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The Monster

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Drab and gray and compliant, that’s what it meant to be a member of Abnegation. When we dared break the rules and sneaked looks at ourselves in the mirror we were made to be ashamed at our own curiosity. We were consistently beat down for our all too human quest for knowledge. While there’s something to be said for relying on the kindness of the masses, I never saw the harm in wanting to pursue something beyond the norm. Where is that harm? On whose shoulders does that lie?

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Even knowing that moving to Erudite would be a slap in my parents’ faces, they were at least understanding enough to know that my thirst for learning was something they could take pride in. If only they’d let themselves show pride in me or in Beatrice, just once! But Abnegation frowned on singling out anybody for any reason, even one’s own children when they did something spectacular. Oh, right: behaving in a spectacular way was frowned upon as well.

That more people didn’t detest Abnegation while they had the chance is ridiculous. That my sister didn’t resent it more boggles my mind, and I’m a smart person. I convinced myself she’d be content in her scratchy gray dress forever. When she declared herself Dauntless, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one shocked. For all my smarts, I never saw that one coming.

(Was that pride on our mother’s face, or was it disbelief? Maybe it was fear.)

*

Knowledge and the quest for knowledge are both wonderful things, but sometimes the weight of it can be too much to bear.

*

I have more than book smarts: one of my favorite pastimes is putting theories to practical use. That’s something I was never able to do until I joined Erudite. My move up the ranks is part of society’s public record; the Abnegation part of me is neither proud nor self-congratulatory about it.

The Erudite side begs to differ.

When a person spends his life being told he must squelch his curiosity, he must not stand out, he must not act for his own good but for the good of the people, and then finds himself in a place where he’s valued and his contributions are appreciated… well. How is he supposed to act?

No one in Erudite cared that I was a self-important ass as long as I kept striving for brilliance. They were all self-important asses too.

No one in Erudite cared if I treated my family as lesser for the choices they made. They treated their families the same way, with that Erudite air of disdain.

No one in Erudite cared that I was utterly and completely alone in their crowd, not even me. When you’re used to blending in, every tap on the shoulder and every nod of appreciation become more addictive than the most powerful drug at our disposal. Once I chose Erudite, my old family didn’t matter any longer. I had my new family, and they valued me. Me, Caleb Prior, formerly invisible and gracious and self-effacing. Not any more: I was someone.

*

In Erudite, I never had to hide my curiosity. That sudden freedom was like peeling away my outer layer of skin and emerging naked and newborn and filled with possibility. It’s not my fault the whole thing went to my head.

Or maybe it is.

*

Who could have foretold that mousy compliant Beatrice Prior would also peel away her outer layer of skin and emerge naked and newborn and filled with possibility? For all my intelligence, I never knew until it was too late that I was never the butterfly emerging from the pupa. That was Tris, my once quiet and complacent sister. In Dauntless, she spread her wings. She flew. While I hid behind my new so-called friends and my books and my computers and decided to learn what it meant to be Erudite instead of Abnegation, my sister absolutely soared. She’s the one who dug deep down inside and found the bravery the rest of us lacked. She’s the one our mother and father were proud of. For all my efforts, they were never proud of me.

For all my efforts, Tris was too blinded by her ideals to see what I was really trying to do. I can hardly blame her. Most days, I can’t see the good in myself no matter how many Calebs stare back at me from the mirror.

*

Regardless of faction or of previous faction, the romantics among us say Tobias suffered the greatest loss in this war. He’s not the only one who lost Tris. We all did. If we want to have pissing contests we can, but the truth is I’m still her brother, her only family. I don’t want to fight with anybody over who deserves to mourn the most. If a serum existed that would bring my sister back, that could have healed her broken body, that could have given us one more moment, one more day, one more year, one more decade with the beautiful butterfly that was my sister, I would find it. I would invent it. I would, no matter the personal cost.

But such a thing doesn’t exist, and that’s the truth of the matter. We all miss my sister for what she stood for, for the way she carried herself, for the strength of her convictions, for the love she carried deep inside her soul for everyone who meant anything to her.

The power of her strength puts the rest of us to shame.

I miss Tris for what she always was: a kind, loving, beautiful human being. She didn’t have to prove anything to me by jumping on and off trains or climbing to great heights or saving the world. She didn’t have to prove she was smarter than me, or braver than me, or more open-minded than me.

Tris was always my hero.

*

I would have carried that backpack.

I should have carried that backpack.

I didn’t.