Who Wants To Live Forever?
…That question played over and over in my mind like a broken record as sat in the twilit sanctity of my son’s room as I had so many times before. He lay there, in his bed, as he always had, seemingly snug beneath the layers of covers that were pulled up, around his shoulders. If he even knew I was there, he didn’t show it. Although I have always cherished these moments, I have never felt so out of place as I did now, watching him on what would be the last night of his life. He and I had not spoken for several years, especially as father and son, but as I sat in the gloom of his bedroom, I felt the futility of those years weighing upon me: of how I had to change my identity every so often to maintain the secret of my existence; of how he aged while I looked the same as I did the day he was born.
I was only twenty-five when I signed up for an experimental procedure that was centered on the theory of immortality. The Vodan Corporation was a scientific research facility on the brink of cracking the code of mortality. For an eight hundred dollar per visit incentive, they promised the real possibility of never having to see your mortal life as a limitation to your dreams. I was young and naïve, and in my ignorance I believed that not only could the money help my family through the hard times we were facing, but my life would long be over before I had the chance to do anything with it. I believed that I didn’t have enough time to sort between my dreams and my family. So I volunteered be one of their test subjects. How could I know the outcome of my decision… the consequences that would come of defying nature? I never once thought of, nor could imagine what my sacrifice might entail; that is until now… now as I sit in the gloaming of my son’s room, watching over the last of my little family who would soon be gone. It has always been said that no parent should ever bury their child, but never should anyone experience the absolute futility that I must cope with in witnessing my boy’s final hours.
I underwent a series of tests over a period of months before they finally injected me with the serum that was said to be the veritable fountain of youth, a serum they called Ambrosia. I received nearly a dozen treatments over a twenty-four hour period, confined to a medical wing in case something went wrong. Once the observation period was over, I was paid for my services and set up the follow up appointment that would tell not only me, but the whole corporation whether the process was successful or not. Little did I know that that appointment would never take place, for shortly after I left; radical protesters invaded and attacked the Vodan Labs Building, incinerating the facility and destroying years of research. The damage done to the laboratory facility was beyond recovery, so the Ambrosia Project cut from the books, and I was left to wander in the purgatory of an unknown, uncertain future. I did not even have the slightest indication that the procedure had been a success until many years later.
It all seems so wretched now, as I look back on how we wound up spending our lives together. At first everything seemed fine, normal even, but as time passed it quickly became apparent that something was amiss. My children grew into teens and then adults, reaching their first quarter century, yet I looked the same to them as I did the day that they were born. My beloved Ally, showing her true age- and mine, both loved and resented me at the same time for although we were together, and that my feelings for her would never change, she was truly and utterly alone. We were never seen as a true couple in public anymore, for we were either regarded as mother and son or she as social cougar, preying on someone far too young for her desires. How could they know that we were only months apart in age rather than years? As time pressed on, life became more and more difficult until the day that I was forced to leave them as both husband and father. My children had aged considerably, and my wife had withered away, leaving the beautiful young lady that I had married behind, and joining the ranks of the elderly as I should have done. To spare them the pain of my voluntary affliction, I had to change my name and relation, becoming little more than an acquaintance. It was the start of a cycle that would forever direct my eternal life as I fight to maintain my facade. Now I sit many years later, barely more than a stranger with a familiar face in the deepening shadows of Daniel’s room, having long since laid my wife and daughter to rest, regret and trepidation plaguing my heart and mind as I watch over my boy in his final hours.
With my mind racing, I glanced around at my son’s room taking in the scene and how much had changed from the last time that I had sat up to watch over him in his slumber. Even in the shadows it was heart wrenching to see how much I had missed in his life. Gone forever were the knights, superheroes, action figures, and toys of a child; as were the various games and posters that came with adolescence. Time and maturity had replaced them with the practical needs, knick-knacks, socks, and various collections of an elderly gentleman. I never knew how much that sight would pain me, but as I pondered how I came to miss such important changes, it felt as though someone was twisting a knife in my gut. The room’s silence crowded in on me, oppressing me as though it was chastising me for my rash decision, that selfish thought that life was too short for me. The steady ticking of the clock that seemed, at once, to make its presence known, mocked me as it said that life was indeed too short, for now in my unending years, the short lives of those that had mattered most were nearly over. As this realization washed over me, I could feel a weariness creeping into my bones, a fatigue that gnawed at my very being, nagging me to find rest… but I rebuked the feeling, dismissing it until later, for there would be plenty of time to rest after tonight. That thought rankled in my mind, turning bitter as I considered its implications. After all, when this night was over, all I had to look forward to was eternity, an unending life of emptiness where I would forever more be nothing other than a transient stranger passing through.
A movement on the bed released me from my thoughts, bringing me back to the waning shadows of the late night and the moment at hand. All thoughts of weariness fled as I regarded Daniels prone form, shifting about in his bed, attempting to stifle a discomfort which told me that the dreaded moment had come. I prepared myself to assist him in any way that I could, though in truth I was not sure what to do. My heart skipped a beat as his eyes popped open, searching the room, and yet he did not see me sitting there, next to him. I took my boy’s hand into mine letting him know I was there, as his mouth moved in silent syllables that I could not even begin to comprehend. What could I do… how could I help? These along with a dozen other questions raced through my mind as I sought only one thing, to comfort my son. I frantically looked around the room as if I was expecting someone to just step out of the shadows and make him better, though I knew no one would, or could. A brief series of spasms wracked his frail form sending their dreadful shocks into my very soul. I knew what was coming next and so I watched on in silent vigilance as the spasms passed. Outside, the eastern sky had begun to lighten with the anticipation of a new day and Daniel was for a moment at peace. I knew the end for what it was… his life, like this night would soon be over, so with moisture rimming my eyes, stinging them as a single rivulet worked its way down my cheek, I took my free hand and tussled his hair; the way that I had done so many times when he was a boy.
“That’s my boy,” I whispered hoarsely as a lump formed in my throat, nearly choking me. The tears stung my eyes even more as I reached over and kissed his forehead.
Daniel opened his eyes, a flicker of recognition bringing them to focus upon me as I sat there, caressing his face with the love that only a father could show. Looking up at me he gave that smile, the one that he would give when he was a young boy and wanted to see me off to work. With a strained smile, he reached up with his own hand, a hand that no longer belonged to a boy, but the hand of an old man who had seen a long life, and tussled my hair in return as he had done on many occasions. I held his hand close as he laid his head back down upon the pillow; the smile of a boy still on his face as the light began to fade from his eyes. As his breathing became slow and eventually stopped, I wrapped my boy in my arms and wept like I would never weep again. My heart felt as though it would rend as he gasped for his final breath, and in that breath I heard that one word that both saved me and damned me at the same time.
In less than a moment that seemed like an eternity, it was all over… and I was utterly alone. I had immortality; I had eternity, but in my brash and selfish decisions, I had no one left to share it with… no one left to live for.
The day was breaking outside, brightening the room with the coming dawn, and with the passing night, my son, my beloved son had passed on from this world. Daniel’s nurse would soon be here and she needed to know what had transpired, so grief-stricken I tore myself away from Daniel’s side and went to meet her. She was just coming in the door when I got to the living room and regarded me with more than a slight curiosity. Between my bloodshot eyes, and distressed demeanor, she quickly understood what had come to pass.
“When did he pass,” she inquired as she sat her things down and prepared for the long day ahead?
“Just a little while ago,” I returned my voice barely more than a hoarse whisper. “Just do me a favor,” her eyes regarded me as I spoke, “let me know when all of the arrangements are made for his passing?” With that request I wrote my name and number down on a note pad, and then handed the information to her.
“I will,” she replied looking at the information I gave her. She paused for a moment; then she looked up at me quizzically. “Are you his son, or grandson, or something?”
I shook my head, tired of the secret that had burdened my family throughout their lives. With a heavy grief laden sigh I regarded her earnestly, “He… he’s my son…” my voice broke, robbed by the grief that threatened to overwhelm me once more. The nurse stared blankly at me as I gathered my things and stumbled out the door. I could feel the horde of questions that welled up within her mind as she watched me go, but nothing went so far as to escape her lips, until I had already gone.
I pulled my jacket tightly about me to knock off the chill of the morning air as I plodded down the empty street. The grave silence that oppressed me as I walked mocked me as my mind swirled and raced through the events of the last twelve hours or so. A cold wind from the waning night blew through the streets, churning countless papers about my feet as I wandered aimlessly through town. A million questions of my own whirled through my mind, reminding me of the emptiness that I must endure from this morning onward. Among all of these questions and random self-inquiries, one question remained prominent the whole night through. Who really wants to live forever?