Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild crafts a terrifying world for the main character Gan and his family. On their planet, humans (or Terrans as they’re known here) are forced to mingle with the alien Tlic who operate on dozens of limbs and implant the Terrans with their small grub-like young. Gan’s family is lucky enough to have been placed in the Preserve, a place of safety away from the lands outside where Terrans are “courted, paid, drafted, in some way made available” (Butler 5) to the impatient Tlic that await there. Gan and his family are “protected” by an old family friend, a Tlic named T’Gatoi who has chosen Gan to bear her young whenever he is old enough. Gan and his siblings are shown plenty of “diagrams and drawings” (Butler 13) to ensure them that the process is safe. Yet despite this constant reassurance and the perceived safety of the Preserve, it is Gan’s brother Qui who comes to see the Preserve as a cage, as one big trap. While walking home one night as a kid, Qui witnessed a Terran killed by a Tlic, his throat being sliced open with “one swipe of one claw” (Butler 20) while the grubs burrowed their way through his dead corpse to be born. From that day forth, Qui could no longer veil the Preserve in a false sense of security. He wanted away from this hostile place that had taken lives, maybe even his brother’s or his own eventually. Though the story of Bloodchild comes to a happy ending (or at least as much of one that’s possible) for Gan, it’s important to realize that Qui never does get his ‘away.’ Part of being human sometimes is being stuck somewhere unbearably uncomfortable, maybe forever. While Gan’s ending is a satisfactory one, I think the point Butler makes with Qui is more interesting. His story is left unfinished. He is still searching for something he may never find: a way out. It’s an interesting parallel to a struggle that’s much too common. When faced with problems in life, a lot of humans’ natural reaction is to run instead of facing that problem. For Qui, Butler never makes the point that he’s wrong for feeling this way. He is simply left to his feelings, and I believe that to be the point. Sometimes life is scary. Even SUNY Geneseo with its pretty hills and valleys can be scary. The Preserve is to Qui what Geneseo was/is to me. A supposed safe space for him that only ever felt hostile, a place he wanted to be rid of.
My first impressions of SUNY Geneseo weren’t all negative. It is beautiful here after all and for my first couple weeks here I was excited to start college. It was only until I was hit with the slew of “‘adult things’” (Butler 25) as T’Gatoi says, that I started to feel alone in this place. Living on campus was the first time I’d ever lived alone away from home for an extended period. I started to realize how far away I was from my friends and the people that help me stay anchored in my everyday life. Just like Qui when he witnessed the unfortunate Terran death, I began to peel away the false sense of security that my “safe haven” provided. I did good in class and did my best to find a job but no matter where I went, I never really felt like I was getting anywhere. I was still alone and despite my best efforts, I was never able to find my people here. SUNY Geneseo introduced me to the idea of being completely alone, something I’d never been able to understand before. I wanted to run away wherever I could, but I quickly found out that I was “‘running in a cage,’” (Butler 20) like Qui.
For Qui, the Preserve is inescapable. There’s a moment in the story where Gan ponders over the family rifle and says “‘That’s Qui’s ‘away.’’” (Butler 29) The moment isn’t lingered on for too long but can’t be understated. Qui’s only “away”, if he really wants it, may be to escape from life itself. It’s extreme and hard to think about but for Qui it may be the only way out. For me, I can count my lucky stars that my “Preserve” has built-in breaks where I can find a sort of temporary “away.” Whether it be a few days here and there or months between semesters, I’ll always have some sort of escape from the “‘adult things’” (Butler 25) where I can feel a little less alone for a while. It’s in these breaks that I can leave behind the looming thoughts of college and spend time with the things and people that matter to me.
Sometimes it can be helpful to know that our stories aren’t over yet, mine or Qui’s. With Gan being chosen at the end of the story, Qui’s worries may be able to fade a little as he focuses on his brother and his family. He has time to grow out of his fear of the Preserve (and truly life in general) and find his “away” somewhere closer to home. Maybe he’ll find that he doesn’t even need it anymore. That’s what I’m hoping for myself. With two more years here at SUNY Geneseo, it’s helpful to know that I still have time to settle into this place, no matter how rocky of a start I had. I’ve already taken a few steps to try and feel more comfortable here. I’ve joined a sports team, made a few friends, and overall tried to get a better understanding of why I’m here. Right now, everything still feels hostile but there’s comfort in knowing that next year, maybe even next semester, I’ll feel a little less like running away.
While I sit and wait for that feeling though, it’s important to realize that it’s ok to feel how I do. When Butler introduces Qui and his motivations, she never really makes a comment on whether he’s right to want to run away from it all. When Tlic run the world though, what Terran wouldn’t want to run away? To me, Qui seems to be one of the sanest characters in the short story. When someone sees something as terrible as Qui has, it makes sense to want to make an escape from it all. Being thrown into adult life is impossibly scary. No matter how much you try to prepare yourself, you’ll never know what it’s really like until you’re there. For a lot of people, college is that first leap into a whole new world. And for people like me and Qui, that world is scary, lonely, and unfamiliar. Maybe sometimes it stays that way forever and maybe it doesn’t. Some people may even choose to fully run away from college and find another transition point into adulthood. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here. Making that move into adult life, whether that be college or not, is something that everybody has the choice to navigate on their own, especially today when college is becoming so much less necessary to secure a stable career. There are so many options out there which can be a scary thought on it’s own but a comforting one too when you realize that you can do whatever is right for you. From me and Qui, to anybody out there who’s scared: you’re not alone. Just keep running, wherever it is that you need to go. Keep going.