Imagine in the year 2047 that anti-aging therapies have developed so far that wealthy people not only cease aging, but some have begun to reverse. A few have even started to celebrate reverse birthdays in accordance with their rehabilitated age. (For context, please see Part 1 of this series.)
At this point, Sam had aged chronologically to ninety-three. Instead of looking ahead or behind, he could only concentrate on the day he was in. He forgot the decades, assumed his wealth was a mysterious inheritance, and had to sneak about to avoid questioning by adults. What he missed was companionship and care. He had no one who cared for him just for love and kindness; they showed care only as part of their job—service with a smile.
In desperation, Sam sought to be as normal as he could. He enrolled in high school, ran track, and invented a family that lived overseas—a web of lies to support his life as a lonely and eccentric teenager. He could not remember being in school so many decades before, but the experience now was painfully boring. As with everyone else in high school, he just wanted friends and some moments of relief from the burden of his life that loomed over him. Adult responsibility haunted the talk by teachers and students who anticipated college and work and family. Sam had done all these things, but they remained vague in memory.
In his third year of school, it seemed that the reversal had ended. No one could tell him what to do, or what might happen from this point. He was the lab rat. The first sign of progress was that he needed to shave again, just the peach fuzz under his chin and jaw.
Memories were troublesome, since Sam was adding experiences in triplicate: his first time as a teenager, his speedy regression back through the decades, and now his progression as a teen for the second time. Things came back to him in odd ways that felt like déjà vu, only they were not. Dreams collided with memories for a confusing result.
What he called his eighteenth birthday was nearly as exciting as it was for regular teens of that year. “I’m getting to live my life over from this point forward, like a normal person.” Only there was no family for him, no parents at home. He was like Bruce Wayne but without the comfort of an Alfred. Sam had a circle of friends, but he still felt aching loneliness. Several times he’d tried to go on dates. Each time the closeness with a young woman made him feel he was from another planet. He wanted to open his heart, and young women were intrigued by his strangeness, but everyone was shallow compared to his depths of having lived a century.
“So aren’t you excited about going to college?” She was an astonishing beauty, just as Sarah had been in her twenties: blue eyes that sparkled, flowing blond hair that fell about her face in loose curls, and smiling lips that captured him whenever she talked.
“Well, yeah, sure I am.” He spoke truthfully, since college would be totally new for him. He would have roommates in the normal way that everyone else did. The school he’d chosen was a large science-heavy institution on the California coast. Having done the business side of work for so long, Sam figured he’d learn the engineering side of things.
“I can’t wait for all the fun,” she trilled. “My parents have been way over-protective so I’ve not gotten to do barely anything.” She was so suggestive with her eyes at him that Sam was embarrassed. He smiled weakly in response and laughed softly.
“You are so serious, Sam. You’re so different from everyone else I know.” If only she knew, he thought. “Do you ever think about growing old, Sam? I mean, getting to be forty-five or fifty? It just seems an eternity to be alive.” He stared at her a moment and then looked away, remembering when he’d begun to dread each birthday as he’d neared fifty. His life seemed to slide downhill at that point. Fears of cancer and heart disease were common topics of conversation among his friends. Decades of building a career only to die after withering from this point on? No, there had to be a better way, he had thought at the time. What could money buy? At first the hormones felt great, and his body responded to better nutrition and regular exercise, but he still got older. He was still going to die soon.
At sixty, he noticed slips in his memory. Sam feared he would have dementia, the prison of forgetting everything. When the doctor offered him blood transfusions, he was ready to try anything.
“It’s young blood that will make your organs young, even your brain. We’ve seen it work in mice really well. The blood just works better, and there are stem cells that will rejuvenate you everywhere.”
“Have you tried it yourself?” Sam asked.
“No,” the doctor looked down at the backs of his hands, mottled with liver spots. “My blood type is hard to come by, and the blood must be donated fresh.”
“Where’s the blood come from?”
“We pay donors for it, college students. They’re healthy and they need money. The smart kids don’t do drugs. They use the money for tuition. We monitor them closely. Don’t worry about that side of it.” This was a nervous explanation; Sam could tell when a scientist was worried. He’d worked with several lab managers who struggled to deliver results but continued to wheedle business patrons for funding.
“Do they know what their blood is going for?” Sam was calculating how much blood a transfusion of one pint every two weeks would amount to.
“No, we don’t tell them any of the science applications. I think they would sell their fingers if we paid them enough and offered workable replacements. The trick is finding a match of blood that works well for your body. It’s way more complicated than blood types, because the stem cells in the donor blood must integrate with your organs. Donor hormones have to work for you positively.” The doctor was lamenting this troublesome mystery of the human body.
“What’s the health cost to them, if they donate so much blood?”
“I think it’s nothing. The body at that age can produce blood like cows make milk.” Facile, except that donors seemed to have unusually high incidents of broken bones, and for minor impacts: one slipped off a step and broke his hip, like an old person; another tripped while walking and broke his arm. The injury reports read like gerontology ward, but these patients were all younger than twenty-two.
“Money is time,” Sam had told himself, and batted aside the suspicion that his money was buying the donors’ time.
“It’s their choice, it doesn’t hurt them, and we pay them handsomely for the blood. It’s simple, yes?”
Blood therapy quickly became a welcome routine as Sam experienced the vitality of greater blood volume. He assumed the young blood with stem cells was only a scientist’s hope. Then it began to happen: his brain came alive at sixty-five like when he was twenty years younger, or more. He could remember details crisply, his concentration sharpened, and he could stay with cognitive tasks of reading, chess, Sudoku, for hours.
Occasionally the nurse would withdraw a pint of Sam’s blood before infusing a fresh pint of young blood. On weeks when no withdrawal was made, Sam’s athletic capacity leaped. After two hours of bike riding or an hour of swimming, his body wanted to do more. The prescribed ten hours a week sometimes was the lower limit of what he wanted to do.
All this progressed as capacities and internal feeling of health and well-being; after a year the outward appearance began to catch up to inner rejuvenation. He looked good, then great, and then the odometer seemed to roll backwards for his visible age.
Remembering this, when he was on the doorstep of beginning college, Sam faced this young woman of his apparent age. He noted that she could be his granddaughter. From that viewpoint, everything changed and he said, “Be careful about the fun you get yourself into. There is a lot of danger in college for young women. Many guys are not raised right and will take any opportunity to use you that they can.” He said this with finality and foreboding that struck her.
“Oh my God! Sam, you sound like my dad! I know how to take care of myself. I can read who the creeps are and stay away from them.”
So that date ended without another to follow. Sam could not come back to seeing her as a peer. It was as though he lived with multiple personalities simultaneously jostling within him. The levels to his psychology made him feel all the more a stranger and alone.
Part 3 will be available online on 12/27/17.