Marci squirmed in her chair while her mother hovered around the hairdresser. “Oh, it just has to be perfect,” Marci’s mother said. “It’s not every day my daughter celebrates her Trece, after all. “Mother, I had my trece last year,” said Marci. She looked up at her mother in the mirror, her mother a horrified look, the hairdresser pretending not to hear.
“Yes, Marci,” her mother whispered. “But this is your official Trece celebration, your thirteenth birthday. Isn’t it exciting?”
“Yes mother,” said Marci and smiled. The truth was that Marci was excited about her Trece. She was less excited now that she’d attended so many Trece parties over the past year. Marci’s birthday was later in the year, in October, and as the year had worn on the Trece parties of her friends had started to lose their impact. Seen one, she thought, seen them all.
But it wasn’t someone else’s Trece, it was her Trece, and while she might not have been as excited as she was when she was young, when she’d play dress up with her friends, pretending they were at their Trece parties, dancing in their flowing Trece dresses, she was excited nevertheless. There was the money she would receive, of course, but there was also the status. While she had had her (shh) period last year, this was the official celebration, the official recognition of her entry into adulthood. It was the big celebration before she was sent to the DBR or Department of Birth Regulation.
But the DBR came later, and although Marci knew where babies came from that part of the Trece was secondary to the party.
“How’s it look,” the hairdresser, asked all smiles to Marci’s mother.
“Oh, it’s wonderful.” Marci’s mother clapped her hands together excitedly as the hairdresser spun Marci around for Marci’s mother to see.
It does look pretty, Marci thought, even if she no longer wore her hair like this, with her blond hair now wavy and in curls. Usually she wore her hair straight down. Her hair was blond and straight most days, or in a casual pony tail. As cool and as jaded a thirteen year old she pretended to be, she had to admit that this debutante look was pretty.
“I’m glad you like it,” said the hairdresser. “If you have a seat in the waiting area someone from makeup will be with you shortly.”
It was a lot of work to prepare for a Trece party, thought Marci as she and her mother waited for the makeup lady. I can’t imagine a wedding, she thought. For over the past few months she’d had dress fitting, food and cake tastings. There had been decorations and flowers to decide on. When you thought about it, Trece was as important, if not more so, than a marriage. There was generally no surgery required for a wedding.
The rest of the morning would be picking up the dress then being very ‘low key’ as her mother put it; she was not to mess up her hair and makeup so soon before the party.
For the rest of the day Marci thought-texted her friends. It wouldn’t be until five o’clock that she would be presented to society as a woman. Her mother had blocked her thought-text abilities for the morning so as not to distract from the hair, makeup, and other last minute details. But now since she could do little more than eye-scroll the internet or thought-text her friends for the next few hours, her mother unblocked her. “Just remember, we’ll block for the party, sweetie. Don’t want you distracted on your big day!”
So Marci spent the afternoon before her Trece party eye-scrolling the internet and thought –texting her friends. She clicked through the sites with eye movements and blinks, settling on videos of Trece parties gone wrong, sort of like Trece day bloopers. Marci giggled to herself as a girl of thirteen tripped and landed face first into her cake. She kept the sound down so she could text her friends.
“OMG BECKS CNT BELVE 13 IS HERE.”
“I KNW LUCKY ULL GET WAY MORE $$ THAN I DID”
And on it went, Marci thought-texting Becky and Debbie, Penny and Susie, Janet and Lucy as she watched the Trece disaster videos, laughing but hoping nothing like that would happen to her tonight. In the middle of her thought-texting she received a text from the DBR doctor to her and her mother.
“HAVE A GOOD TRECE. NO EATING OR DRINKING AFTER MIDNIGHT. SEE YOU TOMORROW.”
Marci had been reminded of this at least a dozen times. She planned on stuffing herself at the Trece, as she wouldn’t be able to eat or drink anything in the morning before the surgery.
She had run through the list of people she needed to text and now just sat watching the Trece disaster videos with the sound off. She eye-scrolled past links to ‘GIRL RIPS DRESS’ or ‘ TRECE PARTY PRATFALLS’ and ‘DRUNKEN DADS.’ As she scrolled through the list a link suddenly popped up between the other vids. It was entitled ‘BEFORE TRECE.’ Marci stopped eye scrolling and settled on it. The cursor blinked as Marci held her gaze. Silly, Marci thought. Everyone knows what happens before Trece. She blinked open the vid. You did all the preparation for the party, months of planning and arranging so there could be dancing and eating and welcoming a young thirteen year old girl into adulthood.
The screen went black. Marci furrowed her brow and eye scrolled to the back arrow. Nothing happened. She blinked again and again. Nothing and nothing. “Off,” Marci said, but instead of powering down the image on the screen sprang it to life. “Unmute,” Marci said, but still there was no sound.
The images were quick, quick, quick cuts, in black and white. A patient on a gurney, a woman crying, and a doctor in a surgical mask and a scalpel and a baby and the bright lights of a hospital ceiling and scalpel into a stomach above the belly button and blood and a woman screaming, wordlessly. The images flickering faster and faster. Marci flinched at the cuts, especially the blood and said “Off” to the screen again but nothing happened. She stood up to walk out of the room. “Mo—“she started to call to her mother and the screen stopped, black again.
“Did you say something sweetie?” her mother said from the kitchen.
‘BEFORE TRECE’ the screen said in white letters against the black screen.
“Um, nothing mom.” Marci sat back down. The words shrank and moved to the upper left corner of the screen. “Before Trece”, a voice said from the screen.
“Mute,” said Marci.
“Before Trece,” the voice said again, now in Marci’s head. The screen scrolled through words, no sound.
BEFORE TRECE THERE WAS NO SURGERY.
BEFORE TRECE WOMEN GAVE BIRTH TO BABIES.
BEFORE TRECE THERE WERE DIFFERENT PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.
BEFORE TRECE PEOPLE HAD EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS.
BEFORE TRECE PEOPLE HAD PHYSICAL PROBLEMS.
BEFORE TRECE THERE WAS NO DBR.
BEFORE TRECE THERE WAS NO REGULATION.
BEFORE TRECE THERE WAS RANDOMNESS.
BEFORE TRECE THERE WAS GOD.
BEFORE TRECE THERE WAS FREE WILL.
BEFORE TRECE THERE WAS NO TRECE.
It went on faster and faster, the words over and over again and then the pictures again but this time with the words. The pictures started out quick quick quick again but now slowed down, stretched out, a women strapped to a gurney being wheeled into surgery, a doctor with a surgical mask, a scalpel in his hand and now Marci saw that the woman was pregnant and she screamed when the scalpel went in…
Marci clasped her hands over her eyes. She slowly sat down, shaking. The screen was back on ‘TRECE DISASTER VIDS’ when she removed her hands, the cursor blinking where she had left it, but there was no link that said ‘BEFORE TRECE’ no matter how long she flipped her eyes up and down and left and right at the screen.
“And now, celebrating her Trece, heeeeerrees Marci Evans!” the DJ announced her, and Marci entered the hall in her white flowing dress, eyes glittery, hair waving behind her as she walked, a bounce in her step. She did a little twirl halfway to the head table. All her friends and relatives were standing and clapping, standing and cheering for her. Marci felt special, and even though she had felt like she had grown past the Trece, even though she thought it was corny, she had been wrong. She was swept up in the moment of the Trece and she felt older; she felt like a grownup. She was doing what her mother and her grandmother and her great-grandmother did before her. And yet…
Marci raised a glass now, standing in front of her seat at the head table. With just a tiny sip of red wine in the glass, Marci gave the toast. “Thank you all for coming on this occasion of my Trece – it means so much! I hope you have a lot of fun tonight. Salud!”
“Salud!” her friends and relatives said back to her. Marci drank, just a little sip, and sat down to enjoy her Trece feast.
And there was laughing and there was dancing… Marci’s grandpa did a dance from the ‘old country’ even though no one had come from an old country in generations. Later, the DJ played all the latest music hits and Marci and her friends kicked off their high heels, dancing and laughing and sweating and having the time of their lives…
Marci. Marci sweetie wake up!” Her mother, shaking her awake. “Marci, enough sleep. It’s time.”
Marci stood in front of the mirror in her bathroom. She was sooo tired and her feet hurt from all the dancing the night before. She wore only a t-shirt and her underwear, too tired last night to get her pajamas on. Her pretty hair up do from yesterday was all askew. Her face was still glittery from the makeup. With a huge yawn, she started the water to the shower.
“Good morning,” the guards at the front of the DBR said in unison. They wore all black, black uniforms and black helmets. They were armed with long sticks or guns, Marci didn’t know which, that hung from their sides in a holster. Marci moved slightly closer to her mother as they passed the guards and entered the building.
They sat in the waiting room on a green, vinyl couch. The room, the people, the entire building was scrubbed and shiny and polished. Marci sat close to her mother as the nurses in their white outfits squeaked their rubber soles on the clean floor. There were doctors and other Birth Regulator employees hustling this way and that, carrying clipboards or looking down at their tablets or smart phones as they walked.
A nurse called from the desk at the front of the room. “Marci Evans,” she called. Marci took her mother’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Her mother looked back at her and smiled. “It’s ok Marci. I’ll be with you.”
Marci was already feeling drowsy and light when the doctor walked into the pre-op room. His eyes scanned his tablet, then up to Marci and her mother.
“So how was your Trece, Marci?” the doctor asked. Marci just looked at him blankly, the drugs in almost full effect now.
“Oh, it was just wonderful, Doctor,” her mother said. “Marci had on the most wonderful dress…”
Marci was aware of her mother talking and aware of the doctor in the room. She was aware of the small pre-op room, aware of the comfortable chair she sat on, aware of the nurses walking to and fro. She was aware, but everything was moving in slow motion. Out of the corner of her eye, Marci became aware of a gurney being pushed towards her.
“This way Marci,” the nurse said, and now things sped up, the gurney, the bright lights above her, moving quick quick quick through the hallway. Through the door and there the doctor was, rubber gloves and face mask on. The doctor held a scalpel. Somewhere, a baby cried.
“No,” Marci said drowsily, quietly. “No!” she cried, sitting up and stumbling off of the gurney. She crashed into a metal table, knocking scissors and scalpels and all other kinds of medical utensils. “Marci!” she heard doctor and nurses yelling as she crashed through the doors, falling into a wall. She knew they were behind her, and she pulled herself up, feeling against the wall to steady herself as she ran. Her head spun and swam. What if she wanted her own baby? What if she wanted it to look like her? What if, what if…
They found her at the bottom of a stairwell back by the old DBR building, in the back by the parking lots. Marci was in the corner in a fetal position against the wall. The doctor squatted down beside her, the nurses holding back Marci’s concerned mother.
“It’s like this, Marci. It’s for you own good,” the doctor said. “Every thirteen year old, especially around the Trece, thinks she knows what’s best. But if we let you keep everything, let you have your own baby someday, then what? Would you bring back diseases? Would you bring back birth defects? It’s perfect, dear. And when you’re of age you and your husband can apply and pick out your own baby, engineered to your own specifications. Just like you mother did with you, and her mother before her.”
Marci looked at the doctor through glassy eyes, barely able to keep her eyes open. “No choice?” she asked.
“No choice,” he said. The doctor helped her to her feet, the nurse scurrying forward with the wheelchair to take Marci back to surgery.
Aaron J. Como is an author working and writing and living in Milwaukee, WI. He lives with his ten year old daughter Peyton and his wife Susan. When not writing he can be found in a cubicle selling pork and pork related products.