I remember this night as clear as day. What I thought was going to be a normal night ended up being the worst night of my life. Let’s start at the beginning. It happened on a warm Friday night in the year 2012. I was the age of twelve when I first noticed the row of miniscule numbers tattooed on the back of my neck. I was in the shower, drying myself with a towel before I caught a quick glance at the back of my neck. That’s when I realized. For years, my hair would always be worn down, but I never thought much about it because my parents continuously insisted on hiding it. I started to feel a mix of emotions. I felt confused, scared, and extremely angry. Confused and scared because I have never seen this number before. Angry because my parents have hid this from me for twelve years already. I rush downstairs. My parents are in the living room, watching a reality television show while snacking on clementines. The scene in front of me was domestic and calm. I turn around, moving my hair and ask them what the number on my back meant. The colour from my mother’s face drains. Her jaw drops to the ground. She’s speechless. My father looks just as shocked as my mother. Moments later, my mother is screaming at me. Crying. Breathing heavily.
“Olivia, what did I tell you about touching your hair?!” my mother shrieked at me.
I felt scared. I was unsure what to say and what to do, so I apologized and ran upstairs to my room. I sit on my bed, confused. Many thoughts are running through my head. The night feels slow. Minutes and hours pass as it gets later and later. Hoping to feel better, I tell myself not to worry and that they are just coming up with an explanation. Tears are slowing running down my cheeks. I hear light knocks on my door and my parents walk in. They explain everything. They admitted that they kept this secret from me for so long because they didn’t want me to feel upset over it. They explained that the number on the back of my neck meant the day I would die. My number is 1603182035. Which means that at 4 PM on March 18th, 2035—I will die. I will live to be 35 years old. I think about the fact that I only have 23 more years left of life and reality sets in. I realize that I don’t have a good number. I have a terrible number. My parents got lucky, though. My mother tells me that she is going to live to be 78, my father living to be 81. They both have the opportunity to see the world advance and experience so much more than I will. They will witness me die and live on for years after it happens. I’m in a state of denial and my heart aches. This can’t be real. I can’t let my parents watch me die. I burst out in a loud cry, sobbing, tears violently running down my cheeks. I tell myself not to cry.
I can’t cry now. I have to accept that this is my life.
I an unable to change my number.
It is permanent.
The next day, I start doing a little research about this recurring phenomenon. I live in a small town, so I am very limited to resources, but I have a lot of unanswered questions. Where did this stem from? Why does this happen to everyone? How do people die from this phenomenon? I questioned everyone I knew. I called aunts and uncles and even went door to door, asking my neighbours what they knew. I visited a nearby library and borrowed some history books. By the end of the day, I learned that the government implemented this time stamp in the 1900’s. They did this to avoid overpopulation and shortage of resources. I learned that this doesn’t just affect the citizens of my small town, but it affects individuals all over the world. And the cause of death? Still not completely sure, but from what I learned, a microchip gets inserted in your neck at birth, directly behind your number. When the time comes, the microchip releases three types of chemicals. The first chemical that the microchip will release is an anesthetic, which is then followed by a chemical used to paralyze the body. Finally, the microchip will release potassium chloride, which will stop the heart. This is essentially identical to a lethal injection, just without the actual injection. I also learned that one cannot escape their number, even with all the money, medicine, and miracles in the world. Living past your number is completely impossible. Of course, it it certainly possible for you to die earlier than your number, but to die before your number is extremely rare. With a constant reminder of the time constraint on your life, people tend to live more cautiously in order to avoid death before their time is really up.
As each day passes, the feeling of fear and dread washes away and I’m slowly starting to accept my fate. Most times, I attempt to force myself to forget about that stupid number. I tell myself not to think about it, to force that number to the very back of my mind, and it works. My consistent attempts to suppress this reality is successful because most days, I forget about the number on my back. I stopped sleeping in until noon and wasting my days. I start my days early now. I make myself a cup of coffee and sit on my balcony every morning, reflecting on life. I sit, meditate, drink my coffee, and try my hardest to stay positive as I live through this nightmare reality by telling myself that I have a good number.
And I do.
I really have a good number.
I’m reminded of this when I learn other people’s numbers.
The first reality check I’ve ever had happened seven years later, circa 2019. It was the evening after my month long trip to Italy. The evening was young and the weather was perfect when I decided to take a walk down the boardwalk near my home. The boardwalk is filled with restaurants, bars, ice cream parlors, and souvenir shops. There’s a large ferris wheel and other small rides at the very far end of the pier, where I used to visit almost every weekend as a child. I went on every single ride on this boardwalk during my childhood, but nothing beat the big ferris wheel. The ferris wheel was my favourite. Seeing the ferris wheel made me feel nostalgic. I think about my childhood on this pier and how my parents brought me on the ferris wheel almost every weekend when the warmer weather came. I saw everything on that wheel. I saw houses and cars from miles away. I saw large masses of people having fun by the game booths and people on the nearby beach, soaking up the sun, enjoying life as much as they possibly could. It made me feel invincible, like I was on top of the world. The thought of this made me sad. I was accustomed to feeling brave and strong, but now I just feel helpless. I feel helpless, knowing how simple life was back then compared to how it is now. I feel helpless knowing that there isn’t anything I could do in my power to reverse this reality. I used to believe that I had all the time in the world to do whatever my heart desires, but the harsh reality is that my time breathing is limited. And so is everyone else’s. As I was walking down the boardwalk, I pass one of the trendiest restaurants in town. I notice a small family sitting on the patio of that restaurant, celebrating a birthday. I assume it’s the youngest boys birthday because the cake has the saying “Happy 17th Birthday, Daniel!” written across in blue frosting. As the candles are blown out, I hear the young boy advise his family to head back home, as they don’t have much time until he has to go. Then it hits me.
He is meant to pass away on his birthday.
His 17th birthday.
This boy did not even get the chance to hit his important 18th birthday.
Feelings of sadness and guilt washes over me. I’m sad for the boy and guilty for feeling like my number is the worst.
I scold myself for ever pitying myself.
I have a good number.
I really do.
I make sure to remind myself everyday.
And so I did.
I spend the next couple of years doing everything I love with the people I love most. I travelled as much as I possibly could with my parents. We tried different foods from all around the world and immersed ourselves in different cultures. I even finished college with a degree in psychology, although I only enrolled online courses to allow myself to travel at the same time. I lived my life as fully as I possibly could. When my time comes, I’m surrounded by my parents and loved ones. I begin to feel at peace. I begin to feel safe. I begin to feel contentedness with my life. I begin to feel like everything is going to be okay. Everyone is cuddled around me and my parents are holding my hand when the time hits 4 PM on a sunny, spring afternoon. Everyone, including myself, has prepared for this moment. My parents have been preparing since the day I was born. It is time. The ticking of the clock hanging on the opposite wall sounds louder than it really is. The ticking echoes through my head as a close my eyes and think of all the love I’ve felt everyday leading up to this very moment. I think about the amazing adventures I’ve been on with the best people. I think about how I should be grateful for the life I have lived, yet I still can’t help but feel despair. I feel robbed. This number has robbed me from feeling complete happiness because no matter how hard I try to forget and be grateful, the fear and sadness of leaving my family lingers in me. Time feels slow as I wait to feel my last breath drip away. But it doesn’t. I continue to feel air rush through my lungs. I feel my heart continuously beating. I feel everything. I feel alive.
“Mom, what’s happening? I’m still here?” I asked, confused.
“I’m not quite sure.” My mother looks just as confused as everyone does.
“This isn’t supposed to happen. What’s wrong with me?”
This doesn’t make sense. This defies the rules of our society. I can’t be alive right now. Everyone looks at the clock. Then they look back at me. Back at the clock. They repeat this process for five minutes, just to confirm that what they are seeing is true. I have lived five minutes longer than my number states. Another five minutes passes until I realize that I am indeed, living beyond my time limit. And I don’t know why. I try to analyze all the possible reasons this could be. Maybe they forgot to insert my microchip? Maybe they insert a microchip, just incorrectly? Maybe my microchip is faulty altogether? I can’t be completely certain as to why I am still alive right now, but I will find out. I’m going to make it my mission to find out.