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What No One Ever Tells You About Becoming Immortal

Story gremlins invaded Rebecca's mind when she was a kid; she fed them too much and now they won't leave her alone. In college, they prompted Rebecca to turn her essays into short stories, and, because she attended the Johnston Program in the University of Redlands, she got away with it. Currently, Rebecca lives in California and works as a substitute teacher. The gremlins remain as antsy as ever. Whenever she's not satiating them by reading and writing, Rebecca enjoys cooking, making cards, and visiting museums.

Case Study: Diann
The first time the doctor smilingly tells her that she's dying, it comes as a shock. It doesn't matter how much Diann thought she prepared herself, those dreaded words hit like a punch to the throat. Cancer. Diann's mind flashes back to those twentieth-century films depicting chemotherapy, bald women, and missing body parts. Her nerves go numb.
At this point the doctor explains that Diann's a good candidate for intensive Nanotherapy.
"A relatively painless procedure. You'll be out of the hospital in less than a week."
Diann nods, pretends to understand the technical jargon, and mechanically signs the wavers.
The evening before the procedure, Diann recalls in her diary all the past surgeries she's survived. Remember that appendectomy you had when you were twelve? They cut a hole in your stomach, scooped out your guts, and stitched you back with needle and thread. This won't be nearly so bad. This is cutting-edge technology.
"You'll be up and about in no time," her husband Wayne assures her, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. "Good as new."
That was the first lie, she later writes. I know now I'll never be new again.
The Nanotechnology has to be monitored every six months, in case something goes wrong. Diann finds the constant updates a nuisance. Every year, a new breakthrough; every couple years, a new injection.
"Updates," she snorts over Thanksgiving dinner. "When I was growing up, they updated computers, not people."
"Back in the day when dinosaurs ruled the earth," her son intones.
"What are computers?" her granddaughter asks.
Although the nanotechnology regulates Diann's internal system, her bones start to wear down. That first nasty fall down the stairs shatters her hip and leaves her bruised and fragile. The doctor tells Diann she'll need a replacement.
"Our lab will tailor the bones using your DNA as a blueprint. It will be the same skeleton you had when you were twenty."
But I'm not twenty, she writes afterward. The bones don't fit me, anymore.
Once one bone goes, they all go. Knee joints, hands, ribs. "It's like the warrantee expired," Wayne jokes. He says it after the first surgery and continues to say it through the 200th.
Often Diann lies in her recovery bed, feeling like Frankenstein's monster stitched together from different parts. At these times, she finds herself inundated with ads for plastic surgery. "Get rid of those wrinkles. Recapture your youth." The spambots dredge up photos from her high school yearbook. When Diann was in high school, plastic surgery was still controversial--something done by actors, celebrities, and rich bored housewives.
"That will never be me," she once declared.
How times have changed.
"If I'm going to have a new body, one that will last a hundred years, I want a face to match," Diann tells Wayne.
He agrees.
Plastic surgery isn't covered by their insurance, so they dip into their savings. Diann finds a surgeon who assures her that she won't end up as some ghastly Barbie doll. And she doesn't. Diann's new face resembles the face of her twenties, minus some acne scars and unsightly forehead wrinkles.
"I wished I looked as good as you," her great-granddaughter says wistfully.
She envies me, Diann writes, because she doesn't feel the strangeness of the new bones, the way the young face covers the old one like a rubber mask. When she plays soccer and dyes her hair black, she's not cringing at the memory of a splintered hip, not tallying how much hair implants will set her back. Youth, for her, is easy.
"You just need the right attitude," her husband says. "It's a mental game. You're only as old as you feel."
And then his mind goes.
Wayne, Diann's husband of 85 years, forgets who she is. The doctors are grim. They can restore his brain functions, but not his memories. He'll have to learn everything from scratch.
Diann finds herself in a situation she never thought she'd be in: taking care of her husband as if he were a teenage boy. Enrolling him in remedial studies. Teaching him to drive. Doling out an allowance until he can get a job. Watching him flirt with classmates.
By the time the divorce papers roll in, she can't say she's surprised.
The newsfeed buzzes about a new procedure to intentionally obliterate memories. The old immortals, as people call Diann's generation, can't keep up with new technology, new people, new ways of life. They are burdened by memories of the past.
Diann can use a break from the past. Medical bills, absences from work, and the skyrocketing cost of living have left her deep in debt. Her work skills are nearly obsolete. And her heart is lonely for those who left her. Amnesia doesn't sound so bad.
She packs her treasures in the cedar chest her grandmother gave her. Diaries from her youth. Her wedding dress. The handprint her son made in kindergarten. A program from her granddaughter's play.
On the eve of surgery, Diann has a panic attack.
She goes through with it anyway.
She forgets.
And yet she still feels the machinery inside her. The bills continue to be charged to her account. Her body will never grow. She will never truly be young. It has taken me this long to understand that aging is a disease, and diseases may be cured, but they never fully leave you, for they scar you deep inside, where science cannot reach.
She holds onto the cedar chest out of a vague sense of duty, but the truth is, the objects inside no longer hold meaning. It's junk in the attic. One day, spring cleaning kicks in. She donates the diaries and tosses the rest out.
On the last page, Diann pens one final note.
You want to know the real secret that no one tells you about becoming immortal?
Eventually, you die.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Author Comments

This story came about because I had a root canal. I couldn't get over how a piece of my body had been removed and casually replaced with something manmade. I pushed the idea to its logical extreme and imagined a future where every part of the body could be replaced. The story poured out after that.

- Rebecca Lang
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