It was just two weeks after Midori’s birth. Natasha and I were happy and exhausted at the same time – Natasha certainly more of each, while for me some element of worry began to creep in. Some worry whether we would be able to protect our little girl, whether we would be able to offer her a good life.
Natasha and Midori were back from the hospital for a bit more than a week when the flyer came.
“Hair loss? – Proven treatment, FREE.”
The flyer had a few before and after pictures and honestly, the results were impressive. I thought they were fake, but Natasha still said I should check it out.
I never really minded my hair loss. Sure, it came far too early; it started in my teens and half-way through my twenties a large part of my head was already smooth enough to reflect sunlight. Still, for me it was a sign of masculinity; I read somewhere that hair loss correlated with a high testosterone level.
But Natasha would have preferred to see more hair on my head. When we still had time to watch TV – before Midori was born – my hand was usually on her pregnant belly, but Natasha’s hand far too often went to my bald spots. I think Natasha didn’t like that people thought we were years apart; in reality it was only a few months, she was 25 and I was 24 when Midori was born.
Still, with my hair loss and her youthful looks and tiny frame it wasn’t surprising that the day I met Natasha’s parents her mother took her aside and told her, point-blank that I was too old for her. That day Natasha laughed, but I think some part of that memory stayed in her mind.
In the end it doesn’t matter. I lost Natasha forever. As a young father that’s something I shouldn’t say – but losing Natasha was even harder on me than losing Midori.
The day the hair loss flyer arrived I didn’t know about any of it. I threw it in the trash; Natasha pulled it back out and placed it on my desk and a glass paperweight on top.
It sat there for a week, until it somehow moved to the sofa table. I finally took the hint and gave the agency a call.
They told me it was for a study. We talked about my family situation and my concerns that I didn’t want any chemicals in my body that could harm Midori or Natasha or me. The lady on the phone said that it would all be okay, that it was all safe and that, if I was just willing to give them some genetic material for their study, everything would be fine and the treatment would be free for me. And all of it would take less than two hours of my time.
Natasha was excited; I wasn’t. I didn’t like the idea of having my DNA in some shady database of a research team that finds their candidates through flyers. Natasha said it was likely just a corporate study; one of those studies that later provide the “100% proven” label on the product bottles.
We booked a slot for Saturday and went over. I told Natasha to stay at home, but she was excited for the opportunity to watch the study and on the phone the researchers had told me that Natasha and Midori were “more than welcome.” They even said that the two could participate; I was sure I wouldn’t let that happen.
We pulled up in front of the old hospital building. The large parking lot was nearly empty and most of the building was dark – for a Saturday in a private research center that wasn’t exactly unexpected. But the condition of the house surprised us – walls looked shabby, some windows were broken, others were barricaded with pieces of wood.
Following the instructions we stepped to the smaller side entrance and a young lady with a clipboard welcomed us. I recognized the lady’s voice from the phone. For a moment I admired her beauty; then I caught myself and pulled my eyes towards her face. I cursed at myself. I thought those urges would die with the long-distance relationship and as a father. Instead, if anything, they seemed to have grown. I reminded myself of the two loves in my life – my wife and daughter. In that moment I felt I should turn to stone. Natasha didn’t notice anything. Midori was sleeping happily in her stroller.
The lady, she introduced herself as Molly, led us through a long, bare and barely lit corridor.
“Sorry,” Molly said. “We had some power cuts. But that really is nothing to worry about.”
“So it will all work?” Natasha asked.
“Definitely.” Molly said. “You all seem like exactly the people we were looking for.”
Natasha was excited; Midori slept; I felt somewhat worried and somewhat regretful. Worried for my manliness; regretful that I had agreed to the procedure.
Molly led us into a small office room. Two older men in white coats sat at a somewhat beaten table. Shelves in the back seemed to be stuffed with documents, but the writing was only numbers.
“So, what’s the procedure?” Molly asked.
That moment I noticed that we really didn’t know much. Molly had told us it was all safe and painless for me, but not much more. “I don’t understand the procedure myself.” Molly said on the phone. “But it will be explained to you and you can still refuse it when you come.”
The two men didn’t look like they were interested in telling us anything.
“Stemcells.” One of them finally snipped.
The second man turned to Molly.
“You have the placenta?” He asked.
Molly glanced first at me, then at Natasha and Midori.
“It’s not one of those cases.” Molly said quietly.
“Oh.” Said the man. “I thought we aren’t doing that anymore?”
“Doing what?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing, nothing.” Said Molly. “It seems the doctor just didn’t read the case sheet properly.”
The building made me uneasy. The room made me feel on edge. But their secretive behavior made me feel downright alarmed.
“I think we’ll be going.” I said. “We can come back when your power is back.”
“Don’t worry about the power.” Said Molly.
“What about it?” Asked one of the men.
“You know,” Molly said. “The power cut.”
“Oh, right.” said the man.
“Right.” Said Molly.
“I really think we need to go.” I said.
“Wait.” Natasha grabbed my arm. “We haven’t heard anything yet. So what’s the procedure?”
“We take stem cells,” said one of the men. “Usually from placentas; but there are some more complicated ways we can use. And we run a metal comb over your skin –“
“What?” I said.
“Don’t worry,” Chimed the second man in. “It really is just a small tickle.”
“It opens the skin.” Said the first man. “And then we can spray stem cells on top.”
He glanced at Midori; Midori was still asleep.
“Like in the baby the stem cells can build any cell in your body. If we spray the right dosage with the right nutritional solution on your scalp the cells will become new hair follicles and they grow new hair.”
“And it doesn’t hurt?” I said.
“It won’t hurt you,” said the man. “We can promise that.”
I had more questions, but I saw Natasha’s pleading eyes.
“Okay.” I said. “I don’t really know anything about these things. But you said it only takes two hours, so why don’t we just get started with the tests or whatever you need to do?”
Natasha smiled and nodded strongly. Midori woke up.
I wanted to stay with Natasha and help her calm Midori down.
“I’m fine.” She said. “You go and get ready.”
I kissed her and Midori goodbye.
Molly and one of the men led me to another room and made me fill out a form and sign a contract. I gave them permission to take stem cells and spray them on my head as well as monitor my reaction.
They made me change clothes and lie on a stretcher.
“We’ll put you to sleep.” Molly said. “So that you don’t feel any pain.”
“I thought there wouldn’t be any pain?” I said.
“Not much.” She said. “But the comb hurts a bit. We’ll just put you out and you will wake up again in a minute or two.”
“No danger?” I asked.
Two nurses stepped into the room.
“No danger.” Molly said.
The man in the white coat nodded.
“Try the size.” He said and pushed a breathing mask on my face.
I remember thinking It fits. I remember that I was wondering what the mask was for.
Then there was just black.
The main thing I remember is the thirst. I think the thirst was what woke me up.
I tried to move my arms, but heavy, leather straps held me onto the stretcher. It was dark. I didn’t recognize the room. And I felt dizzy and incredibly thirsty.
“Help!” I called.
“Hello? Help! I’m in here!” I screamed.
I felt an acidic, sickening smell in my throat and nose.
I kept screaming, but there was no response. I tried to break the straps, but they were too tight.
I looked around the room, in all directions. There was an old fridge or freezer; next to it a table with a bundle of clothes on it.
“Natasha?” I screamed.
I tried to roll to the side, to rock the stretcher so that maybe something would get lose.
“Natasha?” I screamed even louder; my throat hurt.
I rocked too violently; the stretcher slid to the side; I couldn’t stop the fall.
My whole back exploded in pain when the stretcher hit the floor.
Then I saw her body. Her skin was a gray-yellow color. Her eyes were sunk inwards. There was dried blood all around Natasha’s head.
“Natasha.” I whispered.
I fought against the stretcher and the straps; I even managed to bend the stretcher partly. The tears were streaming over my face; my eyes didn’t move away from Natasha.
I was fighting against the straps and stretcher. I was fighting because I wanted to save her. I didn’t even want to save myself, just her – and Midori.
I called for Midori a few times; but there were no cries. That was the only thing she had learned how to do – to cry. And I couldn’t even hear that.
I was on the floor, next to Natasha’s body, for hours. The image of every single curve of her face and every strand of her hair burned itself in my mind.
When I lie down, at night, I still see Natasha’s face. I still see it that way, in the strange gray-yellowish color.
I was exhausted. I felt like I needed to rest, to sleep a long, deep sleep. My eyes were still on Natasha, but they slowly began to close.
Just in that moment I heard the screeching sound. I called out again:
There was no response.
Then another screeching sound, louder than before.
“Help!” I screamed.
My voice cracked; my throat ached.
“Around here.” Said a male voice from the corridor.
“Help.” I whispered.
Somebody pushed against the heavy metal door.
Another screeching sound; louder than before.
“Oh god.” Said a male voice.
“That’s them.” Said another voice.
“Help.” I whispered.
I remember them walking closer, the blue uniform; then everything was black again.
This time I woke up from a steady beep. I felt the soft blankets and the drip in my arm.
The nurse said “Welcome back to life.” She smiled when she said “We thought you wouldn’t make it.”
The police came only a few minutes later.
They introduced themselves, sat down, asked me to tell them all I knew.
My memory felt hazy.
“Where is Natasha?” I asked. “I saw her on the floor –“
“I’m really sorry.” Said the lady in blue.
It felt like she meant it.
Tears came back in my eyes.
“And my daughter?” My voice was barely audible.
The officer just averted her eyes.
“Sorry.” She finally whispered.
I wanted time alone; they didn’t let me. They said that it was urgent; that they had traces but needed more information.
I told them all I knew.
I asked them again and again what happened to Natasha and what happened to Midori. They sat Natasha had been killed with a dull object to her head. They didn’t want to say anything about Midori.
Only two days later they finally told me about Midori’s death. They said they wanted to make sure I would be able to take it.
They said she was likely stabbed; then cut open. Her blood was drained; her spine was removed.
“The spine and blood,” said one of the officers. “Contain a lot of stem cells.”
When the officers left I cried some more.
Another two days later I was discharged; sent to a home that’s not a home anymore.
I had felt the softness earlier; I had already felt it in the hospital and I had already tried to see it in the mirror.
But when I got home I rushed past all the things that belonged to Natasha and Midori and straight to the bathroom.
For the first time I had a mirror with good light. I saw it; no doubt. There was new hair growing on my head.
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.