death for my birthday
I’ve never really been one to believe in the afterlife – well, jokes on me I guess.
That’s me, there, in the bedroom of my parent’s house. Don’t let the boyish face fool you, I’m for sure dead. It’s not how you imagine it either. You see, yesterday was my birthday – & for some of the time at least, I was still on Earth – if you count my corpse anyway – because I was in a coffin. That’s right. They buried me on my birthday. You’d think there’d be some law against that or something. Like my day wasn’t ruined enough when I didn’t get any presents – or when I was dead! & for some reason, here, that’s the kind of thing they broadcast on the TV.
Your own funeral.
I’m not even sure it’s meant as torture. No one has ever not looked cool in all black so at least I had that going for me. If you’re wondering, there’s no ‘devil’ either – at least not yet. I’m actually starting to doubt there’s anything here at all – bad or good.
I felt a little differently when I first arrived though.
I thought – there I was – face to face with Satan – about to be tortured for all eternity. I did go to Catholic School after all, & that fear sticks with you. You’ve seen her! You’re telling me you weren’t the same way? Now don’t get me wrong, she’s gorgeous – like absolutely, breath-taking but in a way that you know is evil. A way that you know has been crafted, almost by fate, to have every attribute you ever found attractive & mysterious, all in the same person. It couldn’t be real & I know for sure it wasn’t. It’s a kind of camouflage so people don’t freak out.
You’re in a delicate state after dying, let me tell ya.
It’d probably be more effective though if she weren’t covered in flames. I’m sorry – I went off on a tangent & never properly explained myself – that’s the caretaker, there, covered in fire – I suppose that’s what you’d call her… her name is Rani & that’s spelled: R – A – N – I – make sure you pronounce it right too, because she hates that – & so I just wake up at her feet in this dimly lit room – I can’t remember anything – she tells me I’m dead & that I was never alone or whatever & I’ll be stuck here for all eternity but I have to move every month – or something like that, like I said, I was freaking terrified, how was I supposed to remember?
Lucky for me though – she’s about to knock on my door – let’s watch
R: “Good afternoon, David.”
D: “Hello… flaming… woman…”
R: “Please, call me Rani. Where are your manners? Invite me into your house …there, there, we’ll teach you yet. I’ve come to welcome you again & prepare you for your first visit.”
D: “My first what now?”
R: “You forgot me already? I’m crushed, really. You’ve met one person since, what was that? Oh, right: DYING. You’d think I were memorable enough! Anyway, enough of this nonsense, I told you when you first arrived didn’t I? You will have a new visitor every month. Your first won’t be arriving for another month so you can wipe that look off your face.”
D: “I’m sorry, it’s just… what is all this? I get that I’m dead & honestly I’m just relived I’m not ya know, gone – I just don’t get like the house & how there’s no outside & you’re again, on fire. Who could possibly be coming to visit me in the house I grew up & how did it even get here?”
R: “You don’t worry your head about it June bug – you just go explore your old room, take a trip down memory lane – the fridge is full of classic nostalgia foods you remember, so twist off a Kool Aid Burst, have a Dunk-a-Roo, & relax – like you said, at least you’re not gone.”
Well that certainly was a little ominous, wasn’t it?
She was not lying about the house either – it was straight out of 1993 in there – & it was both incredible & slightly terrifying to walk back into my room. Now like a lot of kids, I have several “my rooms” in the different houses I lived in throughout my developing childhood. For some reason the one Rani picked – & I’m just assuming she picked it – but whoever did, they chose the room I had at 8 years old. Yes, I was 8 in 1993 – Eighties babies represent! – anyway, it was the exact same down to the smallest details. The Home Alone poster that came included with the VHS was hanging on my closet door – my Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad figures – even the Troll collection! …I was 8 okay?
Speaking of Home Alone – do you remember the scene where Kevin McAllister is having a huge ice cream sundae & watching Angels with Filthy Souls? Of course you do, well, that’s basically been me since I got here. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m back in the house I lived in as a kid but I’ve felt this crazy need to do all these childish things I always wanted to do but never realized. I sat far too close to the TV, I stayed up too late playing Super Nintendo, I can honestly say I have no idea the last time I took a shower – as if there’s a point to that now anyway…
Wait did you hear that? That was a knock on the door wasn’t it? Crap – okay, this isn’t going to be some demon is it? Here to torture me? String me up by my own entrails or something ridiculously painful & creative like that right? Rani? Anyone…? It’s not like I can run anywhere… well, here goes nothing I guess…
the sharp hint of new tears
My mother is crying – not loud sobs, not hysterically, but a quiet, choking, cry. The sound you hear when your lungs want to breathe but your mind is so focused on holding, tightly, in every feeling that even a breath & you’ll unravel. Stifled. Vibrating. Even at 3 years old, I must’ve noticed, enough at least to say something. I asked her why she was crying – in so much as a 3-year-old can ask that – she gestured it was nothing, fumbled to wipe her eyes, & just said, Mommy’s hungry, that’s all. ‘How could this be?’ I must’ve thought, because I was actually eating at the time. Well, being fed – I was only 3 after all. Something I would come to learn many years later was that during this time period, my Mother, twenty-four or so years old, recently divorced, high school graduate, & single parent, was also on government assistance. Something I too would need at one point in my life but we’ll get there. The point is – my Mom only had enough money to pay for baby food, so that’s what she bought. A sacrifice I’m not sure I was ever strong enough to make.
I told her when I grew up I’d make sure she wasn’t sad.
There are three stories about my Mother that have come to define our relationship in my mind & I want to tell them to you before I get into her visit – don’t worry, she didn’t stay long anyway – I think it’s necessary to set the stage for you a little bit before we jump right in. What I just told you is the first one. The earliest story I’ve ever heard detailing an interaction with the person whose body doubled as my literal home for the first nine months of existence. It was told to me when I was twenty-seven. When I heard it, I honestly didn’t know how to react. My first thought was, “well that certainly makes a lot of sense.” The more you learn about my mistakes, you might think the same thing… but regardless, that’s the first story. The second happened that same year actually & in reality kept reoccurring every year after that until I was an adult.
Allow me to explain.
When my parents split up, at some point they agreed to send me to stay with my Dad’s parents for the summer down South. Now, any one can imagine how hard it would be to have your child, that young, away from you for so long. Any parent though, knows it was torture. Agony. Everything she saw was a reminder of her son, so far away. She would wander stores & shopping centers, looking for things to get me. The way she chose to deal with her grief. She felt connected to me in those things & so when I returned home I could see, clearly, just how much she missed me. As her jobs became better & more stable, this display would get larger & larger – to the point where I would return home to see my entire bed covered in gifts – a miniature Christmas, just for me – her heart-break my Christmas tree. I have a strange relationship with gifts as you might imagine.
I don’t envy having to be a parent, & maybe especially, having to be a mother.
But where were we? Oh that’s right, she’d just knocked on the door of our replica-d home… & a storm is coming…
D: “Mom, what’re you doing here? You’re not dead! …are you?!”
M: “No. I’m here but I’m… not here. I’m here to you.”
D: “What do you mean?”
M: “I’m here because you need me to be.”
D: “What are you talking about? What do I need?”
M: “You need to forgive yourself, Pooh. Especially for the things you had no control over in the first place. You feel it too much, too often, it can never heal… & you took it on so young, so unaware.”
D: “You’re not making any sense, Mom. I don’t understand.”
M: “I think you will. I only ever wanted you close to me; you know that right? To know how much I loved you. If that ever made you take on what I was feeling, to carry that weight… I never meant to…
D: “Mom, what is going on? Just come inside, we can talk about it in here.”
M: “I can’t come inside, just listen to me, okay? This is important – you needed to be who you were. Not who you thought you had to be to make us happy.”
D: “Isn’t that a little bit corny right about now? & seriously, come inside! I’m not kidding, you’re going to get hurt!”
M: “I won’t get hurt. I’m not really here, actually, remember? Just please listen, you weren’t responsible for how everyone felt & it’s why you hurt them – & yourself. Do you hear me?”
D: “Yeah, yeah, I hear you, but I still don’t understand what’s going on, I’m dead already!”
M: “Maybe not.”
D: “Wait, what do you mean maybe not?”
M: “Goodbye, Pooh.”
The last story took place on Valentine’s Day when I was maybe seven or eight years old. It happened in this house actually… so it’s morning & I’m still asleep under my Batman: The Animated Series comforter when I’m shaken awake. It’s my Mom & her smile is nearly exploding off her face. Both hands on my shoulders she jostles me alert & at nearly the exact same time, in completely diametrically opposite tones, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day, Pooh!’ / ‘Go away, Mom, I’m tired!’ – I pulled the covers over my head, slammed my face back into the pillow, & begun to hate myself. Actively. Viciously. Regret coursing through my whole body but firmly unable to move. I don’t call out; I don’t sit up & apologize. I lay there, as if I were on fire, melting to the spot.
I heard her slink slowly from the room & close the door.
cross out the eyes
The worst thing that’s ever been done to me, by anyone, ever, was my Father – full of good intention – not telling me my grandmother, my Nonna, had died. Not even that she was sick. Not until after she died. Not until after the funeral. The burial. All of it. I, at once, found out about the potential & reality of hollowing loss in one fell swoop. I wasn’t even ten.
‘The road to hell…’ right?
Not that I’m in hell – no – that’s clearly scare tactic 101 for organized religion, but where I am may actually be worse – don’t let them find that out. It’s also important to note that organized religion was a big deal to my Nonna – to my father too & I’m guessing it still is – but I’m dead, so what do I know? He’s changed on a great number of things during my life but that one is, I’m pretty sure, solid as the rock Peter built the Church on.
I had to go there, it was too easy.
Anyway… if you don’t have a relationship with your grandparents or, also to say, a poor one where you wouldn’t be affected by this, let me explain why this mattered so much to me. As you know, I practically lived with my grandparents – four states away from home – all summer long until I was eighteen. They were basically my parents for a fourth of the year. I had chicken pox there. I was potty trained there. My birthday is also in the summer – so my Nonna made my birthday cakes… if you can call them that. She’d make a giant cookie, cover it in cool whip & top that with blueberries …I’ve never had one since…
Not one like that anyway.
After she died I still continued to go down to visit every year – she died in March, I went down in June like nothing ever happened. That’s how it felt to me anyway. Everyone else knew what was happening. Everyone else knew she was sick. My parents, my Aunts, my Uncles, my cousins, even the youngest. Everyone had known. Just not me. I can still remember the first morning I woke up & started a summer without her. She wasn’t there to wake me up as she always did. A gentle prod, a kiss on the forehead, a whisper that breakfast was ready. I rolled over, rubbed my eyes groggily, & stumbled out of my room toward the hallway.
At the end of the hallway – where the door to my room was – there are three more doors – a cul-de-sac of sorts.
One door leads to another bedroom, one to the bathroom, & the other to the master, where Rocco slept. My grandfather. He was still asleep. I knew because I couldn’t hear the television from the living room. I suppose he could’ve been in the back room, opposite to where I was standing, doing accounting or something. He sometimes sat at a desk with lots of papers doing some kind of math on one of those large calculators – with the paper receipts & loud noises. I knew he wasn’t there this morning in particular though because the door to his room was still closed. He didn’t speak much & rarely ever to me. I can remember a moment or two, on some days, if he were in an especially good mood. Usually though, everything was done through Nonna – she was the conduit. The reason my Mom even felt comfortable enough to let me be there.
Hold that thought, I’m about to have my second visitor – listen in, won’t you?
D: …I knew I’d see you here. I don’t know how, but I did, I just… knew.
N: You did not.
D: What do you mean?! I did, I did, I…
N: Mi bello… it’s okay, it’s okay…
D: … I… I never thought I’d see you again…
N: But I’m here, I’m here now, but I don’t have long, okay? Not too long. I need you to listen, okay?
D: No, no, you have to stay, you have to, you just got here! Rani! Don’t do this! Stop this, now! I’ve waited too long, alright!?
N: Bello, listen, listen to me… please. Stop expecting the worst… stop thinking there’s always something about to happen, about to hurt you… it’s not true, bello, okay? It’s not true. You know your parents wedding album? The one I hid from your Dad?
D: Yeah, I have it still, but Nonna, I didn’t do so well at that either—
N: It’s not about that – I saved it for you to show you; everything bad that can happen, can only happen because something good had first. Don’t forget that, you had the choice then & you’ll have it again, you will—
D: Why did you say that? ‘I will again,’ what does that mean?!
N: I love you.... I love you.
Once I’d walked into the living room & saw for sure I was alone, I just stood there for minute. The orange shag carpet, the plastic on the couch. The painted portrait of Rocco & Maria – at a wedding some decade earlier – hanging, large, starring. I meander to the kitchen & get a bowl, a spoon, & some cereal. Cheerios, even though I knew my cousins house would have the good stuff; Lucky Charms, Crunch Berries, Reese’s Puffs, you name it. I shouldn’t have milk, but I do. I’m not allergic but I am lactose intolerant. It’s going to feel like someone is stabbing my insides – grabbing hold of my intestines & twisting. I put Cartoon Network on TV. I start to eat my cereal at the counter.
I don’t care it’ll hurt later.
It already hurts.
I’ve always felt like the ugliest person in the room; any room. Not to be hyperbolic or anything, it’s just the truth. I’m not sure where it came from considering it’s my entire living memory, so it’s hard to trace back. I can’t tell why either because, if anything, I’ve been over praised in my life; always told how smart I was or how capable I was – I was, very literally, called ‘beautiful boy’ by every Italian family member I had. Oh, bello.
I never felt it. It never sunk in.
I can think objectively though, don’t get me wrong – I can step outside of myself long enough to know that things could definitely be worse – ‘I could be uglier’ – although I still go through this exercise begrudgingly. The sad reality is that thinking something & feeling something are worlds apart; even if those worlds might still collide from time to time.
I’ll tell you what I mean:
When I was twenty-two I was living on my own in a one-bedroom apartment in the suburbs. I was still living in the same town where I went to college – I’d had a high school girlfriend that lasted throughout the semesters but immediately dissolved afterward – though we ended up remaining friends. I just started a corporate job – cubicles & computers in a landscape of beige & grey – placing software orders for other companies as a third party. I’d lost eighty pounds & almost felt like a different person – as if I were finally an adult in my right body – & I think this set off a calm in me others confused as confidence – which I think many people find attractive.
I wasn’t actually confident; I’d just stopped trying.
I’d met a smart, sassy, & spectacularly beautiful girl from Ohio, who, for the purposes of being respectful I won’t name – but Ohio was everything I’d ever wanted to find in a partner. The only problem was that I didn’t live in Ohio but several hours away. The first time she visited me was, at the time, the single most electric night of my life & if I concentrate long enough, I can still feel the sparks crackle. She visited me on many other occasions over the years but I never visited her. She was available to talk constantly & I was a flake; inconsiderate; never really there for her when she needed me but always there when she didn’t.
In short: an asshole.
The last time she visited me is a still in my mind – a freeze frame – like a picture. I followed her on social media still so I’ve seen pictures but I haven’t really seen her since, so it’s sort of a last remaining memory. Social media never actually shows who we are – it isn’t ever real – it’s just a pixel ghost of who we were. Maybe who we want to be… Anyway, it was early spring & she made the drive for no particular reason to come & visit. We’d started talking again after some time in silence & I’m sure I had been less than dissuasive. The only problem was that, for some reason, I had become someone to be interested in – like romantically – & had I been actively perusing some of them back too. It was not a time to be proud of to say the least. I wasn’t lost, that’s just a cliché people say to excuse themselves. It felt good to feel wanted, to feel desirable & I became addicted to it at a point where I was still a child pretending to be grown – & I hurt people doing so.
Those are the facts.
I’ve been thinking about how often that seems to be the case lately – somehow at the center of all this hurt – & if it has anything to do with why I’m here. The cold Pizza Hut in the fridge is incredible but you can see me wince as the doorbell rings yet again…
D: …I figured if there was ever a ‘next time’ for us it’d be me visiting you…
O: I never held my breath. I knew you better than that.
D: I changed though… eventually… I wish you could’ve seen it…
O: I wouldn’t have believed it anyway, would I? How could I possibly have believed you ever again? After what you did? – or didn’t do I guess.
D: Look, I’m sorry—
O: Sorry means absolutely nothing & you know that! How many times did you say it? How many? They mean nothing now. All that matters now is what you do here, for yourself.
D: There’s nothing left to do here – there’s no here anymore, look around. This place isn’t real. None of this is real.
O: Are you real?
D: Of course I’m re—
O: Then this is too. Don’t make the same mistakes twice.
D: What do you mean? What does all of this mean? Can someone please tell me?!
O: The same mistakes, idiot, don’t make them. Just… learn, okay? Learn your lesson, David, for once.
D: Please just tell me—
O: You broke my heart a million times & here I am – for you – again.
D: I’m sorry.
O: Prove it. It just won’t be to me.
The night before she drove home we laid in my bed & listened to the new Brand New album – the irony in how I treated her & the band we chose to listen to would come much later – but we didn’t do much but kiss, hold each other, & listen as the music took us places our relationship never would. We always bonded over things like that: the beauty in a song or the feeling art could give you. She herself is an incredible artist. The next morning, she sat at my kitchen table – this huge, circular tiled table with blue chairs that swiveled – she looked up at me with her gorgeous maple-eyes & asked if I was seeing anyone I could picture becoming serious with.
I told her I wasn’t – & I couldn’t imagine not ending up together.
I was engaged a year later.
& when I did, I didn’t even have the guts to tell her.
thank you for the venom
A memory branded in my brain more than any other – the shape of it a burn, a scar, healed but never – comes to me daily – still – even here. It’s like a poison that won’t ever kill you – a slow moving venom from the sweetest origin; a power so capable only because of it’s connection to you.
After all, your brain can’t hurt you until your heart says it can.
I have a few memories that would fit this description but there’s one in particular I can’t shake – even in death. As you know by now, I was engaged by twenty-three & we decided we were going to have a destination wedding. Dani was practical, if nothing else – but to me, she was everything. She had dark hair & golden eyes. I know that sounds strange but it’s true. They were a honey brown so brilliant they were gold. You’d never seen anything so beautiful. Every sunrise & sunset combined, times a million. I might have been bias but needless to say I had never felt this way in my life.
I had never even wanted to get married.
Something she was well aware of when we started dating – I didn’t want to be a husband or a father. Not because I had anything against it, per say, but just that it wasn’t for me. For better or worse I knew I was so caught up in my own brain & my own life that I couldn’t do what is right to do as a parent & husband, which is put yourself second. I never felt like I would know myself well enough to do those things honestly – void of any doubt or confusion – & I thought that would be unfair. She always countered that with, ‘if you are with a special person – your special person – it can be done;’ ‘you would feel it & it would change for you.’ She made me believe this. Not in a sinister way like I was hypnotized or manipulated – she actually believed it & I was in love with her so much that I started to think I believed it too.
I hoped so anyway.
I always had my doubts but I never expressed them. I just thought that was “old me” throwing out nonsense again – “just ignore it” – “it’s no big deal” – & so I never said anything; to her or to anyone for that matter. Not when I was buying the engagement ring. Not when I asked her to marry me. Not when I was standing at the end of the aisle on the beach. I thought it was something I had to deal with myself & could only deal with myself. The other problem was, at this time, there’s another voice in my head that’s growing louder telling me that it isn’t right to be with someone who doesn’t ever question your relationship & here you are wondering still – hearing voices of doubt in your head.
‘How horrible are you?’
The thought of her face contorted in shock & sadness – her crying – it felt like actual knives in my chest. “No, I can’t bring this up. I’ll fix myself. I will fix myself. I promise I will.” Of course I did bring it up though. One Saturday after I stayed up late through a terrible thunderstorm. The anxiety had built to a point where all I could tell myself was that it had to be ended. I couldn’t do that to her. I couldn’t hold her hostage to my horrible brain any more. I can still see her leaving our house, closing the first door into the mudroom & then out the last door & toward the driveway. I can see her look back at me as she opens the door to her car; tears greying golden eyes. There’s the shock. There’s the sadness – but there’s also hope – pained hope that I will come to my senses & run out the door. I spent so many days re-living that & screaming at myself to do the same.
& there she is now…
Dav: …I never thought I’d see you again.
Dan: You didn’t.
Dav: No, I know, I’m sorry, it’s just – I’ve had so many dreams but this is the closest thing to… real life… I guess.
Dan: Still stuck in your own head, I thought death might have changed that. I should know better than to hope with you though.
Dav: I deserve everything—
Dan: Yes, you do, because you never even gave me a chance! You didn’t even have the decency to let me try!
Dav: I know & I’m—
Dan: No, I’m talking now & I want you to listen – You might have thought you knew what would’ve happened but you didn’t. You didn’t. You are always so convinced what someone thinks or how someone feels or what the fucking future is going to be that you never stop to consider you’re wrong. Never. You have to trust someone. Because this, all of this, is your fault. You’re still here because not being able to admit you can change is why you never have.
Dav: You’re right.
Dan: I know I am – because nothing hurt me more than learning I was.
Dav: Dani, wait!
Dan: No. I won’t. I would have then… but I won’t now.
The memory of her leaving wasn’t the memory I meant; the one that’s branded.
That memory is from our wedding day – this one motion I see on repeat, like a loop or a gif: she’s stepping off the curb onto the beach to walk toward me, glancing down, picking up her dress so she won’t trip; she raises head, sweeping her hair from her eyes & raises them back to mine, a dimple in her cheek from smiling so big – golden eyes gleaming.
It’s never not made me cry.
Only for different reasons.
If you’ve ever heard anything about the moments before you die it’s that your life flashes before your eyes, right? One last glimpse of everything you’ve done & all you’re leaving behind. Kind of sounds like a nasty taunt if you ask me.
I saw nothing.
Lights, sounds, colors, but no images – no people or places, nothing from my life. Close your eyes right now. As hard you can. Press them shut. Harder. Hold it. Concentrate. Do you see the lights? The colors? Focus on that.
That’s what I saw.
Once I felt the back axel shake & slide out, smooth, cutting through the puddles like a sprinkler, water pounding my windshield, I didn’t even try to steady it. I admit that. I had let go… so I let go. I think I forgot I was on a bridge – or I was so high I didn’t care – I was invincible because I felt dead – & well… speak of the devil & the devil arrives.
& speaking of the devil, she’s arriving at my doorstep now…
R: I thought I told you to stop calling me ‘the devil’ – not every being on fire in the afterlife in the devil & it just makes you sound ignorant, honestly.
D: I’m sorry! It was just a… turn of phrase.
D: Are you here to make me feel worse? Because I’m not sure you possibly can. I’m actually relieved—
R: No, of course I’m not. I’m here to take you.
D: …take me where?
R: Just come. Would I harm you June bug? You hurt me, you really hurt me with such accusations.
D: Okay, I’m sorry Rani, I am. I’m just – it’s been a rough last few months. Seeing you is the best part of it, I should appreciate you more.
R: There, there, just come with me, love.
D: Where are we going?
R: To see the… King of this land.
D: Why did you pause like that?
R: Well, you see honey, I needed to put it in a way you would understand. We don’t exactly do things here the same way ya’ll humans do. Oh no, child, please.
D: Okay, so this person, um… are they God?
R: Well… yes, let’s go with that. She’s God.
D: Why will no one give me a straight answer in this place?
R: What’s the point of straight anyway? So boring… wonderful, we’re here! Well, it’s been a pleasure being your guide, David, I wish you the best of luck in your choice.
D: What choice!?
D: Hi, I’m—
G: David, I know.
D: Okay, well can we just get this over with? I don’t mean to be rude or anything, especially because being God or whatever, you can ‘judge me’ & I’m not trying to go to Hell, especially if it’s worse than where I just was because that was… eviscerating, to be blunt but—
G: Rani said you were cute.
D: I AM NOT—
G: Just calm down. Please. I realize you’ve been through quite the journey but that’ll be enough for now. She did say you talked a lot too... I need to show you something. Someone. Your last visitor.
D: Why didn’t they come visit me like the others?
G: I see you haven’t given up trying to prepare for what happens next. Don’t you ever just want to let go? Stop carrying a burden you know you know won’t be unloaded. There’ll always be something to face next. You’re matter, baby! Can’t be destroyed. Just changed. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll relax. Now here she is… Penny, your daughter.
D: …what the fuck are you talking about? I never had any children, that I know for sure.
G: Well that’s why I brought you to me, Mr. Potty Mouth – this last visitor only ever exists here – in this place, all realities exist – so go, say hello.
D: …& say what exactly? “Oh hi, I’m the version of your Dad that didn’t want you”? That sounds great. Is this a test or something? Because I can tell you now I’m going to fail.
G: Just… try.
D: H-Hello. I’m David. May I sit down?
P: Sure! Do you like drawing?
D: I used to, yeah, when I was your age. I stopped though… I’m not sure why… what do you like to draw?
P: Mainly portraits – that means pictures of people, I learned that last week – it sounds better than saying ‘someone’s face.’ What did you draw?
D: It was stupid really – I would make my own comic books – just kind of make a version of myself I would like…
P: That sounds cool! Do you still have any you could show me?
D: Oh no… I threw them all away. I’m always throwing things away. Giving up on them or just thinking I don’t need them anymore. Maybe because I think they’d be better for someone else. Someone better than me.
P: That doesn’t sound very fun.
D: I’m sorry, here I am talking about myself & you’ve done this incredible drawing. How did you do that so quickly? …it’s incredible.
P: I just look & draw I guess. It just happens. I try it & it works. Even if it doesn’t work, I find things to like about it. I don’t know.
D: I think you know better than you realize.
P: So what’s your choice going to be, Dad?
P: You have to choose once & for all. Do you want to live or do you want to stay here, in the what if? You just have to say it.
D: I don’t understand.
P: Don’t you? Just say it, Dad. Say it.
D: ...sometimes I wish you were real…
P: Was that so hard? Now you can go back. You finally earned it.
W: Thank you.
Mr. Davis: Wally! Great to see you, my friend, how’re you feeling? A little groggy still?
W: Yeah, a little out of it—
Mr. Davis: To be expected, to be expected, it’s your first treatment after all. Have a seat, please. So, what questions did you have for me before I go over the results?
W: Well, I have one, actually, yeah… I get the treatment’s purpose, totally understand that, but, with all due respect, why the theatrics?
Mr. Davis: I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand…
W: Well, I just mean, I knew I was going into some of my ancestor’s memory files, why make me live it? & honestly, I didn’t think there were records going that far back…
Mr. Davis: Caldwell Enterprises has an extensive library of HCUs — I’m sorry, Human Consciousness Uploads — but yes, we have the largest repository in the remaining States, some of which date all the way back to the first uploads in 2033! I know, crazy right?
W: Oh, okay, right, yeah, that makes sense — it’s a little hard to shake, that’s all, I feel like I really experienced everything — the dying, the visits, the pain…
Mr. Davis: Wonderful! That means everything is going to plan, my friend, these UCTs will be standard protocol if you pass the final exam, so best to get you used to them now, right?
W: Ha, yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Sorry, it was just so real, I’m a little shaken still. My greatest relative was …a bit much…
Mr. Davis: & that’s exactly the point! To understand the necessity of what Caldwell provides, you must first learn the mistakes of your genetics… your indecisiveness, your presumption, your inability to contextualize empathy, these things are coded in your DNA & by living them, but not actually, you learn the lessons of generations in real time.
W: Wow, okay, so what’s next?
Mr. Davis: Eager, I like that. Well, I I figured you’d have already heard about it, most recruits do, it’s supposed to be kept quiet but well, you know how that goes, I bet you’ve already heard it’s name around camp… don’t be shy!
W: Is it… The Network?