Excerpt from “Poor Dreamers”
I locked her up thirty-three years ago. Her name is Sarah. I love her more than anything. I love her more than my own life. There has been a lot said these days about life being a gift. But it sometimes feels like we prize more life than a better one. I don’t. Michael and I believe that any life lived, no matter how short, is worth living well. And when we lay in bed at night and think about everything we regret together, when the only thing behind our eyelids and in the palms of our hands and plastered on the ceiling is an imprint of Sarah, we know that our lives, with all of our swimming doubt and our relapses into anger and impatience with each other and our fear of judgment, we know that our lives, far from being long and happy, will have always been short and full of suffering. Every life is…
“I doubt this will become legal,” I said.
“Of course it will! Yes it will. Don’t you see? Nothing can happen to him in there. He’s kept safe from all the cancer and all the disease and broken bones in all the world.” Jill motioned over to the chunky thing on Jack’s knees. “And when we can finally tell them and they find a cure for cancer, it will be like he came back to life.”
As soon as she said that, I remember, Jack lost his grip of the unit and it dropped on the floor. There was a snapping sound and my ribs rattled. His neck. His neck, I thought. Jill fell onto the floor on her knees and began uselessly fondling the unit around the blue cubes. Jack came down and immediately pressed in certain corners of the unit. We heard a sizzle and then a release of pressure, like a breath. And then we heard crying.
Jill lifted Cheston out of the machine, a blue naked boy, his skin the complexion and texture of a big wet raisin. She kissed him and cried and brought him into the kitchen and lifted her shirt and breastfed him as if she had been doing it every day for the past five months.
They explained the situation to their family, but when they heard about it, it was very much unlike he had been raised from the dead. The whole family treated him like some secret, something to be whispered about. And they loved him. But I don’t think any love passed between our friends and their family after that. I don’t know if they were scared of the LPO or the police, but Jill stopped inviting her family over. And they stopped inviting her. Then they stopped talking to each other. And two years later, Cheston died of cancer.
It made sense to put your child in a unit back then. The cancer pandemic was real and it was serious. Like cancer had always been, it was unexplainable. But around the middle of that first decade, cancer acted differently than it ever had. A lot of people thought it was adapting. Like they knew what cancer even was. We have a better idea of it now almost forty years later, but our better ideas about it are simply that we now know we knew nothing. It’s a start. There was a peak period where a lot of older women were getting breast cancer and older men prostate cancer. But polls showed a steady increase of cancer developing in younger and younger demographics. Around 2010 and 2011, the majority—by which I mean, over 50%—of two and three year olds were dying of any and all forms of cancer. Abortion was becoming increasingly popular for parents to deal with this, but with such a dramatic decrease in population growth, it was becoming a very bad option for the country. In the midst of this, the No-Cryo Company stepped in. The company promised an alternative to both abortion and raising a child doomed to die. They would provide you with a sleeping jar that would preserve the life of your newborn, until a cure for cancer was found. The child, they said, could be preserved indefinitely by their advanced techniques. Allegedly, most profit went to private research to find a cure. Not a bad deal for most parents, except the units were exceedingly expensive to buy and even more expensive to maintain. Besides, few knew about it and if they did, they only told people that would consider the sleeping jar as an immediate option for their family. It was not legal.
Before Cheston died of cancer, I got pregnant. I was twenty-one. It was my first child. I had to make a choice. I could have either raised my child, who would probably die within three years, or I could give her a real chance at a better life. I had seen that the unit kept Cheston alive for over five months. And in the span of time between first meeting Cheston and getting pregnant, No-Cryo had gone public and was undergoing heavy reformation—so was the LPO, which was becoming less of a threat.
Michael and I agreed. We were going to put our first and only daughter, Sarah, into a sleeping jar and hope and pray for the day they’d find a cure.