I hate that decision-making exercise where you're given a list of ten people and you have to decide which of them gets to live and which have to die a horrible lingering death.

During my first semester in college, I was in freshman comp, and the professor was a real douchebag. He was like Freud, except with more misogyny (I KNOW).

So of course the final exam was the Who-Do-I-Save exercise, and I had to choose who would get a spot in a bomb shelter during World War III. I honestly got so mad that I cried, right there in the classroom, because I am not in the business of taking lives--even fictional ones--and I didn't appreciate being forced to do so.

Here's what I wrote when I calmed down. It's imperfect, obviously, and I will comment as needed.

The air raid sirens wail overhead as eight people huddle together in the darkness of the fallout shelter. Each knows that he or she has had a narrow escape from death. But they know that their lives have been given worth over the lives of others, lives which are now lost because their own lives were more important.

Is it clear that I am sending A Message to Professor Douchebag? Because I am.

The 31-year-old bookkeeper knows that he was chosen to live only because his unborn child needs a father. Knowing his worth is purely paternal, he is deeply disturbed about the life lost in his place. Guilt falls over him like a blanket, and he weeps in the darkness.

The pregnant woman gently strokes her burgeoning stomach. She is content to know that her family will remain intact, that her child will know its father. Death and destruction lurk in the corners of her mind, but she forces herself to remain calm, to think about things of beauty so as not to upset her baby.

I guess I was heavily invested in the idea of the traditional nuclear family (having come from one myself). I think I would choose differently now; what good is a bookkeeper when there are no accounts? When I was 18 I desperately wanted to be married, but now I can appreciate being single. This is going to sound bad, especially given my feelings about this exercise as a whole, but I think the bookkeeper might be expendable. Man-hater!

The historian glances at his daughter quietly sobbing in the corner. They allowed him in for her sake. He looks at the faces around him, knowing their struggles are his own. He begins to tell a story, a story of peace and happiness, one which he had researched only a few months ago for the textbook he is writing.

The historian's daughter starts to cry loudly. Tears run down her face as her body is wracked with sobs. She is not aware of the grave decision that has been made in her favor, only that the noise outside is loud and scary, and she wants to go home.

I wonder ... did I subconsciously add the historian because I aspire to be a storyteller myself?

I bet that kid made it into every single paper.

Actually, that is a pretty genius choice, to include a child. It's a good test of character: basically, the kid is useless, at least for a couple more years, so do you send her off to die? Or do you keep her around so you don't get labeled as the baby-killer and have the FBI show up at your dorm room?

The college co-ed shyly peers at the others from beneath her lashes. As she crawls to the side of the sobbing child, she realizes that her own youth was the deciding factor in the decision to let her live. The thought sticks in her mind and she vows to herself that she will be young forever.

I don't know what I was thinking at the time, but right now I am thinking that this is a sad, sad promise to make, particularly given our current cultural fascination with the appearance of youth. And this was fifteen years ago, before everybody in the world went and got Botox shots during lunch. Oh my gosh, I CAN SEE THE FUTURE!

The Methodist minister looks at the other seven, thinking to himself that he has a great opportunity to witness. He pulls out his Bible and opens it, trying to find words of comfort in the dark. He is the shepherd and these people are his sheep, and he must safely guide them. He prays silently to receive strength for the task he has set for himself.

I guess I must have settled for the Methodist since a Baptist wasn't available, ha ha. (That would have been my process back then, I guarantee it.)
Biblical allusions everywhere!
An especially ironic choice, given that I was thinking that my professor should burn in hell.

The medical student tries to pull herself together. She is not sure that she will be able to perform the tasks expected of her. Yet she will try, because her goal in life is to help others, and these people need all the help she can give. She realizes that her greatest exam is before her.

That is an excellent cliche, right there. I'm so proud. My brainstorming list says, "medical student--duh, medical experience!" I am sarcastic to MYSELF, even in my notes!

The Nobel Prize winner draws her legs under her chin. She realizes that her value is purely scientific, and resolves not to forget, in the three bleak months ahead, not to forget everything she has learned. These people will need her expertise upon their release from this shelter, and she is their only hope for survival when they reach the open. She begins to consider each part of her research, mentally noting the steps of each new process.

Evidently the assignment specifically identified her as a winner in a scientific category. I wonder what she won for. What if it was because she'd invented a new computer virus? Way to go there, Mei Flower, what an excellent choice.

Outside, amidst the bombing and gunfire, seven people consider their lives. Were they worthwhile? Did they, in any way, change someone else's life? Will the people in the shelter remember them, facing their death?

I used to watch Dead Poet's Society, like, once a week. Can you tell?

The biochemist sadly walks across a rugged field. Potholed with bomb craters, the grass and vegetation burn with orange flames. He staggers across the field, not thinking, not caring, until a bomb explodes in front of him and his mindless journey is ended.

I believe I executed him because I wasn't sure what a biochemist was. I still don't. I hate science.

The athlete thinks of the walls at home. Her family is gone; there is no one to admire the medals she worked so hard to gain. Those medals were proof that she was the fastest woman alive, but she cannot outrun death.

I bet I thought that was a great line.

The policeman, half-crazed with fear, shoots at everything around him. He holds his gun with a grip so tight that his fingers cramp. He has faced cold-hearted criminals, but never this nameless, faceless fear. He stumbles into a bomb crater and is still, his neck broken, his hand still clutching his gun.

I don't know, that seems dark. I must have been REALLY mad.

The farmer looks across the fields he knows so well. Nothing will grow in them now. He sadly considers his plight, and falls to the ground as a bomb hits, his last words screaming the Hail Mary in a foreign tongue.

That last sentence is poorly constructed, to say the least.

The Russian exchange student thinks of the past few months. His dream to come to America came true, but for this? To be doomed to death by Americans? His brow creases and his tongue lashes forth with a stream of obscenities. He does not realize he has spoken in English.

This line gives me chills every time I read it. How did I DO that?
To be honest, this whole essay is crap, but that line has legs.
The one preceding it, not so much.

A frown crosses the pretty face of the Miss America finalist. Since she was a child, her beauty had been a wheedling toy. But the director of the shelter had not been charmed into letting her in. She was just a nobody with a pretty face, and the realization left a bitter taste in her mouth. She walks blindly into the bombed area, smiling and waving as if she is on the stage in Atlanta. "If you're going to go out, go out with a smile," is her last thought.

Of course the beauty queen dies. Do you know me at all?
This line: ... her beauty had been a wheedling toy. It's not right. I know what I wanted to say, but I used the wrong words.
I'm fairly certain that I was seeing the video for Black Hole Sun in my mind as I wrote this.

The physician reflects bitterly on the events which drove him away from the shelter. If only ... what? If only he hadn't expressed triumph that America was finally getting its due? If only he had not claimed loyalty to Kadafi? If only he had not laughed in delight as an Iraqi plane dropped bombs? His anger grows with each step, and his life ends with a raised fist and a curse.

Hmmmm ... an agitator of some sort? I don't remember.
Also, Kadafi: that is indicative of which era I grew up in. And I threw in the Iraqis too (I CAN SEE THE FUTURE!!!); I guess the whole world was bombing us.

And the bodies of the seven lay on the field, each face mirroring its owner's last thoughts. The sun shines, and the bombing continues. In the shelter, there is laughter, and outside on the field, destruction.



I have to admit, by the end of the exam, I was actually enjoying the assignment, but only because I turned it into something other than what it was supposed to be. I wonder what the professor thought when he read it. I hope he didn't laugh TOO loudly.

P.S. I got an A in that class.

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