People react to getting their letters in different ways, but that's to be expected, because every person is different. We aren't even the same as our models, and I know this because a friend of mine actually met his once- but that's a story for another day. I just mean that no one really knows how they're going to feel when they get their very first donation announcement. I remember Lucy B shut herself up in her room and cried for hours when she got her letter. And when Jack P got his, he threw his hands up in the air and said, "Well, looks like they found me!" This was met with laughter from everyone in the small kitchen of The Cottages; even the veterans, who knew that their letters would be arriving soon-if they hadn't already- produced a few snickers. We all knew that Jack was pretty upset about it, though, and that his reaction was just his way of making light of an otherwise gloomy situation, and I think that's why we all played along, making like it really was no big deal. I wish I could say that I had a bigger reaction when I got mine, because then at least it could have been considered normal. But I don't want to talk about the time I got my letter now; rather, I want to tell you about Mellie C.
Mellie wasn't from Hailsham like I was. She came from Morningside, which is closed now. Anyway, the only way I can describe Mellie is by saying that she was doll-like. By that I mean not only in appearance- with her porcelain skin, golden hair, and blue eyes- but also in the way she acted and the way she spoke. Her voice was soft and she moved with such grace. Even the veterans often commented that she was the very definition of perfection, and the veterans, mind you, are the most critical of all of the people staying at The Cottages. Mellie was also one of the most innocent and questioning people I have ever known, and I often wondered if that had anything to do with where she came from. That is, were the students of Morningside "told and not told" as Miss Emily put it, until the very day they left? Or for longer, even? Even today I couldn't imagine what that would be like, having been kept in the dark about the donations for so long. Anyway, let me get back to my story.
Mellie and I were the only two at The Cottages that day, except for Keffers and a few other newcomers that neither of us really spoke to, as all of the others had taken a van into Norfolk for the day. I remember that it was raining, which is sort of an odd thing to recall about a particular day, because it always seemed to be raining back then. But then I suppose it could be because I had to walk out in the rain to collect the post, and my coat was soaked through by the time I got in. The letter was the first one in the pile, the name and address printed in black ink, rather than written by hand. It could have been about anything, but we both knew immediately what the letter contained. Mellie took one short glance at it and then she hung her head, allowing a few curls to fall into her eyes. At first I thought she was crying, like Lucy had when she got hers. But then I saw that her eyes were closed, and no tears were coming out. I thought about saying something to her, to try and comfort her, but then I realized that I couldn't think of a single thing to say. Perhaps it was because I wasn't sure if she needed comformting, or that this was the first time I'd ever been alone with anyone when they recieved their first donation announcement. So we sat there in silence for a good while, before a small sigh finally escaped Mellie's lips. Then she spoke, quietly:
"They say that we're helping people, but they never asked us if we wanted to. They never give us a choice, about anything. Our models, not that I suppose we could choose them. Or our bodies; they never ask us if we want to change our hair color, or if we want to lie out in the sun and get a tan. We don't get to choose what school we go to, or what living arrangements we'll have when we leave. We don't even get to choose the care centers we go to, or who gets to care for us. Sometimes I just wish that someone would ask me what I wanted, just once."
I nodded, but then I was quiet for several moments as I let Mellie's words sink in. She was right about a great number of things, like us not being able to choose our care centers, or our carers. And as I thought about that, I began to realize that it really didn't seem right. The time we spent in those centers, waiting to donate or recovering from an operation, that was when we were at our weakest. Our most vulnerable. Shouldn't it make sense that we should get to pick who sits at our bedside? Who holds our hand through it all? I thought about all the people I knew who were going through their training, Ian H and Leslie D and the others. Would one of them care for me, or would it be a complete stranger? Someone I'd never even seen before? I didn't like the thought back then, and to this day I still don't. But that's not the point I'm trying to make.
"Well, Mellie, I suppose that wishing isn't going to do any good. You're right, we don't get to choose, but there's no use in getting upset over something that is never going to change. It just makes us more upset and wastes our precious time."
I wish I could say that I regret saying those words to her, but I honestly don't. They probably came out a lot harsher than I meant them to, but they were words that every Hailsham student heard at least once while they were still at school. They didn't necessarily come from the guardians, at least not as straight-forward as I had posed them to Mellie. As a matter of fact, I do remember hearing some version of this speech from Miss Emily, though I'm certain she had worded it differently. And probably, I thought, she'd said this around the same time she gave our class the "told and not told" speech. Anyway, I knew that Mellie, being from Morningside, probably hadn't learned about how precious our time was once we left whatever school we went to. Harsh or not, this was something she needed to hear.
I remember watching Mellie then, and being sure that I'd managed to upset her. And I was about to open my mouth to apologize, when she suddenly did something very unexpected. Her pink lips parted and spread into a pretty smile that seemed to stretch from ear to ear, and then she rose from her chair and hugged me right around the middle. "Thank you so much," she said to me, and she let go after a moment's embrace. Then she grabbed her letter and ran upstairs, leaving me to stare after her, perplexed.
Even to this day I'm not entirely sure what caused her strange reaction, but I do have a few theories. On one hand, it could have been because that was the fist time anyone had told her that we had to treat our days like they were gifts, something to be treasured and made special. But honestly I don't think that was it. I believe that for the first time, Mellie saw that she did have a choice. She could choose to either be miserable about her upcoming donation, or to be optimistic. After all, it was only her first, and on average we usually do make it through three or four. It wasn't a big choice, like who would be her carer, but it was a choice nonetheless. And I suppose that was enough for her. It had to be.
Because really, that is the only choice we'll ever have.