An exercise in really going through with it

by [anonymous] 4 min read23rd Apr 201222 comments


I'm re-posting a small bit of writing from my blog that was inspired by reading some recent discussions about cryonics on LW. I'm by no means a skillful fiction writer, but I found it emotionally rewarding to write this and really try to mentally simulate what it would be like to choose cryocide if I was cognizant of my own quickly approaching mental decline.

Constructive comments are welcome.

An exercise in really going through with it:

Well, this is it. You had thought it would be more like a retirement party all those months ago when you first suggested the idea. The truth is, you had to frame it that way to get your daughter to go along with it. Thank god she's of a different generation, one with ubiquitous electronics; everyone's a software developer. She understands that the weirdness of your request isn't something to be afraid of, but she's human after all. She still wants to show that she cares. Yes, you had to say it was like a retirement party. Good thing you were an accomplished scientist, a person whose understanding and reputation on matters like this had to be respected. It was the only way to trick them all into respecting your wishes... wishes that fly in the face of everyone who loves you.

You wonder how long cake will be a thing. We have hydrogen-powered cars and technology has cut our work weeks to 25 hours, and yet we still celebrate occasions with cake. It seems like such a foolish thing, knowing what will happen tomorrow. And yet it's still so human. It reminds you of your own childhood which seems long gone. Everyone around you was big and in charge and when there was a cake at something it meant it was a Big Deal. And here you are, surrounded by pictures of yourself. People are giving short speeches about your accolades. People are giving short speeches about morally questionable things you once did to goof off. And everyone is laughing in that very plastic it's-ok-to-laugh-at-questionable-things-because-we're-at-an-event sort of way.

But their guts get hit by gravity as the evening wears on. You are going to die, after all. For all their moralizing, all their pseudo-respect for your wishes, all their sophisticated rational utility calculations, they can only contort their facial muscles to provide paltry masks for their visceral uneasiness. The ones who traveled here, not your family, just want to say their goodbyes and head home, and remark to each other in the car that it's such a sad situation, that they hope it never comes to this for them. Your family members' contorted facial disguises are the flimsiest of all. They are obviously terrified, as are you. You suffer momentary flashes of anger that a recounting of the social prevalence of cake will probably be among your final thoughts.

The party dies down. People say hilariously insufficient goodbyes to you. Some wish you well. They just want to leave. Your family cleans up the mess and puts leftovers into a refrigerator. They sit with you in the family room. You look at photo albums with them and everyone just cries. You tell stories about your own long-dead parents and how, compared to them, you're making such a better decision. You hope your children will make a similar one.

It gets late and you become tired. Your children cry and they do not want you to go to bed. In an act of extreme sentimentality, you offer to tuck them each into bed, in some sort of silly and needless gesture to impart a final happy memory. You tell them how proud you are. You love them very much. But the truth is, on those days when you can't recognize them, how could you even tell if you loved them? And on the days when you wake up and your memory returns, you are terrified. This way, you tell them, you can remember them forever. They just cry and they do not understand. But they respect your wishes.

You change into more comfortable clothes. You lay down. Not even the looming injection can keep your tired bones from wanting a good night's sleep. Your mind is racing. You'll actually have to go through with it. If you can just force yourself to think about something else for now then you can fall asleep. You think about your wife. You can't bear a life in which you cannot even treasure her memory. She can only be fully gone if you cannot remember her, you tell yourself. You set your rationalization engine to work and you fall asleep.

This is it. You arranged for an attendant to pick you up early, before the others could awaken. You ride silently in a car with hard, unworn seats. You study the landscape, mind racing, for the last time. Why is there always so much graffiti and trash along the embankments of railroad tracks? Why are there always soda bottles and shopping carts and ugly rocks stained the color of a lifelong coffee-drinker's teeth?

They wheel you in the door in your wheelchair. Everything has a sobering sterility. It doesn't smell like life or the world. There are no forms to sign, you made sure of that. Just straight to business. Your heart is racing as they help you change into a gown. They don't even bother checking your vital signs. They show you what will happen to your body just afterwards. You'll be wheeled down the hall to a preservation lab. They will replace the blood in your body with a specially developed protectant liquid that will prevent cellular decay for up to hundreds of years. If you weren't a scientist the whole thing would be morbid, and it almost is anyway.

You try to imagine that it's just like going to sleep. They're just putting you under for a looong operation, you try to tell yourself. It does not stop your racing heart. But the injection will.

The time finally comes. They wheel you into an operating room with a chairlike apparatus. It is tilted back about forty-five degrees. Your last sights and sensory experiences are the following: unpleasant fluorescent lighting against a backdrop of a perfectly white tiled ceiling; a smell that vaguely reminds you of the polish the dentist uses when you come in for cleanings; air-conditioned air chilly enough to give you goosebumps. Various technicians and doctors reassuring you that everything will be OK as they move instrument tables around; the taste of your own mouth, sterile from the morning's toothbrushing but with a small hint of the coffee you drank.

The hospital you are in now does this same procedure hundreds of times per month, you remark to yourself. It's not so unusual. Don't be a coward. Fulfill your duty.

An officer from the county coroner's office stands in front of you and requests that you attest to some things. You make your wishes clear and it satisfies him. Your heart is racing.

An attendant tilts your head back and places an oxygen mask over your face. The reality is terrifying; your heart is pounding. You don't want your last sights to be of a pristine white hospital ceiling, but the oxygen does its job and you calm down. You think about your children and the wonderful lives they will lead, free of burden. You are happy that you can remember their faces and all the irreplaceable memories of their growth. You don't want to have a brain that doesn't include a photo album of their lives.

The attendant asks you to count backwards from 10, and you play along until you get to 7. Your mind is too preoccupied with the thought that you love your children and that they will have wonderful lives. You wish you could be there with them... but this is... for the... best...