← Philament 3: Offbeat

Love, Again

Brooke M. Campbell

I’m waiting for the love of my life to grow up. Many people day that figuratively, but I’m saying it literally. I figure she’ll be ready to meet me in six years. Then, she’ll be eighteen and I’ll be forty-four. I hope she doesn’t think me a lecherous fool. The past twelve years have been the hardest of my life. Though it’s nearly made me lose my mind, I’ve made myself give her the time to be a child again. This go-round seems easier for her than the childhood she told me about, months after we first met in boot camp. Though I’d be arrested on the spot if anyone noticed, once or twice a year I drive slowly past the park where she plays during recess. On the rare occasion I glimpse her chasing one of her classmates or skipping rope, little plaid skirt flying high above her knees, I feel so lonely. Meeting Agnes in six years is my last shot at true love.

Do you remember, Agnes, the time you told me you wished you were a man, so you could give me a child? It was after you’d had way too many beers. I was stoned. I guess pot doesn’t make you forget everything after all. Over the years, I’ve occasionally wished I could forget you. When you died, you left me a twenty-five year old fuck-up. I couldn’t make it on my own. I called psychics, hoping to reach you on the other side, and I read hundreds of books about talking to angels. Nothing helped. Nothing took away the fact that we couldn’t even spend Christmas together because you never came home from the hospital. Well, that’s not entirely true, I suppose. What was left of your first body I had put into a marble urn. You’ve stayed right next to my bed ever since.

I never could bear to sleep alone, especially not after one of our fights. You hated it when I smoked up. “It’s my choice,” I said carelessly, already high after two hits. “Doesn’t make it a good one,” you retorted. I burned the weed away, little caring that I probably wouldn’t get any that night. God, you made me feel like a schizophrenic, telling me that sleeping with me high was like sleeping with a stranger. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could reclaim those nights I smoked you onto the living room couch. About 3:00 in the morning, I would come and fiddle with your fingers until you woke up, grouchy as hell.

“Please come to bed,” I begged.

“No way, druggie darling. Go back to sleep,” you mumbled groggily.

“You know I can’t sleep without you by my side.”

“Tough shit. Should have thought of that before you smoked up.”

Tears in my eyes, I climbed up the wooden staircase and crawled into our big bed that seemed all the bigger without you in it. Then I lay quietly on my back, staring up at the ceiling in the dark. Before the sound of your footsteps neared the top of the stairs, I closed my eyes and let a smile fade from my lips.

I don’t smile much these days. Mostly, I just come home from work, flop onto the sofa and doze and cry. You’d be proud, though. As hard as it’s been, I haven’t smoked up, not once. When I first stopped, it was because of the Army – they made us start taking random piss tests. Since then, I’ve been promoted, and now I administer the piss tests. It doesn’t really matter. I’m not tempted to cheat. I can’t believe how wasted I used to get; I can’t believe you put up with me.

One psychic said you hear me best when I talk to you in the car. I talk to you everywhere, though mostly in my head. I haven’t let anyone get close to me since you died, for fear they’d think I’m crazy. Mom thought for sure I was crazy when I volunteered my womb for Dow’s cloning project. Both Mom and Dad were certain that I’d get over you in time, but that the whole cloning thing would postpone my grieving process. But I knew twelve years ago, when I volunteered myself, that I would never get over you. The Dow project has given me hope for the future. You were, you are, and you will be the one, Agnes.

The Dow cloning team was very excited to have such a young, healthy body for their project. I signed on with them the day of your death, and I suckered one of the younger doctors into taking the necessary tissue samples from your body. I told him you were a certified genius—Phi Beta Kappa, Mensa, the whole shebang—so that if we cloned you, he would be even more famous when the kid turned out to be a braniac. These days, cloning is so passé that it might seem weird for a doctor to submit to his patient’s whims, but back then cloning was illegal. Everyone was afraid we wouldn’t need sperm anymore, which meant we wouldn’t need men anymore, either. Now that they can clone without a woman, too, it’s perfectly fair, square, and legal.

I carried you in my womb for nine months. After your birth, Dow got wise to my plan and took me to court. They made me out to be a sicko, trying to raise my lover from the dead. As for that young doctor who thought he’d be famous – well, he did a background check on you. He decided that a genius probably wouldn’t have flunked out of college and gone and become an Army cook. So, he had it in for me, too. I hope you weren’t paying much attention to that whole episode, from your cozy spot on the other side. It was humiliating.

Dow called in your relatives from Cobb County, and they made me out to be a possessive, obsessive lover who kept them away from you in your dying days. I wasn’t surprised. They’ve always hated me, all the more so because I refused to give them our furniture when you died. Madame Mauritza stared at me apologetically from the witness stand and wept as she admitted how many times I had called her for psychic counseling after you died. My phone bills spilled over onto the courtroom floor. The prosecuting attorney got all self-righteous about clones being humans, too, with full rights under the Constitution. He cast me in the light of a child molester. I’m amazed I didn’t get a dishonorable discharge. The only way I could keep from losing the respect of everyone I knew was to deny any desire to keep you as my child and to deny that we had even been lovers at all. In retrospect, I suppose it would have been a little incestuous, to raise you as my child only to eventually make you my lover. But I could see you, Agnes, in that tiny little squinched-up baby face. Right after you were born, I held you to my breast and thanked God for giving you back to me.

Now it’s just a matter of time till I get you back for good. Meanwhile, I keep you alive within me. I go over my favourite memories at least twice a day, usually as I drive to work in the morning and again right before I go to sleep. I picture you frying green tomatoes in the kitchen, walking Trixie in the park, or behind the wheel of your little pick-up, blonde head bobbing with the bumps of the dirt road. I remember your hand in mine, small against my bigger hand. I pray every night that your clone doesn’t just look like you. I pray that she really is you, inside and out. In six years, I’ll know.

Brooke Campbell is a graduate student in Comparative Literature at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.