When you leaned over and whispered in my ear that you loved me, I wished to stay with you forever. The moment was perfect: you were perfect. I’d known I was in love with you since the first day of freshman year when you asked if I could help you kill a bug in your dorm and you had to repeat yourself because I kept getting lost in your eyes as you told me the story of a monster cockroach terrorizing you and your roommate (it was the smallest bug I had ever seen). And from that day forward we were best friends. You dragged me out of bed at eight every morning so I wouldn’t miss my first class like I usually did, sneaking a granola bar in my bag too so I wouldn’t miss breakfast. I bought you red bull and cookies every time you had a test that you waited until the last day to study for. You told me about the time you fixed a bird’s broken wing in sixth grade and how it would come sit on the tree branch outside your room every day after that and how that made you want to be a vet. I told you about how my best friend got charged with grand larceny for stealing some baseball cards he didn’t know were worth five thousand dollars and how that made me want to be a lawyer. We walked back together from the library every weekday night and from the bars every weekend night; I always made sure to walk on the curb side. We would start going back sooner and sooner as we realized there was nobody else we would rather be around (even if you insisted you were simply “more productive” in my room). Eventually my heart would beat so fast every time I was with you that I couldn’t help but feel like I was in danger. My young mind hadn’t yet realized that is the definition of love: a state of danger. And I never felt more in danger when I finally told you how I felt and my face turned red and I could only take shallow breaths. But you made everything better with just four words: “I feel the same.” It was so magical it almost felt fake. It’s been sixty years and it still feels fake that someone like you would like someone like me.
For about ten years after that I believed the universe had granted me my wish. Everything felt natural, like we had done this one-hundred times the same exact way. We graduated, got married, moved in together, had kids: a perfect life fell right into our laps. You stuck with me through thick and thin, and your love kept me young as we grew old together. Even when I was in my late thirties people would comment that I didn’t look a day over twenty. It did start to annoy you though, when you realized people never sent the same compliments your way. “I’m not sure why you’re pouting, love. As far as I’m concerned those wrinkles and gray hairs are simply evidence of how long our love has endured.” “Gray hairs!” you snapped, “where?”
When did I realize that it was all a sick joke? That the universe had decided to only grant me a half-wish that would lead to a life of pain and misery?
Maybe it was when I was stopped for TSA on our family vacation, who insisted that my passport (which said I was thirty-seven) was forged?
Maybe it was when people would mistake me for your son?
Maybe it was when our actual sons started to look older than me?
Maybe it was forty years ago when my doctor asked me if I was taking some dangerous, black market anti-aging drugs to maintain my appearance, and then almost fell out of his chair when the results of his tests came back:
“Sir, your lab results indicate to me that you are biologically nineteen.”
I had never trusted doctors. They all seemed so robotic, following the same set of commands from a hivemind.
“Your equipment must be faulty or something, man” I countered. “Come on. You know me. I’m a lawyer in my forties with like three kids and a dog. You think I know where to get these kinds of drugs?”
“Yea, maybe. But you have to at least let me do a brain scan. Make sure you don’t have any damage there, at least.”
The scans revealed my frontal cortex was as developed as you would expect from a nineteen-year-old too. I hadn’t yet figured out the right way to respond to these kinds of things.
“Wow. Um, this seems pretty serious. Is it ok if I bring my wife from the waiting room? She definitely should know about this. I’ll be right back.”
That was the beginning of my new life, a life of lies. I’m sorry I never told you. But how could I? I could hardly believe it myself. Would you have believed me? And how could I even prove that I was immortal? How could I prove that I would live forever?
I tried to make the necessary adjustments, to make sure that nobody else could catch on. I told you that we had to move, that I hated my law firm and the East Coast, and that California was a much better place for empty nesters like us. I even got a fake ID that said I was twenty-eight and a fake diploma that said I graduated law school two years ago and a fake resume with fake references. I had to cut off all of our friends who kept asking questions (some of them really thought this was all some new-aged Korean skincare routine). I told my kids to say I was their cousin when I visited. I had to switch jobs and names every few years and make sure not to get too close to anyone or stood out in any way. But it didn’t matter as long as we could be together, even if we got weird looks when we went out to dinner or kissed in public. Plenty of men date older women, right?
“Honey, I could handle it when people thought you were my son. But seriously, my grandson?”
“They’re just jealous. Besides, don’t you have a thing for younger guys?
“Not funny. Something is up with you, and it isn’t just your weirdly smooth face. All of these job changes, and you never try to make partner anymore. We haven’t seen Jim in years, you know his daughter got cancer, right?”
“Everything is fine. I just don’t care about work and climbing the damn corporate ladder anymore. I want to spend quality time with you! Didn’t you enjoy the surfing lessons that week?”
“Okay, okay. Can you at least dress like someone in their sixties? Cardigan and khakis and all?”
I probably would have been able to keep hiding it if it weren’t for the accident. It’s been about twenty years now, but I still swear one second it was open road and the next second an eighteen-wheeler truck appeared out of thin air ten feet away from me. While you broke both your legs and lost hearing in one ear, I didn’t have a single scratch on me. The doctors called it an anomaly and the local news were eager to interview me. But I spent all night on my knees vomiting in the hospital bathroom, because this was all the proof I needed that I would be around forever and there was nothing I could do about it. What was a world without you?
I was sure we were screwed after making such a large scene. People all over L.A were talking about the man who walked away from a totaled car like it was nothing. I had to take you far away from this place, and quickly.
“They’re all looking for me now. We have to leave the country. Like, right now.”
“They? You mean the local news? What’s so scary about that?”
“It’s not just the News. It’s like someone is always watching me, I even hear voices and clicks sometimes, like an engine is running. I can’t explain it. I’m just different, I guess, and I’m not sure what people will do.”
“Different? You sound delirious. You’re handsome for your age, yes, but what do you think people will do?”
“First of all, I’m not just handsome for my age. And I don’t know. Maybe they’ll think I’m some spy who murdered the real me? Or someone finally broke the international treaty and cloned a human? Or they’ll hook me up and put needles in me or something.”
“Still afraid of a few shots my love? I was getting tired of this perfect weather anyways.”
You could joke and laugh all you wanted but I could tell you realized how serious things were now. You held me so tight that night, as if you weren’t sure if it would be our last night together. Getting a fake passport was a little harder, telling our kids we might not see them again was a little harder, explaining why me and my grandmother were travelling to Jamaica during the offseason was a little harder. But when we got there and could walk on the beach together with the sun shining on your beautiful white hair and your weathered hands holding mine like they had for decades now, everything was perfect. When we lay in bed and gazed at the ocean, I would shut my eyes and imagine we were in that messy dorm room again, before my stupid wish. But then at night, after you had fallen asleep, I’d feel nauseated. My mind would drift away, wondering what on Earth I would do when you were gone, if I’d eventually run out of places to keep running to, if I’d ever love again, if I ever wanted to. But then, almost like a sixth sense, you’d wake up and ask me what was wrong, tell me that that whirring noise was just in my head, and hold my hand until I fell asleep and dreamed that bizarre recurring dream of flashing green 0’s and 1’s. You were so perfect it was like you were made for me.
But sleeping couldn’t stop the inevitable. All I wanted to do was join you, and I tried everything, I promise. I didn’t eat or drink for six months and didn’t even mind how parched my throat was or how bad my abdomen burned because at least I could feel something. But it didn’t kill me. I jumped off every skyscraper I could find and landed on my feet unharmed every time. I filled up the bathtub and submerged my body for an hour yet never felt the urge to breathe. I tried slitting my throat; it was like cutting a tree trunk with a jack knife. I even doused myself in chum and laid in the ocean, but mother nature failed me and the sharks gave up after their teeth couldn’t pierce me. Some days I would just sit and bang my head against the wall as hard as I could, because at least for those few seconds when my head was spinning I wouldn’t have to think about how I’d never see you again. This couldn’t be real.
I even made a replica of my old dorm room and tried to recreate that moment from sixty years ago, hoping that the universe in all its power would give me one more wish. To finally end my suffering.
end file, immortal_man_thoughts.txt
“And how is trial forty-six going, Professor Jampani?”
“Same thing as always. His thought file says he doesn’t want to live without her.”
“I don’t get it. Why can’t you make it so they don’t fall in love?”
“We tried sir. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I changed every variable we could. Made her older, younger, spawned her in a different continent, made her a drug addict, homeless, unlovable. I got so desperate I even made her a man in one of them! It doesn’t matter. They find each other and fall in love every single time”
“What! ‘They’ are just code Jampani. You’re saying these little bits of data, 0’s and 1’s on a hard drive, are somehow soulmates? It’s ludicrous. Anyways, trying the same thing and expecting different results is insanity, right? Just completely delete this character.”
“Well, I actually tried that too sir, and the most bizarre thing happened. I’d delete that file and the next day everything would be back again, like I hadn’t even touched it. It was like part of it had come alive and installed some sort of backup, a contingency plan. Now when I touch that file, she sends a thousand error messages”
“She? Have you been getting enough sleep, Professor? Certainly, a software engineer of your tenure understands that a program couldn’t do something like that? It sounds to me like you’re blaming your failures on some sort of cyber ghost.”
“Maybe you’re right, I’m finally losing my touch. Okay, okay. I’ll speak with the other simulation professors, get their input on it. There has to be a stubborn bug I’m not seeing.”
“Good, and report back to me next week. This has been so disappointing! How could someone not want to live forever? Well, reboot it for now. Let’s make sure you fix that car glitch and flesh out the dream function too. See if that changes anything”
The professor paced around his tiny office. He knew he wasn’t losing his touch, that this wasn’t a bug. The purpose of the experiment was to see how a human would respond to being made immortal, to see what the mental effects of it would be, if it was even worth beginning animal testing for this supposed super pill that most academics suspected was fraud. But now he had made something immortal by accident, and who knows what she’ll do if he can’t find a way to shut her down.