess laughed and smiled often, and the knight found himself drawn toward her, much as he had been those many years before.

The royal ball was quickly approaching, and the knight was in need of a partner, a date. After a short while, he concluded that he should ask the princess to accompany him; after all, no other suitors had asked her yet, and the two certainly shared a friendship bursting with potential. “Of course she’ll say yes!” he thought to himself, “It’ll be a ‘happily ever after’, just like the movies that will be invented 800 years from now!” Coincidentally, the knight and the princess ran into each other in the town square that following morning, and the knight cut straight to the chase, asking her, “‘Will you go to the ball with me?'” However, his confidence proved to have mislead him, as her eyes did not light up at the sound of his words. The princess explained nonchalantly that, in her kingdom, it was widely known that another suitor, a prince from a nearby village, was preparing to ask her to the ball in the near future. Expressing that she did not intend to cause unrest, she turned down the knight’s proposal — courteously — and awaited the offer from the prince. Confused and upset, the knight left, heading straight back to his castle.

As the feast that night the knight did not eat, struggling to wrap his mind around what had happened. Was he the victim of bad timing and misfortune, or had he been rejected in the most delicate, yet ruthless of ways? He pondered his dilemma, and returned to his room for the night.

Alternate ending one: On the night of the ball, the knight remained in his room, locked away from the townspeople and from the reality of his rejection. He never meant to create tension in their budding friendship, and fearing he had done so, he resolved to cut his losses and move on, leaving the princess behind. He told himself that he was happy for the prince, pushing away the pent-up rage deep inside himself.

Alternate ending two: The next morning, the knight sought out one of the princess’s friends, a maid in the castle. Knowing the ball was just around the corner, and still wanting to attend, he decided to ask her to accompany him. Certain that she had already heard from the princess about his rejection, he feared that he would come off as desperate, yet went on to ask her — as a friend, of course.

Which ending do you like better?

Well, damn

Am I alone in feeling like my emotions are becoming increasingly complex? When I think back, I feel like I used to be a much more one-dimensional person, if that makes any sense. I’m not quite sure how to put this into words. It’s not a feeling of nostalgia for days fraught with fewer responsibilities, or for times of fewer emotional peaks and valleys. Rather, I fear that one day my thoughts and their significances will be beyond my comprehension. (I’m pretty sure that didn’t make any sense… so, case in point.) I’m unsure as to whether it’s a combination of stressors (family, school, music, friends, GSA, and the many other things I want to complain about), or that I am genuinely a more complex person. I’m also not saying that I’m unique in this; after all, how would I know?

We all contain this unconscious reservoir of feelings, impulses, thoughts, fears, and all that good shit — psychology taught me this. Yet I wonder whether the bottom of this reservoir is made of concrete. Is there a limit to our capacity for emotion?

This got kind of off topic, so I’ll bring it back with another thought I’ve been having lately: maybe, just maybe, I don’t want to be a scientist when I grow up. (Yes, I used the phrase every teenager hates, “when I grow up,” because let’s face it: we aren’t grown up. But hey, the only people that are done growing up are the dead.) I mean, I’ve known this, but maybe I don’t belong in Science really at all. Bearing that in mind, what will I do? I know I don’t need to have that figured out right this minute, but it usually helps to have a general sense of ability, or purpose. I can’t think of a genuine talent I have that will take me anywhere. That sounds awfully pessimistic, but I know there’s truth to it. What can I offer to the world, or, hell, to the people around me, that others cannot? And what if that ability, should it exist, is not something I enjoy? What then? Do I just mope around, earning enough money doing something I hate to achieve those few-and-far-between moments of true happiness?

As far as teen-angsty rants go, this might be a bit common of a sentiment. But, seriously, when you stop to look at the big picture, it can scare the shit out of you. It’s so easy to see that others are making it through life just fine when you aren’t. But if there’s anything else psychology has taught me, it’s that we tend to remember the bad times more than the good ones, and our standards for happiness raise with each exceptionally happy moment. Basically, happiness is a drug — a powerfully addictive one — and the rest of life is its withdrawal symptoms. You can’t indulge in it without feeling the consequences, whether it’s that night, the following week, or years down the road. I never thought I’d say this, and please don’t take it out of context, but all I want right now is to overdose on it and die a blissful death. I need it; I crave it; but I’m feeling pretty done with the withdrawal symptoms. Yet here’s the sad irony: eventually, whether within a week or a year, I will hardly even remember the indescribable feeling I have right now.

Ralph Waldo… Ellison

Grad — that’s who I think of when I listen to Mr. Ellison speak. He has the swagger and confidence of the best public speakers, and the insightful commentary that I grew used to from my grandfather, who was in his mid-thirties at the time. I cannot get over the charisma Ellison exudes when he speaks. He just draws you in, as if you and he were having an intimate discussion. Though a writer by trade, the time he spent working on his prose with a tape recorder is obvious in the eloquence with which he expresses his thoughts. Succinctly highlighting the fractured nature of the country, both then and now, he epitomizes the sentiments of millions in declaring, “there is no United States”. Interestingly, his remarks also reminded me somewhat of bits and pieces of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, though they preceded it by several years. It would be an understatement to call Mr. Ellison a visionary; he was practically clairvoyant.

Yet, the most interesting aspects of the interview, to me, were the segments about the writing of Invisible Man. Though I understood that the narrator’s college was the Tuskegee Institute, I was unaware of the extent to which Ellison drew from his time there; I didn’t even know he attended it. Knowing this, however, so much more makes sense: beyond the narrator’s representation of the black experience in the United States, the narrator, to an extent, is Ellison. What’s more, the truths he sought to reveal about society (a task he believed to be the main goal of any writer) were based on personal experiences in his own life. Additionally, the veteran character in the novel was inspired by an acquaintance of Mr. Ellison from college. A talented man, Ellison’s friend had gone insane by the time the two met again in New York many years later. The truth he spoke, however, echoes with parallels to the veteran (rather, the other way around), in that Ellison’s friend refused to give in to the status quo, and sought to live life on his own terms.

I also enjoyed learning about Mr. Ellison’s personal life, as the interview was interspersed with commentary on his thoughts. Ellison noted that, like many other black writers, his works were often judged by his race than their quality. Also, Ellison noted that many black leaders, like those in the novel, rarely lead other blacks, but rather whites. This, Ellison hints, is an expression of the white hierarchy that ironically penetrated into black civil rights movements. The influence of his familiarity with black speakers, especially preachers, is evident in his speech-writing, as the nuances of the speaking style of the time permeate many aspects of the speeches given by black characters in the novel, including dialect, phrasing, and sentence structure.