I, a renowned and successful Doctor of Oncology could not save my wife of 10 years from the very cancer I spent my days curing in others.
But this is not unusual, nor is it the story I'm here today to tell.
My first wife died when we were both 35 years old. We had no children. The tragedy did not come suddenly like a devastating car accident or a freak and mercifully quick illness. Many a watchful eye blamed me, the cancer doctor, for bringing my work home somehow.
But it was not so. Cancer ran in her family. She was a beautiful, voluptuous woman with delicate bones and a shy demeanor. Her patience matched my quick and violent temper. Her patience soothed me and drew me in.
In our youth, I did not press her to take yearly exams by a doctor other than me. There were no checks for things that other young women get checked for. Such is common among Doctors' families, but how I loathed myself for being just like all the rest when we discovered the lump.
She was 30 years old and we fought it, hopefully at first but soon with the knowledge that we would lose the fight. How could it drag on for the years that it did? The pain of it almost killed me but when she finally died, my real nightmare began.
I considered taking my life every day.
There was something that stopped me though and I know there is an Almighty God in Heaven because I had no fear of death or obliteration or pain or any other thing during those dark days. And I would be gone, with no story for you if God did not exist.
It was a quiet voice that kept me from the gun, or pills that would have cured my agony.
The voice said simply: there was more.
And more there has been.
It was a year of inching to the edge of oblivion and the voice pulling me back before I became human again. I worked from 7 in the morning until 9 at night, talked to no one and lost friends. But somehow, each time I took the gun into my hands, or counted out the pills, that voice, like a soft warm comforting hand on my arm, told me: there will be more.
I didn't know what it meant but it was knowledge I could not turn away from and I would rest my head for another night of tossing and turning, waking in cold sweats - I would make it through to another morning and another day of saving lives.
After a year passed I found that my pain had washed away. I noticed people around me again and began to take an interest in women once more.
I spent time with friends again, new friends who had not known my lovely wife and old friends who had. I was back in the land of the living but the mysterious, promising voice did not leave me.
Now I would lie in bed alone at night and ask the voice, "when?" smiling to myself at first, chuckling at my own foolishness. Yes, at first I thought the voice had just been my will to live, something to get me through that first year of danger as I teetered on the edge, with nothing to keep me from doing myself in.
But the voice answered me. On that very first night that I asked, "when?" I heard right back: soon.
At first it was eerie and I remember that I did not pursue it for many nights after. But one evening after I'd been drinking with some friends I found myself lying there and asking, whispering even, "how soon?"
The voice whispered back, "so very soon."
I did not have time to ask again because the very next day I met Amy.
She was a new physician, a thyroid cancer specialist. A genius. She was a mere 30 years of age, brilliant and warm as the sun. When we met she did not offer her hand but a smile that warmed me up. I did not notice her looks then. Not in the way you see a woman you think is beautiful. She was not tall, nor did she have pretty hair or any curves, and neither was she slender. Physically, I never would have noticed her.
Even her smile, with all its warmth simply registered thus: she will be a pleasant new coworker.
But then she spoke.
"It's nice to meet you Doctor." My blood ran cold in my veins.
It was the voice.
The voice I had heard hundreds of times before. It was her voice. I blinked my eyes several times because I felt them fill with tears instantly. I wanted to fall at her feet. Embrace her. This woman who I had moments ago dismissed utterly was my savior, my future. I was filled with desire and love. My face burned hotly and I stammered, "Nice to meet you too" before rushing to the bathroom.
There, I locked the door and sobbed into the sink. I was devastated, confused beyond anything I could ever imagine. I tried to reason with myself. She was not an angel from heaven. She was just a person. But I could not find reason. I was shaking. There was no mistaking it, it was her.
I tried to plan out my next steps but soon realized there was no use in planning. From the day I met Amy we were inseparable.
I told her about my wife's illness followed by her death and my utter despair and I told her that her own voice had saved me hundreds of times over.
Each time she spoke my eyes filled with tears. I sought her out like my life depended on it and she responded.
I was a good looking man in my youth and soon Amy was deeply in love with me, or at least with the attention I paid her and the effect she had on me.
Yet when she asked me one day if I wanted to live together it jarred me out of the spell her voice cast over me. I knew that I did not truly love her and I certainly had no intention of ever marrying her.
We sat down for coffee in the hospital cafeteria late one night, in a corner where we could have some privacy and I told her how I felt. At first she was angry and hurt and thought I was crazy. But as I held her hand and looked into her eyes she calmed down.
She saw that I had been in earnest, still was, but that any kind of real union was out of the question.
I didn't hold back my own tears of disappointment and confusion, "Amy, I don't know what any of this means. I need you but I don't know why. Am I just crazy? I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to keep you from anything in life but ...." I trailed off, my head dropping into my hands.
She waited a long time to respond. I remember a feeling of despair like that first day alone after my wife died. Then Amy placed her hand gently over mine, urging me to lift my head, she held my fingers across the little table.
Her eyes were clear and wide and she stared at me. There was an understanding there that stopped my pain and made my heart pound with anticipation.
Then she began to speak slowly, "I know what to do."
6Amy's best friend was also a physician, in the field of genetic replication and nuclear cell transfer.
That night, under fluorescent light drinking burnt sludge and holding on to each other for dear life we agreed we would try to clone Sarah.
And we did.
From that night on, our relationship changed dramatically. We became scientists again, colleagues with little personal interest in one another beyond the secret experiment we were carrying out with Amy's friend. It was surprisingly easy. Amy had no fertility problems, harvesting her eggs was simple.
Providing Sarah's DNA was also simple because we had preserved her eggs at the beginning when the first awful sentence was doled out that chemo would render her infertile.
Like a dream, Amy was pregnant with Sarah's clone and yet what might have brought us closer together, like a dream led us to say good bye to one another with little ceremony or emotion.
We both felt a blessed certainty that we had completed some strange mission and there was nothing more to say to one another.
So it was for 7 years time. I enjoyed my friends and my work but had lost all interest in dating or having a woman in my life in any kind of intimate way. I still longed for Sarah at times. My grief gave way to an intense gratitude that I'd met and married the love of my life even if it was becoming my distant past.
I was truly happy.
Amy and I lost touch during her pregnancy. She went to work at her friend's hospital and I never heard if or when she had the baby. Every so often I would think of it but my time with Amy seemed unreal to me and I did not wish to pursue it.
Then, one day shortly after my 45th birthday I got a phone call.
Amy wanted me to meet her daughter Sarah.
When I heard Amy's voice on the phone it brought back chills and a feeling of dread so strong I had to sit down.
That period in my life was a nightmare long in the past now and I never thought of it.
I wanted to ask her why she named the girl Sarah but I couldn't. I didn't want to meet the girl. I was terrified. I'd given up having my own children when my Sarah had gone. I had a simple, peaceful life that was enough for me.
Amy asked me to meet her at Sarah's school playground that Saturday and I agreed, if nothing more than to get quickly off the phone.
It never occurred to me to wonder why she wanted to meet me after all these years.
The day was cold and I walked from the parking lot with my hands jammed down into the pockets of my coat and my shoulders pulled up to my ears. I could see my breath.
I saw Amy and Sarah at the swings from a long way off. Seeing them there playing and smiling and laughing eased my mind. I found myself smiling too and waving to them.
"Hello!" I called to them.
They waved back.
Then the air was knocked out of me. Somehow, when we decided to clone her, the entire idea seemed to come from an outside force. It was not my will to recreate the genetic twin of my dead wife. Nor was it Amy's per say. Or so I thought.
I could not remember why we had done it, but suddenly my beautiful wife was there, alive and I wanted to pick her up and hold her and never let her go.
Amy moved in front of Sarah turned her back to me and bent down sending the girl to go play. She stood up and walked toward me, blocking my view and my movement toward her daughter.
She knew the look on my face. She put her hands on my arms gently and tried to catch my eye but I could not stop staring at her child.
"Hey, hey. Listen," she began. "This must be hard for you. But I would really like to talk to you about a few things."
I smiled and let my tears come. "This is amazing!" I whispered. I hugged Amy. "It's Sarah! She's so beautiful."
"She's a wonderful child." Amy pushed away from me and looked at Sarah who was hanging upside down on the monkey bars.
"I've been thinking, I'm 38 years old. I have no husband, no family - I love Sarah, but she isn't even really my daughter. I know it's crazy to ask you this, and you can say no, but would you consider helping me with her? Giving me some time to try to have a life of my own before it's too late?"
That's how it happened. That's how I came to know my second wife.
At first I just adored her as a beautiful little twin to my beloved and long gone Sarah. She had no father so I quickly became an important person in her life.
But soon after getting to know each other I realized several things.
- This little girl would very likely one day get breast cancer. I would have to make sure that never happened.
- I was helping to raise this child. That meant I could shape her personality a great deal. All the little things about my wife that bothered me, that came from her ultra-religious upbringing and her rigid parents would be absent.
- She would one day be a woman who might love me as Sarah had loved me.
I began to see that I could have the beautiful wife I loved, but better. Someone who loved me more, someone who would respect me and adore me and who would not die young.
The irony of that being I was nearly 60 years old before we made love for the first time.
We married when she was 20 and I retired five years later to spend my days enjoying her and our three little angels.
Now I am a very old man. Far too old for my dear second wife, who loves me anyway and swears that she will love me forever.
I only hope my Sarah will find a way to be happy after I am gone. She has made my life like heaven on earth.
And when she comes to join me in eternity, the first Sarah and I will be waiting there for her.