Eudaimonia- Part 4


Even after caking mud from the shore over my protective clothing, I felt on the precipice of overheating. I hid among the bamboo on the outskirts of our residential community while I tried to calm galloping fear threatening to unhinge me. Haff hasn’t responded to any of my telepathic attempts, which makes me ambivalent about following through with our emergency plan. Did Dusan tell him? Or, worse yet, kill him?

Dusan Soroka’s family is as powerfully positioned in the Laws sector as mine is in the Sciences sector of Eudaimonia, and I presume, on Parnus. Our parents pledged our betrothal for obvious reasons, however no one consulted us. My parents had stood silently and typically distracted in their laboratory when I railed at them about using all of my future for their “New Earth”.

“You will do what is required of you, Scotia. But, right now isn’t the time for you to worry about your future partner. You’re still a girl with studies and…”, my father looked at me sternly, “skills to master.” At that time, he was bullying me about my refusal to perform dissections on feral cats and mice. We had so few animals left, but he was confident in his own judgement, as always. The betrothal, to a Soroka no less, was mere frosting on their New Earth cake.

A part of me still clings to their illusory parental love. Remembering the sheer silken shift I wore, my feet bare with gold rings on my toes, gossamer strands of my blonde hair sticking to Dusan’s velvet shirt, I let my mind drift. Different courses of study meant we barely knew one another. At thirteen I had to bend my neck all the way back to look up at him, his eyes black pools searching mine for something I didn’t understand. We stood on an elevated black platform which disappeared in the night, but for massive torch pits on either side and behind us, swaying flames casting us in blue light and flickering shadows. I wanted to reassure him as his hands enveloped mine and we recited the rites of promise in front of most of the elite populace of Eudaimonia, rows of long white benches stretching far into the darkness. When his mother, who oversaw the legally-binding ceremony, asked him if he wanted to say anything on this momentous occasion, Dusan pulled me in front of him and crossed his long black arms over me. I felt my head against his breastbone, and forced the corners of my mouth up while he held me tightly against him, my arms captured.

After a long moment of quiet, he announced, “It is Soroka’s honor to share our melanin with the vulnerable, and old earth, Braun family line”. The silence took on an ominous quality I sensed, but didn’t comprehend. No one spoke of the Braun’s genetic inability to endure peak daylight hours even with solar protection. We are the reason the betrothal ceremony took place at night under a new/dark moon. My parent’s closest friends looked appropriately aghast, while others behind them whispered behind cupped hands, but what he said next made them cheer as though they’d won something.

“I promise you today, Scotia and I will produce a minimum of twenty offspring on New Earth, genetically strong with superior intelligence”, his voice rose with the crowd’s applause, “to help us create our dream world on Parnus!”. I barely registered what he promised, possessing only a sketchy understanding of Dr. DeWoer’s embryo lab and nursery. My studies focused on genetics and culling DNA. The next day my mother began administering weekly estrogen shots. My menses began three months later.

By the time of our Recommitment Ceremony when we were both fifteen, I’d developed into a young woman, my hips widening and breasts budding, this time under an indigo shift that brushes my knees. Judging from Dusan’s towering frame, clad only in loose wide-legged shorts to his knees, I assumed he’d been given growth hormones. He bent down slightly to look me in the eyes, all his boyish apprehension gone, his own dark pools hypnotizing me as I heard, “It’s good to see you again, Scotia”, without his lips moving. My face must’ve registered my conflicting emotions judging from the lecture I received later that day. Showing such emotion in public equated to a weak character. I’d shouted at my mother and threw the book I’d escaped into prior to her intrusion. Hormone shots she’d been administering daily for the previous month made me rage one moment and sob the next, while my breasts could barely stand the touch of even the softest bamboo shift.

The next day my eggs were harvested by Dr. DeWoer, Haff’s father, with my best friend’s mother, Comair, administering anesthesia and strapping my ankles to stirrups. In my hazy memory, a shadowy figure stood next to and and a bright light at the end of the bed outlines Dr. DeWoer with a surgical cap over his fluffy copper afro. I can still feel fingers firmly stretching my labia apart, when I think of that day, ice-cold liquid squirting deeply into my feminine cavity. They said I wouldn’t feel anything; I’d be asleep. But, I’m not. It’s as though a searing hot knife enters me and I scream as a man once so kind to me says, “hormones have dried her out, give me more juice” and pushes a slippery rounded ultrasound wand through my hymen and upward further, then further toward my ovaries. “Hold her, Damn it!” Thankfully, I fell asleep with another type of sedative right as he secured the wand and before he inserted the collection needle at the top of my vagina. My mother told me Dr. DeWoer punctured and drained follicular fluid from my ovaries, thereby harvesting mature eggs. The procedure itself was done with precision and utmost care for the eggs.

Memories threaten to overwhelm me as I start to think of the second harvest two years later, the one when Dusan was present, and made certain the doctor did not touch me until I was asleep. When I awoke, he held my hand, and was staring at me. I rub habitually at the red S tatooed on my neck under my right ear lobe. I am not that child-woman any longer, I breathe the words in and exhale slowly to erase my mind’s screenplay. Be here, Scotia.

While spring tide during the full moon is still a week away, I feel like I have no choice but to hope high tide is enough for me to land in close proximity to the ledge in front of the cave entrances. In danger of becoming frozen in my imaginings, I force my body to move forward in spite of my emotional state, the only sane option. Dusan swore I would regret birthing Haff’s son, something elite citizens had not chosen to do in almost a century. Immensely hurt, he took custody of our son, Zehmy, as well as my eggs awaiting fertilization, as recompense. We discussed simply overlooking my misdeed with Haff and claiming both Zehmy and me, but Diana Soroka wouldn’t allow it. I think his mother was rather glad he broke the betrothal contract, despite her son’s unhappiness. My parents and Haff’s were more than a little afraid of the massive Soroka clan, descendants of a formidably powerful monarchy before the African continent became uninhabitable, just as my ancestor’s home in the Americas did. Our families formed Eudaimonia together almost a century ago, along with hundreds of other influential families.

Securing the straps of my S bag around my shoulders, I eye my goal one last time before wading into the water with my mini longboard. Hoisting myself on top of it, I paddle out more than twenty meters before turning around, gifting myself a few meters to gather my courage. Usually, Haff is here in the water with me, just as he was the very first time I’d landed on the ledge in front of the cliff face’s opening. Taking a deep breath, I caught a strong wave with my board and hurtled upward, caught in the flow of water as it swelled, and then dwindled too far from the cliff. Adjusting my trajectory much closer, I paddle out again before my brain calculates the risk, and catch a truly impressive wave. My breath is caught in my chest as it smashes against the craggy cliff with me and the board, the latter breaking in half and falling into the sea. I didn’t dare secure the board to me, but regret its loss, nonetheless. Not near the cave’s ledge, but approximately three meters below it I clung to irregular quartz veins with my hands in matching pinches while the balls of my feet and bent toes cling to a shale outcropping barely wide enough to accommodate them. Gasping, I feel more stinging cuts than I’d anticipated, blood running into my mouth from one or more on my head, but it doesn’t matter because finding edges and pockets is my only concern. In my experience, when I stopped, when I doubted or hesitated, I got injured. Swinging my body to the left I reached upward for an edge, my arm falling until two fingers find a shallow hole. It will have to be enough. As I swing my body again, pebbles break away under my feet until I’m standing on my toes and laying my body as flat as I can against the cliff.

“Grab the rope, Scotia”, a deep familiar voice commands from above.

My toes are slipping, my body sliding on the rock face as a thick knotted rope dangles immediately to my right. Switching direction, I mindlessly grab it with both hands just as my toe ledge crumbles. Twisting the rope around one arm I grab with my left and and use my feet to walk up onto the ledge in front of our summer caves, noting the almost completely flat surface under my feet until the last meter. Sheer wet shale too slippery for palming successfully, although I would’ve tried.

As it is, Dusan is before me with a small grin and sparkling eyes as if he finds me comical. Me, an unmelanated Braun who’d thrown away her chance to be a part of his esteemed empire. “You!”, I yell at him, “How could you, Dusan? Where is my son”? Blood is running into my eye as I approach him, but I care not a single speck for what I must look like, such concerns having left the planet with Zehmy and Dusan.

He’d somehow grown more attractive, his tall muscular frame powerfully evident under a grey solar-protection skinsuit, calculating almond-shaped eyes set in an ebony face with sharp cheeks and a wide Nubian nose, hair in braids from his crown to the nape the nape of his neck, secured with tiny silver clamps stamped with an “S”. Why is he here?

Dusan bent to the ground and opened his own S bag, removing a synthetic bladder and what looked like cotton bandages and adhesive tape. “Sit, and I’ll tell you about Zehmy”, he nods to the ground beside him and I readily comply, grimacing as I lower myself. As always, I feel at a distinct disadvantage in Dusan’s company, even though he probably saved my life with that rope. “I thought we were past you fearing me”, he wet a cloth and held it to my cheek, brought it away pink and rinsed it with more water from his bladder and said, “close your eyes” before squeezing it over my head, pink rivers running down my arms and chest. Raising one arm and wiping the blood and dirt off it, Dusan mutters, “sorry” every time I gasp, then rinses the cloth and gently cleans my wounds limb by limb.

“Why did you leave me, Dusan? You swore”, I choke on the last word.

He stopped and looked me in my eyes. “I would never leave you. We were well past the moon by the time I surfaced from a sedative Mother put in my shake after we boarded. It still upsets me. I’m here to get you now, Scotia. You’re needed on Parnus. Zehmy and I need you. The new earth needs you”.

I study him as he folds a cotton gauze square and tapes it in place with three loops around my forearm. “What about Haff”?

“Yeah, he told me about your handfasting. I told Haff I appreciate him keeping you safe. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if citizens had killed you by now, but I told Zehmy I’d try. He’s growing more intelligent by the day, already solving algebraic equations, and Scotia… he’s gifted in other ways. Come on, let’s get in the cave before you get burnt”. Dusan bends down and picks me off my feet before I can respond, then marches into a much cooler interior before setting me on the ground again.

While he gets our packs, I ponder what he said so far and realize his invitation does not include Haff.


Part 1 Sacrifice

Eudaimonia- noun, Aristotelian ethical concept of everyone performing the strengths they were born with “for the highest human good”; acting in alignment with one’s soul.

A stream of knee-length robes the color of robin eggs provide some light against dawn’s sooty sky, this year’s adolescents passing the end of our container and flowing into the Eudaimonia Center three blocks down where we both perform services. Pulling my gaze away and swiping at the wetness on my cheeks, I pour the tea.  Now is not the time.  It never is.  Dainty rosebud cups clink together as I hurry down the path to a small patch of greens we refer to as Our Spot. I can hear Haff sighing loudly, despite years of practice waiting for me, but maybe his memories or sympathy weigh more than impatience today. The tea is cool and likely bitter now, but I pour it anyway and hand him a cup before settling on the ground and pouring my own, using the busyness to distract me.  “Thanks”, he grumbles, holding the tea cup’s tiny porcelain handle between his thumb and finger, kneeling next to me with his hairy calves crossed at the ankles. Our lane is crowded due to the witness mandate, and I notice Haff isn’t the only one who didn’t bother to get dressed. Maybe add the instruction for next year, I think, as Lyphane perches herself adjacent and slightly in front of Haff, the sun high enough now to outline her ample form.

  “Hey, we have each other,” I say under my breath, my eyes meeting those of a couple neighbors staring at us.  “Uh huh”, is all he can manage.  I sit cross-legged and focus on not spilling my tea. We look up and down the parade of young males, most unable to grow a beard yet. Seemingly resolute in their duty and uncharacteristically quiet, solemn moments drag by until choked sobs draw our attention toward the end of the line. “Hate this shit”, Haff mutters under his breath. My own tears dry in my eyes when I hear it.  Looking around at the crowd I see shoulders shaking, heads turning away, but no one leaves, thankfully. A rare sparrow alights on a branch overhead, and temporarily draws the crowd’s attention.  None of the young males seem to notice. I should follow up on sedation dosing with Dr. Gronne, Head of Methods.  Walking toward the sobbing one, I whisper “Here, it will help”, as I offer them my cup.  “Get away from me!  Stay away from me!” they yell, shake their head and swat at the cup.  Tea spills on my hands as I snatch the cup back, cradling it in both hands.   “You are fortunate.”  Jaw clenched, I grind the words out, “If this cup hit the ground, this cup that was my Great-Grandmother’s, you would have lost more than your fertility today.”  Everyone is staring now, the crowd, the line and Haff, all waiting to see what I will do.  My head swiveling slowly, I meet their stares, just as I always have.  It was thoughtless of me.  Walking back to Haff I focus on the tea pot patterned with roses sitting on clover, blue grass and long sprigs of yarrow tinged yellow by sunshine. The line begins moving, silently.  My mother loved roses, too, always impractical and unapologetic about it.  I don’t dare sit, but force my hands onto my hips, more of an overseer than a spectator now.  Haff gets to his feet and pries one sticky hand off my side and envelopes it in his.  An officer approaching from across the road reaches us, “Your instructions, M’aam?”  “Obtain their name and container number for now”, I tell him as Haff looks away. It’s unlike him not to offer a greeting.

“Return to your homes for the reminder of daylight hours and enjoy this day of connection with your container mates. You are invited to turn on your screens at nine this evening for instructions regarding required health exams. Thank you for your contribution to the greater good of humanity”, the announcement poured from outdoor speakers placed on every container. There were indoor speakers utilized for weekly sanitizing and hygiene reminders, always the same, as well as emergency weather instructions, which rarely were. “Why are you looking at me like that?  You know I have to maintain authority, especially now, just like you do.  Or, just like you should,” I say after the heavy metal door rumbles closed, locking us in until 4:30 in the morning, unless we are needed. Goddess, please don’t let us be needed. “Damn kid will be lucky if they don’t expire him rather than snipping his vas differens, but it seems like they trust me more since we returned with so many people.” It feels good to remove my head scarf, air cooling my sweaty noggin. Squeezing my eyes tight for a few seconds, then reopening them, I smile at him and declare, “I’m here now”.

Turning his back on me and walking across the room Haff flips on a wall fan, as he does when he wants to mask his deep voice.  “That’s going to run out before morning, you know”, I caution and immediately regret it.  Climbing the steep steps to our sleeping loft, I run a finger along the edge of a nearby frame then flop myself on the stiff foam sleeping mat so I can peer up at a polished balsa ceiling. Almost indiscernible patterns in the wood calm me as I imagine a canopy of trees swaying, rustling whispered secrets I can’t quite hear. Today isn’t any worse for me, I tell myself. But, Haff is struggling. I’ve been feeling his need to articulate growing all week as I distracted him with physical projects helping neighbors, his favorite way to affect our circumstances. I feel guilty for wanting a different experience with him than this, greedy and selfish because I know how much he loves children. Still, I can’t help thinking it could be our only free time before we settle in the summer caves in 3 months. Clearly, I miscalculated.

“I don’t care, Scotia.  I DO NOT care today”, he pummels a hammy fist into his palm and wanders around our small dinette set, needing to move as he spills what’s tearing at his heart. “Today I just wanna be sad because it’s a damn sad day, isn’t it?” tears are running into his copper-colored beard. The sobbing boy affected him. He climbs up and sits down next to me on our handfasting quilt. My body tilts toward his. It seems my world has tipped toward Haffney since we were paired in our first-year engineering courses seven years ago. With how close our parents were, it never should’ve happened, but algorithms didn’t account for close friendships. Unsupervised evenings skinny-dipping in The Big Lake and hiking wooded hills surrounding it seemed to exist in another lifetime, a fairytale, ending with a frightening warning for others. How I wish we could be there now, sitting in a meadow with a bottle of sweet red wine stolen from my parent’s collection of artifacts, a picnic of cheese and sweet rolls, maybe an apple. Haff and I pointed out constellations to one another, each trying to outsmart the other as insects hummed and fireflies lit up unexpectedly and made me giddy. A memory of the way he looked at me, my tangled white-blonde hair blowing furiously in the wind until he pushed it out of my face and kissed me quickly, softens my irritation now.

“I’m sorry they took that from you, Haff,” I rub what I can reach of his broad warm back with one hand, my long fingers splaying to cover more of his warm expanse. I wish we could go back to before they left us for Parnus. “Nothing I say or do will change it, Baby. Just like nothing will make this planet habitable, again. Nothing I do brings back our son from Parnus, Haff, or makes them reach out to us on satellite. My only respite is you,” sitting up so I can look in his dark eyes I whisper slowly drawing out each word, “Please don’t ever think any of this is ok with me. They left us here to destroy us- you in Bio-C and me on the opposite end of Eudaimonia. I worry sometimes you’re starting to see me as a villain.”

Taking my hand in his, he scrapes the blood from under my nails with his pinky nail and wipes it on his shift. “We both have blood on our hands. I don’t hold you more culpable than I do myself, I just wish there was more understanding. What happened today is going to happen again. People need someone to blame who lives here, not on Parnus.” Haff lays back, draws my body closer with one thick arm and tilts his fuzzy curls against my buzzed head. Not what I planned, but this is the glue that keeps us together, I realize. Tomorrow, we’ll return to our dreaded roles, but today we have one another and two shower allotments I intend to enjoy.

“Haff, I love you”.

“You know I adore you, Scotia”, he says, his voice cracking on my name. As our sunburned lips meet in a gentle kiss, I think fleetingly of Parnus once more, until Haff reminds me how deftly he loves me, starting his descent behind one ear lobe and holding me still as his kisses tickle my neck and breasts. Exploring one another’s bodies is never mundane, caressing our most intimate weaknesses, I thirst for him with my whole being, hips rising in invitation. He tantalizes me right to the brink of release… then stops to grin at me wolfishly. Nothing is changed between us, I tell myself. Rolling on top of him with a guttural, “oh, you’re sooo funny”, I tug at his shift until he raises his arms laughing, so I can slip it off. The sight of Haffney DeWoers, fully grown and a far cry from the slim boy I fell in love with, stirs a feral and possessive instinct in me. I press my lips to his and lay my body full length on his, just the way he likes. “Savoring us”, is what he calls it and says it’s what he envisions when he is about to lose his mind any given day. Moving down, I rest my head on his wide chest. Haff encircles me with his warm golden arms. I want to say I know they’ll come for us soon, but it isn’t worth ruining this moment.

Later, we soap one another’s bodies, Haff preferring a large sponge and me a stiff bristled brush. He brushes me reluctantly, yet it never fails to excite him when I say, “harder, please”. A couple harmless fetishes neither of us ever mentioned aloud were born from our isolation here on Eudaemonia, or “old earth” as we often called it. Sated and sipping dandelion wine from rose teacups at our dinette table, we told one another about the things we’d been saving one another from, a multitude of reluctant sins neither of us would’ve ever guessed. Our guilt united us, again. A second cup of the bitter wine turned our thoughts away from talking, but I think we both knew our acquiescence was no longer a given. Later we danced while the neighbors played a mandolin and bells, and I told Haff I’d envision this the next time I was in danger of losing my mind.

Marriage 201 (Prerequisite Marriage 101)

The syllabus for Marriage 201 includes an independent study portion during which the enrollee identifies a specific challenge and develops a plan to address it.  Many of us wish to skip the fundamental lessons of Marriage 101, mistakenly thinking that we do not need it.  It is basic knowledge, after all.  Although the syllabus for Marriage 101 may appear to include sparse enlightenment, these lessons are so difficult that half of the enrollees either drop or fail the course.  There are several variations of Marriage 101, but courses typically contain the following lessons:

  • Another person cannot complete you or fill an empty hole inside that only you feel.
  • Your spouse is not responsible for your happiness.
  • No matter how long you dated or lived together, marriage will change your relationship.
  • Changing your spouse is a futile and destructive endeavor.
  • Physical intimacy strengthens your bond.
  • Monogamy equals trust, and is required.
  • You have the power to hurt your spouse more than any other person on earth.  Do not be mean to him or her.
  • Learn to apologize for bad behavior without excuses.
  • Do not hold grudges; they add up quickly in marriage.  Either forgive, or drop the course.
  • Neither husband nor wife can unerringly read their spouse’s mind all the time; do not assume that you know what your spouse is thinking.
  • Communicate your needs even when you think your spouse should know.  (See previous lesson)
  • Take a team approach to finances even though there is typically a Captain.  Be transparent and share.
  • Have fun together.  It will sustain you during serious reality.
  • Do not consider divorce an option and never threaten to leave.  You will work harder on your marriage if you believe that there is no way out.

Successful completion of Marriage 101 assumes that both parties possess basic knowledge such as the importance of similar core values, how to drop off excess baggage from past relationships, and primary communication skills.  If these lessons have not been previously learned, Marriage 097 should be taken prior to Marriage 101, preferably before entering into a marriage contract.

Subsequent marriages require a repeat of Marriage 101 because each marriage is different, even if it is to the same person.  Many spouses skip the familiar territory of Marriage 101, preferring to address specific needs prior to building a foundation.  60% of second and third marriages fail, many because participants are not entirely healed from the first go-round (see Baggage lesson).

Marriage 201 builds on the 101 lessons, introducing complex problem-solving skills for a lack of communication, too much time spent on social media, runaway spending, alcohol over indulgence, chronic illness, and managing in-laws.  Participants are encouraged to assign themselves topics that are relative to their specific needs, and can propose topics as long as the subject matter does not involve changing your spouse.  Both Marriage 101 and 201 are given a passing grade when participants are still married at the time of death, as the vows state.