Cassandra rewrite

28 Jan



By L. Stewart Marsden

The Accident

Please click on the link to begin the story. Then return to the post, please.


– § § § § § –

Dear Diary,

I have never felt in control of my life – and that’s from the very beginning. I mean, think about it (which I have): you don’t chose when or where or into what family you are born. You have no control over how smart, or innately talented you are. Life presents you with a host of events over which you are helpless to determine – or the consequences that follow your reactions to those happenings.

Robert Frost wrote about the road not taken, and the difference that choice made for him. He said he chose one and left the other for another day. But he only said that decision had made all the difference. Difference! Not, disaster or doom or destruction! Difference. He never said it was good or bad. Just . . . different.

See? Even when you do have choices, you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t!

The what-ifs pile up over time and haunt you like some menacing specter for the rest of your life!

They say that if you could go back and change things, everything from that moment on would be horribly altered – significantly different. What’s so wrong with that, I say?

Perhaps everybody’s life would be better! Perhaps someone who had a really crappy existence would be able to exceed their wildest dreams because you went back and took the other road. Actually, you might be doing everyone a big favor!

People say all the time, “I wouldn’t change a thing!”

I’d change EVERYTHING! I would.

First – when I was born. Maybe during the 16th century. Not so many people.

Then, where I was born – England. Everything there is so civilized, and they speak with such a lovely accent! Maybe I would be born into the Hathaway family, and they would name me Anne. And I would meet and fall in love with a young poet. Not so handsome – but who possessed a beautiful mind.

And he would immortalize me in sonnets and plays.

And he would die before me – exactly on his birthday. And I would die in my thirties, seven years later. It would all be so tragic! So dramatic! Not like how life is these days – such drudgery! Back then art and plays and intellectual prowess were desired!

And centuries later a famous actress would take my name.

What’s so wrong with that? What colossal damage could that do?

If I had stood on the edge of heaven and looked over the ages, and had selected that road instead of the one I’m now on? If I could have turned to God with a daughter’s pleading look – one that said, “That time, that place, that family, that name – please?”

What loving father can refuse his daughter?

What loving father would hand her a stone? Or a burden no one else has ever borne before? Or could ever bear? Or, would ever take on?

Please, Father . . . please?

Not my choice.

Not the road I would have taken.

If I could do it again, I would not have taken that road that day, and would have definitely left it for another day. Or, I would have died. Like Casey.

She got off easy.

— Alex

– § § § § § –


Alexandra’s Memoric Library

They say people who are in comas can hear everything around them. Not sure how they know that. Maybe they just say it for the survivors – the family and friends who want to believe that somehow their encouragement, or their prayers, helps the person to come back. Or ignites some energy deep in the soul of the comatose person – one that rallies them to fight out of their unconsciousness?

And, just who is they, anyway?

That wasn’t my experience. I didn’t hear anything going on around me when I was in my coma. It would have definitely been counter-productive in my case. Being aware of all the machines keeping my body alive; the constant in and out of the medical staff; or my father at my bedside, or my mother, or their arguing? It would have only stressed me out.

I got what I needed: deep sleep.

In addition to isolation and protection, my coma gave me the opportunity to wander about in my memories. It gave me a unique perspective from which to look at things that happened to me in my life, and to reconfigure my understanding of them.

I changed my mind on a whole bunch of things. Like, who my friends were and who they should be. How my extreme nerdiness wasn’t the worst thing about to me (I had already had that preached to me a gazillion times by Mom. But I never believed it before). Or, how maybe Hickory wasn’t the absolutely stupidest town to grow up in, and that maybe I should think about staying – or coming back after college.

So I had a chance in this deep, watery state of mind, to reconcile a lot of stuff. Maybe everyone should go into a coma at some point in their life.

An extra bonus were the memories I would never have had access to in a conscious state. Like my birthday – and I mean, my literal birthday! What a trip!

So my memories were kept in this huge room with vaulted ceilings – almost like those beautiful arched ones in the really old cathedrals you see pictures of.

They were sort of arranged kind of like library stacks, I guess. Rows and rows of shelves containing little glowing globular things. Not glass or metal or plastic, but sort of like cellular thingies with thin pulsating skin. And I put them up to my eye, or nose or mouth – sometimes I just held them. Whatever kind of memory it was seeped into me

I figured out that the rows were like a timeline. The nearest rows were the most recent memories. The further I walked down the main aisle, the older the rows of memories.

So I went all the way down the aisle to the very first row, and remembered the day of my birth. That was actually midway down the row. There were memories stored from when I was in my mother’s womb, actually!

Mostly I wandered among the stacks. Pulling memories off the shelves out of curiosity – like book-browsing.

And they were color-coded, which I found fascinating, and – if I can say this: user-friendly! At least there was an intuitive color scheme.

The green pulsing memories were basically great memories – sunshine, balmy wind, great music, wonderful conversations – like in the movies when they kind of make everything grainy and misty? Like that.

The red ones had to do with action – and anger. Whenever the heart got pumped for something. Anticipation. Exertion. A fight. Strong emotion. Surprisingly, there were a lot of those.

The white globes were more intellectual memories – aha moments. Reading. Learning. And for me, the rows of shelves abounded with them.

Then there were the gray and black globes. I tried a couple of them, and knew better than to spend much time (even though there was no sense of time) with those memories. Bad memories. The blacker the globe, the worse the memory.

Blue globes were sad, unhappy memories. Like when Me-maw died. Or when we had to put down Trix on account his kidneys failed. The deeper and darker the blue, the deeper the unhappiness. I bet my mom’s rows are filled with dark blue.

So I would cherry-pick the globes.

A white globe from the second row: the feel of the linoleum floor when I crawled into the kitchen, grabbed a fallen onion skin which I popped into my mouth. A learning experience.

The globe changed to yellow (they were able to do that) – warning: not able to get air – and my desperation and panic as I choked.

I snatched a variety of smells and textures and sounds and “aha” moments – like when I understood my first word (it was “No!”).

I didn’t feel rushed going through my collection of memories. There was nothing due – no term paper or project – that warranted hurry. It was more like a Sunday afternoon at the library.

I call it Alexandra’s Memoric Library. But this was a huge library! Which I thought – Wow! I’m only 16!

The smells. Bread baking. Spring flowers. Rain. Snow. Some were inviting, some were bland, at best, and some – well, you can imagine. Some of the gastrointestinal memories! Well, I thought once you’ve smelled one of those – ! But I was so wrong! Oh, the nuances!

Lemon was and is my favorite odor. Sweet and tangy with a bite.

Some memories you couldn’t smell, like sugar and salt. They had to be tasted or felt.

In one of my memories I found a bit of popcorn under the dining room table. Or what I thought was popcorn. Obviously I couldn’t reason well at the time, or I would have realized we never ate popcorn in the dining room.  I always ate popcorn in my parents’ bedroom, sitting between them, watching television.

It was a mothball – or p-dichlorobenzene (I looked it up once). Mom used it to pack her sweaters for storage so the moths wouldn’t eat holes in them. How it got under the dining room table I can’t say, but my reaction to it was gastrointestinal!

The green memories were warm breezes and the sound of the surf at the beach. Partially muted voices of children playing in the neighborhood as I awoke from a nap in my crib. Uncontrolled laughter. The succulence of a sweet ripe plum, or the smell of my dad’s aftershave. The comforting softness of my mom’s breast.

So, no. I don’t remember hearing anything in my stay while I was in the ICU those first hours and days.

It’s just as well.

There wasn’t anything I could do about it, anyway.

My last memory? A black globe. And it contained every sense: sound, smell, taste, touch – and sight. Going through the intersection, windows down, radio blaring NPR Science Friday – Sci-Fri, they call it. Mom was blubbering about something and I was thinking would I ever get invited to the school prom? Then I looked up and saw this white car coming into the intersection, and a teenage driver not paying attention to anything but her iPhone. And she was texting.

It was slow motion, our collision. She looked up just before we met, metal to metal, windshields and windows shattering, the side of the van imploding onto me. We were a matter of feet from each other, and our eyes locked.

She was beautiful. I remember thinking she mouthed the words “Oh, shit!” just before we struck.

And then, nothing. Except Alexandra’s Memoric Library.


– § § § § § –



The hospital. An ICU room. A window on one wall is obscured by plastic vertical blinds. Another window on the opposite wall looks outside, and the tops of green trees can be seen. It is cloudy outside. A large mobile cart with various monitors and screens, dials and switches, tubes and leads is positioned by the head of a hospital bed, upon which CASEY lies. The head of the bed is slightly inclined. Numerous wires extend from various places on Casey’s body to the cart. Two IVs are hung from a post extending from the head of the bed, and a bag of clear liquid as well as one filled with plasma drip contents into tubes that wind down to bandaged insertion points on Casey’s arm. She lies on her back, her arms extended to her sides. Her eyes are closed.

A crinkled tube is fastened to a plastic portal on the front of her neck, and leads back to a machine that pumps air into Casey at a regular rate. The noise is constant, clicking and wheezing air into her motionless body.

Other machines create a cacophony of sounds — various beeping sounds — and a heart monitor is like a metronome, with its  regular, constant beep-beep-beep.

Casey’s MOM and DAD are seated on one side of the still girl. Her mom is closer, and her father sits a bit back, convulsing with sobs that he attempts to mute, but to no avail. Periodically in the background are off-stage intercom calls for various doctors to go to various places in the hospital. They are flat and without emotion.

Paging Dr. Welstrom. Paging Dr. Welstrom. Line four. Dr. Welstrom, line four.

Casey’s MOM
(Looking up in response to a question, speaking to the Audience)
Are you kidding? My Casey was – is — beautiful – inside and out! There isn’t anything about her that anyone dislikes.

Casey’s DAD
(Wiping his eyes with a damp handkerchief)
Nothing they didn’t like.

Casey’s MOM
Even now – even in her hospital bed – she’s a beautiful angel!

Casey’s dad:
(Blowing his nose)
An angel.

Casey’s MOM
My Casey has everything going for her! Beauty, athleticism, out-going personality . . . she is the perfect daughter . . .
she has a smile that brightens everyone’s day . . . an innocence that is unmatchable – untouchable!

Casey’s DAD
(Continuing to weep in a high-pitched, hiccuppy sound)

Mrs. Meriam Shaw, you are wanted at the nurse’s station in ICU immediately. Mrs. Shaw,
you are wanted at the nurse’s station in ICU immediately.

Casey’s MOM
Look at her!
(motions to the still, unmoving form of her daughter)
She’s asleep, is all! Her skin is pink and vibrant still! Look! See her chest rise? She is breathing, by God!

Casey’s DAD

(A nurse in blue scrubs, mask and hair cover enters and crosses to the bed. She pulls out a blood pressure cuff and wraps it around the girl’s arm, then inserts the end of her stethoscope under the cuff and adjusts the earpieces, pumping the black bulb several times. She quickly scans the various monitors that are attached to Casey by dozens of leads, and notates the values of each in a chart, which she hooks back on the life-support cart next to the bed. She turns to leave and makes eye contact with Casey’s mom, and then looks down and exits DR)

Casey’s MOM
In and out. On the hour. Take her blood pressure and look at the monitors. Then write something down.
They think she’s dead. They think we’re crazy to keep her hooked up. They think we should let her go.

Casey’s DAD
(Softly, weeping)
Let her go.

Casey’s MOM
But it’s not up to us, is it? I mean, we’re not in control, are we? God is in control.
And until I hear God tell me to let Casey go – to turn life support off –
we will believe that everything is possible when God is honored and His will is obeyed.

Casey’s DAD
His will.

Casey’s MOM
Amen! Jesus said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed – a mustard seed!
Know how big a mustard seed is? You can hardly see it, by God! It’s tiny!

Casey’s DAD

Casey’s MOM
I’ve got that kind of faith! I can believe that one day – like Lazarus – my Casey is going to
open her eyes and sit up and shake these monitors from her arms and legs and head and jump onto
the floor and walk out of this place! And it won’t matter that the doctors and nurses and
administrators and anybody else here didn’t believe! It is the power of God to work and act
in the spiritual world and do things no doctor could ever accomplish!

Casey’s DAD
No doctor.

Casey’s MOM
So, they can think what they want. It doesn’t make any difference. It does not matter.
Because my tiny faith is going to release the Power of the Universe!
The One who flung everything that is into being is capable and able to do wondrous things!
HE is able! It does not matter that no one else believes! Jehovah God will prevail!

Casey’s DAD
It does not matter.

Casey’s MOM
Yes, it does not matter.

Security, code gray in the front lobby, stat. Security, code gray in the front lobby, stat. Code blue, ICU. Repeat, code blue, ICU.

Lights fade as last VOICE OFFSTAGE repeats several times, fading in volume.

– § § § § § –



Dear Diary,

I once heard it is better to ask forgiveness than to beg for permission. Don’t ask – just do it. Like Nike.

That’s basically what happened in my case. Only it wasn’t me that needed the forgiveness or the permission.

The Dr. Bill Show just served to celebratize me more. I don’t even know if that’s a word, and I’m too damn tired of it all right now to look it up.

My mom got a hunk of money for appearing, as did the Millers.

I declined to be a part of that circus – I’m now 19 and the age of majority, so Mom couldn’t “persuade” me to go on air. That’s not what I’m about.

I’ve had the paparazzi and media following me everywhere since I survived the nearly two years’ of operations and therapies and Lord knows what else. I still feel like a Frankenstein. The only thing missing are those nodes sticking out of my neck.

Counseling. Lots of counseling. World-famous therapists from European countries and Mrs. Miller’s church. God! If I hear someone else tell me God must have a great plan for my life, I’m going to SCREAM! And it won’t be from the Bible!

For all of them – my parents, the TV show hosts, the media, the shrinks and preachers and whoever else – it’s not really about me.

It’s about them. What they can get out of it. How they can attach their names and careers to Cassandra. “Well, as Cassandra’s doctor, or therapist . . .” – just how much entertainment do you want tonight?

A never-ending line of suitors. Publicists and publishers. Movie and TV producers.

Even stalkers.

“I love you for your mind,” said one chronic emailer. I’m not sure how he got my email address. Probably hacked it.


That’s my new identity. Take Casey and Alexandra and what do you get?

Fits, right? After all, I’m no longer Alexandra Sigmon. My body – my shell – died and was peeled back and thrown to the researchers who clamored for the discarded meat and bones of my past existence.

It’ll probably end up in the Museum of Natural Science. In a glass case right next to that giant bumblebee. Or John Dillinger’s infamous member that floats in a jar. Embalmed and splayed open so that museum goers can see the result of texting and driving.

And, I’m not Casey Miller, though I sure as hell look like her. Her soul left long before the surgeons cut the final wires to her dead brain. Just a pulpy hard drive with a blown motherboard. Good for nothing.

Great body, though.

When her parents were first met this new person I am, her mom was shocked and elated. I thought she was going to have a heart attack – or maybe explode from the conflict that must have raced through her body and mind.

I remember she approached timidly, and took my – Casey’s – hand in hers (at the time I couldn’t feel it) and bent over to whisper “Praise Jesus!” in my ear.

I’m culturally Jewish. It didn’t really do much for me – her saying that. Besides, Jesus didn’t do the surgeries. The surgeons did.

My hand twitched involuntarily in hers – circuits trying to fire up – and she smiled broadly and looked up to the ceiling, mascara-stained tears streaking black rivulets down her cheeks.

Adjustments. From the beginning. Slow and deceptive, I thought later.

I say deceptive because the only fair thing to do would be to let me have the truth at the beginning, when I came out of my safe, comfortable coma.

Just tell me: you aren’t you and you never will be you again. Then fill in the details.

That would have been the honest thing to do.

After all, nothing close to honest occurred prior to and during the transplant.

Mom overruled Dad on her decision. She had legal custody. Dad was too much of an emotional wreck at the time to stand up for me. Like I would have wanted had I been awake and able to verbalize.

I didn’t have a Living Will, after all.

What 16-year-old does?

Nothing to attest legally to what I wanted. So, I had no say in the matter.

No choice.

And, poor Casey!

Well, actually she had already vacated her body. What good was it, as athletic and beautiful as it had once been?

Her mom proclaimed that Casey would live on – what – in me? Or was it I would live on in Casey? I don’t think she thought that out very well.

Anyway, she said she had prayed about it, and the pain in her knees could never match the pain in her heart.

Then there was Jaska Talgerian. I’d say “doctor,” but I’d have to add “witch” before it.

Once I saw this black and white horror movie on Friday Night Thrills and Chills, a local late-night scary movie show. All the classics. Great stuff. Lon Chaney, Jr. as the misunderstood carnivore wolfman; giant ants and tomatoes and black gobs of goo. The emcee was dressed up like a dead mortician – blackened eye sockets, stark white face make-up, thin red lips. He was creepy. I saw the actor once in the mall.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” was about this doctor and his girlfriend, and how he loved her to the max and they were going to get married. On the way to his mountain cabin, the two crash. Her body is mangled but she is still alive! So he takes her to his laboratory in the basement of his house (yeah, right!) and cuts off her head and puts it on this tray of blood and other stuff. There are wires hooked to her head and brain. She survives.

Then he goes out to find the perfect body – ends up will an old girlfriend who he kills for her body.

So, see where I’m going with this? Ironic. It was like my life was scripted for the sequel to “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.”

Talgerian didn’t perform that operation for me or for Casey or our parents. He did it for himself. Like the doctor in the film.

He’s the one who has continued to profit. And, God how he has made out!

To demonstrate his innate generosity, he has slipped hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mom and the Millers from all of the proceeds that have come his way as a result of my being alive.

The only sane voice I’ve heard is Hensley Giodarva’s, who posed the question not only on the Dr. Bill show, but everywhere she speaks:

What about Alexandra’s well-being? Would it not have been kinder, more humane, to allow her to die naturally from her injuries?

Bravo! Well said, I say.

Again, this was never about me. It was about how everybody else felt.

Mom felt tremendous guilt driving into the intersection and not seeing Casey ahead. She always used to tell me it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about defensive driving. Huh?

Cathy Miller? Well, Casey’s mom, in my opinion, lived her life through Casey. The genetic combination of her dad’s athleticism with her mom’s looks gave that girl way too much! David Casey had been an all-state high school athlete in three sports, and had eyes for a full athletic ride at Chapel Hill. Then he dropped his motorcycle on a rain-slicked turn heading up to Boone one weekend.

Instead, he got his associate’s degree in engineering at Catawba Community College, and started climbing his ladder to success in construction.

Cathy was arm candy – Homecoming Queen at Hickory High – and the most popular girl in her Cathy-centric world. You know, I shouldn’t judge her. I didn’t know her at all. Just what friends said. Friends. What do they know, after all?

Mr. Miller now sags about the middle, and is prematurely gray and worn from the stress of living with his crazy wife. And her? There’s not enough Botox in the world can preserve her looks.

Casey was a delight from the beginning, so Cathy has told me.

She has made it her business to tell me e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g about her daughter. She spent hours showing me photos of Casey from the first day I was able to have visitors and respond.

I see the disappointment in her eyes when I don’t let Casey “come through,” as she puts it.

She thinks the DNA in my body holds Casey’s personality, I guess. Like she even knows what DNA is.

Me – Alexandra, that is – was so far in the other extreme from Casey that this combination of us strikes me ironic and hilarious.

I mean, if God was behind this event, what a grand old time he must have had thinking it up.

What if we . . . (I think God always uses “we” when referring to himself) did this to Casey and Alexandra?

Kind of like his experiment with Job. Have you considered my servant Job, he asked Satan, who was wandering about looking for something to do. That’s my translation.

I remember watching a Youtube video of Bert Parks, who used to emcee the Miss America beauty contest.

“There she is,” he sang, “Miss America . . . there she is, your ideal!”

No such song for the new me, Cassandra.

“There she is . . . the surgical manipulation of Casey and Alexandra into Cassandra . . . there she is, so surreal!”

That would be the song. I can hear Bert singing it now.

No choice in the matter.

No choice at all.

No one asked.

No one considered.

No one imagined.

No one thought.

No one cared about “me.”

Only about themselves.

My mom. My dad. The Millers. Talgerian. Dr. Bill. God.

Only about themselves.

Wasn’t my choice.

Wouldn’t be my choice.

Will not continue to be my choice.

– Alex (Cassandra)


 – § § § § § –

Dr. Bill

Camera three: medium close up shot of Bill. Enlarged photos of Casey Miller and Alexandra Sigmon on the screen in the background.

Dr. Bill: One of the most controversial medical procedures to come along since the first heart transplant performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard in 1967 in Cape Town, South Africa. Brain transplants have been the center of medical and ethical debate since the first operation was performed three years ago in North Carolina.

Cut to photo series, projected as Bill goes through the story of the accident:

  • Accident scene in Hickory
  • Close-up photos of the two cars
  • Jaws of life being used to cut Alexandra out of the minivan
  • Shot of both girls being worked on by EMTs, Alexandra in the foreground and Casey in the background
  • Helicopters landing in the parking lot of nearby Belle Hollow shopping center
  • The girls being gurneyed to each copter
  • The copters lifting into the air
  • At CMC helipad, the copters landing
  • Girls being unloaded and rushed by hospital attendants into the trauma center
  • Photo of Sigmon’s father and Miller’s parents through a glass door talking to a masked physician gowned in a surgical apron, blood spattered on it

Dr. Bill: Two teen-aged girls were involved in a horrible traffic accident in Hickory North Carolina in April three years ago. Seventeen-year-old Casey Miller and 16-year-old Alexandra Sigmon. Miller, a Senior at Hickory High School, drove through the red light at an intersection while texting on her iPhone. Her car was struck by a van, driven by Alexandra’s mother, Dana Sigmon.

The two girls were life-flighted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte where both were kept alive by extreme means for days.

Miller was brain dead – but her body, relatively uninjured. Sigmon suffered extensive internal injuries, but had normal brain activity.

It was a juxtaposition of life and death − one girl’s body and another girl’s brain − that presented the medical and science community with its first opportunity to merge a relatively healthy body with a relatively healthy brain. The stuff of science fiction, right?

Cut to Bill, Camera two: POV: Over Bill‘s shoulder into the audience

Bill: We’ll talk to the lead neurosurgeon on this history-making surgery. Dr. Jaska Talgerian worked on the procedure for years and was called in to oversee this historic surgery . . .

Cut to Camera one: CU of Talgerian

Cut back to Camera two: same pov as before

BILL: And we will talk to the Millers, parents of Casey Miller, the body donor . . .

Cut to Camera one: CU of David and Cathy Miller

Cut back to Camera two: same pov as before

BILL: And to Dana Sigmon, Alexandra’s mother, and who drove one of the cars involved in the accident that day . . .

Cut to Camera one: CU of Miller

Cut back to Camera two: same pov as before

BILL: Finally, we will explore the question of ethics in terms of those employed in the decision to perform transplanting Alexandra Sigmon’s brain into the body of Casey Miller. Dr. Hensley Giodarva, internationally-known ethicist, is with us . . .

Cut to Camera one: CU of Giodarva

Cut back to Camera three: same frame as previous

BILL: All of this and more when we return . . .

Fade. Up music. Run scroll.

Cut to commercial.


Note to reader:

CU = Close up shot

POV = Point of view



– § § § § § –


So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night

Dear Diary,

There’s no way to turn around and go back to the way it was. I look in the bathroom mirror and see what I cannot see otherwise: the face of a stranger reflected back.

Not me. Not Casey. Cassandra.

Not the path I would have chosen. But unlike what Frost said, there is no saving the other for another day. This is the day, and another day is not possible.

You are the only one I can confide in. Even Sally Childers, who I thought was my closest friend ever, doesn’t understand. I don’t blame her. How could she? I’ve quit complaining – around everyone and anyone.

But, really . . . is it complaining? I think of complaining as whining about things not worth whining about.

“Quit complaining!” Sally tells me. Even when I’m not saying anything she says that. I guess it’s in my eyes and on my face.

I had a date with one of Casey’s old boyfriends. It was a stupid thing to do. But he kept hounding me! And then Mrs. Miller said she thought it would be a good thing – help him out with the adjustment. Help him!?Like I’m supposed to help everyone else to adjust to ME? Then my own mother chimed in, “Yes, go out with him!”

So, when he came home from college for spring break, we went to the lake for a picnic. He said it was something he and Casey used to do.

And somewhere along the date he reached out and held my hand. Again, something he and Casey used to do.

And so it went . . . down a path of what he and she used to do. And at the point he kissed me, and cupped my breast – I drew back and said that was something I  NEVER used to do – and reminded him I was not Casey.

I’m not sure if his heart or his hard on was more offended. And we came home. And I never dated nor talked to him again.

So I called up Sally and we went to a tattoo parlor in Newton. She couldn’t believe it.

“Don’t you need to ask anyone? I mean, what will Mrs. Miller think? This is so COOL!” Sally is so all-over-the-place!

The tattoo I wanted and the tattoo I got were two different things.

I wanted delicate wisteria twisting down my arm in a network of vines, leaves and flowers. Shades of green with black highlight, purple and blue blooms. And, hidden behind the flora, a half face – peering out with one large eye – the sad and dark look of a young girl. Innocence lost. A picture of myself during one of my blue globe times.

What I got was a half-assed rendition that looked more like the guy majored in drawing Ligers. I probably should have known better, but at the time – I didn’t care.

When I showed the final tattoo to Sally she shrieked in horror, “MY GOD!!! WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?”

She said I should never show it to anyone – ever! That I should go around in long-sleeved shirts. That I should sue the guy and refuse to pay him.

“How painful is it to erase a tattoo?” she asked. Then she mentioned the reality show where real artists correct bad tattoos.

But I wasn’t upset. I got what I paid for, after all. I mean, what’s fifty bucks? And, the little tattoo shop in Newton made out like a bandit, selling digital images of my tattoo for some pretty steep money. I was glad I could help him out.

Plus, it really wasn’t my skin or my arm. I was just kind of leasing the body. In my mind. So whenever I looked at the mess going down my right arm, I imagined the imagined tat. I wore short-sleeves everywhere, by the way.

My mom thought it was the end of the world. What would Duke University think? And I told her that one Duke coed was paying her tuition by making porn movies, so how could a little tattoo change my status? Besides, Duke was  – again – going to make out like a bandit my going there. They even waived my tuition. I heard that applications for the fall had tripled because I was going to attend. How curious. Being the main attraction in a freak show has its advantages.

I fired my publicist. There was nothing for her to do, I kept refusing offers. I could have provided funds for her three children to go to Duke, for that matter. But I have absolutely no interest in the fame or the fortune. To everyone else’s dismay. Still, I can’t check out of a grocery store or drug store without seeing my − Casey’s − face plastered on the tabloids or gossip mags.

I’m sure every girl – well, most, anyway – would give anything to have the attention I have. I mean, to go from a size 14 to a size 8? To go from acne-faced, straight-haired, big nosed to svelt and curvy, blonde and blue-eyed? Even without the media and paparazzi I turn heads. Even if no one knew who the hell I am, they would want to know who the hell I am.

There is not one boy, man or even woman on earth I could not have. I’m pretty sure of that. Add to that my status?

So why complain? Why whine? Why rue that fateful afternoon drive?

I think, why did I ever come out of that coma? Why couldn’t I have remained wandering about in my memoric library? Or why couldn’t my body have completely shut down? My kidneys? My lungs? My liver and other vital organs?

Two roads diverged . . . on a spring afternoon . . . and that has definitely made all the difference.

I think of that scene in my favorite movie, The Sound of Music. A party at the Captain’s mansion. Guests gaily mingling and socializing while Hitler and the Third Reich is poised to enter Austria. Pert Maria skuttering about, making the Baroness green with jealousy, showing off the von Trapp children to the rich and powerful. Manipulating. Calculating. Taking advantage of the situation.

Singing, dancing, twirling about in turn, the blonde and blue-eyed wunderkind totally enchant everyone with their goodnight adieus. The culminating pièce de résistance: Gretl, sleepy-eyed and nauseatingly cute.

So long, farewell, they sang.

Auf wiedersehen.


So, God?

Why not the sixteenth century?

Why not England.

Why not William Shakespeare?

Why not?

Please tell me, why not?

Why . . . this?


– Alex (Cassandra)


– § § § § § –

The Obituary


Miller-Sigmon, April 30, 2012 – April 30, 2015

HICKORY — Cassandra Miller-Sigmon, age 18, died Thursday, April 30 at her home on 68 4th Street Court NW in Hickory, NC.

Miller-Sigmon is survived by Dana Sigmon, her biological mother, Glenn Thomas, her biological father, and David and Cathy Miller, her “postoperative-transplant” parents.

Miller-Sigmon was preceded in death by her operative-transplant sister, Casey Hepner Miller, and by her pre-operative self, Alexandra Chernaud Sigmon.

Miller-Sigmon, an honorary graduate of St. Stephens High School, was accepted into the pre-med program at Duke University, but had to delay her entrance due to her ongoing medical conditions. She was scheduled to enter her freshman year in the fall of 2015.

Memorial Services for Miller-Sigmon will be held at Drum Funeral Home on Saturday, May 9 in the chapel. A joint Jewish-Christian celebration will be observed. Burial details are pending.

No flowers, please. The families ask that you direct financial gifts in Cassandra’s name to the Jaska O. Talgerian Center for Brain Transplants, P.O. Box 2861, Omaha, Nebraska 68104.


– § § § § § –




Hickory Police Department

Investigative summary: on the death of Cassandra Miller-Sigmon

File 201-C-231289


The victim, a white 18 yr old female, was discovered in her bedroom by her mother, Dana Sigmon, age  at around 8:30 a.m. Thursday, April 30.

The subject was on her bed, and was non-responsive according to notes provided by Catawba County EMT.

A prescription bottle containing 8 oxycodone 15 mg tablets was found on the bedside table. The prescription was for 24 tablets, and had been picked up from the North Center Street Walgreens on 29 April in the evening, according to the mother. The bottle was tagged and taken into evidence.

Subject’s mother stated her daughter displayed nothing to indicate she was depressed or suicidal during the last few days prior to her death. She stated her daughter is under a local physician’s care, and that the prescription was for treatment of pain.

According to Mrs. Sigmon,

I last spoke to Cassandra just before 10 p.m., and I went to bed. She was reading a collection of poetry by Robert Frost, her favorite poet. When she didn’t come out for breakfast at 8, I didn’t think much of it, as she often has headaches.

At 8:30, I knocked at her door, and when she didn’t respond, I entered, where I found her unconscious on her bed. I immediately called 911 and began CPR.

The body was transported to Catawba Valley Medical Center where the county coroner will conduct an autopsy. His preliminary findings are suicide by drug overdose, and time of death estimated to be between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., April 30.

There were no other indications of any kind of physical struggle, nor were any other causes of death apparent on the body or in the room or house.

Foul play does not appear to be a factor in the death.

The book of poetry was found on the victim’s chest, and opened to the poem, The Road Not Taken.

Signed, Norman Childress, Criminal Investigator


Breaking News . . . Brain Transplant recipient commits suicide

The body of 19-year-0ld Cassandra Miller-Sigmon was discovered early this morning by her mother, dead apparently by overdose of prescription medications. Miller-Sigmon was the first successful brain transplant, performed in Charlotte NC by a team of surgeons headed up by Dr. Jaska Talgerian.

When contacted, Talgerian was shocked.

“I am incredibly overwhelmed by this turn of events,” said Talgerian. “As you know, Cassandra is the most unique person in the world, with the body of one person and the brain of another. My thoughts on her committing suicide turn to perhaps an imbalance of either hormones, causing her depressive state of mind at the time, or the incomplete regrowth and attachment of brain cells.”

Asked what he planned to do, Talgerian said he would immediately request that he lead the autopsy.

“This is not something to be left with your local coroner,” he smiled and laughed. “We will have to do extensive research on her body and brain in order that the next brain transplant is successful for the long term.”



Students from two local high schools have gathered tonight for a candlelight memorial in honor of 19-year-old Cassandra Miller-Sigmon, the first successful brain transplant patient. Miller-Sigmon apparently committed suicide by overdose of oxycontin — which had been prescribed for pain by her physician. Dana Sigmon, the mother of Alexandra Sigmon, and Cathy Miller, mother of Casey Miller, the two teens that were both donors and recipients of the transplant, were at the memorial.

“This is the most saddest time of all,” weeped Cathy Miller. “The beauty of both these girls — my Casey and Alex — is lost, and my heart breaks for my dear friend’s loss as hers breaks for me. God had a plan for that accident three years ago, and I know my God has a plan now.”

Mrs. Sigmon was too distraught to speak to Channel 9 at that moment.

Because the girls attended both Hickory High School and St. Stephen’s High School, nearly a hundred representatives from each school was in attendance. We spoke to two friends of Cassandra’s — her best friend, and a boy friend, both of whom were crushed:

“Alex was the most excellent person I ever knew,” said Sally Childers, now a student at Catawba Valley Community College. “And when she became Cassandra − you know, after the transplant − she still was. I will mourn and miss both of them, Alex and Cassandra.”

The boyfriend, who asked not to be identified, was also distraught.

“We used to do so many things together,” he said. “So many things.”

WSOC has learned that the body of Miller-Sigmon will be thoroughly examined by specialists that includes Dr. Taska Talgerian, the brain surgeon who lead the team of experts who performed the transplant operation. Her body will then be released for burial upon completion. Officials could not predict when that release will occur.

I’m Tamarah Jenkins, reporting live for WSOC-TV9 from Hickory.




Here lie

Casey Hepner Miller and Alexandra Chernaud Sigmon


Cassandra Miller-Sigmon

Born April 30, 2012 – Died April 30, 2015


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


— Robert Frost



7 Responses to “Cassandra rewrite”

  1. InfiniteZip January 29, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    Excellent read Skip….will it continue? I want more!!! Intriguing plot,moves nicely and especially,loved the memory room and could visualize how cool,that would be. Sitting at the airport in Charlotte…two hours plus till boarding….am going back to a few emails of your I saved for the trip….as far as Duke, must have been the excitement of the coaches winning record ….☺️

  2. skipmars January 29, 2015 at 11:16 am #

    Yes. Several more parts to go through. Do the differences in format trip you up at all? I wondered about the script with Casey’s mom and dad in particular. There are some other switcheroos coming as well.

    Charlotte? Not far from Hickory. Have a good trip. Florida, I hope! Had I posted the 2nd dear diary before you read? If not, it’s up now.

    • InfiniteZip January 29, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

      Not yet and have to board the plane soon…ma and pa dialogue…pa just repeating was a little repetitive…was thinking either in shock or just out of it….the differences were fine…just kept you moving from one act to another so to speak😊 off to Miami then key west florida☀️🌴 woo hoo…fly home Monday then Wisconsin wed and Thursday then home Friday. Jet setting girl extraordiare ☺️ Will pop back in Miami not sure of my delay but will check during the next few days…or just email me the link and I can hit it instantly friend.

      • skipmars January 29, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

        Yeah. Pa’s responses are not the same as repeating the intent of ma’s. The intent is there’s a bit of irony in him muttering — and that he thought they should have let her die. That might be the weakness of using this particular format.

  3. InfiniteZip January 29, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

    Going strong… it.

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