He Who Gives Up Sight for Insurance Deserves Neither

Amilia's father arrives home at forty minutes past five every day. A little earlier on Fridays. Sometimes a bit later on the holidays.

"Traffic was absolute murder," he says on those rare occasions.

Amilia is always home an hour or two before him — usually picked up by her mother but occasionally by a friend's parent when her mother has a shift at the hospital — and when she hears the telltale rumble of her father's car pulling into the garage, she drops her toys and runs to wait at the door like a puppy whining to go outside.

Her father gasps with surprise and picks her up, so he can then nuzzle and plant kisses on her cheek. She giggles and squeals until he put her back down.

"Did you have fun at work?" she asks because she imagines work like the second grade where she spends most of her day, complete with snack time and storytelling.

Her father scrounges through the kitchen until he finds something processed and packaged because adult snack time, sponsored by vending machines, is not nearly as exciting as his daughter pictures.

"It was work," he shrugs, as anyone does when referring to his nine-to-five occupation. "It pays the bills."

Later, Amilia's mother returns from another irregular shift. She works as a surgeon, and she pays the next-door neighbor to keep an eye on Amilia when neither parent can keep the little girl. The aging woman perpetually dressed in pajama pants that fall too short on her spindly legs never actually leaves her own home to check on the second grader, but Amilia nor the house show signs of harm, so the payments continue.

"What's for dinner?" Amelia's father asks.

"I just got home from work," her mother says.

"It's seven."

"You can cook."

"I'll wait."

Amelia's mother sighs, but she begins pulling ingredients from the cupboards. Amelia sits cross-legged before the family's flatscreen television and plays a video game that largely focuses on destroying things in space.

"Daddy, play with me," Amilia cries.

"Amilia, honey, Daddy works all day," he explains from behind a beer. He lounges in an armchair in the living room though, successfully fulfilling his familial duties. The sounds of dinner-making — packages opening, water boiling, meat chopping — filter into the room to mingle with the electric gunfire that apparently takes place when aiming from a spaceship.

"But it's a game," Amilia argues.

"Too much like work. I push buttons all day," her father says.

"Push buttons?" Amilia repeats, staring down at her controller to consider this new information.

"I use a stick just like that to aim, and then I push a button, and a bomb drops across the world. I serve our country every day," her father reveals proudly.

"I wish I could push a button every day," Amilia's mother says from her post at the stove.

"I save lives every day," her father says. "I serve our nation and save lives by pushing a button. And what do you do? Besides cut people up?"

Amilia's mother finishes dinner.

When Amilia is twelve, she begins to notice things, many of which make her mouth taste stale and her stomach turn.

She makes a friend named Shamica, and she realizes that all the people in her neighborhood look the same. Even the lady who checked on her after she came home from preschool once and then never returned. Old, young, boy, girl, all the faces blend until Amilia can barely tell them apart anymore.

School is different.

She can tell her classmates from one another, and sometimes she hears conversations in words she doesn't recognize. A thrill strikes her stomach when this happens, and she doesn't understand when her mother turns up her nose at the same intriguing words at the supermarket.

Shamica likes math and music, and she shows Amilia new songs when they do their homework together during study hall. They give her that same thrill, and Amilia wishes she could offer something to her new friend, too, so she shows her a video from the internet. Shamica laughs, so Amilia shows her another one, and their homework soon finds itself usurped by the unbeatable opponent of online entertainment.

When the teacher scolds them, he uses Shamica's name even though the noise came from Amilia's phone.

Amilia helps Shamica with geography in exchange for extra lessons in math. She points toward a country across the sea from their own.

"My dad works there," she says proudly.

Shamica raises an eyebrow. "I thought you said he works in the city," she says.

"He does," Amilia agrees, "but he pushes a button and drops bombs here." She taps the map again, and even though Shamica nods, she feels like something went wrong.

They finish studying, but the ashy taste in her mouth and uncomfortable feeling in her stomach never go away.

When Amilia is twelve-and-a-half, she learns the word 'drone.'

She also gets glasses. Her mother takes her to pick out a pair, and her father tells her she's lucky they have his insurance.

Amilia's parents do not like her friends, and she does not understand why.

They want her to be friends with Cassie Wiggins who lives down the street and owns a small dog with fluffy white fur. Cassie's family has a pool, and she color codes her notes so they look pretty, but Amilia still doesn't understand why her parents want them to be friends.

Her parents tell her drinking and drugs are bad, and though they haven't had the conversation, she assumes they also don't want her to sneak out of the house at night.

Cassie Wiggins does all these things, but her parents still want them to be friends.

Two envelopes arrive at the beginning of each month.

One contains a paycheck, and Amilia's parents open it immediately, smiling and planning. The other contains a number and remains unopened, shoved into a corner with countless other unopened envelopes, purposefully forgotten.

When Amilia is fifteen, she makes a Twitter account. She's had a Facebook since she was eleven, but her parents don't have Twitters, so this is a Big Deal.

She follows a news site because her parents sometimes discuss headlines over dinner, and being Caught Up in the News is very important for a patriotic citizen. Amilia doesn't know much about the news, so she chooses one her parents watch on TV. Twitter recommends three more, so Amilia follows them, too. This continues until she's following most of the media and half the government.

None of them seem to agree on anything, and Amilia is even more confused than before. She doesn't log on to Twitter again for two weeks.

Her stomach hurts.

Amilia has not asked her father about work since she learned that nine-to-five jobs do not have as many similarities with preschool as she once thought. Now, as her father drinks a beer in the kitchen to further fulfill his role as Head of the House and her mother removes a casserole from a box and slides it into the oven, she sits into the chair across from him.

"Look, she has emerged from her room," her mother gasps.

"Are you lost?" her father asks.

Amilia fights the urge to return to her room, which never mocks her, and shakes her head. "No, I—"

"And with no phone," her mother says.

"I nearly forgot the color of her eyes," her father agrees.

"Yes," Amilia says because she doesn't know how else to respond. "Now, Dad, about your job—"

"And talking to us," her mother cries.

"Maybe her friend's sick. Shaquesha something," her father muses.

"Okay," Amilia says because no other words come to mind, and she retreats back to her room and grabs her phone.

She logs on to Twitter.

When Amelia is sixteen, she has just enough Attitude and Disrespect to finally confront her father. She practices in the shower for days, and she waits until he's between beers one and two.

"Dad, why do you push the button when you know it drops a bomb somewhere else?"

"It's my job," her father says, eyebrows lifting toward his receding hairline. Luckily, his crisp and ironed clothing, buttons and collars and all, more than make up for any failure on his aging body's part. That, and the new sports car gleaming in their garage even though their other vehicles still work perfectly fine.

"Yeah, but you know what those bombs do, right?" Amelia says carefully.

The corner of her father's mouth twitches. "Of course I know what they do. You think they let just anyone push those buttons?" he fumes.

"But what about the people?"

"What people?" her father snaps.

"The people who live where you drop the bombs," Amilia clarifies, and her stomach turns, and her mouth feels dry, and this is all much worse than how she imagined in the shower.

Her father's eyes — normally the same shade of green as Amilia's own — suddenly look unfamiliar as they narrow. "They're bad people," he says. "I'm serving my country."

"All of them?"

"All of them what?" His voice is a challenge.

"All of the people are bad?"

"What do you think pays for your food and your clothes, huh?" her father demands. His nails, trim and neat, curl around his drink. "Where do you think we get the insurance to pay for your glasses? Your eyesight keeps getting worse and worse, and I push buttons to buy you better lenses."

"My eyesight is getting better," Amilia says. "That's why they keep giving me thicker lenses."

"You're grounded," her father snarls.

"Why?" Her voice is a challenge, even shaky and fearful.

"For that Attitude and Disrespect."

Amilia makes a friend named Mahveen. They met during a college visit, and since they both like the university and cats and rap music, they decide to room together. They exchange numbers and social media accounts, and they begin messaging every day.

Her mother disapproves and gives her a complete bulleted outline of the flaws of the college. She also mentions that headscarves are tacky.

Her father wonders again why she can't be friends with Cassie Wiggins even though Cassie crashed her car into a storefront last week.

Amilia ignores her parents in favor of scrolling through Twitter. She continues to plan for college.

When Amilia is eighteen, she is just Young and Naive enough to tell her parents that she doesn't believe pushing buttons from nine to five every day is a respectable job.

She does this after she receives the acceptance of the university and the approval of a scholarship. She tells them that she no longer needs their financial assistance, and her father vows that she will regret living without his good insurance.

"Okay," Amilia says because she doesn't know how else to respond.

She goes to university, and she leaves her glasses, lenses thick and frames heavy, in the bedroom of her childhood home.


a/n: I got this idea when we were having an open discussion about drone warfare in my government class. That, and I was in the midst of finals, so this is the result of good old-fashioned procrastination. The name Amilia comes from this letter ( 2016/04/alex-st-johns-daughter-wrong-women-tech/) she wrote to her father about women in technology.