© Copyright 2012 by Brandilyn Collins
Used by permission of B&H Publishing
Desperate people make desperate choices.
In my kitchen I took one look at the envelope in the stack of mail and dropped it like burning metal. It landed askew on the counter, the gold Cognoscenti logo pulsing up at me.
If I had known, I would have trashed it right then and there.
Nine months before The Letter arrived, my husband had been killed in a car accident. Ryan, with his lanky body and loving touch, that dimple in his right cheek. His quirky smile and teasing way. He’d been only thirty-five—six years older than I. Four months after his funeral a robber attacked me in a mall parking lot and nearly choked me to death before a security guard happened by. My attacker got away. He’s still out there somewhere, walking the streets. And during the two years before Ryan’s death? I’d had three miscarriages.
Five traumatic events in a row. I was bent, near broken. A wind-battered sapling. Abandoned by God.
Have you ever battled depression? That black, biting maw that devours you whole and turns your world to darkness? Your life becomes unlivable. You become … nothing. One day you’re a speck in the universe, blown here and there. Trod underfoot. The next you’re weighted and shackled, the chains too heavy to lift.
The envelope looked thin, maybe one sheet of paper inside. A single piece of paper that could alter the very core of me.
One last hope.
My fumbling hands picked up the envelope. I slid a finger under the flap and edged it open. Pulled out the answer on which I’d hung my future.
Dear Lisa Newberry,
It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been accepted into the medical trial for Cognoscenti’s new Empowerment Chip. Please call our research director at your earliest convenience to set up an appointment so we may proceed. The number is below.
Dr. William Hilderbrand,
President and CEO
Weakness rushed me. I leaned against the tile, relief exploding in my chest. Heat blew through my limbs. This was it. I was in. I could be whole. My mind could hardly contain the thought.
Not until that moment had I realized the true depth of my despair. If this had been a No, who knows what I would have done.
My next thought was of Ryan. I know you would want this for me.
And then—it all blitzed away. The euphoria melted as quickly as it had come. In its place, the inevitable pessimism of depression. No way could I be so fortunate. Surely I’d read the letter wrong.
I read it again. A third time, daring the answer to change, knowing it would. But no. The word accepted burned from the page.
Excitement rose again, propelling my hand to the phone, sitting next to me on the counter. I picked it up and called Sherry Grubacker, my one friend in the Bay Area. The news trembled on my tongue, ready to jump as soon as she said hello.
Her canned voice mail kicked on. No Sherry.
Well, of course. With such incredible news as this, how could I expect to find someone to share it with?
I hung up.
Next thing I knew I was punching in my mother’s number—a reckless choice in the passion of the moment. My mother had known nothing of my many screening interviews with Cognoscenti, the physical and mental work-ups. She’d only nagged me for my weakness in the past few months. Wasn’t it time I pulled myself together? She’d had her own difficulties in her lifetime, she reminded me. Losing her husband when I was only two. But she’d managed to throw back her shoulders and move on. Raise me alone.
True. And she’d criticized me the entire time.
What was I doing? My finger slowed, then hovered over the last digit. My mother would never condone this decision.
I dropped the receiver back in its cradle. Then slumped over the counter, hands to my temples, feeling adrift. The familiar ennui settled in, dragging along its chilling companion—fear.
Reality clunked in my chest, and I tried to breathe around its weight. The gleaming promise of the letter dulled before my eyes. Cognoscenti’s prize had seemed so miraculous while I pursued it. But now that it was within my reach—what was I doing?
No way could I go through with this.
I wandered into the living room of my corner apartment. Gazed through the front window at the sun-strewn afternoon. Early March in Redwood City, California, and the daffodils were up, the magnolia trees in pink bloom. Spring was coming. Renewal time.
For nature, maybe. Not for me.
I pressed cold hands against my cheeks. Brain surgery. Brain surgery, Lisa. How could I even think of putting myself through that?
But the procedure was simple, they said. Cognoscenti’s advancements in brain chip implants went far beyond any other company’s research. If I got the real implant I would instantly escape my whirlpool of defeat. A short stay in the hospital, and I could be a new person. Imagine… nurturing all the memories of Ryan without the deadening grief. Imagine recalling my attack with head knowledge only, not the sucking, terror-drenched memory from my gut.
Who wouldn’t want to turn off their pain?
But it wasn’t quite that simple.
In what they called the “gold standard” of research—double-blind, placebo-controlled—I could end up with the placebo. The blank chip. The surgery done—for nothing. Amazing they would put people through such turmoil. But that’s the way medical research worked.
Still, it was a chance. One little Empowerment Chip, and I could have the strength to rebuild my life. I could feel again. Breathe again. If I didn’t try it, what future did I have?
I dropped my head in my hands. I wanted this. How very much I needed the hope. Without it I didn’t know how to go on.
But what if something went wrong?