To catch up on parts one through three of Testimony of the Living, check out tmn.truman.edu.
Autumn’s story seemed to remove whatever barrier had been stopping all of us from sharing such struggles. Suddenly my friends were each giving voice to a weight that had been sitting on their chests for quite some time; a weight they may not have realized they shared.
Easton said his parents acted the same way about his photos. “They think it’s all a waste of time. That instead of walking around, enjoying this world’s beauty and making use of the technology that allows us to capture it, I should spend my time preparing to work in the factory.” His tone made it seem as though factory was a synonym for prison.
Asher told us how his parents had laughed at him when he mentioned wanting to paint his room red. “They couldn’t fathom painting a room a color as bold as red. But they couldn’t see that I just wanted color. They could have let me paint it yellow or blue, green or purple. Just not white, or black, or gray. Everything in our house is white and black and gray, and they don’t see what they’re missing. Sometimes I wonder if they see color at all.”
Jonah did not have a particular moment in which he realized his parents would never understand his worldview. Instead, it was a slow process of enlightenment born of constant exposure to an opposing way of life.
“They don’t have an opinion about anything. They don’t dream or make plans. If I tell them something I want to do, or something I believe in, my mom will just give me a relaxed grin and my dad will tell me to go with the flow. Always go with the flow. Because friction might ignite a spark and actually leave a mark on the world, and heaven forbid that.”
“Heaven forbid that,” Autumn echoed, her voice barely audible.
A moment of silence followed Jonah’s monologue; it stretched out before me. I wasn’t the same as they were. I was not a star in the night sky. I was merely a moth drawn to their light. I felt like an imposter, someone pretending to be like the suppressed, creative spirits my friends so naturally seemed to be. But then I realized that I did have something worth sharing.
“My parents are that way, too. They never show any strong emotion. I can’t imagine them thinking a room is missing a pop of color, or being happy enough about something to think to photograph it. They never seem to think deeply about the world; they simply exist.
“And besides our parents, I’ve watched the others. Factory workers, our teachers, the bus driver. Even our classmates. They’re all the same way. Everyone moves through life so slowly; it’s as if they aren’t actually moving anywhere at all. As if they’re one step behind the universe, like some sort of…” I felt as though I had come to the end of my thread of thought. I wasn’t sure where it wanted to lead me.
But Autumn’s mind was whirling. She followed the path of my thinking and then jumped past me into the sea of words that she was so much more comfortable in than I was. And in her expert seamanship she fished out the perfect conclusion to my thought.
“Shadow,” she whispered. And then louder: “Everyone is just a shadow.” The words came pouring out of her. “Everyone is just a shadow of a human being. A shadow of the living. Just barely breathing so that no one realizes that this town is a hideout for the lifeless, but so close to death that they can’t appreciate the beauty of life. Moving along each day enough to be surviving, enough to make it from one moment to the next, but not actually living.” Then her voice cut off because there were no more words left to say.
Besides, of course, the obvious question we were all approaching, but weren’t sure how to ask: Why were we different? Why were we so much more alive than everyone else?
And that question led to more questions we didn’t have the answers to. Why hadn’t we inherited this phantom state, though it seemed our classmates had? Did something about Finder’s Point create shadows? Could we stay alive living in this town?
I was a moth; they were the stars. They had something in them that kept them alive. I had all of them. But what would happen if, by some sort of negligence, we allowed that light to burn out? What would happen if I lost them?
I took a deep breath. “I think we should make some sort of pact that we won’t end up like them. We should promise ourselves that we won’t lose the things that make us who we are, that keep us alive. That we’ll work together to hold on to them.”
Jonah nodded, a solemn look in his eye. Autumn smiled ever so slightly.
With a little more confidence, I stated, “I promise to stay alive until I’m truly dead.”
One after the other, they repeated my vow. One after the other, over and over again we promised each other, and ourselves, that we would stay alive.
We would not fade away.