Ive built walls around myself. A strong but simple fortress of four walls. Theyve weathered brutal assaults, hurricanes of emotion painstakingly sorting the waters of mine and foreign emotions, and keeping them separate. Now one by one, theyre being torn down.
It all started as a normal day at work. My office was blissfully silent, its four walls mirroring my own. Form after form is skimmed, filled out, tossed aside. Numbers, names, data, Im only paid to analyze them. I barely glance at the names as I review employee evaluations. Thats someone elses concern; Im not responsible for breaking the news to the unlucky ones. All I have to do is analyze, and sort into three piles good, needs improvement, and detrimental to the company. Every name, every person behind every name, they all live outside my walls thats why Im the best at what I do.
Theres no sound but the scratching of pen on paper. Then suddenly theres more. A shrill, insistent siren cuts through my singular concentration. Lockdown. A familiar drill that mirrors my constant psychological state. No one goes in, no one goes out. It doesnt bother me that this time its not a drill.
I barely look up from my work. My door is already locked; I had my window boarded up long ago. I vaguely register that people must be panicking, but its a fleeting thought. Whatever is going on surely doesnt concern me. Im safe behind my walls.
A gunshot sounds in the hallway. Someone screams. I mentally remind myself to get the room soundproofed.
Booms begin to resonate from my door and it starts to buckle inward. My pen skids on the paper, turning an a into a d. Another bout of thunderous booming is accompanied by a sickening crack of wood splitting. Im forced to stop writing as my pen slips from my grip. With a loud bang the door burst off its hinges. Suddenly a switch is flicked and I can practically taste the panic in the air. The screams arent so distant now. Theyre indistinguishable from my own. My head aches and its all a blur as a masked man in black forcibly grabs me and drags me into the hall, into the chaos, into the see of emotions. Thats when my first wall crumbles, my north wall, the wall that separated my calm little island from the bodies of emotion surrounding me. It was not so much a wall as a dam, and as it is lowered, I become swept away in a sudden rush of emotions. Fear, panic, anger, all mixing and crashing around me, upon me.
Were brought to the cafeteria. The cafeteria the place Id spent so many lunches, alone. Always with a paper in hand something to read, work to do. I was never a very good conversationalist, to say the least. It was never a quiet place, but to me the conversations were all jumbled, like overlapping radio stations. All I heard was white noise. Now its still not quiet, but I cant tune out. A full-blown SOS is being constantly sent and received short wave between concerned coworkers, and long wave on cell phones smuggled out of view of our captors. Its cacophonic. Too much noise, too much fear to tune out, but too much to comprehend, to focus on, to analyze.
I pick out a strange sound from among it all. It sounds like a baby crying. I scan the crowd for the source, and I spot them in a corner. Mother and daughter. I try to remember if its one of those bring-your-child to work days. More likely she just was forced to bring her along or leaver her home alone. I try to place a name with her face. Susan, maybe? No longer are these people just faceless names scrawled on an impersonal form. Whats happening to them to us is very real. I wish Id realized this before.
Susan catches me looking at her. I smile awkwardly, and then mentally slap myself. Do you smile in a situation like this? I feel like I should comfort her, but I dont know how. Experimentally, I walk over. Her daughter shies away and hides behind her. Is my manner really that scary? Now that Im closer I can tell that their faces are tear-streaked. I try to talk to the woman, to comfort her. All the while a voice at the back of my head keeps nagging about not even knowing her name. Somehow, though, I feel like that would be the wrong question to ask right now.
Shes babbling incoherently between sobs. I pat her awkwardly on the shoulder. Her daughter is still hiding, but I finally catch her eye. I wish I hadnt. No one had ever told me how expressive a childs eyes can be. No, thats not right. It shouldnt be other peoples responsibilities to tell me these things. I should know them. Looking into those fearful, desolate eyes, I feel separate from them, and yet all the more attached. Im just beginning to learn sympathy, but I still know nothing of empathy.
For now, sympathy is enough to break down my next two walls. My east wall and west wall were precariously connected. If one fell, the next was sure to follow. They were the walls that kept me from choosing sides. They kept me from striving, and from backing down running away. That these unknown captors would make a child so terrified was enough to turn me against them.
Despite the power I held over my coworkers, it dawns on me that I never really knew them. I never knew that the man with the plaid tie spoke German. Now hes babbling away in distress on his cell phone. One of our captors strides over to him and swipes it away. The plaid-man flinches away as if struck. A few seconds later, he is.
Names flood into my head abruptly. The faces are no longer nameless. I notice the tiny, seemingly inconsequential things. Mark parts his hair distinctively to the right. Terry appears to be hyperventilating. Was Todd always that tall? In a corner, Nora, an accountant, is hastily scribbling numbers on a clipboard. Perhaps she finds solace in them, their simplicity, and their anonymity. She reminds me of myself. Separate, analytical, cut off from the others. Why didnt I ever notice her before? In another corner, Brians struggling against the masked men. Was he always so defiant?
My gaze falls back to Susan, huddled with her daughter. Susan the name falls into place now. A spark of defiance is sparked within me as well. Why is no one standing up for these people? Surely they cant all be as detached as I was. A familiar part of my brain makes a side note that if we get out of this, we need serious group counseling to increase our productivity. I shake the thought away like a wet dog shakes off water. If I dont focus on the current situation, none of us will have jobs to come back to.
Gathering up my courage, I stand up. The enemy spots me and shouts gruffly, impersonally. I stand my ground, walk toward him. I demand to know whats going on. I can see his eyes beneath his mask. Theyre cruel and unforgiving. Im just a pawn, a statistic to him. A part of me is angry angry at whats happening, and that I was ever like this. But it doesnt show through. That part of me is still suppressed.
He tells me to sit down. I refuse. He pulls out a gun.
I hear sirens in the distance. They dont really register. Not until theres pounding and shouts at the door. I imagine I hear the letters, FBI! I feel relieved. These people will be safe. The same cant be said for me.
The gunman becomes visibly nervous. He keeps his gun centered on me. Theres a desperation and fear in his eyes now.
The pounding becomes more insistent, and a finger begins to put pressure on the trigger. The gun shakes, but he steadies his hands. I can see him try to weigh his options, but he loses to fear, and anger. He makes an illogical choice; I can see it in his eyes. Theres nothing he can gain by shooting me, it will just increase the severity of his sentence. But if theres anything Ive learned today, its that humans arent logical, emotions arent logical. They arent supposed to be. What Im doing isnt very logical either. Now that help is on the way, I have no reason not to sit down and save myself. Yet I still feel as if I owe it to these people to stand up for them, for once. Im not sure if its really doing anything to protect him, except maybe distracting the gunman, and giving him an easier target, but I am compelled to do it.
There is a creaking and a cracking now at the door. I can tell our rescuers are almost through. Eyes behind a black mask harden, and I know hes made his final resolution.
The south wall is the last to fall. Its the strongest wall; the first one that was constructed, and the one thats weathered the most. Its the wall that locks away my own emotions, keeping me as outwardly stoic and impersonal as the walls themselves. It takes a bullet to crack that wall. A bullet that causes me true fear for the first time since I was a child. Somehow I find the concept funny. The whole situation in fact. Its so deliciously ironic, that I of all people would give my life for others. Right as the bullet hits, I laugh, and the sound feels strange in my throat. The door breaks open, and the trigger is pulled. Then my last wall collapses, and I collapse with it.