Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tonisha’s Choice

Tonisha ran into the hospital emergency room, tears streaming down her face. After a few seconds of confused searching, she finally found a reception desk, and went up to it. The harried looking woman behind the desk looked up at her as she came over.

“I’m here to see my husband and son,” Tonisha said through gulps of air.

“Your last name?” the woman behind the desk asked in a calm voice.


Tonisha could see a quick flash of surprise in the eyes of the other woman.

“The car accident? Wait right here, I’ll go see if I can find Dr. Piccolo to talk to you.” She said, and then ran off.

Tonisha became more concerned, certain that this was not normal procedure, and that something terrible must have happened to her husband, Lawrence, or her son, Michael. She began to pace back and forth, but made sure that she was never more than a few feet from the reception desk.

Tonisha was about 5’4”, but had long legs that gave her a large stride as she paced. She had a deep, mocha colored skin, and raven black hair, cut short. She had on a dark blue suit and long, black trench coat. As a lawyer, she always felt that these two colors made her appear more intimidating to her opponents in the courtroom. Today, however, as she paced, with tears running down her face, she appeared anything but intimidating.

A few moments later, the woman from behind the counter returned, walking slightly behind an older man in a long white coat.

“Mrs. Benson?” the man said, extending his hand. “I’m Dr. Piccolo.”

Tonisha shook his hand mechanically, searching his face for some sign, good or bad. Dr. Piccolo, however, was very good at his job. His face showed not the slightest hint of emotion. This only enforced Tonisha’s fears.

“Would you mind coming with me?” he asked.

He led her down a corridor crowded with pallets of medical supplies and rushing orderlies into a small room. It had a small, fold away table, a few plastic chairs and a vending machine. He gestured for her to sit before doing so himself. He looked across at her with that poker face and took a deep breath before continuing. Tonisha’s heart skipped a beat.

“I’m not going to lie to you Mrs. Benson,” he said. “The news I have is not good.”

Then just say it, Tonisha wanted to scream.

“Your husbands back injuries were quite severe,” he said in almost a sigh. “We have him stabilized now, but I’m afraid he will most likely be crippled and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.”

“Oh my God,” Tonisha whispered as she collapsed into her chair, her head in her hands. Lawrence wasn’t a professional athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but he did keep himself in shape every day by running and riding his bike on the weekends. Those bike rides were one of his favorite things to do. Now, the doctor was telling her he would never do them again. At least he was alive. Which lead her to her next question.

“What about my son?” she asked in a whisper.

The doctor’s face fell, and Tonisha felt a piece of her soul start to tear itself away from her.

“I’m afraid the news there is even worse,” he said.

“No,” she said in a voice so low it she barely heard it herself.

“I’m afraid that your son was sitting on the side of your husband’s car that was impacted by the other driver,” Dr. Piccolo was saying.

“No,” that piece of her soul was only being held to her by a thin thread now.

“When he was brought into us, of course we did everything we could,” now even the doctor’s voice was breaking.

“No,” the hole in her soul started to howl, a gaping void that demanded it be filled, but there was nothing there to fill it with.

“Sadly,” the doctor was saying, choking on his own words. “Sadly he was… he was dead on arrival. I’m afraid there was nothing we could do for your son. I’m very sorry.”

“No!” this time it was a wild yell, one to match the fury of the void inside her. For minutes, or maybe hours, she was a howling banshee, and the only thing she remembered was yelling and crying. Then, everything was black.

When she woke up, it was in a hospital bed. A nurse was looking over her, smiling and checking her pulse.

“How are you feeling, Mrs. Benson?” she asked in a cheerful tone. Tonisha hated her immediately. How did she feel? Her heart had been torn out of her chest, how was she supposed to feel?

“Dizzy,” was the answer she actually gave, however.

The nurse nodded, as if expecting that answer. “That’s not uncommon after fainting like that,” the young blond said. “Here, drink this water, it will help.”

Surprisingly, the water did help. She felt less dizzy and also felt like she could breath. She went from feeling like she was on fire all over her body to feeling numb. Numb was better. Numb was something she could work with.

“Mrs. Benson?” The nurse was asking again. Apparently, she had been asking it for a few seconds, but Tonisha hadn’t hurt her.

“Yes?” she replied.

“You’re husband is back in his room,” the nurse said. “The doctor said that he really should rest, but that if you wanted to, you could go and visit him.”

Tonisha only nodded, and allowed the nurse to lead her down the hallway and to an elevator. In the trip up the elevator, Tonisha’s mind was simply blank. She was only marginally aware of what was happening. And any time thoughts did try to surface, she pushed them back down. Numb was where she wanted to be. Any place else, any other thoughts, were pain.

She got off the elevator and followed the nurse down the hallway to a room. She walked in and saw her husband, sitting up in a bed, looking at the TV. Seeing him took away the numbness, and she was instantly filled with pain again. It was all she could do to walk to his bedside before she collapsed to her knees and just cried. She could hear him crying as well. The two of them cried themselves to sleep. She was vaguely aware some time later of being picked up and put into a cot next to her husband. She didn’t care. Sleep was another new form of numbness, and she wanted to revel it in as long as possible. Sadly, it didn’t last.

The pain wasn’t as all encompassing as it had been the day before, but it was still too much. Lawrence was still asleep when she awoke, and she decided to let him stay that way. She headed down to the first floor of the hospital and get some breakfast at the cafeteria. That helped her to feel a little better. At least, with food in her system, she could keep better control over her emotions. She got back to her Lawrence in time to see him eating his breakfast. The two didn’t talk much, and instead Lawrence turned on the TV to give them an excuse not to.

Later that day, Lawrence went into his second surgery. The doctor told Tonisha that there would be another two after this one, and that her husband would likely be in the hospital for a good two weeks. She wasn’t sure what to do, but she knew that she wasn’t going to be able to make it back to work. So, she called her office and let them know what had happened. Everything, which caused her to break down in tears again. After she was done, her case load would be transferred to two other lawyers in her office, and she felt better again. She was getting ready to go back to the cafeteria again for lunch when an older man knocked on the door to Lawrence’s room.

“Mrs. Benson?” he asked. She nodded. “Excellent. My name is Doctor Josephs, I’d like a word with you if you don’t mind.”

“Is there something wrong with my husband’s surgery?” she said, fear filling her up from her toes to her throat, constricting everything on the way.

“What?” the old man said. “Oh, no, I’m sure everything there is fine. I’m actually here to discuss another matter.”

He turned and said something to a nurse outside, then closed the door. He moved across the room at sat in the only other chair.

“Let me first express my deepest sympathies for your horrible loss, Mrs. Benson,” he said, and she saw that his eyes were misty just at saying that. She felt a little better, knowing that this man really meant what he was saying. “I know what it’s like,” he continued, “I lost my son when he was four.”

The pain was starting to overwhelm her again. A flash of crimson anger choked it down. “Is there something I can do for you, Dr. Josephs?”

He looked her in the eyes for a very long time. A serious stair, one that she couldn’t help but feel compelled to return. She felt that whatever he was about to say to her, it was going to be profound, life changing. She wasn’t sure she could handle any further life changing right now.

“Mrs. Benson,” he said, “What would you say if I told you that you could have your son back?”

She blinked, unsure she had heard him properly. “What?”

“Allow me to explain,” he said. “See, I am a geneticist, working on a special grant at this hospital to study cloning. Do you know what cloning is, Mrs. Benson?”

She nodded. Her husband was something of a science fiction fan, and had all kinds of stories about clones. And, of course, she remembered the story of the cloned sheep from a few years ago. She wasn’t sure what, if anything, that had to do with her or her son.

“Specifically,” Dr. Josephs said, “I’m studying human cloning.”

Tonisha’s jaw dropped. It was now crystal clear what this had to do with her son.

“You mean to say you want…?” she couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Yes,” Dr. Josephs said. “I want to clone your son. I chose you superficially, because your son was only six months old. The clone wouldn’t be significantly different from your birth son. I’m offering you another chance to have and raise your son all over again.”

Tonisha felt her head swim. “I don’t… I don’t understand,” she said.

“Please understand,” he said. “What I am offering here is a clone of your son. He won’t be exactly the same. Personality traits would be different, but he was young enough that it won’t be that different. And, of course, there’s still the normal gestation period you would have to go through, but genetically, he would be identical to your son. A year from now, you could be raising your son all over again, as if this horrible accident never happened.”

Tonisha looked down at the floor. She had to, because she felt herself being drawn into this man. She didn’t know what to think, but his offer was compelling. It was almost too hard to resist. He wasn’t just offering to give her back her son, he was offering to patch over the hole in her soul. But she hesitated.

“I don’t know…” she said.

“I understand,” he replied. “It’s a big decision, and not an easy one to make. Here’s my card and an information packet,” he handed her a manila folder with some color computer printouts. “Take some time, and think it over. I don’t need an answer from you for at least a month. Talk to your husband. When you’ve made your decision, one way or another, call me.”

He got up and headed towards the door. Before leaving, he stopped and turned to her. The look in his eyes was sad.

“I only wish I had this technology when my son died,” he said. “I would have used it. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I did, Mrs. Benson. That’s why I offered this to you.”

She sat in the room for another hour, when the doctors returned with her husband. Lawrence slept through most of the rest of the day, and she stayed at the hospital for another night. The next morning, both she and Lawrence were feeling good enough to talk. After a few minutes of discussing everything but the accident, she told him about Dr. Josephs and his offer.

“What?” Lawrence said, obviously outraged. “I hope you told that fool to shove his offer up deep where the sun don’t shine.”

She didn’t answer, and avoided eye contact with him.

“You told him yes?” Lawrence said in a softer tone, but one filled with more anger.

“No, of course not,” came Tonisha’s immediate reply. “I just didn’t say no. I told him I’d think about it.”

“What’s there to think about?” Lawrence said.

“What is there to think about?” Tonisha said. The anger was rising inside of her now. “What is there to think about? Do you really need to ask that question? We’re talking about the possibility of getting Michael back. Do I really need to spell that out to you?”

“You’re seriously considering this madness,” he said. “Listen to me Tonisha. Whatever you get out of that cloning processes, it will not be Michael. Michael is dead.”

“Don’t say that,” Tonisha whispered.

“I have to, honey,” he said, his voice beginning to drain of all emotion. “Every time I wake up, every time they take me down to surgery, every time I look at you, I think to myself, why am I still alive? I pray, and hope and wish that somehow, some way, Michael will come back and I’ll be taken in his stead. If I thought for a moment that this processes you’re talking about would really bring Michael back, I would gladly pay for it with my own life. Gladly.”

There was a pause, and Tonisha said nothing. She couldn’t. She knew if she tried, she would break down and cry.

“But, it won’t,” Lawrence said. “Nothing will. I have to live the rest of my life with the knowledge that my son is dead, and I am alive, and there was nothing that I could have done the reverse that. I wish it would bring him back, honey. I truly wish it would.”

Tonisha looked up and saw that Lawrence was crying. It was soft tears, but they were real nonetheless. But now it was her turn to talk.

“Honey,” she said, patting his arm. “Thank you for telling me that. I appreciate your position, I really do. But you have to understand something as well. A part of my soul was ripped from me when I heard that Michael had…” she choked. “And now I have the opportunity to start all over again with him, to go back to being pregnant with Michael again. This isn’t something that someone just ignores, honey. I have to think about this before simply telling him no. I have to.”

“No,” he said simply, and the statement startled Tonisha. “You really don’t.”

She looked into his eyes and saw anger and pain there. He looked at her for only a second before closing his eyes and settled his head into his pillow.

“Go home honey,” he said. “I need to rest, and so do you. Go home, get some sleep, and this will be a lot clearer to you then.”

Tonisha nodded, even though he could see her. She stood up, bent over him and kissed him on his forehead.

“I love you,” she said.

“I love you, too, honey,” he replied, but his eyes stayed closed.

She left the hospital and returned home. The first thing she did was call her sister Riana. Riana screamed at her over the phone for not calling her yesterday, when the accident happened. She wouldn’t accept the fact that Riana lived a two-hour plane trip away as an excuse. In fact, she had decided that she was getting on the two-hour plane and fly over there, right away. She would be there in about six hours, and Tonisha had best have the guest room ready for her. There was no way that Riana would let her little sister be alone at a time like this.

Tonisha was grateful that her sister would be coming out. Riana was crazy, but she always was there for her. Tonisha was happy that someone would be around to take care of her. She really had that ‘I need my mommy’ feeling, and Riana would fit that bill nicely. She hung up the phone after her sister assure her that she would get a cab to her place from the airport, not to worry about anything, and just go to sleep.

Tonisha could not sleep just yet. She ate something, having skipped lunch, and that helped her feel better. Then, she took a hot shower, which helped relax her, some. Finally, she got into bed. Sleep came quickly, and was thankfully dreamless, at least as far as Tonisha could remember. She was awakened by a call from her sister several hours later. Apparently, Riana’s cab had just pulled up outside. Tonisha threw on some clothes and greeted her sister as she got to the door.

“Girl, you are a mess,” Riana said. “When was the last time you ate? Never mind that, Riana is going to make you some of her homemade gumbo. That stuff will stick to your ribs, mm!”

Tonisha smiled a tired kind of smile that crept up one side of her mouth. She couldn’t begin to describe how happy she was to have her sister here at this time of crisis. She helped her sister unpack and then sat in the kitchen while her sister cooked. She described what was happening with Lawrence, and how it was likely that even after all the surgeries, it was likely that he would never walk again. Riana asked how that was possible, and Tonisha informed her that some of the surgeries were reconstructive, like plastic surgery, to make his arms and chest look okay. Both expressed gratitude, however, that at least he was still alive. After some hesitation, she finally told Riana about Doctor Josephs and his offer.

“Hmmm,” was all Riana said at first. Tonisah expected a similar outburst to Lawrence’s, but instead, Riana just stood there, cooking in silence.

“Riana?” Tonisha said. “Did you hear me?”

“Of course I did,” her sister replied. “I ain’t deaf. I’m just thinking about it. It sounds like something from on of your husband’s science fiction movies.”

Tonisha nodded. She had thought the same thing at first.

“You checked this doctor out? Made sure he’s for real?” Riana asked.

“I have,” Tonisha said. “Right after he left, I asked a nurse about him and she assured me that everything he said was true. He’s on the up and up for sure.”

Riana nodded, as if expecting that from her very capable little sister. “Have you told Lawrence?”

Tonisha hesitated. Then, she told her in detail about her conversation with her husband. Riana nodded again, although this time it was more of an acknowledgement rather than some confirmation of knowledge she already had.

“What do you think?” Tonisha asked when she was done.

“Don’t matter what I think,” Riana said right away. “Ain’t my decision. You’re the one that needs to take this to your heart and make the decision that’s right for you.”

“Come on, Ri,” Tonisha said. “I’m asking for your opinion. Please, for me.”

Riana paused, thinking her words over carefully, before replying. “I’d do it,” she said at last.

Tonisha waited to see if there was more, but nothing further came from her sister, who continued to stir the gumbo.

“You would?” she asked. “Why?”

Riana stopped stirring and looked at Tonisha.

“I’ll tell you why, Sha” she said in as serious a tone as Tonisha had ever heard. “Something you don’t know about me. Remember my first husband, that bastard David?”

Tonisha nodded. David was an angry drunk that had beaten Riana several times during their relationship. The only time she had been happier in her life than the day Riana left David was her own wedding.

“Well, I never told anyone, but the reason I left him, that last time he beat me…” she said, and Tonisha saw tears welling up in her eyes. “I was pregnant. About five months along, too. He punched me in the belly several times, and when I went to the hospital after getting his ass arrested, I found that I had lost my baby. And likely the chance to ever have one again.”

“Oh, Ri,” Tonisha said, “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Riana said. “It is what it is. But, yeah, given the chance to get my boy back after having lost him like this, I would take it. Hell, even if, as Lawrence said, he won’t really be Michael, it won’t matter. He’ll be your son, and that’s all that counts.”
Tonisha nodded. This was all stunning news. She wasn’t sure she could take any more of this. The two of them ate Riana’s fantastic tasting gumbo and talked about the things happening in Riana’s life, which included a young twenty something new man in her life, one that kept her awake late at night doing things that no one Riana’s age had business doing with a twenty something. It made Tonisha laugh, and she needed that. Finally, Riana kicked into mother mode, and pushed Tonisha into bed.

“Girl, you look beat,” she said. “I won’t be taking no for an answer, now. You get yourself to bed. I’ll take care of the dishes here.”

Reluctantly, Tonisha did as she was told, and went to sleep. She actually slept fully and restfully, which was the first time since the accident. She had dreams this time, though, and mostly they were about her holding Michael, feeding him, burping him, putting him down to sleep, watching him crawl around the living room. When she woke up, it was pretty early in the morning, and Riana was still sleeping. She made herself some breakfast and showered and started getting dressed to go back to the hospital. By then, Riana woke up.

“You goin’ to the hospital?” she asked. Tonisha nodded. “I called momma last night. She’s going to meet you there.”

Tonisha looked at Riana, and tears started running down her eyes. She hadn’t been able to call her mother herself about this. Momma never did like Lawrence. But she desperately wanted to see her, and was eternally grateful to her sister.

“Thank you, Ri.” She said.

She drove to the hospital, but had to pull over several times to stop and cry. She just couldn’t hold back the tears for some reason. Sadness, anger, grief and even relief for what her sister had done all warred within her. She finally made it there and went upstairs. Her mother was waiting in the family area by the elevators. She sat up immediately and gave Tonisha a big hug. Momma was a large woman, and when she hugged you, you felt it all the way to your bones. It was a good feeling, filled with love.

“Have you been in to see him yet?” Tonisha asked.

Momma nodded. “I just saw him a few minutes ago. He’s as irascible as ever,” she said, but it was with a smile on her face. “You go see him now, we’ll talk when you get back in a few minutes.”

Tonisha nodded and moved down the hall to see Lawrence. She hesitated, afraid. She wasn’t sure if her husband was still angry with her or not. Finally, she realized it didn’t matter. She loved him, and he her, and she just wanted to see him before talking to Momma. She took a deep breath and walked in. When she did, he smiled upon seeing her. They hugged, at least as best as Lawrence was capable. They spoke.

“Honey,” Lawrence said, “I’m sorry about my attitude last night. No, let me speak my peace first. I apologize about getting angry. Understand, my opinion on the matter hasn’t changed, but I understand that you need to think it over.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I still haven’t made my decision, but it makes me fell better that you at least understand why I need to.”

She stayed for about an hour after that, the two of them talking. It wasn’t happy talk. They discussed Michael, and how much they missed him. They talked about Lawrence’s job, and how his paralysis would affect that. She promised to call his boss as soon as she left here to try and get that ball rolling. After all that, he was getting tired, and she told him to get some sleep and left. The nurse told her she would not let anyone disturb him for a while so he could sleep and Tonisha thanked her. Then, she walked to the family area, where Momma was dozing in one of the overstuffed chairs. She sat down on the chair next to her, moved it close, and leaned on her mother’s arm. She felt her mother’s arm move and wrap around her, comfortingly.

“Momma,” she said, “I have a problem.”

“So I’ve heard,” Momma said.

Tonisha sat back up and looked her mother in the eye. “No, I mean something besides this. I need to talk to you about it.”

“Of course, baby girl,” Momma said. “Whatever you need, Momma’s here.”

She told Momma all about the Dr. Josephs proposal, and tried to describe it in as much detail as she could. To head off any questions she knew would come, she informed Momma that she had already spoken to Riana and Lawrence on it, and also shared their opinions about it. She left out Riana’s story about the lost baby, though. After listening, Momma sat for a few moments in silence.

“Well, honey,” she said at last, “I don’t pretend to understand all the science behind it, or how this would bring Michael back to you, but it’s obvious that you believe it will, and so I will believe that as well. I only have one question for you. What do you think?”

“I don’t really know, Momma,” Tonisha said.

“Good,” was the immediate reply.

“Good?” Tonisha asked, an eyebrow arched in confusion.

“Yes, good,” Momma said. “This is a complex and complicated decision. The fact that you don’t know means you haven’t jumped onto a decision either way due to emotions, like your sister and husband have done. You need to make the decision that is right with you and God.

“You don’t think God would be against cloning?” Tonisha asked. It was something she had been struggling with since the proposal had been made.

“Honey,” Momma said, “I think that all of this is between you and God. I don’t pretend to know what God wants in general, never mind for you in particular. Besides, what you’ve described to me doesn’t sound all that different than artificial insemination, and I ain’t got a problem with that. In the end, you make the decision that is right for you. And I believe that you already know what that decision is, deep in your heart.”

Tonisha thought about that and nodded. She wasn’t quite sure she really knew the answer deep in her heard, but she did feel that Momma was right. The answer was there. Still, she felt the need to ask her next question.

“Momma,” she started, “what’s your opinion? What decision would you make in this situation?”

“I ain’t got no opinion on this, honey,” she said. “Leastwise, not one that matters. All this science is way beyond me, and I’m not sure I’d be half as rational as you’re being right now. Hell, if this was me, and your daddy was the one that had been driving, I’d probably be in his room right now, trying to strangle him for not finding a way to avoid the accident and taking my child away from me. But, that’s just me. Like I said, sweetheart, this is between you and God. Go to one of these mommy rooms, and pray about it. God will answer.”

That sounded like the best advice that anyone had given her so far, so she took it. She went into the closest mommy room, and closed and locked the door. Then, she got down on her hands and knees, pulled out the little cross she wore around her neck ever since her mother had given it to her at four years old, and kissed it. She said a prayer asking for guidance. She thought of what Lawrence said, about this not really being Michael. She thought about her sister, and her thoughts that it wouldn’t matter, because it would still be her son. She also thought about Momma, and what she said about this really being God’s decision.

After staying in there for a good, solid hour, she knew she had her answer. She got up, walked out of the room. She walked up to her mother and hugged her, thanking her for her advice.

“I have my answer now, Momma,” she said. “I’m going to go see Dr. Josephs now and let him know.”

“Good girl,” Momma said.

She pulled out the card and saw what his office number was. She headed to the elevator and took it up to the eighth floor. She asked a few nurses where his office was, and they pointed in the right direction. She felt neither anxious nor afraid. She was calm with this decision; she knew it was the right one to make. She knocked on the door. Dr. Josephs answered, and seemed surprised to see her. Then, he asked her in and sit down.

“Dr. Josephs,” she said. “I’ve made my decision.”

The End

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