A Turn in Perception
By Te’Kia Miller
The Bar Code. It’s a line of vertical bars under which is a string of numbers. Within that string is a code. That code houses all information about an individual. It’s popular these days. I’ve had mine for as long as I can remember. Bad thing about it is that I really can’t remember how I got it. I only remember waking up and boom, The Bar Code, imprinted on my left wrist.
One thing about having it is that it’s used to buy things. Regular forms of payment are still taken, but it’s much faster. Scan my wrist and bam, instant drinks for everyone. Club Yacht was one of the premier clubs in Watt City. There was something happening every night and tonight the man with his own architect business was the showstopper. I couldn’t help but keep ordering round after round as the place helped me in celebrating a big development contract. After this round it was onto to the shots.
Just before my third second shot I glanced across the room, eyes stopping at the front door. At that precise moment a beautiful Nubian goddess wearing a classic black dress stepped through the door. She was looking for someone I could tell by the way she was scanning the room. Her eyes landed on me and the brown jewels stopped my heart. I could tell she’d found who she was looking for. From the look on her face I couldn’t tell if she was upset or on edge. She stepped up to me, smiled. She looked familiar to me and I was trying to place the face.
“Not surprised to see you here,” she said.
“I’m sorry, do we know each other?” She just smirked. “Can I buy you a drink,” I asked.
“Well you buyin’ it up for everyone. Why not?”
“Bartender. Please get the lovely lady a drink.” I smiled.
“Anything in particular,” asked the young guy. He was lean, mid twenties, black hair slicked back, dressed in black jeans with a black t-shirt.
“Surprise me,” she smiled. The young man nodded and began his art. “So, you talk to a lot of people here?”
“Actually, only the ones I see are regulars. It’s more comfortable. I’m not an easy trusting person.”
“And yet you’re buying me a drink.”
“That I am. Funny thing is that you remind me of my fiancée-well- ex I should say.”
“Ah. So I guess I owe this drink to the fact that I look a lot like your ex-fiancée,” she said taking the drink.
“You could say that. What’s your name?”
“Yolanda. Yolanda Santiago.” I couldn’t believe it.
“Really? My ex had the same name.”
“Imagine that,” Yolanda replied glaring over the brim of her martini glass. “What happened? I mean if it’s not too personal.” I shook my head that she wasn’t over stepping, that I was comfortable.
“She wanted to leave Watt City, I didn’t. I didn’t see the point.”
That’s when a tall bulky guy walked up to her. I guess he thought he was Mr. Big Stuff, ego big enough to fill the club. I just rolled my eyes, an attempt to keep from laughing in his face. I was celebrating, not competing. The smile on his face said he thought she was that type of woman. She wasn’t and made short work of him.
“I don’t mean to interrupt the conversation, but uh, I was wondering if we could chat privately?”
“Look. I’m not interested and you know that. It’s time you’ve moved on. As you can see I’m talking privately already.”
“What, to him,” asked the man pointing to me.
“Yes, him. My fiancée.” My head snapped so hard I almost got whiplash. I looked at her, she winked.
“Fiancée, right. I guess that’s why he spends his time here. Listen,” he said moving in on her, “I’m not in the mood for games.”
“Look man,” I said wedging myself between him and her, “the lady said no. Move on like she said.”
“Was I talking to you?”
“But I’m talking to you,” I said stepping to him. He backed up, sized me up. He turned to walk away but I saw him coming. His left fist headlong for my face swung and missed. I took a right hook to his face and then a gut check with a left jab. He went down, twitching like you see in those sci-fi movies where the hologram is acting up.
I stepped back, not believing my eyes. I blinked, stunned, as the crowd fanned out, undivided attention on the man who was twitching. What is going on? More importantly was the question how was it possible for him to do that? I shook my head, my brain sloshing about in the inebriation I felt from the mixing alcohol. I wasn’t even conscious of the pain in my right hand from the contact. I just knew it was time to go home and Miss Santiago was there to escort me. After that was a blank. It was the first time in a long time. I just remember lying down and the next waking up to a screaming alarm.
My eyes shot open. The first thing to hit me was the hangover, head pounding, the buzzing magnified times ten. Clumsily my hand moved over the alarm clock before finally hitting the ‘off’ button. I swung my legs over the edge of my bed, still dazed from last night. It was typical Watt City, known for wild parties and rowdy crowds. Besides the hangover, the throbbing pain shooting through my right hand startled my nerves awake. I looked down at the bloodstained bandage. Memories flooded me as if I was watching them on a projector screen. The arrival, a round of drinks, shot after shot, a beautiful woman, Yolanda Santiago, heavy flirting, a jerk, he swings and misses, my right hook contacting his face. Then gone. The memories subsided and I walk into the bathroom. I washed the sleep away and changed the bandage.
Back in my room the same woman from last night sat smiling, half covered by the bed sheet that draped up over the white strap of her wife beater. She was even more beautiful in the light than in the dark of a club. The morning sunlight streaming through the window lightened the soft features of her radiant face. Yolanda.
“Good morning,” she smiled.
“Morning.” I looked around, something to do in this awkward moment.
She gazed at me with brown diamond eyes which shown like fire. Striking and penetrating. I felt guilty for having brought her home given the circumstances. No doubt the guy from last night was her ex-lover, jealous because she was with me. Jerk should have treated her better. Not that I was. She deserved more than a one night stand.
“Don’t feel guilty. We didn’t do anything. I’m not into that. I prefer to have a personal connection, not this.” She tilted her head and said, “Sorry about the jerk. You should know he’s tried other times to get back with me. Guess he thought I was lying about having a fiancée.”
“He thought I was your fiancée?” She nodded. Another bout of silence before she squinted.
“What,” I asked. She pointed under her eyes.
“You haven’t been getting much rest. I can tell by the bags. I can’t imagine that bruise will help the pain you’ve been feeling in your hand.” I looked at her with an eye of suspicion.
“How did you know that?”
“I had the same symptoms. Pain in the hands, fatigue, distracted, tired eyes. What you need is rest. Have you heard of Disconnection?”
“Can’t say that I have,” I said shaking my head.
“It’s common among people who have an issue with disconnecting from Techno World.”
“Well I’ve heard of Techno World. It’s the place to be. I hear some people spend too much time in it. They become disjointed from their interpersonal relationships.” Yolanda looked at me almost dumbfounded. She snickered and then rose from the bed letting the sheet fall down around her ankles revealing yoga shorts. Without skipping a beat she began to dress, exchanging the sleep wear for the dress and heels, not caring that I stood in the same room.
“What’s the matter?”
“I thought this was some charade or something. I didn’t think you’d actually forget who I was. I realize it’s been a while since I’ve been in Watt City but really Orian?”
Orian? It was short for Dorian but nobody ever called me that except my ex-fiancée. Looking back it seemed so long ago. Yolanda finished getting dressed and grabbed her purse off the chair that sat kiddy corner next to the window. She started making her way to the door before I grabbed her with my right hand. The pain caused me to wince but I didn’t care.
“Just who are you? How do you know me?”
“Let go of me,” she demanded. I would have except something happened. I did a double take to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. When I looked a second time, it happened again. She began twitching just like a busted hologram in a sci-fi movie.
“Answer me,” I demanded.
“Apparently it doesn’t matter if you can’t remember me. You can’t even remember this,” she said showing me a butterfly tattoo on her neck.
I really did try to remember but I couldn’t. My mind was still in a haze and only last night could be recalled. Anything passed that would have to wait until the hangover passed. But now this woman, she seemed so familiar, even last night.
“I didn’t think so,” she said snatching her arm from me. She walked for the door and at the threshold turned to me, “I think you should know something. Your fiancée, the one you claim is your ex, she misses you.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I am your fiancée,” was all she said and left.
I stood there, almost disoriented and still hazy by the hangover. Shaking it away would only cause more pain. None of this made sense. Another memory flashed before me. It was of that jerk, he was doing the same thing, twitching. Then memory gone. Yolanda twitching, then gone. Was I going crazy? Had she drugged me? I looked over at the night stand. All my valuables were still there. I checked the kitchen and living room for any sign of wine glasses. Nothing. I held my head as I walked back to my bed and eased under the sheets. Rest. Disconnection Yolanda had called it. I wondered what that was as I let sleep come over me.
The next time I woke up was to my cell phone ringing. This time I wasn’t as groggy and the hangover had gone away. Finally I could think straight. My hand reached over for the phone and slid it off the night stand. I tapped and slid my thumb over the touch screen to answer.
“Dorian, what’s up?”
“I hope so. Are you okay?”
“Yeah man. I just woke up from having a wild dream.”
“I bet. How’s the construction business?”
“Never better. You missed a great celebration last night.”
“Why don’t you tell me about it at Cookie’s?”
“What time is it?”
“Going on 8 pm.”
“I’ll be there at 9,” I said.
“See you then.”
I got out of bed and made a simple spread. No sense in making it neat, I’ll just be back here again in a couple of hours. Then I saw it. My right hand, bandaged up like in the dream I thought I had. At that point I didn’t know what to think. I just knew I needed to talk to somebody and Cameron was as good as any. I walked into the bathroom, showered, brushed the pearly whites, some body lotion and carefully brushed the waves that were nicely coming in. I cut out the bathroom light upon exit and headed over to the closet. This was a simple meeting, so nothing fancy. A pair of jeans with a white t-shirt and white sneakers was appropriate. I slipped into a black jacket and moved over to the night stand. I grabbed my keys, cell phone, business cell and wallet. Left the room and made for the front door.
Outside was my silver sedan. I popped the lock using the remote and hopped in. I injected the round cylindrical object into the ignition port, pressed the button on its side and the car quietly started. I moved it in reverse and backed out of the driveway. I started down the street and left the residential development I lived in, heading east towards Cookie’s.
The drive was all of thirty minutes with traffic and that was all the time. There was always traffic, on the main streets, side streets, back streets. Sense it was Saturday night it was no surprise that traffic was high. I pulled into the parking lot of Cookie’s and found a spot in the back. Contrary to the name, it didn’t sell cookies or any baked goods. It was named for the woman who started the place. It was a place to enjoy burgers, fries, hotdogs, sliders and a combination of potent condiment mixings. It was definitely no place for health nuts. I’m almost positive Cookie’s addictive deserts are laden with everything unhealthy.
On my way in I saw a few of the people who frequent the place. I waved to them and continued my trek into the tavern-like ambiance of Cookie’s. I searched the place through the thicket of people. As I searched, a hostess walked up to me and asked if someone had taken my name.
“I’m looking for party already here,” I replied. She nodded and went to call the next party waiting.
Then I saw Cameron. He was wearing a blue cashmere shirt, gold chain and watch, his brown hair curling over his head and a trimmed goatee. Looking up from the menu he glanced up and saw me. I nodded that I spotted him when he waved me over. He’d been seated in a booth near a wall littered with old license plates from the fifties. I eased into the booth on the other side of the table.
“Have you ordered yet,” I asked.
“Nope. They just seated me actually.” A waiter came over and took our drink orders. I ordered Coke, Cameron got iced tea.
“I’m having the usual,” I said.
“Of course. I think I’m going to have the Create-It burger. I want to try a new combination.”
“Your funeral,” I shrugged. Cameron looked up from the menu.
“It’s Cookie’s. Anything could be a funeral,” he chuckled. The waiter came back and took our orders. Then he left.
“So, tell me about this dream you had,” Cameron said popping a straw in his glass.
“Actually I don’t think it was a dream. I think it was real.”
“Well tell me about it.”
“Okay, so I wake with this splitting headache and a magnitude 11.1 on the hangover scale. The night before is coming to me in bits and pieces. Not just that but my hand is in major pain, wrapped in a bandage. So, I walk into my bathroom, rinse my face and come back out to see this beautiful woman in my bed.”
“Interesting. Who was she?”
“Yolanda. Yolanda Santiago. She claimed to be my ex but what’s funny is that I haven’t seen my Yolanda in months, so I knew she was lying.”
“Go on,” Cameron said.
“She and I start talking and she mentions the bags under my eyes, that I needed rest. Then we get to talking about Disconnection and Techno World. She knows all the symptoms I’ve been having for the last few months. I ask her how she knew about them, she says she had them too. Then she starts going off on me about how she thought everything had been a charade and was mad at me for not remembering her or her tattoo. Then she called me Orian.”
“My thought exactly. I thought it strange too. So I grabbed her, demanded she tell me who she was. That’s when I noticed she was twitching. You know, how those holograms do in those movies. She pulled away and started to leave. It was then she mentioned that my ex missed me and that she was my ex-fiancée.” Cameron gave a low whistle. “Crazy, I know right?” Cameron just looked at me.
“You my friend, have completely forgotten where you’re at haven’t you?”
“What are you talking about Cam?”
“This is Watt City.”
“You don’t understand. Watt City is an online game. You are right now inside of Techno World playing Watt City. You are I are typing our conversation right now.”
“Nooo. No, no, no, no,” I insisted. That’s when the waiter brought our food. He asked if we had everything. We told him we were fine and he left. Cameron took up the ketchup for his fries and kept insisting that we weren’t real.
“Dorian, we and everyone here, everyone that you have seen on a daily bases over the past several months are in Techno World. You know full well what Techno World is. It’s the digital place where anyone who has a piece of technology spends their time. Some more than others. Some people cannot disconnect or limit how often they disconnect because they’ve become so involved with Techno World and what it has to offer. They don’t realize they’ve substituted real relationships for digital ones and so have disconnected from the real relationships.”
“I don’t believe you. It sounds too unreal.”
“Shake your head all you want to, I’m your best friend. I wouldn’t lie to you,” he said taking up a fry. He went on, “as a result of being in Techno World for long or extended periods of time, people get symptoms. Hand crapping, carpal tunnel, tired eyes, fatigue, distraction from what’s really going on around them, neglecting those that are presently around them. It’s everything you’ve been suffering from Dorian.”
“A coincidence, I’m sure,” I said taking a bit of my burger.
“I’ve tried to help you before but you wouldn’t have it. Yolanda has tried to help you. She tried last night and this morning.” I cut Cameron a sharp look. “Ask yourself one question: everything that you stay wired to, your cell phone, your lap top, that business cell phone, have you ever turned them off?”
I sat and thought about it for a moment. The answer was no. I’d never turned off any of those things. My lap top stayed in a low powered state when I wasn’t using it, my cell phone was always on, and so was my business cell phone even when they were on charger. I’d never turned them off. They were always a huge part of my life and I needed them to stay on for easy access.
“What’s your point?”
“If you think I’m lying, go home and turn everything off that connects you to Techno World. See if don’t you find the truth.”
After that we ate in silence. I couldn’t believe what I just heard. Cameron was by best friend. There was no way he would lie to me. That wasn’t in his character. He was an honest person, loyal to his word. I just couldn’t believe it was all true. If I was in this Techno World then could I really be playing a persona? Without at word we finished our dinners, paid for our checks and left.
On the drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about everything. From the bar last night to the dinner with Cameron, the flashbacks assaulted me. Voices filled my head, first Yolanda’s then Cameron’s, even my own. I didn’t understand any of this and what’s worse I wasn’t sure if I could actually believe my best friend. I tried shoving the thoughts away but it was no use.
I pulled in my drive way, cut the engine and got out. When I entered my two story brick home my motion was automatic, locking the door behind me, turning on the porch and garage lights. I pulled off my jacket letting it drop on the foyer floor near the closet. I made my way into the living room and sat on the couch. I took my lap top from under the couch. It was on sleep mode as usual. I pulled out both cell and business phone, laid them on the coffee table next to the laptop.
The seconds I stared at those object passed into minutes. Minutes felt like forever as I contemplated the reality I knew. In the last twenty four hours my world had turned upside down all because of some woman claiming to be my ex-fiancée, or current, or whatever she was. The world as I knew it didn’t make any sense. So here I was, sitting on my couch staring at the devices that I’d clung to. How could they be any harm to me? They’d opened up the world to me. I’ve met so many interesting people from across the country and all over the world. Socializing, searching, entertainment, all sorts of access to new and exciting media and connecting with people were all doors that opened up countless possibilities. Yet, I was in pain all the time.
I looked down at my hands and remember the pain that ran through them. I remembered my fatigue and my eyes growing tired. In that moment I heard Cameron’s voice saying, turn off everything that connects you to this place. One by one I turned them off. The laptop, then the cell phone, the business cell were all shut down. A few minutes passed and nothing happened. Suddenly the room began to vibrate. Soon it became violent. It was so violent that everything began to run together. Then my home started to crumble around me. Fear apprehended me and I ran for safety as fast as my legs could carry me. As I started up the stairs they began to fall away and I was falling into an abyss. I knew I was going to die. There was nothing I could do except close my eyes and embrace it.
Suddenly all grew silent and I could hear my breathing. I realized I was still alive. I opened my eyes and I was in a living room, sitting in front of a desktop computer. Startled at what just happened I jumped from my seat. Then I heard shuffling footsteps. I turned around to see her, Yolanda, dressed in black yoga shorts and a white wife beater with a book in hand. She looked at me.
“So you remember me after all.”
“Is this real?” With slight annoyance she walked over, turned off the desktop computer and all things that connect people to Techno World. Ten minutes went by. Nothing happened. I began to feel silly for letting myself get absorbed in Techno World. It brought a smirk of realization to my face. I looked at Yolanda, the same brown jewels with fire in them.
“I heard my fiancée misses me. I wonder if she’d be interested in a romantic night as an apologetic gesture.”
“I would like that very much,” she said grabbing my hand.
I knew then it was the first real contact we’d made in months. I now understood what took place back in that club in Watt City. Yolanda played the online game to help me realize what I was missing and that we have a real connection. Digital relationships come in a close second but they are nothing like the real deal.