I don’t want to grow old

Steve Hale, a forty-year-old billionaire, lay on a couch in the office of Dr. Mark Carr, a psychiatrist. “So, Mr. Hale, what brings you here?”

“Worry. Anxiety. Fear.”

“What do you worry about?”

“My fortune. I’m afraid I’m going to grow old and die and have to leave my estates and my yacht and everything I’ve worked for behind. What I have belongs to me and I don’t want old age and death to take what’s mine away from me. Dr. Carr, I grew up with nothing. My father ran off, and my mother cleaned houses to put food on the table. Sometimes, we went without food, and I swore that I would never be poor again. I worked hard and finally made a fortune, and I want to keep my fortune.”

“Mr. Hale, I understand why you feel the way you do, but everybody grows old and dies. It’s inevitable. Can’t you just enjoy what you have while you’re young?”

“I do enjoy what I have, but my fear of growing old and dying is always on my mind. I don’t know what to do?”

“I could prescribe anti-anxiety drugs that might help.”

“No! No drugs.”

“Maybe another session would help. Talking is good medicine.”

“Okay. I’ll think about it. Thank you,” he said, and left. When he got home, he went to his spacious living room, sat on a recliner, and took a magazine from a table.   “Hmm. A science magazine,” he mumbled and flipped through the pages. “Hey, what’s this? he said and read an article out loud.  “Remote tribe in the Amazon boasts the end of old age. Could this be true?” Hale said and read the rest of the article. “The article was written by  Dr.  Ellis Wills from Dunn University, the anthropologist who led the expedition. I have to talk to him. “William,” he called, and a few moments later, William, his secretary, came to him. “William, I want you to find Dr. Ellis Wills. He’s an anthropologist at Dunn University. Find him and bring him to me. Tell him I have to talk to him about his trip to the Amazon.”

A week later, Dr. Wills met with Hale. “Dr. Wills, please tell me everything about your trip.”

“Well, the objective of the expedition was to find a tribe in the Amazon that anthropologists had been trying to find for years. Studying maps, four graduate students and I flew to Cusco in Peru, hired a guide, bearers, bought supplies and headed out.  After trudging for days through the jungle, we arrived at a village deep in the Amazon. We were greeted by friendly natives, fed, and given a place to sleep for the night. In the morning, we looked around and noticed that there were no old people in tribe. Our interpreter talked to the chief and asked about the absence of old people. The tribe’s leader told him that there are no old people, that no one in his tribe grows old. Unfortunately, the interpreter couldn’t convince the tribe’s leader to divulge the secret.  Disappointed we returned home. That’s it.”

“Dr. Wills, could you find the village again?”

“I believe so.”

“If you will take me there, I will finance an expedition and write you a check that will keep you in business for a long time.”  Hale and Dr. Wills made plans, and set out for Cusco in Peru, where they hired a guide, bought supplies and gifts for the tribe, bearers to carry supplies and set out to find the village. After walking for days, they arrived at the village.  After being greeted, Hale laid out pots, pans, a variety of tools, and machetes on the ground. The exuberant natives quickly scooped up many of the gifts and hurried off with them to their huts. Hale looked anxiously around. “I don’t see any old people. Could it be true?” he wondered.  Among the greeters was the tribe’s leader. “I have to learn their secret,” he told the interpreter, so the interpreter spoke to the leader. The leader looked at the remaining gifts and looked back at Hale.  Then, he told the interpreter to follow him, and Hale, the interpreter, and Dr. Wills followed the tribe’s leader into the forest. After walking fifty or so yards, the leader climbed a tree, picked three fruits, climbed down, and gave one pear-shaped fruit to Hale, one to his interpreter and one to Dr. Wills. He told the interpreter that they should eat the whole fruit and, in time, there would be results. Hale and the interpreter quickly ate the fruit.

“I don’t want this,” Dr. Wills said and handed it to the tribe’s leader. Before the leader could take It, Hale grabbed it.

“I’ll take that,” Hale said, took it and ate it. “If one is good, two are better. Right?”

“I don’t know if two are better than one of these fruits,” he said sounding concerned. The tribe’s leader gave you only one. He didn’t give you two.”

“Whatever. Okay, it’s time to go home.”

When he got home, his butler unpacked, and he paced around his living room. “I’m never going to grow old,” he said excitedly over and over.

A year later, his accountant went to his house for a meeting. The accountant began to lay out some spreadsheets on a table but stopped and looked at Hale. “Steve, have you been working out, eating health food, or what?”

“I use my home gym as I always have and my diet hasn’t changed. Why do you ask?”

“You look great. You look younger. You must be doing something right.”

After the accountant left, Hale went to a mirror. “Wow. He’s right. I look younger. It’s the fruit. I’m not aging,” he said excitedly.  “My dream come true,” he said, and he happily ran up to his bedroom. “Let’s see, what should I wear to the office. Ah, my new suit,” he said, took a suit from his walk-in closet, and put on the pants. “Hmm. I must have lost some weight, but why are the pants longer than they were when I had the suit made.” Then he put on a shirt. “This is a custom-made shirt. It fit perfectly when I got it, but now the collar is a bit big and the sleeves are too long. What about the jacket,” he said, and put it on. “Something’s wrong. The jacket is a little big and the sleeves are too long. I really must be losing weight, but how could my arms be shorter and how could I be shorter?  Now that I think about it. All my clothes seemed a little big and the pants too long, but something else is happening.  I think I’d better see my doctor.”

Hale sat on an examining table when his doctor entered the room. “Well, Steve, what can I do for you?”

“Something’s wrong with me. I’ve lost weight and, and I think I’m shrinking. All my clothes are too big, all my pants are too long, and my sleeves are too long,” he said sounding anxious. “How could my arms be getting shorter?”

“You might be losing weight, but shrinking? You’re too young to be shrinking. You haven’t had back surgery, so I can’t explain the shrinking. Generally, how do you feel?”

“Except for being worried, I feel fine.”

“For now, I’ll prescribe an appetite stimulator, and you might want to see a dietician about your diet. Keep me posted, Steve,” he said, they shook hands, and the doctor left.

As the months went by, Hale went from 5’9” to 5’5”. “God, what’s happening to me,” he whined as he looked at himself in his full-length mirror. “I’m shrinking. I’m getting younger. I’m not supposed to get younger and younger. I’m just not supposed to get older. What’s happening to me?” he sobbed.  From this time on, he spent his days in his bedroom and he had food brought to him and left by the door to his bedroom. A year later he was down to 4’ and forty pounds. Six months later, he weighed thirty pounds and was three feet tall. One day a year later, the food that was brought to his room remained by the door. “Something is wrong with Mr. Hale,” the butler said, and knocked on the door. “Mr. Hale. Are you okay,” he called and then knocked several times on the door. After no response, he forced the door open and entered the room. “Oh, my God,” he gasped as he looked at a naked toddler standing in front of him. The toddler, with tears flowing down his cheeks, looked up at him. The butler stared in disbelief as the toddler began to shrink and continued to shrink until he disappeared.

Hale’s wish was never to grow old. He found what he wanted, but didn’t get what he hoped for.

 

 

By Saul Greenblatt