Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Into Eden

Derek Apted was dying. Alone, in a hospital bed. In the final stages of a long degenerative illness. He was only 54.

During lucid moments he reviewed his life. So many regrets. So many lost opportunities. If only he knew then what he knew now. If only he could repeat his life with the benefit of hindsight.

Then an angel appeared to him in his hospital room. Or maybe it was just a hallucination. Hard to say in his often delirious state of mind.

The angel asked him if he wanted anything. Derek asked the angel for a chance to repeat his life, but with his memories intact.

In a flash, Derek found himself back in kindergarten. On the outside, a little boy. On the inside, a middle-aged man with a college degree and decades of experience.

He quickly established himself as a wunderkind. His teachers and parents were amazed at this precocious little boy. So mature for his years!

One of the first things Derek did was to talk his dad into making some prescient investments in some fledgling companies which would one day become Fortune 500 companies.

Derek wanted to be independently wealthy, not because he craved a rich man’s lifestyle, but because it would give him more control over his circumstances.

By the time he graduated from high school, and took ownership of his fortune, Derek was one of the world’s richest men. Yet only his tax attorneys and portfolio managers knew the extent of his fortune.

Outwardly, Derek maintained a fairly modest, middle class lifestyle. He never wanted much more than what he had. His problem lay in losing what he used to have. Derek had a happy boyhood and adolescence. He wanted to maintain as much of his past intact as possible. That’s where the money went.

Sure, there were a few indulgences along the way. Like a nice sports car in high school.

His friends were dimly aware of the fact that even though he wore what they wore, ate what they ate, he seemed to have bottomless pockets. Although he never worked a job, he could always afford whatever he needed or wanted. Always picked up the tab at the restaurant, or movies, or whatever.

Derek knew that his intellectual reputation was a perishable commodity. A 5-year-old with an adult IQ is a genius. And adult with an adult IQ is merely average. As he got older he had to coast on his reputation. Bluff his way through conversations with fellow students who were truly gifted.

He was offered full scholarships to Harvard and MIT, but he turned them down. He didn’t need the Ivy League education. He didn’t need a college education. He already had one. And, in any case, he didn’t need a job to pay the bills. More to the point, he couldn’t sustain his intellectual reputation in that company.

Derek’s ambitions were very unambitious. Down to earth. Close to home. He wanted to preserve his past, and redeem some lost opportunities.

His home was a beach cabin on the lake. His parents bought the property for a modest sum, before the area became so gentrified. Later they were priced off the land by ever increasing property taxes.

Derek always resented that. He was hoping to inherit the property. To be cheated out of it by the taxman was galling.

And now, of course, that wasn’t a problem. In fact, he bought some other neighborhood homes. He lived in one while his parents lived in his old home.

He moved his grandmother and his elderly aunt into another home nearby. In her old age, his grandmother lived alone until a house-burglar broke into her home and attacked her. She never recovered from that incident.

But Derek, with an eye to the future, could now prevent that from happening. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons he was repeating his life. To protect his loved ones from harm.

He also knew that his aunt would come down with a degenerative illness. Indeed, it ran in the family. She spent her final years in a nursing home.

Derek regretted that. And now he could do better. When the disease began to take hold, he could keep her close by, in the house next door. Provide her with a live-in nurse. Whatever she needed.

And he took the opportunity to have all the conversations with his aunt and his grandmother that he thought about having after they died, when it was too late to ask.

As a boy, Derek had a dog. He loved his dog. Indeed, after the dog died, he never wanted another dog. He remembered the day he had to put her to sleep. And he never quite got over that. He still missed his own dog.

So this time around he was more attentive to her physical needs. Had her groomed regularly. Scheduled regular check-ups with the vet.

Derek was also sorry that he never tried out for the football team. He missed the camaraderie. The opportunity to befriend certain students. Maintain lifelong friendships.

And now he had a chance to make up for that. Even though he wasn’t very good at football, he made the team. The athletic dept. could always use more money for equipment. All it took was a private little chap with Coach O’Brien, and Derek had his jersey.

After they graduated from high school, Derek hired his friends to keep them close. Found jobs for them to keep them in the area. Rented out his houses to them for a nominal sum.

One of the best things about repeating the past was his opportunity to date a couple of girls he let slip away the last time around. At the time there were two girls in high school who caught his fancy. He wasn’t sure which one he preferred, for he never got around to dating either one. Now he could get to know them both, and decide which one to marry.

Life was better this time around. Much better. At least in some respects.

And yet he couldn’t shake a certain lingering sadness. It’s something of a curse to know the future unless you can also control the future, or change the future. A bit fatalistic, really.

He could use his wealth and foresight to extend the lives of his loved ones. Enhance their quality of life. But in the end, he couldn’t really save them. They’d still age, sicken, and die.

He could take a different route this time, but all routes had the same destination. You just got there sooner or later, that’s all.

Indeed, life was rather anticlimactic. He often knew just what to expect. Pleasures were less pleasant when you could see them coming a mile away.

And he was filled with foreboding. Instead of outliving loved ones once, he’d have to outlive them twice.

And then there was the nagging fear that his friends loved him for his money. The first time round, when all of them were hard up for money, and only had each other, wasn’t friendship more meaningful? What comes easily, goes easily.

Moreover, he could do nothing to prevent the onset of his own degenerative illness. Once again he felt the clockwork progression of the old familiar symptoms.

There was only so much this life had to offer. He needed something more. Something this autumnal world could never provide.