I had been warned, and Julio ought to have known. He had held my hand one evening and, in a friendly way, looked deep into me with his dark latino eyes and whispered: "Just remember David, whatever you do, don't listen to Abba". I could see how serious he was, how deep his convictions ran inside, how all his burly manliness was focused like a burning laser drilling straight through my head, upsetting me and rustling forgotten fears. "If you do, there will be no going back". But I was so young then, so naive, I shrugged it off.
When the town officers caught him in that barn with George the fireman, I had stood mute and watched while Homeland Morality escorted him from his home. He looked across the disgusted stares of the gathered townspeople with red teary eyes, his gaze finding mine across the distance. I saw the end of hope in his eyes, and I knew that this was the end of Julio's journey to the flag.
And how he had fought it. And how he had tried. All these nights with Suzy, he would tremble and cry in her arms. "I'm sorry sweetie I can't I just can't" he would tell her. She would hold him gently and whisper in his ear about how proud she was of him, how he was all man, a good man, how he would overcome and do his duty to the nation. But he had let her down, he had let all of us down. I could not quite feel sorry for him that day, but I could not turn my heart into stone either. He was a good person deep down, I knew that, even if Abba had turned him into a monster. Under the layers of perversion I could still sense that sweet, beautiful person that had walked into my repair shop so many years ago. It took a long time for the tears to come, and even longer for them to drain from my eyes.
The years passed. I thought of him less and less, until he slowly faded into my ghost closet. There were days where I would not even think about him at all. Then one day me and the Unit were scheduled for a journey to a Restricted Freedom zone. Our mission details are unimportant. We were upholding freedom, and even to this day I take pride in our great work. All was going well, until an old transistor receiver's DRM unit broke. Lesilie and Arnold rushed to correct the problem, but for a few seconds its audio channel was open, unfiltered, to all communication signals in the air: Freedom hater filth pumped straight through to our untrained ears without any layers of censorship or protection. It was over so fast, but it felt like a lifetime. A music so different, so rich, so SWEET filled the room.
"And when you get the chance...You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen! Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tambourine!" Just then Arnold threw the receiver down and crushed it under his heavy heel. But the damage had been done: I had tasted Abba.
During those few seconds it had been as if someone had torn me open with an axe and pulled my insides out. I had felt naked, exposed, and lost. A panic that I had forgotten about now exploded from a place that they hadn't taught us to block, and all that was right and good in me was now dead. In my despair I thought of Julio. I knew that it was only a matter of time before I too would be taken away. It would not be long before I would see him again. He would hold my hand in his, and look deep into my eyes like he had done so long ago.