The More I Disappear…
It’s hard to remember that he’s not me. Not exactly anyway. Genetically speaking, yes, he’s a perfect match. But since the moment he was born our experiences have been slowly and steadily forming us into different people. Driving us further and further apart, like two roads diverging in the woods, never to cross paths again.
But when I look at him, all I can see is myself at ten years old.
I guess we should consider ourselves lucky, since we can’t have children of our own. Hardly anyone can nowadays. They say it’s from all the genetically modified food we eat. Cloning is the cure for the disease that cloning gave us. Like a snake eating itself.
At the very least this all makes the birds and the bees conversation less awkward. When Jr. asked where babies came from, all I needed to explain was that we gave my DNA sequence to the geneticists and they gave mom a fertilized egg to carry.
I don’t know how I’ll explain sex when the time comes. I don’t even know how I explain it to myself anymore. Suddenly, the whole thing makes me self conscious.
But that’s always been my problem. I’m stuck inside my own head. But Jr. isn’t. He has friends. He’s confident. He’s not too shy, not too lost in thought to connect. He’s me without all the crap I thought makes me who I am.
As we sit at dinner, he’s quiet. He doesn’t feel the need to fill the silences the way I do and always have. He doesn’t need to tell that joke to make mom laugh or to distract dad from becoming violent when he drinks too much. He just sits there and takes it all in. The way a kid is supposed to. The way I could have been. Now I fill the silences.
At dinner he glances at a scar that I have on my forearm. He points at it with his fork. “Where did that come from?”
I look down. The faded memory of that autumn day in the park near my house, the damp leaves and the smell of blood on cold steel.
“When I was eleven I thought it was a good idea to ride my bike down a slide,” I say.
“Will I get that scar too?”
“No,” I say. “You’re smarter than I was.”
“Are you sure?” he asks, feeling at his arm.
“We’re different people,” I say. “Remember?”
“Hey, sweetie,” my wife says to him. “Your eleventh birthday is coming up soon. What do you want to do for the party?”
He sets down his fork and thinks. “What did you do?” he asks me. “For your eleventh birthday?”
“I’ll have to look at the video,” I say, even though I practically remember every detail. It was the highlight of my young life. I decide that I’m going to make this party the highlight of his.
“And what do you want for a present?” my wife asks him.
“A tablet,” he says without hesitation. “Space gray, with a retina display.”
“Are you sure?”
“Not a dog or cat or anything?” she asks.
He shakes his head.
My wife looks at me and nods. Orders received.
As I drive him to soccer practice he asks, “Dad, who am I supposed to marry?”
“What do you mean?” I ask, smiling at him in the rear view mirror. “You can marry whoever you want, bud.”
He nods and thinks. “Will mom have a clone someday?”
“When we can afford it. But you won’t be able to marry her.”
“She’ll be your sister.”
“I can’t marry my sister?”
I shake my head.
I think for a moment. Genetically speaking they’ll be the same as me and my wife, with no overlapping DNA that makes incest such a societal no-no. But they’ll be raised together, as brother and sister, for all intents and purposes related.
“Because it’s against the rules,” I say finally, as a cop-out.
“Don’t you love mom?”
“Yeah, I do. But me and you are different people, remember? Your mom’s clone won’t be her, it’ll be your sister.”
“So I’ll have to marry someone else?” he asks.
“Someone I don’t know?”
He looks out the window, quiet for the rest of the drive.
As he plays soccer with the other little clones I sit in the car and watch as a bead of rain falls slowly down the windshield. It leaves a ghost of a streak behind and gathers moisture as it descends. Suddenly it hits the wipers at the bottom and disappears.
I do realize that I’m trying to raise him the way I wanted to be raised, and maybe that’s wrong. I think that if I stand back let him decide for himself what he wants and what he likes, then I won’t be making the same mistakes my parents made on me.
But it still feels like an uphill battle. When we argue it goes on for days, the way I used to argue with my dad. Except Jr. knows how I think. He knows how I operate. And in the end if I don’t concede he says, “I’ll never do this to my son.”
“You will,” I say. “You’ll see.”
“But we’re different people,” he says sarcastically. “Remember?”
Cocky little bastard.
I show him the Star Wars films in the order that I saw them; original trilogy first, prequel trilogy second. But he likes the prequels better. God, where did I go wrong as a father? I probably should have waited until he was a teenager.
My wife reminds me of the fact that the prequels are mostly about clones and perhaps it was for that reason he felt more of a connection towards them. I guess I should have seen it coming.
Now he makes sure to ask what I think of something before giving his opinion, that way his answers can align with mine.
One day I notice a scar on his forearm. It’s my scar on his forearm. I stop dead in my tracks.
“How did that happen?” I snap.
“I don’t know.”
What’s happening? Is this fate? Was I destined to get that mark on my arm? What else will he begin to get that’s mine? My memories? My thoughts?
My wife examines the scar and realizes that it is, in fact, slightly different than my scar. Close but no cigar. Later that night he admits to doing it himself. Carved it with a broken glass bottle, of all things. Somehow he managed to keep it hidden from us for weeks, until it had healed.
He wanted to be like me, he says with tears in his eyes. Why the hell would he want that? I’m the messed up one.
“You’re going to be a better version of me,” I tell him.
He doesn’t seem to understand that though. Maybe he can’t understand it, not until he has a kid of his own. And he’ll be ahead of the game, he won’t have any of my scars, specifically the ones that can’t be seen.
But I still can’t help being annoyed at the generation gap. He can’t be bored, not even for a second. He’s glued to his phone. Mindlessly surfing the web or playing a game.
“Why don’t you go out and play with your friends?” I ask him.
“I am playing with them. Online.”
I take the phone from him and make him read a book. He’ll thank me for this when he’s older.
I watch the video from my eleventh birthday, keeping notes on every little detail. The party is in our kitchen. There’s a chocolate birthday cake. Me and my few friends played pin the tail on the donkey. Perhaps as his own special gift my dad didn’t even drink that day, and to top it off, at the end of the party he took me aside and gave me his old pocket watch. I was old enough to take care of it now.
I go and dig it out of my closet. After a good winding, I’m thrilled to find it still works. Still ticking away, counting the seconds that have passed in my father’s life, in mine and in my son’s. Escorting us on our way to the grave.
I re-watch the birthday video to make sure I got all the details right.
My wife comes in and examines the notepad. “Should we bother recording Jr.’s party or should we just give him a copy of this video?”
I stop to consider.
“The fact that you have to even think about it should tell you something,” she says.
I look at my eleven-year-old self on screen, smiling ear to ear, singing with my friends. “He’ll like this.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because I liked it.”
The day comes and it’s a carbon copy of my day. The cake, the game of pin the tale on the donkey, even the music. I look around smiling ear to ear. Somehow, I’ve recreated my childhood. I glance at Jr. but he is already looking at me. He can see how important this is to me and he makes sure he’s pretending to have a great time. But there’s none of the joy in his eyes that there was in mine. All there is is blankness.
I want him to be happy. I want him to not worry about things, but I realize the more I try to make that happen the more it disappears.
I tell all the kids that the festivities are over and they can go and do whatever the heck they want. They go to the living room and stare at their cell phones, their brains mingling in cyberspace.
Later I call Jr. to my office. I can tell he’s worried.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“Nothing, I just wanted to give you your present.”
His eyes grow big. I take the small box from my jacket pocket. I instantly see he’s disappointed that it’s not in the shape of a tablet. He opens the package and pulls out the pocket watch by it’s chain.
“It’s cool,” he says and fakes a smile.
“It was my father’s,” I tell him. “Now, I know it’s not what you wanted, but I thought it would be better if this gift meant something.”
“That’s better right?”
He nods. With a hug he thanks me. Clearly he doesn’t get it.
“You can go and play with your friends now,” I say, feeling confused.
Jr. approaches the other clones. They look up from their screens for a moment to see what he got. He holds up the pocket watch in the way that someone might hold a participation medal. His friends shrug and look back down.
I shake my head and glance at my wife, who’s been watching me. “Youth, huh?”
“If you wanted your gift to mean something why didn’t you give him something he would care about?”
“I thought I did. Kids don’t care about legacy, I guess.”
“When was the last time you touched that watch?”
I cross my arms and stare at the floor. “I can’t remember.”
“I think you should give him something that would make him happy.”
I run to the store and buy a tablet — space gray, with a retina display.
His friends “ooh” and “ahh” when he opens the box and goes through all the features. Suddenly he’s a celebrity. It’s the highlight of his young life.
I smile and realize that my childhood is gone and it’s not coming back.
He will never be me. And the more I try to make him me the more I disappear from him. Maybe his son will be like me, but probably not. I fill the silences. My son pretends to be happy. Who knows what his son will be like. All I can hope is that he inherits some of my good qualities and passes them on.
At least my genes will go on forever. That’s the one thing we’ve got on the previous generations. People used to pick someone to mix their DNA with in order to make a copy of themselves. And at best they got someone who was 50% like them. Now we get an exact replica.
They’ll feed my DNA into the machine and out will pop the next me. And there will always be someone like me walking the earth, someone who, genetically speaking, is a perfect match. But he won’t be me at all.
They’ll keep drifting further and further away from me until there’s not a single thing of me left. Until I’m completely gone. Like a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy.