Jerry sat at his computer sorting through invoices. It was tedious work. All day he would point and click, drag and drop, copy and paste. There was no skill involved. When he was young he used to have soaring dreams. Now, he felt useless. As far as he was concerned the whole world was irrelevant.
He has been feeling melancholy lately. The change of weather always affected him badly. He lost himself sometimes staring into the grey mist outside his office window. It made him want to sleep but that could never happen under the harsh fluorescent light inside. It exacerbated a schism within him between what he wanted and what he was.
Jerry thought that when he stopped taking his pills that he might find more energy. They always made him feel numb. Days seemed to bleed into each other. He could focus but life had no flavor, like chewing on wax lips once all the sweetness had gone. Now he found himself awash with ideas and emotions yet devoid of any outlet.
He let go of his mouse and placed his head down on his desk with his hands cupped around his eyes to create some darkness in which he could find peace. He imagined himself running down the shear white hallways screaming like a mad man. Oh, the panic he would cause in his coworkers. They might call for an ambulance or pull the fire alarm. He chuckled to himself at the thought.
A loud buzz emanated from the phone in his front pocket. A message scrolled along the top of the screen. Status Update: Jerry is sad. He looked at it for a moment and scoffed. He may have been and may be sad but it hardly requires explaining. He returned to his fantasies.
The phone buzzed again, then again and a few more times after that. His girlfriend wanted to know if he was alright. So did several other people from work and elsewhere. He straightened himself and returned to his work.
He could have taken a moment to say he was fine but lately he had determined these notices were a nuisance. They created unnecessary concern out of the trivial and mundane. He didn’t want to be a part of any group therapy. If it was something important then he might be inclined to share but he’d rather do it in person and not online.
Shortly thereafter, his terminal froze. A meeting request had been sent to him. He needed to report to the Human Relations Department immediately. He clicked to accept and locked his desk. For the life of him, he didn’t know why.
As he boarded the elevator he ran into a couple of people he knew and said hello politely and with a big smile. They replied with slanted eyes at him and walked by. He wondered if he had upset them someway.
In the first floor conference room Janice the HR Director and Henry his supervisor were waiting. Jerry sat across from them at a big wooden table while they scrolled through their notepads and whispered in each other’s ears. He grew nervous and finally he spoke up, asking why he was there.
Janice motioned to him with her fingers to wait. They completed their conference then directed their full attention to Jerry. Janice did most of the talking.
“Jerry, I want you to know that the reason you have been summoned is because we are both invested in your wellbeing. Do you believe that we care about you?”
Jerry nodded in agreement because he had no reason to doubt what they were saying was true.
“Do you like working here?”
“Yes, very much.” This was a lie. He didn’t hate working there is a more accurate assessment of his feelings. He liked his paycheck.
“That’s good to know.” Janice appeared pleased with his response but that gave away little of any opinions she may be concealing.
Henry, on the other hand was not subtle. His expression was taut. He seemed to be sizing Jerry up. Jerry blanched at the idea Henry might strike him and tried not to look in his direction any more than he had to.
“Have I done something wrong?” Jerry asked.
“I don’t believe that you think you have done anything wrong,” Janice replied. ”But, there have been some complaints leveled against you and we have been monitoring your behavior for some time.”
This took Jerry aback. He felt himself become defensive.
“Your fellow employees do not think you like them.”
“How can they say that?” He thought back to the elevator and wondered what kind of games people were playing with him.
“We live in a connected society, in a connected workplace. When one of us decides they no longer want that connection people have tendency to take it personal.”
“What do you mean?” Jerry was earnestly confused. “I am pleasant to everyone I meet. I’ve never had a disagreement with anyone.”
Janice explained further. “You do not reply to updates, either your own or other peoples. You don’t congratulate on birthdays. When Lois Shermer had her gall bladder removed you did not wish her well.”
“I am always there to sing Happy Birthday in the breakroom and eat cake. I spoke to Lois face to face when she came back.”
“This may be true but you did not do so online.”
“So, you’re saying if it isn’t online it doesn’t count?” Jerry was incredulous. “If I talk to people I want to do it face to face. It’s more real than computer coded smiley faces.”
“Perhaps, but it can’t be quantified and tracked. People want to know that you’ll take the time to acknowledge them.”
“That’s what I do.”
Neither Janice nor Henry seemed to comprehend what he was saying. Jerry was becoming frustrated.
“Is there a problem with my work?” Jerry asked.
This is where Henry took over. He read through a list of very minor infractions that he enunciated angrily so as to make them seem more egregious. The most damning of which was that Jerry had been sleeping at his desk.
Jerry admitted his mistakes and promised to do better in the hope that the meeting would soon draw to a close. Just then his phone went off as did the tablets Janice and Henry had before them. Status Update: Jerry is angry. Janice showed it to Jerry and asked him to explain.
“Should I tell you or type it?” Jerry was trying to not be flip but he was powerless to stop himself.
“You can just tell us.” Janice seemed much less agreeable than before.
“I don’t get it. Why does everyone need to know every stupid thought I have? What difference does it make? Why can’t I keep anything to myself? Why do I have to explain myself to you or anyone?”
Janice replied sternly, “We know how you feel, when you feel it.” She said touching her ear. ”What we do not know is why and if we do not know why you feel the way you do how can we trust you?”
“That’s nonsense. You’ve always trusted me before. You just need to have faith in people. You don’t need to pry into every emotion they have. My feelings are who I am. If I share all of them then they’re not mine anymore they’re ours. I belong to myself.”
Jerry’s defiance was self-gratifying. He had that rush of endorphins a person gets when they stand up to a bully. He felt invincible. He even hoped that he had in some way gotten through to the two of them.
“I am afraid as things are presently you can no longer work for this company.” Janice was unmoved. She gathered her belongings and left. Henry followed grinning widely. Jerry sat alone until a security guard arrived with his belongings and escorted him to the parking lot.
It wasn’t yet noon but Jerry decided he needed a drink. His phone kept buzzing so he turned it off. He’d spent enough of his life plugged in. He should have been mad. Instead, he felt liberated. As he drove through the rain he screamed a banshee howl at the top of his lungs.
At the bar he ordered a shot and a beer, then a beer and a shot. He didn’t talk to anyone about his day or even give off the slightest impression he might be upset. He kept to himself spinning back and forth on his squeaky barstool. He amused himself fumbling through the words to the songs that played on the jukebox. He was having a wonderful time.
Just as the happy hour crowd started to come in he called it quits and handed the bartender his credit card. He needed to go home and tell his girlfriend Jenny what had happened. He hoped she wouldn’t be mad but he felt so good he didn’t really care.
The bartender returned with his slip to sign.
“Did you enjoy yourself?” he asked.
“Best day ever. Best afternoon ever.” Jerry put down a sizable tip.
“Good to hear it. I’m sorry about your job. Come back anytime.”
Jerry’s mood changed in an instant. “How do you know about that? I didn’t talk to you about that.”
“When I swiped your card your profile came up. It said you got fired.”
“How is that possible? How is that anyone’s business?” Jerry was angry.
The bartender apologized. “Look, buddy. It’s alright. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”
“Well, you did.” Jerry grabbed his coat and left.
There was no doubt Jenny already knew what had happed as did everyone else. He had hoped to tell her on his own terms, in his own way. Now he felt ashamed. He reached for his phone and turned it back on. There were almost a hundred messages. He squeezed it tightly and then threw on the ground, breaking it into little glass and metal pieces.
He didn’t want to go home anymore. He wanted to keep drinking. He wanted a bottle. He put his hand over his ear and felt the hard nodule in his superior crus. He wanted to disconnect from everyone and everything.
After a short car ride to the Subs where the undesirables lived, he soon had his bottle. The guy at the liquor store told him where he could get his implant removed. He took two hundred dollars out of his ATM and stumbled into a seedy pool hall to look for Big Mike.
Jerry was an unusual sight amongst these hardened criminal types in his wrinkled suit and professional haircut. None of them had implants. Most of them had scarred ears, others were missing big chunks, and one of them had no left ear at all. It was torn off. A naked hole on the side of his head was all that remained.
Big Mike was bearded, hairy, and covered with tattoos. Jerry was sure there were two of them he was so big. He pulled out his money and thrust into the giant’s hand.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Big Mike asked.
“I want out.” Jerry replied.
He made Jerry lie face down on a pool table using the billiard lamp as one would in an operating room. He took out a syringe full of numbing agent and made several small stabs, letting out a little bit of fluid each time. The pain of the injection was horrendous and Jerry might have jumped up if not for Big Mike’s knee square in the middle of his back. Soon though, the whole ear went numb. Big Mike sterilized the blade of his knife under the flame of a lighter and removed his implant with one semi-circle incision.
With his hand on the back of his collar Big Mike sat Jerry up and placed the bloody metal sphere I his hand. Jerry was speechless. He sat there staring at it for what seemed like an eternity.
“What year is your car?” Big Mike asked.
“What?” Jerry’s ears were ringing either from shock or alcohol or the effects of the drugs.
“If you have a new car it won’t work unless you have this in your possession. Also, you’ll need it to get into places. Don’t lose it.”
Jerry motioned that he understood.
“Get off the table. We’re trying to play here.”
Jerry wandered out into the dark night. He needed to see Jenny. He needed to go home. When he found his car he punched in his home address and passed out in the driver seat.
Jerry awoke in his car parked in his driveway. The door was open and dome light was on. The rain soaked his left side and collected in a shallow pool on the floorboard.
His ear burned with a searing throbbing pain. It felt as if someone held peeled all the skin off leaving behind the exposed bloody cartilage. In a sense this is exactly what had happened but on a much smaller scale. The bleeding had stopped but the incision was extremely sore. He reached to touch the wound and let out at howl.
He collected himself and stumbled towards the front door. He put in his code but it wouldn’t open. He jiggled the handle and leaned in to try and force it open. He was afraid to knock. Jenny was likely already mad at him. All he wanted was to go inside, take a shower, and go to bed.
He realized he needed his implant for the lock to work. He rifled through his clothes but couldn’t find it. He went to the car and searched but his still addled mind could not locate it. Exhaustion began to overtake him as he crawled around in the dark.
That’s how the police found him, on his hands and knees pawing through detritus. A silent alarm had been triggered when tried to open the door. Even though he offered no resistance they tackled him and pinned his arms back with such force he thought they might dislocate his shoulders.
Jerry pleaded with them to let him go. He told him he lived there but because he had no identification they wouldn’t listen. The very act of not having his implant made him suspicious. He needed Jenny to vouch for him.
He started screaming her name. “Jenny! Jenny! Jenny!”
A cop punched him in the stomach to make him stop. Just then the door opened. Jenny stood there in an old yellow terry cloth bathrobe. Her blonde hair straggled about and her eyes were red.
“Jerry?” she asked in a hoarse voice. “Is that you?”
She wandered out to where they had him, an officer at each side, hands cuffed tightly behind him.
“What happened to you? What’s going on?” She spied the wound on his left ear and brushed his hair away with her hand to see it better.
“I am out. I don’t want to be a part of this world anymore. Take yours out too and we’ll leave together and start over someplace else. We can get married and have kids and they’ll be free just like us.”
Jenny sharp step backwards. “I have been trying to contact you all day. You got fired. I can tell you’re drunk. You did this to yourself and now you want me to join you? I don’t think I know you Jerry and I am not going to run away with you.” She seemed horrified at the notion.
Jenny turned around and walked into the house. She did not look back.
Jerry yelled out, “Jenny, I love you!” but it made no difference.
The men escorted him to the back of the squad car.
“But, I live here.” He pleaded.
They threw him in the back seat.
“She doesn’t want you around, pal.” One of the officers said as he slammed the door shut.
Driving to the station, Jerry kept asking himself why that guy called him pal. They were not pals. For the first time in his life Jerry felt as if he had no friends. He wondered if he ever really did. He definitely did not have any pals.
A person who has never been incarcerated cannot conceive what the experience is like. First of all, there are no windows only labyrinthian hallways and rooms with thick doors that clunked when closed, sealing off the contents inside. While they shuffled him about no one told him where he was going or even took the time to acknowledge him as a person. He was no more a man than a sack of flour to these people. Purpose of everything was to isolate and dehumanize.
After several hours Jerry found himself in a closet sized room with two detectives. He was sober now and very frightened but he clung to the belief that a huge mistake was being perpetrated and they would have to release him soon. He clung to the notion of freedom like a soul yearns for God. If only they could see that they were wrong about him.
The police kept asking him to retrace his steps that night. Jerry struggled to recall his actions but managed to provide them with the same story over and over again.
“I just want to go home.” He told them when they prompted him once more to retrace his steps.
A picture was placed in front of him of an unkempt man with deep furrows on his face and eyes that wandered in different directions. He could have been any one of the people he had seen in the pool hall or outside of it.
“Do you know this man?” The interviewer asked. His partner stood behind Jerry with his back to the door. He could hear the man breathe and the heat from his body in the cold room felt like coiled raged. Jerry felt very intimidated.
“Are you sure?” One man asked while the other leaned even closer to Jerry’s backside.
“Yes. I mean, he could have been in the Subs but I didn’t talk to him.”
“He’s dead Jerry. Do you know anything about it?”
“Of course not!” Jerry tried to stand but the man behind him put a hand on his shoulder and planted him in his seat with force.
“What are you trying to say?” Jerry’s heart fluttered in his chest. “Do think I had anything to do with that? Why? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“We don’t know what to think, Jerry. You remove your implant, you won’t tell us why, and some guy winds up dead.”
“I told you why I took it out.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Jerry felt that the whole world had gone mad around him and he feared its gravity would suck him in.
“You are all crazy.” Jerry said defiantly. “Let me out of here.”
The man behind him slapped Jerry in his bloody ear. He shrieked in pain and slammed his head on the hard table.
“Now,” the interviewer asked in a chillingly calm voice, “tell us what happened tonight.”
Jerry began to weep openly. The tears came with such force he could not open his eyes to look out. His sobs became wails. He felt his spirit struggle to leave his body. He reached deeper and deeper into the darkness behind his closed eyes. There must be a way out.
When he came to his senses he was surprised to find a graying man in a crisp white shirt and tie sitting before him. In his grief he did not hear the other two officers leave. This man had a kind face and a warm smile. He placed before Jerry a clear plastic envelope. Inside it was a silver grey marble that Jerry instantly recognized.
“I think I found something of yours.” He said.
“Yes. I’ve been looking for that.” Jerry said still shaken and gulping for air as he spoke.
“You’ll have to forgive my friends. Only criminals remove their implants. They naturally assumed that you were one too.”
The man handed Jerry a cup of water to drink that he grabbed with both hands as he brought it up to his mouth. He was so tired and so thirsty.
“Can you tell me why you did this to yourself, son?”
Jerry’s gaze strayed off to the side as he struggled with the words.
“I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. I didn’t want to be bothered. I just wanted to live my own life.”
The man reached out and placed his hand on top of Jerry’s.
“How old were you when they put this in?”
“I think I was twelve.”
“Do you know why?”
“It was so we could access things and it would keep track of us. It would keep us safe.”
“All of that is true Jerry, but it’s also much more than that.” His voice was calm and soothing. The tension in Jerry’s shoulders disappeared and he felt himself slump a bit in his chair.
He continued, “We live in a modern society, all of us striving together for the betterment of us all. Your implant is a social contract. We are all responsible to each other. This little ball can tell us how you feel. It’s there because we care about you. We want you to be happy. We want to rejoice in your triumphs and when you’re sad we want to know that too so we can pick you up. When you cut yourself off from others then we don’t know what to think. Secrets can lead to danger. It’s probably easier to just have faith that people going to do the right thing but it’s better to be sure. I know it can be a pain to always have to share yourself with others but that’s the deal we make to live the life we lead. You’ve had a pretty good life so far, haven’t you?”
Jerry nodded his reply. A peaceful feeling enveloped him that ran from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. He started to question why he had ever done any of this to himself. Soon even those concerns began to vanish.
“I see in your file that you are supposed to take a mood enhancer, ten milligrams every day. Have you been taking your medication?”
Jerry shook his head side to side.
“The pills help keep us from focusing on the bad things. They keep us from becoming obsessed with ideas that lead us to bad decisions. I take them too and I have an implant just like you.” He pointed to the nodule on his ear.
“You look a little sleepy. We put a mild sedative in your water. I hope you don’t mind. And, there’s medicine in there too because you’ve missed your last couple of doses.”
Jerry looked down at his nearly empty cup and then finished it off, getting every little drop.
“Good.” The man said. “We’re going to get you a cot so you can take a nap and while you’re sleeping we’ll put this little thing back in. Then you can go home.”
Jerry smiled but then suddenly sat up wide eyed like he wanted to ask something but couldn’t form the words.
“If you’re worried about the picture of the man they showed you, you don’t have to.” He pointed to the implant now clutched firmly in Jerry’s hands. “This let us know it couldn’t have been you. Don’t ever lose it. I might have saved your life”
Jerry let out an audible sigh and as the man walked by him to leave to room he placed his hand atop Jerry’s head. Jerry fell into a deep, deep sleep.
Jerry sat at his computer. He looked beyond the picture of Jenny on his desk. His eyes kept wandering towards the outside world. He remembered being a boy running barefoot through the forests. A single involuntary tear welled up and broke loose streaming down his check.
Jerry’s phone gave off a whirring buzz. Jerry reached for his stapler and plunged its sharp fangs deep into the palm of his hand. He pulled out his device and typed. “There’s nothing to worry about here, folks. I just stapled myself again. Oops.”
A message appeared on his screen. Lois Shermer replied: LOL Jerry! Be careful.