Yay, back to the real world! Now we meet some friends, some family, and some other memories. Plus, a few pieces of the past that won't be forgotten so easily. And then I think we're getting toward the resolution stages. (This is a sort of useless chapter; I run out of segues and then the collective chapter looks like crap.)
No...no...don't even go there...
My eyes flew open. I forced myself awake. I couldn't stand to know what was coming next. The room spun slowly and I tried to sit up, but that made it worse.
Past...but they don't seem to be affected at all...
I hated watching the actual battles. It wouldn't seem like it, but wartime actually made me sick. I was so used to it, though, I wasn't as affected anymore. But it was something else to watch them fight...an idea in the form of a child...only able to be killed by another idea...it gave me the sense of fragility and I hated it. I wouldn't accept it.
There was a soft knock at the bedroom door. I opened it a crack. Hawaii was standing there.
"Oh, morning," I said, stifling a yawn as the room came to a halt.
"Hi. We have visitors."
"Oh. Well, you can let them in."
"Yeah..." she went on. "That's most of the problem."
"Ha!" yelled South Carolina as I came down the stairs. "Just like the old days, right?"
I came down to a pile of children at the front door. They were yelling at something and all trying to get a hand in the center. I couldn't tell where one ended and another began.
"You're all taking it like such a game," Massachusetts said, standing off to the side, unlike his twelve oldest siblings. "It's not funny. If you're going to terrorize someone, you have to do it properly."
"That's not something you should be saying!" shouted New York, trapped between two of his sisters and whatever was at the core of the pile. The boys' eyes met sharply.
"Uh, what's going on?" I said to Hawaii following me downstairs.
"I think they said something about preventing an invasion."
"Is it a robber or something?"
"No." I turned to Massachusetts. "For a lack of a better term, one could call this a 'family reunion'."
Something clicked in the cogs in my brain.
"Okay, kids, whoever's under there, get off," I said firmly, shooing the mass of teenagers off the core, which turned out to be familiar and blond.
"Hey, bro. I thought you said you weren't coming!" I said, smiling at the thick-browed face who looked up to mine. The man got to his feet.
"I thought you said you had children. Not little warmongering freaks!"
"Instigation!" yelled North Carolina.
"You're the ones who're instigating!"
"Okay, okay, everyone, both sides, shhh," I said, a hand on the Brit and one held out to the collective colonies. "This isn't war...it's a visit. Nothing wrong here. Go fight elsewhere. Preferably outside." All except Massachusetts and a small brown-haired kid left.
"What the bloody hell was that about?"
"See what I've had to put up with all week?" I said to him.
"And I'm not here for you. I came over here to see your brother, and then he said he was going off to see a friend before coming back here. I foolishly agreed to bring his thirteen miscreants over here, only to be greeted like that!"
"So, you're leaving?"
"Well, I'm already here, so I may as well wait to see if he comes back." Sure. I hid my smile at finally seeing someone remotely sane.
"And I thought my brothers and I didn't get along..." he said.
"Oh, that's a game. You should see an actual fight." He was staring out the window. Each time I thought of any of them now, I couldn't manage to repress the war memories anymore. I shook my head.
"Alright, I give up. Where did you put your energy?" Three...two...one...
"Oh. Well, I just got up."
"It looks more like you haven't slept at all." He was staring at me now. I reached for my coffee pot.
"Here's the energy. Good ol' caffeine." He wouldn't stop. "I'm fine." Still wouldn't, though I think he blinked. "What? Why do you care?"
"It's just...not right." I joined him at the window.
"I've slept. Just...not well."
"Flashbacks. What's worse, they're flashbacks I didn't know I had. Those kids," I said, pointing at them in the yard, "have as dark a past as any of us. It only shows if you look deep into their eyes. I can't help but wonder...how can they be so...cheerful? Playful with each other?"
A moment of silence was broken by, "Because life goes on. We have a past, but here we are now. They have to get past it, move beyond what once was and focus on what is. At least on the surface. It...never fully goes away. That's what make these alliances difficult. You may have to literally stab in the back a nation you once considered your brother. I'm sure they saw it."
"Stop. I had to watch that last night."
He obliged. "So, when's Canadia supposed to pick up his kids?"
"He said he and they were invited. I believe I recall both of you mentioning that."
"He's coming on Saturday."
"Today is Saturday, you twit."
I didn't answer. My mind was dropping a giant F-bomb, but I tried very hard to keep the detonation contained. I watched them outside. They were joined by a few I didn't recognize, but seemed to be welcoming them just fine. I guess it was because they were cousins. I never had cousins, so I don't know what they're like. Maybe like siblings, just with less blood in common.
"How do cousins get along?" I asked out of nowhere.
"Hm? Well, I'd guess they get along as well or as poorly as brothers. It's all circumstantial. It depends on the person."
Silence fell again. I had a question that nagged at the back of my head, moving its way forward at high velocity.
"Do you think they remember it?"
"Their...rivalry." Our eyes met briefly as I tried to put what I meant into the stare. He broke contact.
"I'm sure they do."
"Not really. They were your problem, remember?"
"Did you want coffee?"
"Not particularly." He glanced at my arm. "Hey, when did that happen?"
"Hm?" He pointed at a scar on my shoulder. "Oh...a few years ago."
"I don't like showing it off...is why you wouldn't have seen it before."
"Makes perfect sense. Where else do you have scars like that?"
"Kind of a personal question, don't you think?" I asked, feeling a bit red. Not that they were anywhere inappropriate, but just that I didn't want to discuss all the places that I'd been hit over the years.
"Hey," I said after a few seconds' silence, a second random question popping up. He looked back at me. "Do...do you think they...?"
"What?" He said. I tilted my head to my left. "Oh. Most likely. It would make sense, wouldn't it." It was a final statement, not a question. I looked at my mug of coffee. I decided I didn't want or need it (and it was cold), so I set it down and walked away.
Things around here started settling down around ten. A bunch of the younger ones had passed out. Canada came over late; said he was busy all day. The split lip showed it. I don't know what the problem was, but it wasn't mine.
I sat outside, the porch light on. The door slid open. A few of the kids came out.
"Okay, now," one said. "It's two points to get it from one side to the other. No face shots. And the first one to wake anyone loses."
All of them jumped and turned to face me.
"You're still at this? For the love of...don't you ever sleep?"
"When we're tired," said...Vermont, I think.
"Often not till way past it!" stated Massachusetts proudly, Connecticut and Delaware laughing behind him.
"Why don't you just cut the fights out?"
"It's not a fight; it's a game," South Carolina said defiantly.
"Why do you get so nervous when you see us together?" New Jersey added.
I looked from one face to another. A lot of them were gathered...everyone except a few plains and the western regions. I had an answer. It was a question, but at the same time an answer.
"How can you forget like that? You know damn well what I think when I see you together!"
Every face became like rock. No eye moved from my visage. I went around and made eye contact with every set of orbs I could.
"How could you think for a second we can forget anything?" Virginia asked.
"Unlike you, becoming such a big shot in the world, we've basically been here by ourselves, having no one to deal with but each other," said Kansas.
"I didn't mean about each other," I said defensively, "I -"
"Oh, we all know what you meant. And we can't forget any of those either." I have no idea which boy said that.
"You remember everything?"
"Well, the important stuff. Not like, oh, say, what Delaware ate for breakfast on the third June, 1854, for example," Ohio said.
"But we remember plenty," Massahusetts said. "Often...it seems like we remember too much."
"And actually, history has a way of never letting us forget. You'll see it better in the light."
We went inside. A majority of the kids were awake, so there was actually space devoid of sleeping states. Virginia started. She pointed to a spot on her right knee. "This is a stupid one. Where an entire chunk of my land was taken from me."
"Yeah... I don't get that one either..." said Georgia slowly.
"I think she's being overly-dramatic and just coincidentally skinned her knee as she left," Connecticut sneered.
"Oh? Well, if that's too dramatic," Virginia said nastily, pulling the collar of her shirt down to reveal a gash in her chest by her shoulder. "This is pretty recent. Guess from what."
"You have scars from that too?" I asked. I had always been okay with my scar, but I hated seeing it on a young girl.
"All three of us hit do. The others' are more...psychological. Hey, Penn. Show 'n' tell."
He twisted his leg into the light. His scar was more crater-shaped. He looked back up at his brother. "York, your turn."
"I'm not showing."
"They're not to be ashamed of."
"They aren't? These scars are dead people! Of course you can wear yours like a badge of honor, Penn, yours was from an act of heroism! What are mine? Just large and ugly...signs I couldn't protect myself or anyone else."
"You can still show them. It's not a matter of pride. We're just making sure he knows we don't forget," said Virginia.
"Does he even have them?" I asked, rather more loudly than I wanted to.
"Yeah. He's just been hiding them," said Illinois. "Why else do you think he's been wearing sleeves all week?"
"For years, actually, in one form or another," Michigan added.
I honestly hadn't noticed.
"Fine! Fine! Just get your hands off!" New York was yelling as both Carolinas had him pinned and were trying to reveal the wounds. "Here." One sleeve up: the whole forearm was dark. Then he rolled up the other to reveal an identical sight.
"I suppose, you being bigger, the mark is smaller?" I unconsciously rubbed my shoulder.
"Yeah, but I carry bits of all your scars. Like one on my back: 1942 sound familiar?"
"Oh. It can't look like Hawaii's. Show him," Delaware prompted his sister. She pulled her long dark hair over one shoulder and pulled her shirt up her back. Another large scar took up almost the whole surface.
"But hers is healing well these days," Kansas said. "Oh, here's one from the Civil War!" He showed off a scratch up his side. "Wouldn't stop for sh*t for days, no joke. And I still don't know what I did! I still think it was all Missouri!"
"No," Missouri said in defense of himself. "You were supposed to choose which side you wanted to be on. I just came to persuade you. And if Virginia could keep her damn abolitionists to herself -"
"Hey, I didn't want him, either!" Virginia yelled in retort.
"Hey! Enough of this!" I yelled. Every mouth shut.
"Pa, you're being louder than us," Delaware said. "You probably just lost."
"Lost?" I asked, more than a bit confused. "Lost what?"
"The game," South Carolina said. Maryland hung her head.
"Damn it, Lina..."
"What?" the troll state said. "I meant the game Indiana was explaining earlier."
"I don't care about your game!" I yelled as North Carolina started engulfing her twin with Maryland's help. "I don't want you playing these games! If it gets physical -"
"Haven't you ever played a game with each other?" I stared at Florida. He made a face. "If that's how it is, I don't want to be my own nation. Too damn boring and everything has a repercussion."
"Besides: we aren't usually like this. This is something we do every year," explained Georgia. "We see the memory as something that should never have happened, but we acknowledge it. We still celebrate it. It made us what we are today. Surely, having seen so much war, you would know that. We celebrate the lives of our fallen, and how far we've come together as a result."
"No matter how loudly we were kicking and screaming," said South Carolina, smiling awkwardly. Arkansas rolled his eyes.
"Okay, that wasn't jokeworthy, Lina, that was hell," scolded Virginia.
"I'm Carol," she said, her smile changing. Her twin elbowed her.
"To hell you are!" Virginia yelled, her brow knitting.
"Bottom line: we remember, we can't forget," New York cut off, his sleeves replaced. "But we can choose to move on. We're the same as you. We have border disputes and laws that don't match. Arguements, but can band together in an instant. I don't know why you think we're different."
"Except election time, York: that time we don't come together, you damn left-winger," called Texas. New York smirked.
"You wait: perhaps you all out-number us, but we've got the numbers and the swing states."
"Ah, election season," Ohio sighed; she was one of the afore-mentioned swingers. "The new civil war."
And everyone who heard her, myself included, knew it was true. And they laughed. For the first time in so long, I found myself properly laughing. Was it because her analogy was funny? Hell yeah, it was! It may have been inappropriate, but the humor came from its truth. The laughter spread as more and more of them retold the joke. Ohio had scoffed at her own joke for a second, but looked utterly confused when her siblings wouldn't stop laughing. It was only made funnier by the shout of an undisclosed source (though I'm sure I knew who it was):
"WILL YOU ALL SHUT UP AND SLEEP?"
Which made them laugh so hard, they became near silent.
"Okay," Illinois choked out. "Who lost?"
"I nominate Ohio, 'cause she started it!" yelled Missouri, thrusting his hand in the air.
And there they separated, leaving Ohio just as confused as she was before.
Missouri's reference to Virginia's abolitionists was a man named John Brown, who is credited with starting the conflict called "bleeding Kansas", also the reference to Kansas's scar. Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York reveal their recent scars (recent for a nation) from 9/11/2001. Hawaii's is from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 12/7/1942. One obscure reference and two that may or may not have been obvious.
Gah. Fluff chapters. I wanted to make the significance of the scars known. They have other scars, but are definitely faded as the linked events fall out of the collective consciousness. Those are the most significant I can think of, without going on and on. And just because I only named five states, don't think that they don't all have them.
And in case anyone cares, I'm from Ohio. Why'd I tell you that? 'Cause.