“They wanted to call it hope.” I set down the pen, drew in a long breath, and dug my fingers into the sand beyond my beach towel. I forced myself to think back. Back to when things were actually bad, because I couldn’t afford to lose perspective now.
My pen returned to the page. Mom actually sounded offended at the ridiculous name. She just sat there at my bedside, chatting like everything was normal while I fought back tears and wondered when the next time I woke up would be.
“Hope is a thing you wish for,” she’d complained. “Something that might work. This is a sure thing.”
I’ll never forget that self-satisfied grin on her face when she told me they were going to call it the golden cure or the golden. . . . I don’t remember, something equally ridiculous. I remember wondering if she’d put more thought into naming this than me.
“We’re gonna be so rich, kiddo.” She grabbed my shoulder and gave it an excited squeeze.
And gods help me, I leaned into her touch. A nurse came in then. The redhead. They had names, but I refused to learn them. I hated this nurse the most because she was so damn peppy, but right then, I couldn’t be angry because I was too scared. The cluster surgeries were horrible. There aren’t words to describe the way I felt when I woke up.
I started crying and begging and pleading and grabbing for anyone who got close to me, sure if I just squeezed their hand hard enough, they’d take pity on me and stop. Of course, I knew better. But these moments always had a way of making me revert back to that six-year-old who was scared to go under. Mom gave me a warning look, and the nurse clucked in disapproval before saying something meaningless about how I’d sleep through the whole thing. She actually used the phrase minimum discomfort.
Minimum discomfort? When I next woke, I’d be missing parts. Oh sure, it was all internal stuff you could supposedly live without thanks to dialysis, but I was sick to death of surgeries. All I wanted was to go home. I begged them to stop, knowing that weeks, maybe even months of monitoring loomed before me while the world outside just kept on spinning. It wasn’t fair.
“Count down from ten,” the nurse instructed. Gods, I remember the exact cadence of her voice. I can hear it. This memory is so sharp, so clear, that it’s almost like a movie playing out in my head. But I don’t want to write this like a story. I’m trying to capture how I felt. What I thought. Only what happened next didn’t feel real. Maybe it was the medication, I don’t know. The whole thing felt like it happened on a screen somewhere across the room. In that moment, I was there, but I also wasn’t.
Salt stung my cheeks as I began the countdown. “Ten.”
The door burst open.
“Nine.” The word was out of my mouth before I could process what I was seeing— three strange men with a gun to my doctor’s head.
The one in the middle, Jason of course, not that I knew that at the time, was handsome. It was weird of me to notice that given the circumstances, but I blamed the drugs. They all looked a lot like my parents. Their hair, eyes, skin, everything about them practically glittered gold. I didn’t know what that meant then. But I remember glancing at my IV, wondering if maybe the nurse had mixed up my pain medication. I could feel them kicking in, but waking illusions were new, even for me.
“Eight,” I whispered, my mind hell-bent on following instructions, no matter how illogical.
Jason pushed the doctor forward. “Go on, get the rest of it.”
“What’s the meaning of this?” my mother demanded, moving protectively in front of the bed.
I’d love to think she was protecting me, but I knew all she cared about was her product.
“We’re here for the cure.” Jason thrust a white cooler with a red insignia on it toward the nurse. When his eyes landed on me, he hesitated.
I stopped counting, sensing my chance. “Cure.” The word fell clumsily from my lips. “Me.”
My mother shushed me, but Jason’s eyes softened in sympathy. “How much does she need?”
The doctor exchanged a wide-eyed look with my mother.
“It’s—” I tried again, my fingers biting into the fabric of my blanket. “. . . me. The cure is me.”
He furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”
“She’s delirious,” my mother protested. “She doesn’t know what she’s saying.” She kept babbling, gesturing at the IV drip and demanding the doctor back her up, but Jason’s eyes never left mine.
I focused intently on forming the right words with my mouth. “Don’t . . . let them . . . cut me open again.”
His eyes widened, then darted to my mother who immediately objected, using her politician voice.
I fought to stay conscious through the screams and gunshots, but the cocktail they used to knock me out was too good at its job. My eyelids flagged. Mom’s body hit the floor with a loud thud, but I couldn’t drag myself out of my stupor long enough to process what that meant before consciousness completely slipped away.
I’m better off, I’m better off, I’m better off. If I wrote it enough times, maybe it would feel real. I’m better off. I’m better off, I’m better off, I’m better off. I’m better off.
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