This is something I wrote after waking from a particularly rough dream. It’s unedited and raw, so I apologize for that, but as you’ll see, it was rather personal, and I didn’t feel like lingering on this piece overlong. For anyone dealing with a family member with a terminal illness, this may be a rough read. It’s short (~600 words), so you can read it in one sitting easily.
“It’s terminal.” Those were the words I focused on. The rest of the medical explanation buzzed by at the time, because it really didn’t matter anyway. It was a lot for a sixteen-year-old kid to process about his father. Too much for my eight-year-old brother, who wasn’t being told what was happening yet.
Time went by, and specialist visits happened. I kept as ignorant of the details as I could, but to outward appearances, my dad looked fine. I could see the fatigue in his eyes, and the resignation in the way he moved.
I was downtown, running an errand in the family car, and saw my dad getting out of his old sports car that he’d bought used, and kept in good condition for years.
“Dad!” I called.
He turned his head, and paused, waiting until I came over. It wasn’t until I reached him that I realized he looked frustrated, angry even.
“Dad, what’s up?”
He started to open his mouth to speak, but shook his head. He just turned and walked into the movie theater lobby.
I was stunned. I couldn’t think of anything I’d done wrong to get that sort of response. I got back in the car, and drove home, racking my brain for what I could have done to make him so furious with me.
Pulling into the garage, I noted the absence of his car, and felt the twinge of pain again, and my brain helpfully reminded me that the driver of that car would be absent soon too. Thanks, brain.
After raiding the pantry for a snack, I went into the living room to watch some TV, but was surprised to find my parents napping on the sofa. They woke as I entered the room, and Mom asked about the errand.
“Sorry, I forgot.” I paused. “Dad, where’s your car?”
There was a slight hesitation, before he replied. “I sold it this morning, while you were at school.”
Mom took my stunned silence as simple surprise, which it was not. “We’ve got some great news, sweetie. Your dad’s cancer is in remission. He’s going to be ok!”
Dad smiled, but I could see guilt behind his eyes.
In that moment, it all clicked.
I turned, walked from the room, and got back in the car.
The drive back downtown was a blur. I’m not sure if I was remotely in the realm of the speed limit, but at that point, I wouldn’t have noticed if the entire town’s police department was following me.
Pulling into the mall lot, I found Dad’s car, just as he was walking out of the theater.
He jumped a bit as he recognized my voice from the shout.
“Dad, why didn’t you tell me?”
He shook his head. “You always were smart.”
“Because it would be easier for everyone else that way.”
“That’s no answer. You’re my dad. I deserve to know.”
“Are you happier knowing?”
“No. But it’s not right. He’s not you.”
My father shook his head sadly. “You have to understand. The insurance company came to us, and made an offer. If they don’t pay for extraordinary end-of-life care for me, and simply cover my expenses to live out my life comfortably, they would provide my family… you… with a perfect clone, free of genetic abnormalities, and with all of my memories, as of the time of the switch. It saves them money in the long term, and you and your brother get to keep your dad.”
I was on the edge of sobbing, but trying to maintain the proper masculine appearance in public.
“But Dad, why!?”
“Because it was the right thing to do.”