The Gift of Life, the Greatest Gift of All

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tommaso lizzul/shutterstock.com

It’s going to be hard to adjust for the first few weeks, they told him, there will inevitably be some heavy blending. He still had trouble keeping his eyes open, like early in the morning when it’s still dark out and someone unexpectedly turns on a light. To be honest sir, you’re never really going to adjust completely. The Aristotelian thing, you see. De anima. You are, well, we should say you were, you. There’s a you-ness that we can never really replicate. Look at it like this

They showed him a small puzzle box, recovered among a pile of Highlights magazines and others too dull for anyone to read, one that no doubt was once use in a feeble attempt to entertain children in a doctor’s waiting room while their parents were being told they had months to live. A wooden block with shapes cut out, and wooden shapes that fit into their respective hollow impressions.

Let’s say there’s this star impression in the box. We can only put a star shape into the hole, and only a specific star shape. The hexagon will never fit in this star impression, and neither will the circle, and neither will the triangle, see? To illustrate the point one of them tried to shove first the hexagon, then the circle, then the triangle shapes feebly into the star-shaped hole. If we all of a sudden jam a triangle in there, it will be impossible at worst, and at best uncomfortable for both the triangle shape and the star impression. The best we can do is take a very similarly-shaped, albeit different star, and jam it into the impression by force. That’s basically what we did. The star shape here, is your you-ness. And the star impression here, is the body you’re in now, only the jamming of this shape into this hole took months and months of procedures, and surgeries, and mental conditioning. And ahem, and money, but that’s neither here nor there… Even then, we had to wait for a shape that even sort of looked like a star. We couldn’t have put you in a fat elderly Caucasian woman, for example. Something like that would ultimately reject the procedure, like a rogue T-cell attacking a transplanted organ. No, we needed a vessel for you you-ness that is as similar to you as possible.

In a way, and then they hesitated, spending a moment looking to each other and regretting that they even brought up this final point at all, in a way, sir, you’re actually very lucky your son died not long after you did.

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Since the supermarket let him have the rest of the day off after the operation, and since he also had no one to claim him in outpatient, a couple orderlies drove him to his son’s old apartment. They however stopped assisting him just short of the stairs that led to the fourth floor of his son’s walk-up before turning tail and heading back to the hospital. He made it up to the second flight before he had to stop and sit on the step and recover his stamina. If he wasn’t sucking in so much air he maybe would have noticed the dull tributary of pain flowing gently from his knee up to his left buttock.

He finally reached the front door to the apartment, took another twenty minutes to recover, and opened up. The door was unlocked, and the keys to the place hung on a hook nearby. He looked around, he always knew his son was well-off financially but he could see it for himself now. There was a large living room that first greeted him by the door, then another room that had a wide variety of exercise equipment. He remembered his son was always active; he always saw pictures of him exercising in the park with his friends, and plenty more of him with the same friends visiting different bars, eating different foods, traveling to different exotic places.

He picked up a nearby piece of equipment, which if he was completely his son he would have recognized as an iron kettlebell. The thing was probably a little bigger than his head, with a thick handle, and yet it felt like it weighed more than a bag of bricks. He swung the thing around his body to warm up, it felt good. Might as well get used to having a young body, and the perks that may well go with it. He set it on the floor and tried a swinging maneuver that he thought he once saw his son do. It only took a couple swings for the dull pain in his left leg to earn his undivided attention. He yelled out and dropped the thing, causing the floor to crack a little.

He sat in the living room for a while, cradling the side of his leg, then pushed himself off the couch and continued to look around. As he explored the place, it felt like it neither belonged to him nor anyone he knew. Of course he knew his son, but he never spent much time where he actually lived, and now, even though by all accounts it belonged to him, he still felt like he was trespassing.

Figuring a hot shower could ease the pain in his leg and forearms a little, he stood still in the hot water and let it cascade from on top of his head down his body. Even though he he raised him up and loved him for his whole life, being this intimately familiar with his son’s body greatly disturbed him, almost making him decide not to ever get into the shower upon first seeing himself. It was almost like a child putting on his parent’s oversized suit, admiring himself in the mirror amid comically large sleeves and myriad folds, shoes jutting out of the droopy wrinkled pant legs, while somehow being aware in a pocket of the child’s mind that he shouldn’t be doing this. He looked in the mirror through his son’s eyes, and to stop the shudders of dread it gave him he tried to imagine the youthful face and figure somehow blended with what he remembered himself to be, tried to add less-toned arms and shoulders, a mouth a little more jowly, eyes a little droopier.

He found his son’s old computer and turned it on. Everything on it seemed to be password-protected, except, ironically enough, a folder marked POISON!, which also, when he hovered the mouse’s pointer on it, bore a tiny pop-up message that read lol delete this when I’m dead. A morbid curiosity, combined with the fact that it was the only thing he could access anyway, made him click on the folder, and he immediately regretted it. Among other shocking revelations that assaulted his mind, he wondered how the girl could possibly find it enjoyable if the guy was choking her at the same time. He quickly closed the folder, determined to follow his son’s apparent last wishes and erase the poisonous collection. Before he went to bed, he spent the remainder of his first day of being alive again staring at the computer screen, realizing he had no idea how to erase that folder.

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His son was well off, and he put aside plenty of money to cover him for this operation. It’s an incredible gift, really, the doctors told him. The gift of life, the greatest gift of all… The trouble is, ah, well… Your, condition, was so far advanced that it became necessary to bump up the procedure to several additional pricing tiers to save your life. Pricing tiers, that erm… that your son did not account for. And of course, your son would be liable for the cost of these procedures, and since your son is now, ahm, is now you, that means, well… 

A hundred thousand dollars paid off, or four hundred successful monthly payments, the four hundred to be reset to the beginning in the event of any missed installments.

The hospital arranged for him to have his old job as a greeter back. The supermarket agreed as long as he was ready to come in the next day all the earlier, hit the ground running without skipping a beat. What choice did he have but to go back? What else could he do, with his son’s mind, if he still had his own mind, his own lack of stamina, his own lack of marketable skills?

Imagine being so worthless the only thing you can do is stand by an automatic door and say hello to strangers, and then imagine you can’t even do that. Before all this his job was easy. He looked the part, so when he greeted people they either said hello back or ignored him. But now that he was a young man doing an old man’s job he became something the shoppers couldn’t compartmentalize. They greeted his with looks of bewilderment, with frowns, with gestures that told him that he pretty much ruined their whole day.

A twelve-hour day of standing and saying hello, after taxes and after his wages were garnished by the hospital, netted him about ten dollars a day.

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He was in a house, not the apartment. It reminded him of the house he and his wife, his son’s mother, raised him in. But it was empty, and there were people he didn’t recognize living in the house, and all the windows and doors were open, and most of the walls were knocked out.

He went outside, looked up to the sky on a clear sunny day, and saw it. Something red, a speck in the sky, gently falling, floating almost, like how a skydiver appears to be floating in midair even though they’re rapidly falling hundreds of feet per second. It glided closer, and that’s when he could finally make it out: a red car, falling to the earth, and yet somehow on fire, a jet of orange flames and black and grey smoke in its wake.

The car glided closer to the ground, until it was so close the illusion of grace ended and the violence of the rapid fall became clear. A moment later it crashed into the front of the house. He ran to the wreckage and desperately tried to look for a survivor among the burning victims still inside, thinking lucidly even in the dream this is it, it’s both of the ways we died, all mixed up. 

To his horror, the driver, charred black skin and dead eyes, lifted its head off the wheel, looked straight at him, and said Nothing. When was the last time you really did nothing?  

He woke in a sweat and screamed for at least a half a minute straight. When the screams stopped, the ads began.

 

When was the last time you did nothing, I mean really did nothing? We get so busy caught up in our daily lives that we almost never get a chance to do nothing, and then it causes us so much stress. Begin your free one-month trial of Om-Mazing, the new mindfulness and meditation app, and see what nothing can do for you!

 

So this is awkward, one of the doctors told him, which until that moment he thought only people in movies said to each other. The voices were in his head, and he couldn’t get them to stop. They weren’t urges, they weren’t malicious words, no, they were much worse. Ads. Constant ads for apps, subscriptions, requests to like and subscribe. He heard the ad for AllAboard, the new hiring subscription service, so many times just on the way to the doctor’s office, that he decided at least a quarter of the world’s population must work in human resources.

It appears, uh… well, so there’s this device that ahm, several young people have installed lately. It’s a mobile device but ah… it’s a mobile device for your head. It comes with all the features of an old smartphone, calls, texts, browser, apps, music, and so on… but it’s all in a chip that transmits the info directly to your brain. There’s added security benefits, of course, no one can hack your head. Well, not yet, hehe! And then there’s ah the convenience of not having to carry around a big bulky smartphone or headphones or whatnot.

Well, it seems the issue here, is ah, your son seems to have purchased one of these devices, without erm… without disclosing this info to us. And it seems your son subscribed to a premium version of this device, but in the event of his death he of course failed to renew this subscription, which means now, ahm… you are stuck with the free, ad-based version. 

He of course could not renew the subscription, even if he could afford it, as he had no idea what his son’s passwords to log into his accounts could possibly be. Hm, that’s unfortunate. You’d have to contact the service and have them update your son’s profile to deceased, then as the next of kin you’d have editing powers. But that takes time, I read an article about it, one guy waited like five months. I don’t remember if he killed himself before they got back to him, or ah wasn’t that the hashtag metoo guy who accidentally leaked a bunch of tweets into a bunch of strangers’s heads that were essentially him confessing to sexual assault? Don’t remember.

Surely then, it could be removed. Anything that can be put inside something can be taken out again. Well true, but that ah, would put a sizeable increase onto your premiums. The base tier for that operation runs into the tens of thousands. There’s usually a long process most customers go through, questionnaires, profiles, tests… they want to make sure they’re sure, cause you know, it’s so hard to get it back out. So…

Was there anything he could do? They shrugged and looked to each other, barely concealing grins that revealed how amusing it kind of was to them. You know what they say, you don’t fuck with the Zuck. 

This, along with the medical exams, the literacy tests, the proof of employments, and a first attempt at contacting the service to turn off the device, all made him late for his job for the last time. He didn’t spend five minutes in the supermarket before he was fired on the spot.

 

Prosody, the new app that gives you access to great audiobooks! Sign up for a free trial, which comes with a free audiobook download! If you don’t like it you can cancel anytime, and also keep the book, but then again you’ll probably be already too far along into the service before you decide to cancel, and not to mention you’ll have that audiobook you won’t know what to do with. Prosody, the audiobook app that comes with a free download, it’s how they get you!

 

Somewhere deep in the files of his son’s computer, since now he was out of a job and broke he had time, he found a directory with a bunch of passwords, some for a bunch of apps and sites he didn’t recognize (and none for the chip in his head, damn!). He was familiar with one site, however (his son made him set up his own profile so they could keep in touch), so he logged into it:

Hey man, it’s been a while.

We miss you out here.

Hope you get better soon.

Can’t wait to meet up again.

Remember bitch-drink Thursdays?

#thiscouldbeusbutyouplayin

Not a single RIP. Just a bunch of where have you beens. They didn’t even know he was dead, they all thought he was just sick in bed and it was only a matter of time before he was up again slamming down drinks and snapping photos in Barcelona again. Everyone thought his son was still alive, and everyone thought he was dead. They were wrong on both counts.

He tried to find a diary of some sort, a sad note, anything that could tell him why his son did this for him. Why did he put this procedure in his will? Then he figured it out.

I did it. I made him think he needed to do this for me. Every time I saw one of those photos on his site, I wrote something back. Looks like fun! Sounds neat! Tasty, hope you liked it! Would love to go there someday… He only meant, or at least he thought he did at the time, exactly what he said on the surface. But he realized that his son must have interpreted it as I wish I could have been there. I wish I could have seen that. I wish I could have that, I wish I could still do that.

He started to weep. He hoped to hell he didn’t find a suicide note somewhere, that his death really was an accident, that this was just a precaution he put in his will in the event of some wild force majeure. Everything he did he did for his son, so his son could have the life he wanted, the most fulfilled life he could manage. He must have thought, I have everything I need, I’ve done just about everything I could want to do, and I owe it all to him, and I want to give something back to him. I don’t want him to regret his whole life just for my sake. 

Oh my boy, my poor boy… He wished at that moment with all his power that they were both still alive, so he could tell him no, don’t worry about me, live as much of your own life as you want. A man who outlives his child is a sad man enough. How does a man live the whole life of that child? Did he now owe it to his son?

Without even realizing it, he suddenly found himself typing a response to one of his son’s friends. Hey, I’m back and feeling better. Let me know when you’re free to meet up. 

 

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Well, ahm, I’m at a loss of words, sir.

So was he. The jog was more of a disaster than his natural pessimism could have expected. There was of course the awkward meetup with his son’s friends, the questions about movies his son had seen, musicians his son had liked, moments in sports games his son had watched with them, that he dumbly mumbled non-answers to before finally just not saying much at all while they talked. Then the run was supposed to be for three miles, twice around the reservoir, you know the drill, they told him. He didn’t make it past four blocks along fifth avenue.

There will inevitably be some heavy blending, one of the doctors told him long ago, and even though he had no idea what that meant he didn’t ask for an explanation. He found out that day. Already expecting to look ridiculous in his son’s running gear, he noticed in the mirror he didn’t have to imagine traces of his old face on his son, since they started to show up unannounced. His hairline receded, he could see white hairs, subtle stress marks along his otherwise youthful face. His muscles still ached from basic household activities, but now he started to notice his thighs jiggled more as he walked up the stairs, his toned arms and chest first thinned out, then became leathery, wrinkled. He looked at his forearms, and found liver spots. Something like that would ultimately reject the procedure, like a rogue T-cell attacking a transplanted organ. No, we needed a vessel for you you-ness that is as similar to you as possible. His son’s body was rejecting his soul. Or was his soul defiling his son’s body, warping it into one that matched his own soul?

He collapsed around the fourth block he ran, every part of his body hurting. The last thing he remembered was one of his son’s friends screaming the moment he saw his face. He woke up again, and apparently the blending stopped, because the doctor standing over him wasn’t screaming.

All the symptoms you suffered from not a few hours ago suggest that you essentially tried to run a marathon at seventy, with no prior training in all those seventy years. But all the tests we ran, all the x-rays… they, ah, come back with nothing. You’re in pain, but there are no injuries. It seems psychosomatic, and yet your symptoms are far too accurate of real injuries for you to merely be manifesting them in your brain, real injuries which ah, don’t actually exist on you. In short, I think you’re okay, even though you may not be, and I’m giving you a thorough, if extremely provisional, clean bill of health. You’re free to go, enjoy your recovery of, whatever that was, however you can.

 

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His provisional clean bill of health lasted a little over two hours. He didn’t even make it to the shower as his soul started to warp the body of his son once again. In immense pain, it took all the effort he could muster to ignore it as he dragged his body toward his own phone, with just barely enough reach to pick it up so he could call his doctors.

He hesitated as a thought came over him. Do I ride this out? Do I let my old rotten soul ruin my son’s body, this gift from my beautiful boy, my only child? Do I have the physical and emotional stamina to withstand the pain as our incompatible body and soul ruin each other? Or do I call these doctors, have them fix me up, add a couple more zeros to the debt I’ll never pay back as long as I live? Or do I agree to a procedure that will undo this procedure, one that will kill me with any luck? What do I do? What do I do?

At this moment a soft voice came to him, to reassure him, to tell him everything would be okay. We know it’s hard, whispered the voice in his head. At AllAboard, we know it’s hard to find the perfect candidate for your new position at the workplace

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