Sylvia’s Clone by Vicky Somma

“My clone is my replacement,” Sylvia said, voice shaky, tears welling in her eyes.  “I don’t know if that was always the plan… or if it just happened.”

I handed her the box of tissues that I keep in my office specifically for such occasions.  She dabbed her eyes and looked out the window for some time.

She sniffed, took a deep inhale and looked back at me.

“Tell me about your decision to clone.”  I said.

“It was his idea.”  She said, “One night he made me dinner.  Chicken Marsala.”  She closed her eyes, remembering the entree, “It was delicious.  And after dinner, he poured me some wine and took me over to the couch.  He held my left hand between his.  ‘You’re beautiful,’ he said, ‘You are the woman I always dreamed of.’  And he told me things all these things he loved about me, all these things that made me great.  And at the end, he said, ‘I think you should be cloned.’”

“How’d that make you feel?” I asked.

Just her eyes looked briefly to her left.  “It made me feel wonderful.” She said, “I think that’s the most flattering thing anyone can say to someone.  We all like to hear we’re pretty.  We all like to hear we’re smart.  We all want to know that we are loved.  What better testament is there than that?  Someone loves you so much, they think so much of you, that they want another version of you.  Just you.  I never felt more beautiful than that day.  I never felt more loved.”  She lifted a Kleenex to her cheek, just in time to catch a fresh tear. “It was the happiest day of my life.”

“Did you carry her yourself,” I asked, “Or did you use a surrogate?”

“Are you asking because of bonding?  I heard they think you don’t bond as well if you use a surrogate.”

“There are some findings that the bond isn’t as maternal, but there are no indications that the child is not loved.”

Her tears warranted a new Kleenex.  They also answered my question. “You have nothing to feel guilty about using a surrogate,” I said.  She nodded silently.

I let her regain her composure.

“We never had much of a connection,” she said when she felt up to it, “But she loved Gary. Just loved him.  I always knew he would be a great father,” her voice got shaky, “and he was.”  She sniffed and then a slight smile came to her face, “You should have seen them.  I mean he’d come home from work and just the biggest smile would come on her face.  ‘Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!’ and she would run to him and he picked her up with this big bear hug.  A nightly celebration.  And you know, I don’t think there was anything wrong that.  I was the same way with my father. ”

“Little girls are often very attached to their fathers,” I agreed.

“Her favorite color is green.  Even to this day.  When you ask her why, she tells you, ‘It’s the color of my daddy’s eyes.’  Or Dad.  Nowadays she says Dad.” she shook her head, “I never had the heart to tell her that her actual father– he had brown eyes.”

“So she doesn’t know?”

“We wanted her to feel normal.  We wanted her to be a normal child.”

“Is she acting out?”

“Oh no, no.” she said, “Not at all.  She’s a good kid.  She’s– she’s not the problem.  She and my husband, they do everything together.  Her high school, it’s right next to his work. So he drives her in the morning and he picks her up in the afternoons.  They are on a kickball team together, so they do that two days a week.  And really, I mean, I thought it was great.  I really didn’t see anything wrong with it.”

“Then what happened?” I asked.

“We have family dinner on Thursdays.  Just a few months ago, we were all making supper.  Spaghetti, I think.   She bent down to get the colander out of the cabinet and I saw him looking at her.  And I recognized his face.  It’s quiet and subtle, but distinct.  He…he was admiring her butt.”  She inhaled deeply and the exhale was stuttered.

“Have you confronted him?”

She grabbed a fistful of tissues.  “He denies it.  He says he thinks of her as a daughter.  My allegations disgust him.  He says I’m crazy.  I’m not crazy.  I’m not.  I know my own husband.  We’ve been together for thirty-four years.  I know what turns him on.  And…. maybe she’s still a little awkward now.  But it’s not going to be long.  Two years.  In two years, she is going to look exactly the way I did when he met me.”  She blew her nose, “There are a lot of wives who get replaced by younger women.  I just… I mean… this isn’t some striking, young public relations grad.  This is me.  How can you compete?  She has all your strengths.  Only she’s perkier.  Firmer.  Younger.” She looked straight into my eyes, “I know it’s horrible, but I have to do something.”

“If she and your husband are as close as you say they are,” I started.

“My marriage would be dead.  I know that.”

“Have you thought about leaving?  You can take her with you.”

“No, no, no.  She already doesn’t like me.  That’ll make her hate me,” her eyes welled and whispered, “And I already hate her.  I know it’s horrible. I’m not a bad person, I’m not.  But I’m already catching myself saying things to her. Horrible things.  They just slip out.  And I know exactly how things like that can linger.  I know because they lingered with me. ”

So many people when they are making the decision to clone, they think about how much easier it’ll be than a normal child.  After all, they will already know the child’s strengths and weaknesses.  They’ll know all the pitfalls to navigate around.  But at the same time, if anything goes wrong.  If the parent turns on the clone, they also know exactly what buttons to push.   Emotional abuse gets substantially easier with a clone.

“I have no other options.” she said, “This is the only choice.”

“Okay.  As you know, he has no legal claim to parental rights.  She’s your clone.  The choice is yours and yours alone.  I am by no means diminishing your intuition or your assessment of the situation.  But I want to remind you to be sure.   Because of her age and because she doesn’t know she’s a clone, we are going have to relocate her.  That means we’re not just taking her away from her mother and her father.  Grandparents, friends, boyfriends, school, favorite restaurants, everything about her life.  I need to know you’re certain.”

After all the emotion of the interview, I thought she would have some hesitation.  She didn’t.

“I am.” she said.

“Okay then.  My assistant, Valerie, will be taking you through the paperwork.  Most of it is legal.  If you would rather wait until you have counsel, that’s certainly fine.  We aren’t going to go anywhere.  You can take as much time as you need.  There will also be a questionnaire about you.  It’s an aptitude test, really.  Now, when you fill out this form, keep in mind you are answering about yourself.  Don’t tell us strengths and talents you wish you had or think you could have under the right circumstances.  We need to know your actual strengths and weaknesses.  It’s very important that you are as honest as possible.”

“And when all the paperwork is done?” she asked.

“Then we’ll go pick her up,” I said.

I escorted her out to Valerie and then I made my rounds.

First I checked in at the cafeteria.  Here, the world’s most expensive orphans were eating the best we could afford on our budget– sloppy joes.

“Miss Sarah! Miss Sarah! Miss Sarah!” a number of the younger children ran up and hugged my legs.

“Hey guys,” I smiled, “How are you today?”

A chorus of “fines” greeted me.

“Have you learned anything new today?”  Most of the kids nodded, but little Derek, as confident as his father, announced “Noooo!”

“No?  You didn’t learn a single thing yet today?”

“That’s right.”

“Well then,” I said, “Perhaps I have you in the wrong class.”

“Well,” he amended quickly, “I guess I did learn some things about Australia.”

Next, I walked by the classrooms.  I didn’t disrupt anything– just peered through the windows.  This facility is a little different that your typical public schools.  Instead of a rigid regiment of stock subjects– English, Math, Science, History, etc, we do a more targeted learning experience.  We try to emphasize the subjects the children excel at and are fond of the most.  If one is particularly adept at science, we allow them to explore science for most of the day.  If one likes to act, most the day is in the auditorium.  They need stuff to feel good at and we try everything we can do to fuel their passions.  Passion tempers pain.

And there’s plenty of pain that come to these children.  Every now and then, there is a legitimate orphan.  One whose mother or father had passed away and no one was left to care for the clone.  Most of them are abandoned– just as soon as it becomes clear that this child is not going to have any better luck in the Olympics or Hollywood or whatever other outrageous plan the parent had for them.  About fifty percent arrive without knowing they are clones.  So they are dealing with loss of family, loss of home and loss of identity all at the same time.  There are a lot of tears shed in these walls.  The tears shed in my office that morning are nothing compared to the tears routinely shed in the dorm.

That day when I passed through the dorm, I didn’t hear the usual sniffing.  But I did hear little Rae singing softly in her bedroom.

“Nobody likes me,
Everybody hates me,
I guess I’ll go eat worms.”

On the bed sat a girl, just a little pudgier than a normal girl her age.  She held her knees close to her chest.

“Rae?”

“I’m ugly.” she said and wouldn’t even look up at me.

I hadn’t met her mother, but her being ugly wasn’t probable.  There are studies that show people are more likely to watch a good looking baby more closely.  Studies that show good looking people are more likely to get better jobs.  There hasn’t been a study on it, but I think good looking people are also more likely to clone.

“Look at you,” I gently put my hand under her chin and lifted her head up, “Look at those gorgeous, gorgeous blue eyes.  They are so beautiful they way they are dark blue on the outside and light blue on the inside.  You couldn’t ask for better eyes.  And look at this hair.  Perfect auburn and natural curls.  When you get into high school, everyone is going to be jealous of the hair.”

“My teeth are crooked,” she said.  Her teeth were not perfect, but by no means required braces.

“Yeah,” I said, “But have you seen teeth nowadays?  Everyone’s teeth are straight and perfect.  They all look the same.  There’s no personality to teeth anymore!   But yours have personality!  They make you unique!”

“For real?” she asked.

“Of course!”

She smiled and it was a beautiful smile.

I didn’t invent individuation.  I didn’t discover individuation.  But I see it in action every single day.  Clone children want to know they are special.  More than anything in the world, they want to know they are unique.

Rae and I talked for some time, mostly about ponies when Valerie tracked me down.

“Sarah, it’s time.”

My stomach sank and I drove to the high school.  The high school where somewhere nearby a husband worked.  I spoke to the principal.

“I had no idea,” she said, “I mean, I always knew she looked like her mother.”

I waited in an empty conference room while the principal retrieved her pupil for the final time.

I’ve been at this for six years now and I still haven’t found the best thing to say.  All I can do is try my best.

“My name is Sarah.  I work for an orphanage.  There’s been a situation with your parents.  You’re going to be scared.  You’re going to be sad, but you’re not going to be alone.  We are going to take care of you and I promise you– everything is going to be alright.”

“Did something happen to my mother?” she said.

“We can talk more in the car.”

“I don’t want to get in car!” she stood up and backed away from the table, “Was my Mom in an accident?”

Six years and I still get lumps in my throat, “I know this is scary, but we need to go.”

She looked at the principal, “Miss Smith, what happened to my Mom?”

“Go with Sarah,” the principal choked out.

With that, I led a terrified teenager to my car.  Away from her school, her friends and her home.

Not once did she ask about her Dad.

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