“See you this afternoon,” he yelled as he walked out to the garage.
“Have a good day, sweetie!” She smiled as she rolled over to get that extra 20 minutes of rest.
How many times have you done this with your wife? Your husband? Your kids? Your girlfriend/boyfriend?
Let’s not kid ourselves. A lot a lot.
We walk out the door, knowing in the back of our mind it could be our last. But to stay sane, we keep it stored WAY, WAY in the back. Because we want to believe that we are immune to the bizarre happenings of the universe. We expect to be back soon. We want to be back soon.
But what if you never made it back? Or even worse, what if they never made it back?
I watched a 2013 episode of Netflix’s show Black Mirror. Entitled “Be Right Back”, a young couple have moved to the English countryside to finally start their life together. Wanting to start a family. A routine trip to the store for Ash turns into a nightmare for Martha. He never returns. A policeman knocks on the door the next day and she must deal with the fact that he is gone, and won’t be coming back.
She’s left in a state of confusion. A state of denial. A state of being directionless. She can’t move. Because she doesn’t know how to move in such grief. She is without him. Left in a void of his absence.
Trying to help, a friend of hers recommends a service, a new, somewhat secret service. It claims to let a user connect with their lost loved one by scouring the dead individual’s social feeds, photos, emails, etc. Anything that they left behind in the digital world. It combines these together to make a “profile” that will, effectively, interact with the user.
Desperate, she signs up. And waits.
Until her computer dings one night. It’s “him”.
She begins to chat with him in text. All night. And over the next couple of days, texts turn into phone calls. (Apparently, the service can replicate personality through voice as well.) She is connecting with her love again. She goes on walks while talking to him. Lays in bed talking to him. Runs errands talking to him. Paints while she talks to him.
She is falling in love with him again. All of the grief, all of the heartache, all of the pain, she pushes down. Because he’s there.
Having hooked Martha, the company takes it one step further and offers her an experimental service. They offer her the ability to “recreate” Ash so that he is (seemingly) a real, live person. (This is where you must simply accept the sci-fi reality aspect of the story, and go with it.)
Again, wanting to be with him so badly, she says yes. The package arrives and she follows the instructions. And waits. (The details of how this happens are weird, but ultimately don’t matter to the story.)
She is absolutely startled later that night when her dead husband is standing in front of her at the base of the staircase. Whole. Real. Tangible. She can touch him. Speak to him. Kiss him. Hug him.
She realizes very quickly that feeling of being whole again.
For days and days, she explores life again with him next to her. Walks. Talks. Laughter. Romance. Sex.
And everything seems perfect. She has her Ash back. He’s there with her. Life is moving forward again.
It’s not him. She notices the small things at first, but brushes them aside. She has the good again. Why would she do anything to spoil that? Over time though, they become hard to ignore. And they start to weigh on her as days turn into weeks.
She begins to realize that he doesn’t act or react exactly like Ash did.
His personality is not exactly like Ash.
He doesn’t exactly kiss like Ash.
He doesn’t exactly laugh like Ash.
He doesn’t exactly make love like Ash.
He doesn’t exactly smile like Ash.
He doesn’t love her exactly like Ash did.
He is different. So many things are the same. But they are not exactly the same. It’s an uncanny valley situation at the most personal level.
I’ve spoiled much of the episode here, but I’ll save what she does about this situation for the episode itself. It’s a really good 44 minutes of television, and I recommend you watch it.
But it does challenge you to bring the central question back to a very personal place. And it’s a question that I couldn’t answer right off the bat. Even months after watching this episode for the first time, it still haunts me to some degree. Here’s the question:
Would you (or could you) live with a version of someone (especially someone as close as a spouse or a girlfriend/boyfriend), even if you know it’s not actually them?
Could you do that?
Loss is a terrible, heart-wrenching thing. It makes you question so many things in your own life. So many personal things. Things you share with only a few in your entire lifetime. Knowing there was a time where that person was such a part of you that you believed you could never live without them. And now, you’ve been forced to live without them. Sometimes, very suddenly. Very abruptly.
Yet, at the same time, you’ve been given the unbelievably unique opportunity to bring them back, so to speak.
Would you do it?
You already know that this “person” is not yours. They are NOT the person you knew. Intellectually, you know that. But all of your real-world senses tell you that they are. And yet, they’re not. Not exactly.
Is the opportunity to have 97% of your loved one back worth the idea that 3% of them will not be them?
It’s a tough question. A tough couple of questions. I will say that, for me…
I don’t know that I, personally, could accept that.
The hubris inside me says I could handle it. I would get over it. I would make it work. Because, like Martha, I want it to be true. I want it to work. But the logical part of me fires back. “No, Lee, just no. That’s not [person’s name]. They will never be them. No matter how much you want them to be.”
I would also imagine that the answer may change from day to day. After all, some days you may feel strong and confident that you are moving on and living your life despite the terrible loss. And other days, you may swim in the sorrow of that loss. Your heart is broken, and you don’t know that you’ll ever get over it. You are missing part of yourself.
And then there are all of the days in between.
In the end, I’m left with the following personal truth. If this “new” person is not going to be the person I loved, if that person is not going to be the person i opened my heart to, and I know it will never be that person, I don’t think I could do it. Because they won’t be my version of that person. I would never have fallen in love with this “new” version. And they would never have fallen in live with me. It’s fake. It’s not real. It’s a lie.
One thing i know very definitively about myself is this: If I can’t have the real thing, I don’t want a substitute. Those two “people”, or versions, are NOT the same. And they never will be. Ever.
I want the real.
I want my real.