At 60: A Start
At 60 I began looking forward to retirement. Honestly. I'd been building computers for nearly forty years; by now that meant installing advanced holographic imaging technology into houses with personalities controlled by a central brain with any of several warm personalities to choose from. This kind of work was delicate and time consuming, and when it was done, it was almost like giving birth. I cried the first time; the home face turned on, blinking up at me with wide, blue eyes, and called me "Daddy."
I missed my children. Hunter, the last of them, had left nearly five years ago, taking his cat, Dr. Gonzo, with him. My children had somehow managed to scatter themselves to the four winds; not a single one lived within a thousand miles of me. They wrote when they could, and called when they needed to talk, but it was always less than I liked. Still… perhaps it was best; hearing from them always reminded me of their mother.
I missed Sarah. For thirty years she was my life. In everything I did, I thought of her. She was my inspiration, my muse; I wrote so many love stories for her, though they were always the same. She was my reason for breathing too often, when the world had stamped me into the earth, crushed my hopes and spirit. I will never be the same man without her.
Largely due to medical innovation, aging no longer means debilitation and senility. The world's current chess champion is 110 years old and still undefeated, and an 80 year old couple are vying for the world Ping-Pong championships (a prestigious ranking in some circles).
Society has branded me old. I was equal parts distressed and pleased the first time my advances on a college girl were rebutted with, "Dirty old bastard." Which was fine; I paid some children, who would have gotten along well with either my brother or Capone, $15 dollars apiece (about enough for a king-size candy bar) to assault her with water balloons. Fun was had by all, I assure you. Or at least, I assume. I beat a hasty retreat when the girl began macing the children.
I don't know if I'll ever get used to being "elderly" (and to the day I die I shall refuse to acknowledge my status as a "senior" citizen, which is probably some strange holdover of the pridefulness of my youth). In 2017 the approach of the largest generation of retirement-age persons threatened to utterly destroy an already reformed social security. The size and organization of this population was even large enough to block a bill to deny benefits for seniors until the presence of life-threatening disease or death was "imminent and verifiable." The oldest congress in history then passed a series of sweeping measures. The retirement age was elevated, but for those who qualified, the benefits became entirely comprehensive. In exchange, laws regarding age discrimination in hiring and firing practices were incredibly tightened, and companies who employed a representative percentage of seniors in their community were given tax credits. The average age of the employed skyrocketed. 5% of previously retired persons rejoined the workforce and acquired full-time, gainful employment. Another 10% to 15% began to work part time or as independent consultants. Within ten years, "older folks" made up a third of the American executive class. Our knowledge and expertise (combined with medical treatments that prevented cognitive deterioration in all but a few unfortunate cases) became valued and sought-after commodities. Time magazine postulates that at least half of the world's scientific geniuses are currently over the age of 75.
As more and more seniors were seen working side by side with the young, the images of the drooling, pants-crapping, can't-lift-himself-out-of-his-chair-so-he-needs-a-damned-hydraulic-wheeliechair fogy started to fade. It was replaced by respect, not only for our skills, our wisdom, our expertise and our experience, but for us merely as citizens and members of society. And with a newfound mobility and independence came a peace of mind social security never could have given us.
Forty years in any one field is a long time. I'd managed networks; supervised the building of 50-story information structures; I was even briefly engaged in the FBI crackdown on Hacktivism (popularized by the book The Code Wars). In that time I started my own company and sold it for a safe profit. By the middle of the next decade the money was gone, as a bumpy economy had kept me from steady employment. By Christmas of that year I was making more than I ever had as the head of a tech support "strike force," surrounding by bubbly twenty-year olds, heads bobbing as they scurried around fixing software conflicts with components I'd never even heard of. They called me "The chief," and looked to me for guidance. I tried to keep up, but there's an excitability at that age that's almost impossible to counterfeit.
I started to feel old. That's why I went back into personal computer construction. It took me two years back at the local college just to gain the knowledge most 8-year olds had (thankfully subsidized by a practical life-long learning loan, the payments on which did not begin in earnest until I had secured employment again after graduation). Computers could run everything; in fancier homes they could cook four-course meals, do the laundry, vacuum, wash windows, and mow the lawn. Sony-Microsoft was even developing a program that would allow home computers to monitor children while providing them with safe and educational entertainment.
Seven weeks after my 68th birthday Hunter called. He was my youngest, and the hardest to let go. He had gone to UCLA, based mostly on the strength of his test scores and of his determination. He graduated with a Master's in Business, and I was never prouder of him.
He had called to tell me that the money he'd invested, some of it mine, had paid off. His company had just gone public. "We're not rich," he said, beaming, "but I don't think we'll ever have to worry about money again." I tried to explain that the money I lent him was a loan, and that all I wanted was what I'd given him, and if he felt extremely generous, a trivial amount of interest.
He would have none of it. "Dad, I love you, but stop being a stubborn old shit for just one minute," he said. "I know you haven't been happy building computers all these years. What I'm telling you is that you can retire. You can go back to writing; you can see the world like you and mom never got to." I wanted to argue but I couldn't hold back my tears long enough. I couldn't speak, not to protest, not to thank him, not even to tell him I wasn't having a coronary. I sighed.
An extraordinary burden had been lifted from me, one I'd never even realized I was carrying; suddenly, I was free.
I quite my job a week later, and sold most of my belongings; the trivial, useless things no one ever really needed in the first place. I rented a storage shed, and locked away my valuables.
I'd been working long hours as a technician; long enough that the time for friends had waned. That didn't matter much, as I had few friends. Most had drifted away, a slow exodus that began with college and continued through to our middle age. I had been one of the last to leave Washington; ending up in northern California where it wasn't too hot. Our middle-born child, Scarlet, had been just at the age where she would start school. Our move to California began in earnest.
The dearest friend I had left was Timothy. His father was my cousin, and loved me dearly enough that he followed me south, away from our parents and our childhood homes. Against my protest he even attempted to name Timothy after me; I have Emily to thank for ending that foolishness. When his father passed away, as much from his own brutishness as his unfortunate circumstances, Timothy, already a grown man, became my greatest friend. Sarah was wonderful to me, but there are some bonds that cannot be mended by a woman's hand.
It was Timothy who saw me off to the airport. He hugged me, and told me not to "take any shit from the Kaiser." I assured him I wouldn't.
I spent the next year traveling, mostly through Europe. I also bought a small car and drove through most of mainland Asia.
The reach of the personal phone (formerly cellular; it was renamed personal because continuous advances in technology caused subsequent names to become obsolete within six months) had made the world a smaller place. I spoke with my children, and even some friends I'd considered both "long" and "lost" while abroad far more often than I had when I was in country.
I settled for a year in England, and wrote some of my favorite works, one of which was published in Esquire (which granted depressed me some, as I had never read any of the fiction when I briefly subscribed to the magazine, and was forced to believe this to be the general trend as well). I corresponded daily with friends and family, although I refused to have a picture phone installed in my flat (it would have ruined the sensation of solitude).
After a time, I noticed the charm of London begin to fade, as it became more and more another place and no longer the fantastical setting of my imagination. For this reason I returned to the United States. I stopped in New York, to visit Hunter. He was well, and expecting a son of his own.
I was feeling awfully old (or perhaps tired; I'd begun to equate feeling tired with being old) when I reached my home. Timothy had moved to Indiana with his bride, whom he'd met, and married, on the internet. Their first meeting was in Cuba, where they honeymooned. From what I've been told it was a more romantic evening than can be written, least of all by me.
Good Looking Fella
At 80 years old I wished I could travel back in time. In late 20th century terms, I looked like a forty-year old man. I had the relative health of a sixty-three year old, because I'd just missed the explosion of aging suppressants and a scientific, functioning explanation of human dietary requirements.
It was about this time that I started to feel horny. Then lonely. Horny again. I tried getting a cat and a porno (though not necessarily in that order), but found neither completely satisfying. The cat was irritable, and had a terrible habit of opening my liquor cabinet, shattering a bottle on the ground, and lapping up alcohol until she passed out in the middle of the kitchen floor. My home's security countermeasures attempted to apply a mild, punitive shock to the vengeful creature whenever she was in the vicinity of the cabinet, but she was too quick. In return, she began sleeping on my face at night, undoubtedly in an attempt to suffocate me.
At the advisement of Tim, I entered my name and a video spot into a dating database. I quickly received over a hundred hits from all over the North American continent. I was pleased that the median age among them was a spry 58, including one 23 year-old from Southern California who "liked to have sex with old people." I admit that while I did in fact correspond with her, I decided it best not to in fact meet her.
I settled instead on a seventy-one year old computer-programmer from the Santa Barbara area named Magdalena. She was the product of a marriage between a Guatemalan businesswoman and an American auto-mechanic, and to look at her I would never have believed she was over thirty. Her hair was a darker blond, bleached that way by the sun.
We went out several times, meeting somewhere in the middle. We were both nerds, but something prevented us from attempting an online relationship. I don't know if I could blame it on maturity; I had just recently had my twentieth rubber chicken bronzed (he was the first to live beyond the decade mark without losing a limb [x7], or being eaten entirely by one of the neighbors dogs [x11]). Besides, I was no n00b to online dating; I had been part of the original internet generation, and my l33t tekniq 0wnz; (btw j00 suxX0r).
I suppose it was simply that the best part about dating for me has always been the physical affection. Holding hands when you walk with someone, cuddling during a movie, playing footsie under the table at dinner. At the end of our first date I drove her home, and gave her a little kiss. She must have seen something in my eyes, because half-jokingly, she told me, "You will never have my cow for free!" She had grown up in Guatemala, and gotten mild dyslexia from her father. The result was that English had always been difficult for her; whenever she got excited her speech went straight to hell. I stifled a laugh, kissed her again, and strode back to my car. I wasn't three steps from her when she burst into a fit of laughter and, "Milk- you bastard." I couldn't help but laugh as I turned and looked at her. Her face was red, but she couldn't keep herself from smiling. She sauntered up to me and gave me a proper kiss goodnight. She still didn't invite me in, but it was still a nice goodnight.
Tonight I watched a seven and a half foot tall, 73-year old Norwegian become heavy-weight champion of the world. He defeated the six-hundred pound, formerly undefeated Samoan woman who had held the title for a full decade, when she won it on her 13th birthday. I watched it all unfold in 3 gloriously real dimensions, hovering in the middle of a new holographic projection entertainment center. Plasma screens be damned! When she hit him, spit and a bit of blood flew out of his mouth, and I raised my hands to keep it from reaching my face. The sound system was equally impressive; you could hear the impact of glove on flesh as the two Titans pounded each other viciously.
Charles had just moved into town and we sat on either end of his new sofa that adjusted to the contours and knots of my aging frame (and applying heat, cold, and varying degrees of pressure to aid in relaxation). Gathered around us were the next four generations. Charles's children, and their children and so on. In my arms, cooing softly, was the next edition of our lineage. Her name was Christa; she was the first girl to come out of Charles' line, and that made her all the more special.
At current, doctors were predicting Charles' generation will live to 150. Continued advancement could see the child in my arms living several times that. Advancements in nanotechnology and genetically modified, infection-specific hunter cells, could ensure the absolute disappearance of disease by the end of the century amongst nations of the Developed World (the new terminology for the Western World, as parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East had become at least partially "Westernized"). 99.89% of all genetic disorders were detected and repaired inside the womb, and half of those that were not were treatable with gene therapy.
I'm dying, apparently. As it has been explained to me– rather laboriously, I might add; my hearing may not be very useful anymore, but I'm not quite an imbecile yet– my tissues are decomposing. Human cells are partially enslaved to telomeres, long chains of "junk DNA" which shorten every time cells divide. Telomerase, the enzyme that allowed my generation to halt telomere erosion and reach our old age, is no longer a solution. My cells are no longer dividing. I am dying very slowly, one cell at a time.
I'm less worried than I should be; but growing up I was always certain I'd die of a heart attack by 50, like every other man in my family (this was before I was told that they also had struggled with alcoholism, smoking, and poor dietary habits). Before the age of seventy-five, I'd have never even fathomed living to see my 92nd year.
Four months ago, Stanford contacted me about participating in an experimental medical procedure they're calling downloading. The individual spends three months in a simulator with electrodes in several portions of his brain. Using various stimuli, the device simulates a map of neural reactivity. This simulation can then be loaded as the personality of most modern home computers. I had been spoken to because of the length, breadth and depth of my knowledge of technology. I was discussed as a sort of "master technician" in a completely automated computer factory. But the technology was at least another eight months in the making. I had been given less than a week.
I called Timothy and asked him if he'd completed his degree in quantum mechanics. He replied that he was "nearly" done. I told him to, "Hurry up, damnit; I need a time machine by Friday." Judging from the look on his face, he must have believed I'd finally gone senile. I explained the situation- that I, the President of the Confederated States of the Seventh Heaven of Wolf Lake, had been visited by an angel from a different planet in a parallel universe with several extra breasts who had bestowed upon me infinite knowledge, hepatitis and a lifetime supply of Ho-Hos and Tunariffic Feline-Cuisine® ("Gourmet meals for humans formulated with vitamins, minerals and nanoscrubbers, and your pet will also enjoy! "). I was on a roll, but I could tell I was just confusing him.
"He also told me I'm going to die." The levity drained from my face, and the smile fell off of his. I explained. Before I was finished, he was crying, and though he tried to hide it, I could tell he was quietly having his home purchase a QuickJet plane ticket. I told him I wasn't dying that quickly, and that a regular plane would do, but he just smiled and hung up.
My daughter, Scarlet, was feistier; She told me that I wasn't going to die. She had spent the last six months looking into how modern medicine had affected the aging process. She didn't know how, but she wasn't going to let me die. Always so strong; so much like her mother. I had to beg to get her to leave her research long enough to see me; the effort it took must have shown, because her temper changed. "Daddy… don't… don't die til I get there…"
"I won't honey, I promise." I didn't. It took her three days to get clear through customs in China and to me in California. My daughter was 60 years old – and pregnant. She'd frozen some of her eggs during her thirties, waiting for the right man. The right man turned out to be Paul, who was with her; he was a 56 year old research assistant (normally I would have chided him about it- an assistant at 56?). He seemed like a good fellow. I took his hand and shook it, squeezing with all the strength I had left, which was just enough for it to show on his face. "You keep my baby safe– and her baby." He nodded dutifully.
Charles, my first son, had been with me from the beginning. He staid by my side every day and every night, watching me like a hawk. In his quiet way he doted on me. He'd strove so hard to be the son I wanted; I hated myself for that- for the life he lived so I would love him.
He was always so much like me, even though he had his mother's smile. He smiled so much more when she was alive. He'd left home for school as soon as he could. He became a journalist and moved to Baltimore, where he met, married, impregnated (twice), separated from, divorced, reconciled, and separated again from his first wife, Laini.
In his youth his best friend had been Timothy. Emily would care for them, much the same as my mother had cared for Timothy's father and I. When Tim's father passed away, a rift developed between them. Charles had always yearned for my attention and affection, but he now saw Timothy as competition. I was never able to make him understand that the friendship I shared with Timothy was neither greater nor lesser than the bond between me and my son. At the foot of my bed they reconciled; they held each other, and a lifetime of animosity fell away.
The staff of the company I'd built computers for sent me a card saying that I should, "Get Well Soon." I smiled at the naiveté. Only about half of the names were from my tenure, although I appreciated one of the newer women's depiction of a stick figure flashing me. Arthur Beck, my old boss, had sent along some flowers.
Breathing was becoming difficult. It took me back to my childhood, wrestling with my younger brother and he'd sit on my chest; only this time I couldn't push him off. I was on a morphine derivative – highly addictive, but without any hallucinogenic properties. It was a drug designed entirely to give the dying a chance to say goodbye.
I had spoken with the doctor. Without intervention, my death would be prolonged: most likely my lungs would give out first, and my last few days would be spent trying not to choke on the blood and pieces of lung that came out. My heartbeat would become increasingly erratic, and I would more likely than not have several mild cardiac arrests, a slight chance of stroke (it struck me that my prognosis sounded like a weather report). My brain would deteriorate as well, as I lost the ability to speak, and then to care for myself. Already I could not stand under my own power. I would become a moaning, slobbering near-vegetable, and I would die in a horrible, spasming way. I discussed euthanasia with him. It had been legalized some time before, by an aging populace frightened by their own encroaching deaths.
I wrote several letters that afternoon. Charles promised to see that they were delivered. I wrote to my brother's widow; she had come into his life at such an unfortunate time, and I wish I had been kinder to her. I wrote to the friends I felt still meant something. Finally, I composed a letter to my attorney, reminding him of his specific duties after my demise.
The sun was setting when I had finished. Charles pushed my wheelchair out onto the deck, and we watched it slip under the horizon. Neither of us said a word, but in those moments I feel we understood each other better than we ever had, in a way that language fails. Silently he took me back inside.
My children gathered around my bed. In turn with each, I took their hand, told them I loved them, and imparted whatever paternal wisdom I felt I had left. Grandchildren who knew me mostly from pictures, and a handful of visits, huddled behind their parents legs, staring up at the great old man, succumbing to some strange concept called death. They weren't mourning me; they hardly knew me, and I felt sad because it was my own fault for it.
My children had not been gathered around me like this in thirty years. Even on holidays they had fragmented; one at least would be spending "this year" with an aunt on their mother's side I'd never heard of. We held hands together, and there was a warmth, a glowing buzz, that filled the room. Perhaps that was the morphine.
The doctor slipped in a second needle, filled, I was told, with a cocktail of tranquilizers and anesthetics. My body became quickly relaxed, and I fell gently into a warm and hazy sleep.
Addendum, by Charles
The doctor slid the final needle into his arm. I squeezed his hand as my body tensed; he didn't squeeze back; he was sleeping peacefully, even snoring a little. The poisons emptied into his arm, and the needle was pulled out. The rise and fall of his chest slowed. On the heart monitor a light flashed red, and he was gone.
His will stipulated that I give his eulogy. I didn't think it right; I thought Dad should have the best speech possible, and Hunter had always been better at speaking than me. But he refused; "Oh no. Dad told me about this. He wanted you to do it, because he had faith in you; he'd always had so much faith in you, and you'd never let him down. He told me that." Conniving old bastard; by now I should have expected it.
When the time came, I talked about Dad the best I could, the way I knew I him. I hope he would have liked it. He was buried across from mom (his brother had been put into his spot years before when times had been tight). Per his request, the dates of his birth and death were omitted from his marker, as was his name. Carved into the stone was a single statement, "Here lies the old bastard, we loved him." And we always will, Dad.