(photo of Brooksie C. Fontaine)
The Young Immortal
By Brooksie C. Fontaine
IÕm immortal, and I donÕt think about it that much. Not because it isnÕt worrisome. Being immortal is inherently worrisome, just like the alternative is worrisome. Existence in general is worrisome.
But I try not to worry about being immortal, because worrying about it is futile. Trying to comprehend the eternity that stretches before me is as unavailing as trying to comprehend what comes after death. After a while, pondering existential questions with no attainable answers stops feeling philosophical and becomes tedious, self-fellating bullshit. You just have to live whatÕs in front of you.
If it sounds like IÕm just figuring that out, itÕs because I sort of am. By immortal standards, IÕm an infant. Disappointing, I know. I think IÕd look fabulous in a toga.
When it started, it was the February fourteenth of 1945. An American plane was hit in the engine by Japanese fire, fell from the slate gray sky like a shooting star. Its blazing red reflection ignited the swell of colorless water. And then it was gone, taking with it all the color in the world.
In that plane was my fellow air force pilot. The love of my life.
I know what youÕre thinking: you werenÕt alive in Ō45, and you werenÕt a man. Well, IÕm gonna tell you youÕre wrong on both counts. YouÕve been a man before. YouÕll be one again. It doesnÕt matter to me, so long as itÕs you.
And let me tell you, sweetheart, you donÕt know what love is, Ōtill you fall in love in the World War II air force. Every passing touch is cherished, every moment together, a fleeting eternity. It was all very Spartan.
I reminded myself every minute of every day that I could lose you, tried to operate under the assumption that I would. I thought that might lessen the pain of it.
Which, I can cheerfully report, it didnÕt. At all.
After you died, the world stayed as cold and colorless as the ocean that swallowed you. The war ended, and I couldnÕt bring myself to care. I came home to parades and streamers and cheering crowds, and all I could think was, HeÕs dead. HeÕs dead, and IÕm alive. How horribly wrong is that?
So I decided to fix it.
I got myself up on a good, tall chair, I put a noose around my neck, and I jumped.
Dangled there for a good, long while, looking around my shitty little hotel room and saying goodbye to my life.
To my father, probably still drinking himself to death and kicking his dog back in Illinois.
To my mother, wherever she was. Hopefully happy, and with a fellow who treated her right. Even though she left me with him.
To the apology note taped to my pillow, addressed to whatever poor maid would find me. The fifty cent tip for her troubles.
To the radio I forgot to turn off, to the Singing Weather Girl giving me a badly rhyming, probably inaccurate forecast for snow.
To the dust in the air, ignited by sunlight. Was that all any of us were?
My list of goodbyes got impressively long before I realized something hinky was going on. Namely, I wasnÕt dying.
In a more mentally sound state, I might have wondered how I could still be alive after about twenty minutes without any oxygen. At the time, I was mostly upset. For a suicidal person, not dying is very upsetting.
After I figured out how to get myself down – which was no picnic, IÕll tell you – I got my sidearm, and I ate a bullet. That seemed to do the trick.
Then I woke up the next morning in a pool of my own dried blood, with the hole in the back of my head already scabbed over. YouÕve gotta wonder, what did the other hotel guests think about the gunshot? Was that, like, a regular occurance in those parts?
But anyway, thatÕs how I figured I couldnÕt die. I donÕt think IÕd aged for a while, either. Dug up a picture from about six years back of when I was nineteen, and I looked pretty much the same.
Which reminds me, I brought a little something. You see this fellow? Handsome guy, right? ItÕs sort of a bad picture, but yeah, thatÕs me. Back in Ō39. I still dress the same way, too. You always made fun of me for that, didnÕt you? Said I shouldÕve been a 1940s television announcer. You werenÕt too far off.
Anyway, without the option of dying, I had no choice but to live. Well. Survive, more like.
I got a job as a paper pusher, which I hated more than life itself. I got an apartment. A house. Houses were easier to get back then. Tried not to get attached to anyone, so I wouldnÕt have to watch them get old and die.
I know everyone wants to feel safe. But none of them realize that there is no greater loneliness than being safe from death.
The days went slowly. TheyÕre always the slowest without you. To pass the time, I did a lot of real deep thinking about what it meant to be immortal. Like, could my brain comprehend eternity? Would I go insane? If the universe came to an end, would I live on? What if the earth got hit by a meteor? What if I flew into the sun? Thinking about it let me pretend I had some sort of control over it.
The days went slowly, but the years went fast, and suddenly I woke up and it was 1960. Around that time, I realized I should probably do something with my never-ending life.
There were a couple reasons for that. For one thing, IÕd been a working the same job and living in the same house for fifteen years, and I realized someone would probably figure out I wasnÕt aging. Report me to the government or something.
Next, people were talking about the Vietnam War, and I got this irrational fear I might be drafted. Even though I was, on record, forty-five, and too old to register for draft. But I didnÕt want to take any chances. I canÕt think of anything worse than watching countless good men die, equipped with the knowledge that I will survive, and coming home without a scratch on me. I still have nightmares from the first time around.
So, I moved across the country, and I enrolled in college for pre-med. I always wanted to be a doctor, anyway, before – well, everything. It was hard work, especially considering I had a sixth grade education. But I wanted to do it right this time. If I had to exist, I wanted my existence to mean something. Because, really, how many people died while I lived? How many people are dying now? An unwanted gift is still a gift, and it felt wrong to just sit on it with my thumbs up my ass.
Late that May, I walked out of a final exam. The first really warm day of the year. Everywhere I looked there were colors, daffodils and tulips and hyacinths, exploding out of the ground like fireworks. Bees humming like little helicopters. Something was different that day. The world was alive again.
ThatÕs when I saw you. You were this tiny little thing, in a little pink dress, one of those warm weather honeys. Fat little blond curls. You looked like Shirley TempleÕs big sister.
You couldnÕt have been more different from the big, angry man I fell in love with, but – it was you. I canÕt explain it. My soul could see something that my eyes couldnÕt, and it recognized you.
You noticed me staring, and you looked at me like I was an old friend. Like youÕd seen me before, but couldnÕt work figure when or where. Then you rounded the corner of the cafeteria, out of sight.
The wind was knocked out of my lungs by the time I chased you down, even though you werenÕt five yards away. My heart was a jackhammer. I could barely manage a hello by the time I caught you.
You tilted your head to the side and your eyebrows scrunched together and you said, Do I know you? It was all so you, I wanted to cry. Your words in a different voice. Your soul behind different eyes. I wanted to hug you, to fall to my knees holding you, to sob and blubber about how much I missed you. You, the only person who had ever truly loved me. You, the love of my life. You. You. You.
Instead, I pulled myself together and said, IÕm sorry, I saw you walking and I just had to talk to you. Which wasnÕt a lie. And then I asked if youÕd like to get coffee some afternoon. And you said, How about this afternoon? And so we did.
That was your second life. Your reincarnation. How do I know? Well, I later found out youÕd been born nine months after your plane went down. And you had that little birthmark. Yeah, you know the one. You always have that little birthmark. ItÕs always in the same place, God bless.
But more than anything, like I said, I just recognized you. ItÕs as simple as that, and as complicated as that.
You brought me to life again. IÕd wake up in the morning grateful to be alive, even with the knowledge that I would be alive a little longer than I found optimal. We moved in together my sophomore year, and you filled my house and my heart with warmth and the smell of roses.
You were, obviously, a woman, which took some getting used to. But it had its benefits. I could pick you up, carry you more easily than before. You were a lot more vocal about your feelings, and you laughed a lot, as girls are generally encouraged to do. It was nice to see that. You never laughed enough before.
And I could hold you, hold your hand, kiss you, anywhere. Take you dancing. No one even spared us a glance, except to smile at us. I could never get over that.
The day of our graduation, we got engaged. We took a few photos of that day. Here, I, uh – yeah. Yeah, thatÕs you, with the little bow in your hair. My beautiful girl. June of Ō64. Look how happy we were.
I said to you that night, as I kissed my way down your chest, I donÕt know if thereÕs a Heaven, but this must be what itÕs like.
Not two weeks later, you died again.
Not falling from the sky in a blaze of glory, but hit by a drunk driver leaving the grocery store.
I donÕt even know how I processed that. My mind was a screaming wall of static, incapable of thought. I couldnÕt reconcile that this could happen. You were supposed to be safe. This was supposed to be your good life, your long life, your happy life, to make up for the short, shitty, painful life you had before. And here I was, alive, while you were dead. Again.
I got this idea that I might sit in the ocean for a hundred years. That seemed reasonable at the time. I only lasted about a week, Ōcause I kept thinking about eels.
It gave me a bit of time to think, though, and I realized something that should have been sort of obvious: I might find you again. Or rather, you might find me. So I should probably be there waiting for you.
And I did. For another two decades, I waited.
That makes me sound sort of useless, so IÕll clarify that I went to medical school.
Around that point, I started to realize that pain is a non-negotiable part of life, and that trying to avoid it was never the point of living. So I really didnÕt have any excuse to avoid making friends.
And anyway, itÕs a shitty excuse, not forming connections with people because theyÕre going to die. ThatÕs like never reading any books because you know theyÕre going to end.
Even though you werenÕt there at the time, I think I owed that to you. Those four years we spent together showed me the joy of finitude. They taught me to stop fearing being happy, just because someday I might not be.
Which brings me to your third life. CanÕt really tell you about that one. You see, that time, I found you in the AIDS ward. YouÕd had a tough life. Tougher even than when you were in the air force, which is really saying something. You were in the final stages, right before the virus took you. I wonÕt go into the details. I promised you I wouldnÕt. I wouldnÕt want to.
That was the hardest, seeing you like that. It was hard for me, but, I had to keep reminding myself, it was harder for you. What I was going through was nothing compared to your pain.
I took care of you, and I visited you every day. You were skeptical, not used to people being nice to you just for the hell of it, but some part of you recognized me. Just the way you did before.
It was still you in there. Undeniably you. I could never decide if that relieved the pain or made it worse.
Eventually, a few weeks before the end, I told you. For the first time, I told you. About what I am. About our lives together. I didnÕt want you to be afraid to let go.
You didnÕt believe me, which was to be expected. Thought I was crazy or making fun of you. So the next day I came back and fired a nail gun into my head. Then you believed me.
The next thing you said to me was, When we find each other again, you canÕt tell me I was ever like this. And I tried to argue, but you insisted you wanted to forget. And then you said you wanted me to forget, too.
So I wonÕt. I wonÕt tell you about that life. Just know, I loved you then, every bit as much as I love you now. Every bit as much as IÕll always love you. I realize now how ashamed you were, and I wish IÕd had the sense to tell you you didnÕt have to be. No amount of suffering could ever make you less beautiful to me.
You died, and I got through it because – well, I got through it, because I really didnÕt have much choice except to get through it. And I just kept clinging to the belief that IÕd find you again, that weÕd find each other again. That your next life would be better.
I was getting better at the whole grief thing. The first time I lost you, I plunged into suicidal depression for fifteen years. And that grief was still there. It still is. But though the grief lives in me, I no longer live in grief.
And I knew IÕd find you again.
Now, the nineties. The nineties were interesting. For one thing, I got recruited by the I.S.I., or International Society of Immortals. Yes, thatÕs a thing. Everyone babies me a little, because IÕm the only immortal in the I.S.I. whoÕs younger than three hundred. ItÕs really sort of patronizing.
But there are some big names: Keanu Reeves, a.k.a. Paul Mounet, a.k.a. Charlemagne. Tommy Wiseau. Weird Al. Lucy Liu. Oscar Isaac. Cher. A whole bunch of others who IÕm probably forgetting. Immortality isnÕt too rare an affliction.
Some of them went the Twilight Zone route, with a Faustian Bargain or a genie. Some of them are vampires or witches. Others, like me, were just born this way. Either way, itÕs nice to know IÕm not alone in eternity.
I learned some good tips on faking your death and changing your identity, which I decided it was probably time to do. I mean, IÕd been working at the same hospital for about twenty years, with no signs of aging except some fake reading glasses and a touch of gray hair coloring around the temples.
So, I did the reasonable thing: I fell out a tenth story window. ItÕs weirdly cathartic, falling out a window. I highly recommend it.
The I.S.I. supplied the fake body for my funeral. Got me a fake birth certificate, fake bachelorÕs degree, fake social security number. Even some fake family photos. Everything IÕd need for my new, fake identity.
I relocated here with that fake new identity to start a real, new life. Started a real Ph.D. in psychology. Found you. The real you.
I donÕt know if everyone gets reincarnated, but I believe everyone has a soul. I believe our souls are drawn together, like the ocean towards a full moon. And I believe weÕll always find each other, as surely as the tides.
ItÕs not an accident that I took you travelling so much, that I bought you so many gifts. Experience has taught me how short life can feel, and how fragile it can be. I wanted to make it great for you. Did I do a good job? I hope I did.
At the very least, you always seemed happy. I know I was happy. This has been the best one yet, and the longest. Ten years together ainÕt bad, all things considered. And cancer, believe or not, isnÕt the worst way IÕve seen you go.
Is that callous? Yeah, thatÕs probably callous. IÕm sorry. Immortality can make people a bit insensitive, even if weÕre really not trying to be. But hopefully youÕll forgive me by the time youÕre born again.
Anyway, itÕs worth waiting for, even if it never lasts long. You always seem to die so young. But what in life is meant to last long? WeÕre all dust, set ablaze by the sun. A life of any duration is a miraculous event.
IÕm telling you this, my heart, my darling, because I donÕt want you to be afraid. I want you to understand that itÕs okay to let go.
Go to sleep, my darling. My ocean. IÕll find you when you wake up.
© Brooksie C. Fontaine