It wasn’t really his fault, honesty. Morn just lacked the proper genetics.
Not like he was saying his mother’s genetics weren’t proper, but it didn’t seem likely that anyone would want to trade with him even if he begged. For one, his brother Mork had been diagnosed with leukaemia two years ago, eventually being treated overseas due to Tee’s wealth and everything that came with it.
Thanks to him, Mork had been able to experience snow ad eventually get on a healthy healing path enough to continue his treatment in Thailand.
Many things had happened along the way, such as their father remarrying. Some lady showed up in the barber shop when Morn was studying, and accidentally catching them making out wasn’t really Morn’s ideal way of getting a new mom. As happy as he was for his dad, he couldn’t really bring himself to accept her easily.
In fact, after moving into his new mother’s house and meeting his older step-brother, he kept himself in his room or busied himself tidying Mork’s before he came home. It was evident that his new mother wasn’t fond of him either, accompanying his dad when he video called Mork and Tee and even following him to meet Tee’s family.
When Mork and Tee had finally returned, it was the first hug in two years that Morn had gotten, excluding the ones that Gord gave him whenever he came over. It was a happy feeling which was later followed by a stronger wave of loneliness as his presence was made invisible in the house. His father had gotten attached to Mork –knowing he had leukaemia, that couldn’t be helped –and refused to leave his side.
They’d spend hours at a time having conversations or discussing futures, sometimes crying over Mork’s future while the ill boy laughed awkwardly. Morn didn’t really care much about them, and over the months had ended up not caring about himself either.
Perhaps that was the reason he sat there, blankly staring as the doctor uttered a diagnosis that changed his life. It had started with moments of periodic confusion, forgetting the simplest things and losing sense of direction. Gord had insisted he take a rest from studying –he was in the last year of high school –and they had ended up going to the hospital instead.
“It’s the only form of dementia that’s present in teens,” the doctor had spoken softly, taking his trembling hands. “Do you want to contact your parents about this?”
Morn was many things, but selfish wasn’t one of them. He knew how much the cost of Mork’s treatment was, and how hard they had to work in order to cover up the cost. Morn had seen his father shed tears of fatigue and down cups of alcohol to the sound of Lofi Music. He wasn’t going to let his father go through that again.
Besides, he was invisible anyway. His family already treated him like a ghost, and there was no other option than to let them continue doing so.
“My family is poor…and they won’t be able to cover the cost. You said there isn’t any cure, right?”
Gord had held his hands, pleaded and begged him to at least try and hold on, his intention to fund a part of the treatment very evident. But Morn couldn’t do that, much less to his best friend.
“Money shouldn’t be spent on someone like me, Gord” he had said as quietly as possible, “There’s no way out of this. There’s no cure to dementia, and you know it. Please, Gord. I don’t want it.”
And they had cried, two high schoolers trying to make their way back home in tears. It had been painful for both of them, but Gord had promised to keep it a secret. It was the least he could do after everything Morn had gone through.
They’d have time.
But really, who was he kidding. Gord realized he was deteriorating before he did. Morn had decreased the amount of time at home, and they’d hang out longer as days passed by. Gord had first had suspicions when he’d seen Morn blank out during their study session in the library, the hand holding a pencil dragging squiggly line across his homework before he blinked back into reality.
But when he had found Morn standing in the middle of the hallway, unable to navigate the school they had learned in for years, he knew it was getting worse. More than once, Morn had been unable to recall the simplest of studies and he had even forgotten they had finished a whole topic the week before.
“Maybe you should rest at home,” Gord suggested, reaching over to erase Morn’s misspelled name the owner of the exercise papers had written. “Going to school is going to make it worse.”
“Going to school is the only way I can get out of the house,” Morn replied, frowning as Gord rewrote the correct spelling of his name. “I don’t want to meet my stepmother again”
Then the mood swings had happened.
Morn didn’t like arguing, more so with his brother. With harsh chemo and anxiety over blood tests, the tension had been high. It drove Morn mad just by thinking about it as he curled up on his bed that night, a fresh welt on his cheek –his father had quite the strong hand –and tears running down his face. Distressed lines his features as he clutched his head, trying to make sense of himself and the monster called Dementia that was eating away at his brain.
The next morning, he woke up not knowing where he was.
He had screamed, pressing his palm to his ears as his eyes darting wildly, trying to remember and failing. He saw Mork rushing in, his father near behind, and cupping his cheeks, trying to pry his hands away. The words Mork had said were drowned out by his own screaming and sobbing, a single name repeated over and over like a mantra.
When Gord had finally arrived, Mork sank into his presence, trusting him to tell him what was going on. Why he was on a bed he couldn’t recognize and how he ended up there.
“You see? Your Dad and brother are here, okay? This room is yours. It’s yours, Morn. H-hey, hey don’t cry…”
He had blacked out and woken up in the hospital, bringing forth another wave of screaming and tears which Gord controlled as his family stayed by the doorway, similar looks of distraught on their faces. They were too poor to afford a private room, which was why he shared his room with three other patients.
A pair of identical twin brothers –Non and Ohm –both who suffered from an unknown disease and another boy by the name of Time who was healing from a relapse.
“Do you ever wonder why teens are given illnesses just before they could experience real life?” Time had asked when their room was empty of visitors. “Wonder if it means we’ll get a better life when we’re reincarnated.”
“Hope so,” Ohm spoke, adjusting the beanie on Non’s head fondly, “But I do hope we meet each other if we ever do.”
Morn found comfort in these boys, and as the days passed and his memory deteriorated further, he was happy that he had their faces permanently etched in his mind. But with sickness came other things, such as symptoms. One night, he had been awoken by the sound of Ohm coughing his lungs out followed by the squeak of Non’s bed as he hurried over to comfort his other half.
He heard Non whisper “We promised not to leave the other behind, right?” in the dead of the night as they fell asleep on the Ohm’s bed.
There was also time who filled the room with the stench of vomit every so often during his chemo days, but it reminded Morn of his brother so he didn’t really complain about it. It was strange seeing his brother come and go for chemo and back home while he was hospitalized for a sickness that had no cure.
Maybe it was because Morn reminded his father about his wife too much. Perhaps, it was the same situation, separated by past and future.
“Why doesn’t Mork and Dad come over anymore?” Morn slurred, squinting at the sound of his own voice. Using his vocal chords had become increasingly hard. “Are they busy?”
Gord looked guilty as he replied “Yes”, not realizing how easy it had become for Morn to discern a lie over the years of their friendship. In reality, seeing him brought too many bad memories, so they left him to Gord’s care. The Gord-less days were filled with meds and painkillers and blood tests. Sometimes, a doctor would come in to test his speech and movement.
It didn’t take a genius for Morn to realize he was getting worse.
“I kind of pity you, Morn” Time admitted as they played chess on Morn’s bed. “I wouldn’t know what forgetting would feel like, to simply not be able to recall anything.”
Morn took some time to formulate a sentence, which was watched by Time patiently. “Like…waking up…from a deep sleep.”
The idea was able to reach and Time nodded thoughtfully.
“I wouldn’t understand…cancer”
Time scoffed, placing his pawn forward. “Cancer is when your illness battles in your body. You’re just the vessel, and it’s your cells against the doctors. I could stay strong, but what change would that bring?”
Morn turned his head to the side before raising his finger at the twins. Non had spiked a fever, asleep on his bed under three layers of blankets. Ohm was beside him, bent over in sleep with his hand holding Non’s. “They promised…”
Time glanced at the twins, a small smile etching itself onto his pale lips. “They promised each other, huh?”
Days seemed to pass by quickly, at least for Morn. It came to the point that his doctor had made it a daily routine to tell him what the current day and date was. Gord’s visits started become less and less frequent, leaving Morn to entertain himself. Time was shifted to the clean room to replace his spinal fluid from a donor, and the twins barely left each other.
Then a day came where all seemed still.
Morn had woken up from the commotion happening nearby. Startled, he sat up and turned to Ohm’s bed by his left, and his heart sank. Doctors and nurses were flanking both sides of the bed, but he could still see the twins curled up in each other’s embrace.
Almost on slow motion, he saw the doctors lift Ohm into a separate bed before a white cloth was draped over them mournfully. Morn was partially aware that a nurse was rubbing circles on his back, saying something his groggy mind couldn’t compute. But he did understand something.
The twins had kept their promise.
He didn’t sleep after that, instead gazing out the window mournfully as he thought about his own fate. How long did he have before he succumbed? Was there a promise he should’ve kept? His appetite went down drastically, lunch times often placing him in situations where a bowl would end up flying before crashing against the wall.
His episodes started to become more frequent and all the more terrifying with no one he knew by his side. It would always be the same hands restraining his flailing limbs and yelling at him to calm down. The same faces blurred beyond his tears and the same sedative that lulled him to sleep.
One day, he woke up to faces that were extremely familiar, but he couldn’t name.
A hand was stroking his cheek and brushing his hair back, and Morn was barely lucid through the post-haze of the sedative to register the soft lullaby sung by his ear. It sounded angelic, and Morn relaxed. He still couldn’t place a finger on the voice, but surely it was someone he knew. Hopefully.
The same voice appeared when he was in the middle of a fit, fingers tangled in his hair as he kicked out, pushing himself das back as he could from the hands that reached out towards him. Morn hadn’t spoken properly since Ohm and Non died, only distressed sounds released from his lips. That and a lot of screaming.
The owner of the voice had sat down at the foot of his bed, the same song falling comfortingly from his lips as he reached out to take something from behind his back.
Mork had felt terrible ever since he had witnesses his younger brother having a panic attack in his room. That was one thing, but the realization that Morn had inherited a form of dementia was even worse. It made Mork power through chemo and put in the effort for fundraising.
As much as Tee chastised him for working, he needed to make it up to his younger brother. It was the least he could do. His father, however, had been against visiting Morn and even didn’t allow Mork to do the same. Mork had asked Tee to send his regards to Morn, but apparently he couldn’t bear to do so.
Months passed, and Mork was still desperate as ever to go visit Morn.
The first time he visited after a long period of time, Morn was having an ‘episode’ like the doctors said. Sedative forcefully injected into his IV had him subdued while Mork sang him their childhood song. It may have been his imagination, but he had seen Morn open his eyes partially enough for Mork to see his pupils.
The second time, he hadn’t been subdued.
It broke his heart to see his brother so confused and afraid. So when he had been able to get close enough, he pulled out Morn’s childhood toy –a bunny rabbit. The song he sang made Morn unfurl from his ball, and his arms reached out to take the toy.
Crossed legged and eyes shining with wonder, Morn had squeezed the toy and smiled. It reminded Mork of the young boy he’d sing to sleep after their mother died. That day, he requested for Morn t be taken home, and they did eventually take him home after a week.
He made sure Morn remembered, even when Morn could no longer walk or speak properly, he had to make sure Morn remembered. The reunion with their father was one that Morn had been waiting for, eyes brimming with tears as he searching his mind to match the face he had longed for. Their father made it a daily task to push Morn around the city on the wheelchair and tell him stories about each and every place they visited.
Gord came over after school every single day to read him books and play music he liked. He also had a number of stories to tell, and every few days, he’d sleep by Morn’s side at night.
Morning were filled with distress, a new fear to overcome every time Morn opened his eyes. It was like watching the life and personality leach out of them little by little until they slowly lost their light. Sometimes, Mork would catch Gord crying in the toilet and walk over to cry with him. The bunny doll remained with him always, and Mork hoped that it was enough to give him comfort.
And one morning, after a night of rain, Morn hadn’t woken up.
He was peaceful, curled up in his warm blankets the calm sky hid the paleness of his skin and lips. Mork cried during the funeral, and he cried hours after when he received news that he was healthy. Gord was devastated, and his father let him sleep over for the next few days to get over Morn’s passing. Morn had left a lot behind, but he had brought with him a mind clear of the darkest memories he could have kept.
And Mork prayed that when Morn was reincarnated, he would be happier.