Rebecca’s Clone by Vicky Somma

My clone is a mnemonic device.

There are those, still in this day in age, where as they approach death, they embrace religion.  They don’t attend a day of church for decades.  They lie and philander on Facebook and laugh at the misfortune of others on YouTube.  Then suddenly as bones creak and lenses cloud with cataracts– when it is close to game time — that’s when suddenly they grow concerned, when they gravitate towards the altar as if it were the latest Apple product.

For me, it’s not the prospect of death that frightens me.  I am not fazed by either the alleged fires of hell or the more likely void that accompanies death.  It’s the journey getting there that scares me.  It’s the actual process of dying.  I have my grandfather to thank for that.

“Have I told you this story before?” my grandfather once asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well get used to it,” he chuckled as he filled his pipe, “I’m an old man!”

How endearing and humorous it was, back when he was a mere seventy-five.  Twenty years later, the tune had changed.

“Have I told you this before?” he’d ask.

“YES,” I’d yell so he could hear me.

He looked at me with increasingly cloudy eyes.  His right hand, stained with decades of tobacco smoke, grabbed my wrist.

“Don’t ever get old,” he said, “Die young!”

They say it is a shame when a parent outlives his or her child.   I think it is a greater tragedy when the body outlasts its mind.

Knowing his memory was mortal, I tried to squeeze out details and trivia and sound bites for future generations while I could. Sometimes I brought along old fashioned photo albums to see what stories Grandpa would share.  One day, I flipped through the album and to my surprise Grandpa was quiet.  He didn’t say a word.  Eventually his posture started to shift a bit in his chair and occasionally he’d like out a long sigh.

Finally he spoke up, “Listen lady– why are you showing me pictures of people I don’t know?  Can’t you see I’m an old man?  My time is in short supply!”

I had been showing him pictures of my college graduation six months earlier.  The people he didn’t know were his own children, his grandchildren and his late wife of 65 years.  I had even shown him a picture of himself!

I apologized and switched to a different album.  This one was of tattered black and whites that had criss-crossed the country visiting homes of various relatives who promised to put their scanners to use.  The first picture was one of Grandpa in high school.  If it weren’t for the ink caption on the back, I would have never have recognized him.  He was scrawny, wearing ridiculously short shorts and holding a ridiculously heavy tennis racket.  His face was firm and fresh.  His eyes were not obscured by thick glasses.  His hair was dark.  None of the imperfections, the landmarks I knew so well, were yet present on his skin.

“Ah….” Grandpa smiled looking at the picture, “I remember that day.”  He started to tell me a story about meeting a woman with beautiful red hair.

For me, the sagging skin and wrinkles is what made Grandpa’s face familiar.  For him, it was camouflage.

The day I found out I had more of Grandpa’s genes than I would like to admit is the day I started to save up for my clone.  Of all the people I was going to forget in the coming years, who would be the last one?  Myself.  My younger self.

I’m not a wealthy woman and this was by no means an inexpensive venture.  I saved for years.  I penny pinched, ate canned goods, stayed at home.  Many lovely garments were to be found at the Salvation Army.  Sure, there were times I would succumb to temptation– I’d take trips here and there.  There’s no sense in not having any life at all just to preserve the first few years.

And that’s why it took me so long.  As far as “clone” parents go, I believe I’m one of the oldest.  Who knows?  Maybe I am the oldest.  Most people raise their clones as children.  I’m raising mine as a grandchild.  I think the age difference may be to my advantage.  Oh, every day you read about people being outed.  As their clones grow up, the resemblences are hard to hide.  That’s something I won’t have to address.  I’m snug and safe underneath my grandpa’s camouflage.

I named her Sogra.  She actually doesn’t know this—Her name is Argos backwards.  In Greek mythology, Argos was Odysseus’ dog.  Now Odysseus was away from home for twenty-some odd years.  When he came home, his face and body were weathered.  His wife didn’t recognize him.  His son didn’t recognize him.   The only one who did– was Argos.  Argos was the one who remembered.

Most parents report that time flies.  Even strangers on the street will chirp, “They are all grown up before you know it!”  I certainly wouldn’t have minded if teething and potty training went by a little faster, but other than that, I can agree with the public sentiment.  Especially once Sogra was old enough to have conversations.

“Meemaw,” she asked one day, “What was my mommy like?”

Oh, what an easy question to field.  I described my own mother.  The one who gave me half of my genes.  The one who gave her half of hers.  I described her hair and her raspy voice and the inventive things she did with yarn.  I described her so one day my young charge could describe her back to me.

I finished, completely satisfied with my answer.

“Meemaw,” she said.

“Yes?”

“What was your mommy like?”

“Uh—-” and I was stumped.  I couldn’t very well describe the same woman, now could I?

“I don’t remember.” I finally said.  It was the first time I said that to her.  I’m sure it won’t be the last.

When I thought of a funny story, assuming it was age-appropriate, of course, I’d tell her.

Sometimes I’d end it with, “Have I told you this before?”

When she nodded, I’d laugh and tell her, “Get used to it.  I’m an old woman!”

Sometimes I knew she had heard the story before, but I purposely played dumb so I could repeat it.  More and more though, I would find myself surprised by her answer.

My friend, Brian, asked me once why I didn’t write down all these tales instead of telling her.  When your eyes fade and arthritis makes it hard to scroll, are you really going to want to read?

”Why not record it?” was his follow-up question.

“Have you ever listened to a recording of yourself?” I asked him.  Even in the best circumstances, your voice doesn’t sound the way you think it should.  Why would I want to listen to an old lady ramble on about her life?

There were some stories that interested Sogra more than others.  I’m an old woman, but I’m not naive.  I’ve caught her eyes glazing over and her half-hearted attempts to stifle yawns here and there.  But there was one subject she never seemed to tire of.  She loved to hear about snow.  We had an awful lot of it back when I was growing up– but it was pretty non-existent by the time Sogra came along. I told her about the likes of snowmen and snowballs and impenetrable snowforts.

“So you can make stuff out of it?” Sogra asked.

“Yup,” I said.

“Like clay!” she concluded.

“Yeah…I guess.  I never thought about it that way!”  I smiled.  She may have my eyes, but she sees things differently.

Time and time again, I’d tell her about the streets blanketed in white and how fresh and pure the air seemed after a snow.  And time and time again, she’d be riveted.  She’d lean in with wide eyes as if I were describing purple unicorns or dancing elves.

One morning, I guess she was about nine or so, she came tearing into my bedroom.  “Grandma!  Grandma!  Grandma!  Come look!”

“No woman over the age of fifty should have to get out of bed before noon,” I quoted Mamie Eisenhower to her, but I got up anyway.   There was something in her eyes.

She led me to the front door and opened it.  I squinted at the brightness.  She looked at me and grinned.

“Cold clay!” she said.

I didn’t really have any winter clothes anymore, but we bundled up the best we could and went out to explore.

You know how if you are trying to remember a line from a song, it helps if you sing the lines leading up to it?  You can think on your sofa all day long and nothing.  But you sing a few bars and the missing words just roll off your tongue naturally.

The same goes for other memories.  Once we were out in the snow, surrounded by it, walking on it, touching it– recollections multiplied.

“If it is still snowing tonight,” I told her, “Look up near a streetlight.  It’ll look like you’re traveling in space.”

We threw snowballs, first at each other and then we taunted the neighbor’s dog with a futile game of fetch.  The poor thing could never find the ball once it landed.  We also tried to make a snowman, but I’m afraid he looked more feeble than I.

At one point, Sogra stopped near a tree.

“Is that—” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, “That’s the dreaded yellow snow.”  We laughed and laughed and laughed.  You’d expect middle school boys to carry on like that at the mere mention of urine, not one old lady and a little girl.

When we came to a nice slope, I called out to her, “Watch this!”

And with that, I plopped my old body in the snow and architected one pure bred, exceedingly perfect, snow angel.

By the time we got back inside, my socks were soaked.  My feet were cold prunes.  My fingers were like icicles.  But the part of me that hurt the most was my face.  It hurt from smiling so much.  I had smile cramps.  At that moment, more vividly than retelling any story, I remembered what it was like to feel young.

That very night, I booked us a trip to the shore– eight months in advance.  When summer came, I wasn’t as active of a participant.  I sat under an umbrella with a book I never opened and just watched.  I got to witness the evolution of her relationship with the sea.  At first she’d run towards the water as the waves retreated.  When a fresh wave rolled in, she’d shriek and run back towards the sand with a huge smile on her face.   Later she didn’t run away from the waves— she stood on shore and simply jumped over the water like it was a skip rope.  Near the end of the week, thanks to a young gentleman, she actually braved the breakers.  She even body surfed our last day– got water up her nose.

When she was building a sand castle, I did intervene.  I cupped wet sand in my hands and let it slowly dribble over one of the towers she built, giving it a beautiful, cavern-like texture.

“Like this?” she said and there in my field of vision were two sets of hands.  Hers, delicate and ivory, and mine with swollen knuckles and liver spots.  Two sets of hands, the same hands, working for the same cause.

There are few things that don’t change from generation to generation.  Housing developments change, storefront changes, the appliances in our homes change.  But at the beach, I was reminded of things that persist.  Take the horseshoe crab.  It’s still the same, the way it has been for millions and millions of years.  It stays steadfast from human generation to human generation.  And when she stumbled on an overturned one at the shore, she watched its alien, spidery legs flinch with the same hesitated curiosity I, and many, many other children, had before her.  We digitize our great works and preserve historical sites with diligence.  But the greatest time capsules we have at our disposal are the long lived species.

I watched her suspiciously side step a dead jellyfish the same way I did a lifetime ago.  I watched her dig for sandcrabs and baby clams, following the telltale air holes after a wave.  She listened for the ocean in an seashell.  She fed seagulls.  With some prodding, she finally worked up the courage to touch that horseshoe crab.

Our time at the shore ended, but now I had more leads.  We had plenty of species, hidden pockets of memories, to uncover back home.  We unearthed rocks and poked little rollypollies and watched them curl up into armored balls.  I showed her how to make bats dive by throwing pebbles in their path.

“They think it’s a big juicy bug!” I told her.

In the early evenings as the sun set and the mosquitoes began their usual onslaught, I watched her catch fireflies.  Like me, she wanted to free them in her bedroom.  Her results, like mine decades before, were as much of a miserable failure.

There were mnemonic mammals as well– dogs, cats, ponies and the most mnemonic mammal of all– humans.  Human boys to be exact.

In late middle school, Sogra found herself smitten with a boy.  Oh, the memories it brought back– the nervous stomach, the daydreams and hope.  There was a lot of unrest I was familiar with— Does he like me? Will he ask me out?

One day she came home with a glowing complexion and lips that wouldn’t stop curling upwards.

“He kissed me!” she exclaimed.

I was so excited for her, but years of habit kicked in, “Did I ever tell you about my first kiss?”

“Grandma!” she snapped, “We’re talking about me here!”

I hushed and listened as she told me her tale.  I got to relive the same excitement, the same giddiness.  But back in the days of Adam Milton, I didn’t have the luxury of seeing my own face.  I couldn’t watch happiness radiating my complexion.   I couldn’t see all the possibilities twinkling in my own eyes.  I couldn’t see the smile that grew exponentially as the story went on.

That was the day I shut up.  Sure, I’ll tell stories here and there.  But most of the time— watching her was better.

Today, my body still lingers and I’m told I have troubles with my mind in the evenings.  So it seems I find myself close to reckoning time.  Will my plan work?  Will her face, my face, be the beacon of familiarity I had hoped?  Time will tell, time will tell.  But I can’t say I find myself flustered or worried.  Rather, I’m very much at peace.

My eternity can be a hellfire or a black, dark void.  I can spend my last years confused and scared.  But at the end of the day— I got to live some of the happiest days of my life, not once, but twice.

Who could hope for more?

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