The Game of Life
Sam sat, Brewin’s hand resting like a dead bird in her left palm. She resisted the urge to squeeze, holding her breath as she waited. This was it: Brewin was going to tell her about Eclipse at last. Kathy stood at the bedside, mouth open in anticipation. The EKG emitted a persistent beeping sound.
“Eclipse was an experimental government program,” Brewin said. “Strictly off the books… we moved in, after the hospital shut down…”
The old man was fighting just to get the words out. He took a moment to catch his breath, then continued:
“I was a company man back then. CIA. Only a handful of us even knew about the project.”
Brewin paused again.
“What was it?” Sam asked. “An experimental program for what?”
“Memory replacement,” Brewin said. “We knew it was dangerous but after what you’d been through…”
“Replacement…” Sam whispered. “The memories about my family… the car crash…”
“We put them there. Planted them to hide the truth; to conceal the horror of what had happened.” Brewin drew in a long, shaky breath. “We… believed it was the right thing. And we were happy when… it worked. Your mind wanted to forget. Afterward I retired I… chose to keep watch… make sure… you were okay…”
A coughing fit racked Brewin’s body. He grimaced in pain. When it subsided he said “You became like… the daughter I never had.”
Sam’s mind reeled as her brain attempted to keep up.
“I know it’s a lot to… take in,” Brewin said before launching into another bout of coughing.
“If the memories were fake…” Sam was leaned in, blood pounding through her temples. “Is my name even Sam?”
In the midst of his coughing, Brewin shook his head. Kathy was wide-eyed, hands covering her mouth as she stumbled away from the bed.
“What’s my name? Who am I? What did you cover up?” The questions flew from Sam’s lips. All of the color had drained from the old man’s face. He squeezed Sam’s hand with surprising strength as his body arched. The beeping of the heart rate monitor sped up.
“Sorry… so sorry… we thought it was… for the best. Only wanted to—” Brewin’s heart rate dropped suddenly. There was a sharp, violent intake of breath and then a long exhale as the old man’s body fell limply to the bed.
The doctor rushed in, accompanied by nurses. They forced Sam to let go of Brewin’s hand and pushed her away. Sam backed up and felt Kathy’s arms around her shoulders as the beeping switched suddenly to one long, steady tone.
The medical team worked diligently to resuscitate Brewin as Kathy and Sam could only watch, helpless.
Several attempts to restart the old man’s heart failed. Less than thirty seconds later, as Sam and Kathy clung to each other for comfort, the exhausted doctor called time of death.
An hour later Sam and Kathy sat in silence at the Dante Café.
It all seemed so surreal. First Elias, then Brewin. It was like being on some carnival ride, following a track, just going where the ride led you and enduring whatever happened along the way. But beyond that, to know that the memories she had held onto throughout her life were a lie; that her name wasn’t even her own name… now it was like the ride had suddenly turned into some nightmare rollercoaster of uncertainty, doubt and just plain ignorance; who was she? Who were her real parents? What had she been through that had been so terrible that a government program would attempt to erase it from her brain?
Kathy had been quiet since Brewin’s passing. There had been a few times when she seemed on the verge of saying something but each time she fell silent. Now she simply stared down at her coffee through moist eyes.
“Did you know?” Sam asked.
Kathy looked at Sam and shook her head. “No, no… all I knew was what social services told me, that your parents died in an accident.”
“Did you know about Brewin? The CIA?”
Again Sam’s foster mom shook her head. “Brewin had just kind of... been around all these years. He was there for me after Ben died. He helped me through some pretty rough times when I didn’t… I didn’t know if I could keep going.”
Kathy took a sip of her coffee as silence draped them once more.
Finally sam asked “Why did you keep going?”
“Because of you,” Kathy said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I haven’t always been the best mom but I always loved you as if you were my own blood. And I’ve always tried my hardest to let you know how precious you are.”
“Am I? I don’t even know who I am anymore.”
Kathy reached across and squeezed Sam’s wrist. “Your actions and your choices define who you are. Who you ‘are’, is brave, kind, noble, determined. You’re strong and you’re good and you’ve given me the best years of my life.”
Kathy had started to cry. Sam had stayed so strong for so long but she finally let it out; throat tightening, tears overflowing. The dam had burst.
“You make me so proud,” Kathy said, her voice breaking. “I love you so much…”
Sam had heard someone say once that joy could be shared with others, but grief must be endured alone. Sitting there in the café, crying with her mother, Sam was grateful that the person who had said that was wrong.