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The car ride lasted an eternity, or at least that’s how it felt to me. Thoughts rushed through my head–and for good reason: they wouldn’t be for much longer. I felt like a cow being blindly led to the slaughterhouse, except not so blindly; I knew what was coming. Well, I knew what was leaving.

“Roy,” mom said, reaching over with a hand to place on my knee. “Are you nervous?”

She could clearly see the anxiety in my eyes, and I wondered how long my mental state had been so obvious. Was I always this obvious, or was something different today? The operation will completely change my life; it’s entirely reasonable to be worried about it, I think. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous.

“Not really,” I lied, keeping my gaze out the window to avoid the chance of making eye contact. Mom’s always been really good at reading me, and she’d know I was lying. After a moment of guilt, I clarified, “Well, maybe a little. I just don’t know how I feel about the whole thing. I hope I’m still the same afterwards.”

“Oh honey, you’ll be the same,” mom quickly reassured me, keeping her eyes focused on the road. “You’ll always be you. I promise.”

But what if she’s wrong? She wouldn’t know; she had the operation long before she had me, and there’s no reason to think that a bit of cloudy thought one place wouldn’t hinder thought anywhere else–like in judging whether it had changed a person.

“Are you sure?”

“Definitely. You know I had it done. I was your age. It was good. I liked it.”

One thing was for sure: I would miss the linguistic prowess I’d built up at school. I know it’s not cool to be “good” at words, but while the other kids were sporting, I preferred to exercise my mind with literature, poetry, and writing. A lot of the books I had to go to the public library for, because we don’t have a big selection at school like they did in old movies. On top of that, all we have at school anyway is nonfiction and history books, and who likes those?

“It’ll be quick,” mom soothed. I forgot she was talking to me. It wasn’t hard to do with so many thoughts imploring my attention.

“Mom,” I asked, suddenly worried it might affect the friendships I’d built with younger kids who weren’t old enough for the operation, “what about my friends? You know, the ones who haven’t had their birthday yet, or are a grade beneath me? Can I still talk to them?”

Mom turned off on the hospital’s exit before answering with a confused look on her face: “Why? Yes. You can. It isn’t hard. It will feel natural. And there are enjoyment facilities you can go to together.”

“What are they like?” I’d heard about the “happy places” from older kids in my class, but they couldn’t really tell me a lot about them other than that they were “fun”. From what I could deduce, they seemed like parks, but without the fun stuff like slides and playground equipment. I guess there’s something else there adults find fun.

“You’ll see,” mom said. The car stopped, and I realized we were at the hospital already. We opened the doors and walked in as I took in the gigantic architectural masterpiece that had become the Luetkemeyer Hospital.

The nurse at the front desk was nice. She used big words like I did and emanated a friendly aura I was almost certain I could tangibly feel. She jotted down my information and read through the procedure contract with me, pointing out the nooks and crannies in the lawyer jargon so I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.

As if I had a choice.

It seemed the main goal of the operation was to cut back on warrish activity, but even a ten year old like myself knew better than that by just talking with friends. The news reported vague “good” news on all war fronts, but there was still a war. Nobody else seemed to realize it. Except my classmates, but they didn’t seem to care.

My mom waited in the lobby as the nurse brought me back to the operating room and prepared my table. It was cold and lacked the cushioning I was used to in my annual checkups: just a plastic, white table. I guess it’s more sterile that way; no tissue paper to keep replacing.

The doctor was nice as well. He reassured me again that I’d still be me afterward, and the fact that he seemed so intellectual was indeed reassuring to my own intellect’s worries. He explained the operation to me, but without a neurological background it flew over my head. From what I could tell, though, the gist was that he was removing bits and pieces from around my brain with lasers to limit any potentially unlawful capabilities: curse words and other inciteful linguistics, anger and other hurtful emotion, and some portion of critical thinking skills.

I laid back and let him place the mask over my face.

“Can you count back from one hundred for me?”

I started, but don’t think I got past ninety-seven.

* * *

I opened my eyes. It was bright.

“Roy,” my mom said. “You did it!”

I did it.

I looked at myself. I looked the same. My hands were the same.
“I did it,” I said out loud. I sounded the same.

I was proud of myself. Not sure why I was so worried. The surgery was good. Someday I would have kids. They would be worried. I would reassure them. I would tell them I got the surgery. The surgery was good. They might be ██████ of it. But I would reassure them.

“Can we go home, mom?” I said. I craved ██████. “I’m ready.” I looked at the doctor. He nodded. I stood. It ████ a little, but the ████ was worth it. I am still me. I still walk the same. I still have the same hopes. The same dreams. The same mind.