Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Microstory 1812: Civic Duty

I was alive for the turn of the 20th century, but I obviously don’t remember it. I was only a few months old at the time, but I still get people asking me what the 19th century was like. I suppose it wasn’t much different than the early 1900s. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 122 years on this Earth, it’s that things don’t change dramatically. They’re drastic. It’s not like January 1, 1980 hit, and everyone who was listening to disco at the time turned it off all at once. Life is a journey, and it’s hard to see the path while you’re on it. Living all these years, I can see my pattern; where I’ve been, and whether I made the right choices. I made a lot of mistakes, and I die with a lot of regrets. We didn’t have much money growing up, but my parents saved so they could send me and my two sisters to college. They wanted us to get ourselves educated, so that we could choose whether we wanted to work or not. Some women didn’t have a choice back then. If you didn’t continue school, you had to find a man to take care of you. Well, those weren’t the only two options, but they were the only two society told you about. I was the middle child. My younger sister didn’t go, and married the widower who lived a few streets down. Our parents were tight-lipped about our financial situation, so it wasn’t until decades later during a fight when my sister let it slip that she actually did want to go, but I had taken her tuition for myself. I was smart enough to get accepted into a really good school, but unfortunately, it cost a bit more than my parents could afford. Their future son-in-law helped make up some of the difference for me, but that left nothing for my poor baby sister, who ended up being—let’s face it—the prize for his generosity. Reportedly, he would have been willing to shoulder the burden of her higher education too, but I suspect that he strongly discouraged it. He was an old man, and she was a pretty seventeen-year-old trophy. He wanted her to be dependent on him.

As far as I could tell, he wasn’t abusive, even for the time period, which saw more blatant inequality than 2021. And when he died, she inherited all of his money, so maybe she was the one with the last laugh. I’m certainly not laughing. I went on to find my own problems. I met a nice girl in college. By then, homosexuality was all right on principle, but there was this unfair unwritten rule that you didn’t go down that path unless you were infertile, or had already given the country at least two more children. You see, we had just suffered a massive population decline from a nasty pandemic, and a lot of propaganda came out, urging people to do their part by having as many children as possible. Gay people weren’t deviants anymore, but they weren’t productive. I could have my girl on the side, but I was expected to find a man, so we could do our civic duties together. It was a war, really, against a neighboring country. Both were vying for global domination, but instead of amassing weapons, or developing technology, they figured that growth in all sectors meant prosperity. The man I married ended up not being able to have children, which of course, defeated the whole purpose. Still, neither he, nor the love of my life, were willing to share, so we all lost. Divorce was frowned upon back then, even when it could help the population problem. I wasn’t miserable my whole life, though. He wasn’t nearly as old as my brother-in-law, but he died long before me, and I was free to be myself. By that point, the population was fine, but my love had moved on without me. So I die here today, as alone as I always have been.

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