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Counting Seconds (Revised)
“Come on, Jason, I’m going to die soon!” I protest, obnoxiously poking him in the bicep.
Our eyes meet and I make puppy dog eyes in response to his exasperated and saddened expression. “Seriously? You’re going to use that? I don’t understand how you can be so casual about it,” Jason sighs, and his eyes flit to my wrist for a second, where my digits are flashing. These days, I try to hide it with black bangles and chunky beaded bracelets, so it isn’t a constant reminder of my personal end. Unfortunately, whenever I raise my hand for a high five or to answer a question, the bracelets slide down to my elbow and everyone can see the flashing numbers on my wrist. It didn’t used to bother me; it was something to brag about, in fact. I remember when I used to have more life time on me than Jason did, and I would tease him saying I’d be on this earth causing trouble months after he died.
“I don’t want to spend my last weeks in school,” I moan, poking him again.
I had woken up almost a month ago, and had glanced in the mirror as I was brushing my teeth to find that my digits, which the previous night had flashed one hundred and ten years, six months, one week and two days left, now sadly reported I was down to months.
“It’s probably just an error,” Mom had suggested, gently massaging the little chip and screen in my wrist. I knew that this was just wishful thinking as I sat beside her on the bed, tight-chested. They don’t make mistakes. Everyone dies exactly when their time runs out. There are no errors.
In the doctor’s office, the smell of bleach burned my nose, causing my eyes to tear up as I looked around at white floors, white walls and sterilized metal instruments. I sat down on a metal table, swinging my feet over the edge. The clock above my head ticked the seconds away, feet shuffling by outside, a baby crying in the distance. Dr. Brown entered, flashing a white-toothed, movie star smile at my mom and me.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Brown,” Mom nervously clutched her purse on her lap, “I was wondering if you could check my daughter’s digits. They seem to have significantly dropped.”
“Of course, ma’am,” He turns his pearly whites on me, “Why don’t we have a look-see?”
His smile wavers as he sees my digits, his Adam’s apple bobbing nervously. He grabs a wire from his computer and twists my wrist awkwardly to plug it in. My digits light up in recognition of another device, and Dr. Brown, holding my wrist in his hand, begins to type with his free hand on his laptop. The printer on his desk begins spitting out papers like its possessed, papers yielding my entire life history and information flying around the small room. I bend down to pick one up, but Dr. Brown stops me and tells me not to exert myself. He and my mother stoop down to collect the papers. Once they are in a neat pile, Dr. Brown sits at his desk and begins to flip through them.
“Okay, childhood, broken arm – I remember that – the flu, and then, puberty,” He says, smoothly, “And you got all your shots, yes, yes, regular diet of a teenage girl, getting good amounts of exercise, I see, I see...”
My mother and I wait, holding our breath as he drones on, reading my most recent medical history. He reaches age seventeen, and his brow furrows, voice dropping to a murmur.
“It seems this is where the problem is,” He says finally.
Dr. Brown picks up his laptop, typing rapidly, brow furrowing further. He pauses, gently rubbing his hands together for a moment, before speaking again.
“Unfortunately, there is no mistake,” He begins, and my mother lets out a small squeak from the back of her throat.
“Is it a disease? An STI? Is she sick?” My mom tries to keep her voice level.
“It’s a rare disease that she contracted…” He pauses to glance at my papers, “…Three months, one week, and two days ago, around two in the afternoon. It’s very rare, as I said, and unfortunately, there is no known cure. It increases physical aging by nearly one hundred and forty percent, causing children as young as twelve to experience organ failure, cardiac arrest and various other fatal consequences. Your daughter, though she looks young, internally is about one hundred and ten years old.”
“One hundred and ten?” My mother chokes, “How can this be?”
Dr. Brown clears his throat and passes my mother a tissue, “There is little to no research on this particular disease. All I can say is that your daughter has aged over ninety years in the last few months. I’m very sorry.”
“But, there were no symptoms, nothing!”
“There is usually very little pain and discomfort until the end. Thankfully, our digits give us warnings in these type of situations.”
“Oh,” My mom whispers, turning her teary gaze to me. I just sit there, staring down at the speckled white floor of the office. I couldn’t even comprehend it.
“There’s really nothing we can do,” Dr. Brown says, unplugging my wrist, “I can prescribe something in case you feel discomfort or pain, and all I can say is watch your digits for any changes.”
“Is there a chance she will survive? That perhaps she can somehow recover?” Mom shakily stands, swallowing.
Dr. Brown can’t meet her eye.
“Jason, Jason, Jason,” I say in a sing-song voice, until finally, Jason slams his textbook shut and stands.
He glares at me from behind wire-rimmed glasses, “Fine! You want to go? Let’s go!”
We collect our books, me bouncing like a puppy dog as Jason carefully folds his papers away and head for the gates of the campus. I flash my digits to the sensor by the gate and I pause to clock out, using the tiny pen on the touch screen to scribble an excuse for my absence. Jason nervously follows me, glancing at the school office windows as we walk. His still flashes a healthy hundred and eight years to go, with some odd days to finish everything up. He doesn’t understand my need to go chase the last scraps of life.
“So, what’s first on your bucket list?” He murmurs, glancing at me.
I shrug, because I don’t have a bucket list, I didn’t make one. You would figure with a month or so left before I go, I would be tearfully looking online at vacations I’ll never go on, food I’ll never eat and people I’ll never meet. Most people that find out they have only a few days left instantly start to live for the first time. They want to climb a mountain. They want to go to Germany. They want to swim with sharks. They want to meet the Queen of England. Me, I was a teenage girl who had just discovered she was going to die, and I was very, very lost.
“So…” Jason drawls, “What would you like to do, m’lady?”
I swallow, “I don’t know.” Part of me just wanted to go home, slip under my comforter and deny that this was happening.
“You do know. You’re just getting too stuck in your head. It doesn’t have to be life-changing or complicated. Let’s go to your favorite restaurant and order everything on the menu.”
I intertwine my fingers with Justin’s, beaming, “Everything? Really?”
“Everything,” He nods, shyly pushing his glasses up his nose, “I’ll call and reserve a table.”
He pulls out his phone and I rest my chin on his shoulder, “If it helps us get a reservation, tell them I’m dying.”
I watch my digits flash dwindling minutes back at me. In the last month, you figure I would have come to terms with my own death, but my stomach still turned watching precious seconds slip away from me. I wanted to stand up and scream “Stop!”, just to freeze everything for a few moments to breathe. Jason’s initial kick helped me seize the last few weeks. I spent half of all my savings online, buying an inflatable plastic palm tree, a diamond-studded Apple Watch, a pair of heels formerly owned by Madonna and a teacup poodle I affectionately named Tia. I had donated money to build an African village a well and sponsored a refugee family I would never get to meet. Jason and I had taken a last minute trip to Tibet, where I had visited a monastery to talk with a hundred and thirty one year old monk, followed by a trip to Las Vegas, where I had consulted the bottom of a bottle of whiskey. Even though I had promised I wouldn’t go back to school, I had returned to some of my favorite classes in the last week. Something about the normality of the school hallways and block schedules lulled me into a false sense of security and contentment. My teachers were all very tight-lipped about my absences, except my art teacher who began to cry as she inspected my self-portrait, grasping me to her bony chest and sobbing. I wrote sincere letters to my family and friends, something to leave behind after my death. I had thoroughly stalked the star of my favorite TV show and “run into” him at a local hipster café. Finally, my mother had printed out a stack of papers for me to fill out: a will drawn up by our lawyer and a waiver saying that my eyes, blood, hair, teeth, skin, heart, kidneys, lungs – pretty much anything the medical community found useful – would be donated upon my death.
Now, I was lying on my teal comforter, wrist resting on my kneecap, dying. I was practically buried in cards, boxes of colorful candy, teddy bears, and other assorted condolences. I didn’t like them, they just reminded me I was going to die. Jason lay beside me, curling and uncurling his fingers through mine. I thought I could see tears in his eyes, but, he kept his head down, glasses obscuring my view. Mom and Dad sat in straight-back chairs on the other side of my bed. Mom kept adjusting my covers, refilling my glass of water, and petting Tia so hard I thought the poor thing might go bald. Dr. Brown lingered in the corner, awkwardly inspecting my room before dropping his gaze back to paperwork. Some of my closest friends hovered at the foot of my bed, trying to distract everyone with pictures on their phones of happy memories between us all.
I breathed in through my mouth, out through my nose, promising myself I would not die with tears in my eyes, instead with a smile on my face. My digits were almost completely zeroes now. Zero years. Zero months. Zero weeks. Zero hours. So many damn zeroes.
One minute, six seconds.
Jason lifts his head, eyes wet. His jaw is clenched, trying to maintain his composure.
One minutes, one second.
My best friend’s lip wobbles, the chatter falling silent.
Jason rigidly inhales, and leans forward to kiss me on the cheek.
Mom and Dad move in closer, Mom’s hand a death grip on Tia.
Dr. Brown turns his attention away from the watercolor painting on my wall, and walks up to my bed, pressing a cold stethoscope to my chest.
Tia squirms free from Mom’s hands and darts under the covers, squirming until she’s up against my ribs.
Jason takes his glasses off, revealing teary green eyes, brushing a hand over his wet cheeks.
I think of what it would be like to grow up and marry him.
“Don’t be afraid, you’re doing well.”
“My poor precious girl…”
My heart is racing, panic taking me over.
I clutch the hands reaching out to me, digging my nails in.
Every memory I’ve ever had tries to squirm its way into my view, my world spinning into confusion.
I don’t want to, I don’t want to die!
The digits light up, a blinding white light filling the room. My wrist is covered in zeros. Hands go limp, slipping away from me. I find myself suspending in darkness, numbness. I’m out of time.
I open my eyes, and everyone stares back at me. The entire world is holding its breath.
I am alive.