July 26th, 2016.
I finally agreed to a TV interview. Just over a week after being tested, I accepted an offer from a national talk show airing in Los Angeles, where I would be interviewed with my parents on the whole ordeal.
A make-up artist primps me up in the dressing room, and I stare anxiously at the watch, knowing I will be on the sofa in less than half an hour, telling my story to the world. I was always reluctant to do something like this, and now that it’ actually happening, I wish I could disappear into the earth. Everyone in the whole world will see this. I guarantee Bret and Naomi will tune in. maybe even Jonesy and anybody else that knew Rose, if they’re still around. I wonder if Tanner will see it. I know Abby will see this, as well as Miles. As well as Carla. All of the people that I lied to or kept this secret from will see me in high definition, trying my best to tell a live studio audience how I feel about it. I don’t know how I feel about everything. Lost. Yeah, I think that’s it; I’m lost.
“Are you ready, Miss Middleton?” a backstage assistant walks in, trying to prep me up for the interview. The butterflies in my stomach are growing more frantic, flapping their thin wings around my guts until I feel nauseous. I don’t know if I can do this, but I know that I have to. I need people to know the truth - the real, honest truth. No more secrets. Not anymore. All the while, I’m thinking of a cute boy named Kal, knowing he’ll be tuning in for sure. I need to swat that out of my mind, because this is about me. This is for me, for once. Me.
Vivian Wilson, the talk show host, also arrives, greeting me with a hug once I step out of the make-up chair. I’ve got to admit – this is the best I’ve probably ever looked. Though I didn’t go to prom, and there have never been many significant events which required looking deceptively beautiful in the past. I just hope it translates through the camera lens when I step out on stage.
“How are you feeling about tonight?” she asks, beaming a luminescent white grin. She smells too good - like a rich forty-something year old divorcee with a house in Beverly Hills and a zillion product endorsements.
“I’m… confident.” I lie.
“Well, that’s lovely to hear! This really is phenomenal,” she shakes her head in wonder. “We’ll discuss more on the couch, alright?” she smiles again before striding out. I sit back down and take a sip of the coffee I was given in a polystyrene cup. It’s definitely something I need to stimulate my senses – I think I would be dead right now without it. I’ve been up for days since finding out about the show, as well as other things. I don’t think I’m an insomniac, but I might be turning into one, slowly and surely.
Soon, the times comes, and the butterflies rile up into a frenzy again. My parents sit on either side of me in the green room as we watch the show, rising on cue to Vivian beckoning us on stage.
The crowd is huge, making me instantly wish that this was a private interview, chopped and changed for the public to view at a later date. Technically this one is also pre-recorded, but this one is still being viewed by a live audience.
I stride on, smiling with my parents following closely behind. I sit at the end of the sofa closest to Vivian whilst my mother and father sit on the outside. I’m glad I don’t really have to face them or have them in my view when Vivian asks me questions.
“So, we’ll start with the parents, Roseanna and Jeff Middleton,” Vivian smiles, signalling to them. “First of all, though this may seem quite… unnecessary in some ways… I would like to tell you how sorry I am for your loss of Jennifer-Rose all of those years ago. It must have been so… painful. Tell me how you remember feeling at the time of her death.”
“Well, I was in pure shock and denial,” my mother begins. “It just didn’t make sense to me. I mean, I know people die. I just couldn’t think that way about my daughter. I always thought that I would be gone before she was. It’s heart-breaking having to bury your own child.”
“I’m sure it is, dear. I’ve lost many people in my life, and I understand that feeling – the idea that tragedies could never happen to someone you know and love.” Vivian shakes her head. “How… how was the experience of the day of the shooting? I mean, what was supposed to be a day of celebration quickly turned on its head. That must have been surreal.”
“Well,” my father steps in. “We just wanted to know if she would survive, once we realised that she wasn’t dead. That was the sole thing we cared about. Everything else didn’t seem real enough to register – even the possibility of her actually being dead.”
“…And what went through your mind when you found out that she wouldn’t make it, eventually?”
“We didn’t want to believe it. They told us that she was brain dead, and there was no way she would wake up again. To us, that didn’t mean she was dead. We had hope, right until the very end.”
“But you had already began planning out your final resort, hadn’t you?”
“Within the next few weeks of finding out that the damage was irreversible, we went out to seek help with the unimaginable. You know, a final plea. It was extreme, but I had a gut feeling about it. It stayed with us for a long time, and we felt that we had to act on it.”
“And I’m sure you’re pretty darn glad you did!” Vivian laughs. I can tell my parents are nervous too – the way they answer things is not the way they normally would. They sound meeker, and much less brave. “So… you met with Dr. Vincent Farrow. Were you familiar with him beforehand?”
“No – we found out about him in the local news,” my father says. “There was something compelling that drew us to him.”
“You know, some would say that is the Grace of God,” Vivian says. “He leads us to the extraordinary every now and then. But anyway, this isn’t a Sunday session!” she laughs, causing the audience to do the same. “So… tell me about the process. How did it all go down, and how many attempts did it take?”
So my father tells her, and we watch as her jaw drops, discovering that I was made during the one-hundred and thirtieth try. “So many other potential clones didn’t make it!” she gasps. “It’s kinda like IVF in a way, isn’t it?”
“In some ways, yes.” Roseanna says. “Especially with using my eggs and implanting the successful zygote.”
“Did any qualms plague your mind? Didn’t you think at any point that this may not work out, or did you ever consider quitting completely?”
Of course they didn’t. “Yes, we did. Many times, in fact. We knew eventually we would have to give up, in the same way that we had to give up on Rose, if it didn’t work out.” my mother says.
“Did it ever cross your mind that ethically… this could be wrong?” Vivian asks. So the grilling begins. At least it will loosen everything up by the time she begins asking me. For now, I just sit quietly and absorb everything.
“We know this is terrible, but for us, ethics didn’t come first. We just wanted our daughter back.”
“Simple answer. Fair enough,” Vivian sips the drink on her table. “So, let’s move on. Tell me a little bit about Rose, and then about Anne. Tell me if Anne really is a copy of Rose. Is she as you predicted?”
“Well,” my father chuckles again. “They are the same in many ways. Not just physically. Their body language and the way they carry themselves is identical. Rose was always full of energy, and so is Anne. Whenever Rose wanted something, she would make sure of it happening. It’s the same with Anne. In fact, they share similar traits to my wife.” The audience laugh.
“I see. So in no way is Anne different from Rose?”
“It’s hard to tell. They were born in different eras in time, under completely different circumstances. We’d never know if Rose would have acted the same way as Anne if it was the other way around.”
“Fair enough,” Vivian nods. “So how much did this all cost?” she jumps straight to the next topic as if she is bored - is if she is eager to ask the questions she knows everybody is dying to find out.
“It cost around two-hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, which is relatively pretty cheap compared to other cloning processes. We were lucky to have Farrow participate.”
“That’s lovely,” Viv smiles her fake smile. “Now, before we move onto the star herself, I have one more question to ask the parents. Would you condone cloning on a larger scale? Do you have any regrets with the decision you made?”
They look at each other before my mother speaks. “We don’t condone it exactly on a wider scale. What we did was something that was induced quite significantly by fate-”
“But, say science progresses, and cloning became as easy as IVF, would you buy into it?”
“We cannot control what people want to do. What we did was purely out of love and grief, and nothing else. We think human cloning should be limited to emergency situations – like not using donors who are alive or have no threat of death. Using healthy donors. Making sure that the benefit outweighs the cost. People should not do it for the reasons we did, and they shouldn’t be as impulsive as we were about it.”
“But does the benefit ever outweigh the cost?” she digs. “Well… we’ll find out from the clone herself, the lovely Jennifer-Anne after the break. Stay tuned.” She winks at the camera as the audience fade into a dull applause.
“I’ll begin by stating how stunning you look. Boy, those dimples! To die for!”
I smile bashfully in response, suddenly fully aware that my every movement is being recorded. “Thank you.”
“I just thought I’d jump straight in - when did you find out that you were… a clone?”
“My parents sat me down and told me when I was thirteen,” I lie. My parents don’t see it coming, I can tell. They thought I might have thrown them under the bus – but that can wait. “I sort of had the odd feeling. Seeing all of these photos of Rose around the house gave me an eerie sensation, because at times, it felt like I was looking at past or future versions of myself. I just knew that how Rose looked when she was sixteen was how I would look. So… I didn’t know until I was told but I had an instinctive feeling that something was different about me.”
“And how did you react?”
“With shock and denial,” I purposefully use the same words my parents used. “I instantly had no clue who I was. I still don’t.”
“Hmm. Did you… or do you resent your parents’ decision in making you?”
I look over to them. “Yes. They know that very well.”
“Are you saying that you wish they never went ahead with it?”
“… In a way, yes.”
“But are you not happy to be alive right now?”
“I guess I am.” I’m thinking of Kal, and my siblings, my friends, and nobody else. “But… my existence is not necessary. It’s not spontaneous, or passionate. At least that’s not how I feel. I spend my life constantly sizing myself up to the person I was literally made to be. It drives me mad.”
“So… you wish you were never born?”
“Listen,” I say, getting impatient. “There are more implications than internal conflict, like the likelihood of random mutations and a weaker immune system. I was always being treated for some minor illness as a child. My health is deteriorating constantly.” I feel my parents squirm in their seats, hoping I don’t continue. Hoping I don’t let Vivian know what’s really happening to me. “Viv, the truth is…”
“What? What is the truth?”
“The truth is that… right now, I don’t know how much longer I will live for.”
The entire studio erupts in gasps and murmurs of surprised conversations between them. My mother puts her head in her hands, as my father wraps his arm around her back. Vivian’s eyes are wide, the whites shining through as bright as her teeth.
“That can’t be true.” She whispers.
“I’m dying, Vivian.” I look out to the crowd. “You see what happens when you try and recreate things? They malfunction. They stop working. And I’ve stopped working.” My throat closes up, and my head throbs with tears. Soon, they can’t stop spilling. “I’ve stopped working.”
“I’m afraid to tell you that your daughter, little Rosie here, has been found to have a very rare heart condition, similar to that of dilated cardiomyopathy. Though a lot of people with the condition rarely suffer life-threatening symptoms and can carry on with their lives as usual, the difference in Rose’s case is that is guaranteed to cause heart failure into adulthood. The minor symptoms she is showing now point to that possibility. Though it may not be the case, the tests we have run means it’s highly likely. And the fact that two people died of heart-related complications in your family, Roseanna, heighten the likelihood.” The doctor tells the couple as they sit in the hospital with the playful infant.
Roseanna and Jeff sit speechless, as Roseanna clutches onto Rosie for dear life. She continues playing with her stuffed teddy bear, not cognitively aware of the conversation regarding her suddenly short life expectancy.
“All I can do is encourage you to let her live her life to the fullest, and to refrain from letting her know about the imminent threat of her illness too early on in life. Maybe her into something, like tennis, or dancing for the meantime. Something she can hold on to as she grows up. It’s better to have a productive life full of achievements and accolades instead of one she won’t want to look back on.”
“God, no, no, no,” Roseanna begins. She mustn’t cry, whatever she does. “Please tell me this is a dream.”
“We wish we could tell you that it was, I’m afraid. The mortality rate is not that high, and you can still live a perfectly fulfilled life with the condition. It is what is known as dormant, meaning it’s more of being born with a switch or a lever that can turn on at some point in the future, as opposed to a being born with a switch that’s already on. If that makes any sense. It doesn’t necessarily have a trigger, but obvious heart hindrances are cited as possible prompts – stress, unhealthy eating, etc. As long as she lives a happy, healthy life, most things will be OK. Complications are less likely, or prolonged.”
Jeff clenches and unclenches his jaw, looking around the room like he’s lost. Then he loses it, slamming his foot on the ground before standing up and kicking his chair behind him. “Goddamn it!” he yells. “Why? Why us? Why my little girl, of all people? What did we do to deserve this?”
Roseanna just cradles her child softly, squeezing her eyes shut so she doesn’t cry.
She always wants to look strong for her daughter.
Jeff hasn’t said a word since they got in the car, and Rose just sits at the back on her seat, staring blissfully oblivious outside the window, up at the sky.
Roseanna is scared for the future. She is in pure denial. She can only dream of a good ending. She’s scared, but she doesn’t want to be.
She should start preparing herself for the worst now, before it’s all too late.
She needs to learn to let go.
She needs to let go.