Running from the Light
Tales from a Cyborg Mother
“Jamie looks to be in perfect health.” Dr. Anderson said as she walked back in the room.
I smiled tightly. I’d been stuck in this crisp white room for over half an hour with a six month old. Dr. Anderson’s nose wrinkled up around the edges. The room smelled a bit—Jamie needed a diaper change—but if the doctor didn’t like it then she was in the wrong field.
“Thank you, but I do have a couple of questions.” I said.
“Are they about his vaccinations? Since he had a fever last week, I think we should wait a week or two before doing those. You should make an appointment on your way out.”
She turned as if to leave. She hadn’t even sat down.
“Wait!” I uncertainly touched the glowing blue metal disk permanently fixed in my chest. “I was wondering about the heart you gave me?”
Dr. Anderson turned and shut the door, but didn’t sit down. Typical. When it was about my son, she was all ears, but when it was about me…
“Is this still about the…?” She paused to flip through a couple of pages on her device. “The heart palpitations you asked about last visit?”
I was a bit surprised she’d written it down at all.
“Yes, they haven’t stopped. I know you said last time that they were just a glitch or something, but I think it’s broken.”
“That simply cannot be the case.” Dr. Anderson folded her hands behind her back, device still in hand. It was a very smart look. “The heart we implanted is the newest model; there have been no complaints from any of the other patients who have received the 012.”
“Has it charged properly?”
“Yeah, but I don’t think it’s a charging issue.” I readjusted Jamie on my hip and shrugged my bag onto my shoulder.
Dr. Anderson held the door open, beckoning me out into the hall. I obeyed, bowing my head a bit to walk under her arm. Everything was so crisp and white. It hurt my eyes. Jamie squirmed to hide his face in my chest.
“And you think you know better than our team of scientists?”
“No, of course not, I just-”
“And you are breathing?”
“What?” I looked up at my doctor. Her brows were drawn together in a clear look of annoyance. “Yeah, of course I’m breathing, but I still feel the heart skipping beats. And I don’t sleep at night.”
“You have a sweet new baby.” Dr. Anderson patted Jamie’s head. “What mother at this stage is sleeping properly?”
“Maybe,” I conceded, “but I still have questions.”
She sighed and looked at her watch. “I have time for one.”
“Oh, alright.” I paused. There were so many questions I had. Just one?
“I really must be going.” She turned and started walking away down the hall.
“Is there anything you can do about the design? The light?” I asked.
Jamie patted the blue light, trying to get at it through my shirt, and laughed while blowing bubbles.
“Why? Does it bother you?” She shrugged, and continued down the hall. “The nurse at the desk will check you out. Make an appointment for next week so we can get Jamie’s shots in.”
“Okay.” I sighed, turning to leave the building.
On the way out, I made Jamie’s appointment and made sure to smile and nod when the nurse asked if my visit went well.
Later, in the grocery store, I couldn’t stop thinking about the visit. Jamie sat in the cart, happily chewing on his pacifier. The bite was blue colored; it was on the cold setting because he was starting to teeth. I was less happy and also distracted because the grocery store was new. The one I usually went to had been affected by a power outage, and their grid had gone down. They’d been demoted to ancient rolling carts, and I’d had to shop somewhere else.
“Why can’t they keep the butter in a normal place?” I muttered, pulling a package of butter out from between cartons of milk. “Who keeps it with milk instead of cheese?”
Jamie looked at me and blew more bubbles.
“Aww! Look at you! Such a smart young man! I just need carrots, and then we can go. How does that sound?” I squeezed one of his cheeks and kept walking.
The carrots hadn’t been with the other fruits and vegetables. So where?
I eventually found them in the cheese aisle. There was also a sign, a bit ragged looking: Store under renovation. We apologize for the inconvenience. I had been to the store three times, and the signs were everywhere. Sometimes shelves were missing or clearly new, along with other little things, but I never saw anyone working on the “renovations.”
I grabbed a bag of carrots and turned the cart around to head to the front of the store.
“Wait, Anna’s really been liking carrots recently. If I want any, I had better grab another bag.” I picked up another before remembering that, according to my new meal plan, I wasn’t supposed to eat carrots. Six months and I was still getting used to it all. It didn’t help that the list with instructions was four pages long and changed every month or so. I shrugged and threw the second bag into the cart. More for everyone else.
Milo and I were cleaning up from dinner when I felt the “heart palpitations” again. I did my best to keep moving, grabbing a bowl full of leftover buttered carrots to throw into the fridge. The fridge packaged them up and put them next to the rest of the food from dinner. I held onto the door and shut my eyes, pretending to be looking at what was in the fridge instead of trying to steady myself. My heart raced while my legs shuddered from the simple weight of my body. It felt like the earth was crashing down around me, though nothing was moving but me. I knew it was wrong, but the doctor…
“How was your appointment with Dr. Anderson today?” Milo asked.
I turned around, trying to shake off the dark feeling. “Fine. Jamie is in perfect health. He’s right on track, and teething.”
I walked around the kitchen counter into the dining room and pried Jamie out of his highchair. He’d been gnawing on the tray table.
Milo laughed. “No way.”
I laughed too. “Yeah, would you mind washing him up while I finish the dishes?”
“Of course, beautiful.” He smiled as he gathered Jamie up from my arms. “Anything else from the appointment?”
“Was that hesitation I heard?” Milo asked. Jamie started fussing.
“No, nothing else was super interesting.”
“Okay, but I still want to hear about it, alright?”
“Yeah.” I turned away from my loving husband to load dishes in the dishwasher.
“Mommy, can I play with my blocks?” Anna had come from nowhere and was tugging on my leg.
“Of course, Anna.” I moved to dry my hands, but Milo took over.
“Sweetie, let Mommy finish the dishes. How about letting me help you turn the blocks on? I need to wash your brother up anyway.”
“Okay.” And she was off like a rocket up to her room.
“I love you.” I called after Milo as he followed her.
“Love you too.”
Milo forgot to ask about the appointment later. After we put the kids to bed, we spent some time together sipping tea and talking about the world. He asked the same things he always asked: if I was alright, if the heart was okay, if there was anything he could do for me. And I answered, as I always did, that I was fine and didn’t need any help. Once we climbed into bed, he drifted off to sleep in the blink of an eye, the picture of contentment.
I stayed awake. My body ached and it didn’t. I needed sleep more than I ever had and also not at all. The mechanical heart in my chest skipped a beat as the shaking and crashing came back. I breathed through the discomfort and fear, thinking all the while that it was wrong.
The darkness in the room seemed to deepen, despite the comforting light of the grid along the walls of our room. The wrongness of the night was normal, but the restlessness in my mind was not. Usually, I lay awake all night and pretended that I had slept, but I kept thinking of Dr. Anderson, and how she didn’t believe me.
I looked over at Milo. If I just woke him, maybe we could talk. I’d been lying for a long time, but surely he’d understand… I reached out to shake his shoulder, but I suddenly saw his betrayed face. Why did you lie to me? It asked, don’t you love me? Don’t you trust me? My hand dropped back to my lap.
My legs swung over the bed almost of their own accord. I stood and stretched as if the sun was just coming up, but the night was at its deepest. The grid continued in orderly lines out of the room, past the door, and into the hall. I slipped out, walking past Jamie’s room, and Anna’s, and down the steps to the main floor. The light of the grid matched the light in my chest. I smiled, thinking of how Jamie liked to play with the light, but there was something sad about it too. It was almost as if, even at such a young age, he was choosing to make the best of difficult circumstances. I walked toward the kitchen, unsure of what else I could do but drink tea and hope.
The kitchen was also on the grid. The whole house had been updated before Jamie and I had gotten home from the hospital, a gift from Milo. If I was going to live off of the power of the grid, he wanted it to be the very best. I loved him for how he had tried to take care of me, but something was missing.
The kitchen was connected to the dining room, which had floor to ceiling windows looking out onto land. We didn’t own any of the grass, or paths, or the lake, but we enjoyed it all thoroughly. Before Jamie, and the surgery, Milo and I had spent many evenings sitting beside the lake. We didn’t so often anymore. The grid didn’t reach out there.
I opened the door and embraced the cool, fresh air that hit my face. Milo had never wanted to risk taking me off the grid, but he was sound asleep, and I needed a few moments away from the constant humming.
It only took me a couple of steps from the house to realize that the humming was inside me. I would never hear true silence again. Even the simple breeze blowing through the dark night couldn’t harmonize with the small hum of my heart ticking away in my chest.
Error: Unit has left the grid. Please return as soon as possible. 29 minutes and 57 seconds until shutdown.
The words scrolled across the bottom of my right eye. There had been a time when the message would have sent me into spiraling anxiety as I faced my own mortality, but now I felt nothing. Five minutes off the grid could only do me good.
There was a dock over the lake. Houses were spaced around it, but all were dark. Tall lights fashioned to look like they were a part of the trees would normally have been lit, but they darkened after midnight to conserve power. The dock was fashioned to look like wood, but we all knew it wasn’t. Wood was too precious now to be used to make a simple dock. There was a bench on the end of the dock strictly for sitting and dreaming, and there were fish living in the lake, though no one dared to try and fish for them. Not like anyone really knew how to fish these days. I watched their slick forms sliding through the water.
The surgery and the new heart had marked my death and subsequent return. Six months was not enough time to get used to a new life, so why was I bitter with myself for not getting used to it by now?
And that doctor, why didn’t she believe me? She couldn’t even get the light in my chest dimmed. It had been alright in the winter when it was cold and we all had to wear thicker clothes, but in the summer? There was no way to cover up the light.
What was I going to do?
I felt so… beaten down. I looked up at the stars and wondered if there was anyone who would ever truly listen to me. listened to me. Someone who really truly listened.
A moment floated into my memory as I looked up at the stars. A long time ago, I’d gotten an F on a group project. It hadn’t really been my fault, but it had felt like the end of the world. Milo had listened to the whole long saga of how this teacher had hated me and how the people I worked with had all been on a spectrum of uselessness. The conversation had gone late into the night, and he’d pulled me into his arms as we sat under the stars. It had been a different place, but the stars looked almost the same.
“I hope that every day is like this.” He’d said.
“Really?” I’d asked. It had been a long and dramatic story. I felt better having told it, but I also felt as if I had wasted his time.
“Yeah. I hope you’ll always tell me how you feel. Because it’s a part of who you are.”
That was a long time ago: before Anna, before getting married.
I ran my hands through my hair. I should have just told Milo what had happened. I should tell him everything. I should tell him about how the nodes in my hands shock me when they get wet. And how I didn’t sleep.
I stood and started back towards the house. And I had to tell him how the nodes in my feet hurt to walk on, even though the doctors said they should have stopped hurting months ago.
The door into the house was still open. I walked in and shut it quietly behind me before heading deeper into the house. On the wall of the stairwell was a picture of Milo and I when we’d gotten married. He’d planned a trip for us for our anniversary, and I’d faked getting the flu instead of telling him that the battery pack I had been given for traveling off the grid didn’t work. I needed to tell him that too.
I needed him to ask me if I was okay. This time, I swore as I opened the door to our bedroom, I would tell him the truth. No matter how hard. No matter how afraid I was that he wouldn’t believe me either.
My footsteps made slight clinking noises against the fake wood floor of our room. I knelt next to Milo, sleeping on his stomach with one arm off the side of the bed.
“Milo?” I whispered.
He didn’t move.
“Milo?” I tried again a little louder.
“Hmm?” He blinked and rubbed his eyes. “Vie?”
“Milo, can we talk?” I held my breath.
“Oh,” He sat up and rubbed his eyes again before pulling me into his arms. “Are you okay, honey? Is there anything I can do?”