How To Live Forever (A Very Fictional Guide)
I have a special treat for my readers. Have you ever wondered what the secret to life is and if so how you could gain it and live forever. Well the secret is out (kind of) in How to Live Forever (A Very Fictional Guide) by author Barry Burnett, M.D.
Here is a brief sample of the book. If you want to read the whole book. You can download it from Anazon for free here.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Ire
Head in hands, elbows on knees, David Black looked out between his fingers.
Beyond them lay a warm evening in late spring – new leaves and new flowers, the sun behind the mountains, an infinitely deep blue sky. High within it, a single band of cloud glowed with a copper-colored radiance that traveled down between the low brick buildings, the telephone wires and the still-dark streetlights to burnish the concrete at his feet.
A good day, he thought, to die.
“Oh, come on...” said the executioner.
David squinted sideways, over his thumb. “Did I say that aloud?”
“Sit up, will you?” Ozvaldo Garcia, MBA, CPA – and, for one year and
counting, AA – brushed pastry crumbs from a drum-tight suit vest and sighed.
Then added, as the gleam from his titanium laptop’s screen bounced off his gold
Rolex, “It’s only money.”
David appreciated the sentiment, sort of. About as much as the venue Oz had
picked to deal the fatal blow.
His oldest friend – and now business consultant – had snagged a prime
sidewalk table at the Triad, Boulder’s oldest, calmest Buddhist coffeehouse. It
was the unofficial spiritual epicenter of a town that guarded itself against any kind of carnage, be it physical, emotional, or financial. Inside and out, the place was dense with self-medicated students, mutually therapeutic sets of midlife women, and philosophically if reluctantly aging men. Together, they generated a sort of metaphysical chitchat, a murmur set to the distant bonging of recorded temple bells and punctuated by the hiss of the espresso machine inside the open bank of windows just behind them. In other words, it was not the kind of place a thirtytwo- year-old doctor would choose to lose it. No matter what, or who, he’d just
David unfolded broad shoulders, raked dark hair into a modicum of respectability, and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, the fine faded denim softened by another long day at his office. Fear battled hope, a hopeless hope that fought on for a final few seconds before he throttled it and said, “Okay, I’m ready.”
“You sure? Really, really sure?”
Oz cast a brief and supplicating glance up to that glowing cloud and swung his laptop around. The screen displayed a month-by-month spreadsheet, the dwindling earnings in black, the definitely not-dwindling losses in red.
“A solo family practice...” Oz began, full cheeks sagging in economic sorrow.
“A thing of the past, and this is why.” He tapped a well-manicured finger on the screen. “No one to split the rent, no underpaid staff to hound the insurance companies, plus the breaks you give, the free care... You might be keeping your patients alive, but the practice is beyond resuscitation. Time to let it go, David: it’s dead.”
David’s eyes dropped from the hemorrhaging columns to the exsanguinating sums below them, following Oz’s finger to the biggest saddest spurter, the übertotal of his totaled medical career, on the far right.
“First Sheyoni,” David said softly, “now this.” Sheyoni who’d told him she was tired of being married, at a small round table just inside. Had she brought him here for the same reason, to be surrounded by the same subdued and muffling crowd? Probably – like Oz, Sheyoni knew what was best for him. Or said she did, and he believed her. A clean break: no kids, no pain, no tears allowed.
“You let her have the house,” Oz said. “A lot of guys wouldn’t have done that.” A level look. “A lot of guys might have noticed it was their only asset.”
Perfect, David thought. Generous and stupid. But of course he’d signed it over; it was the right thing to do. As she’d pointed out, she’d given their marriage a full four years – now she needed to fly free, needed it in her most genuine, core, neglected-but-finally-flowering self. Then clasped his hands and reassured him, with that special kindness Oz somehow missed, that their persistently reduced lifestyle had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with her decision.
He gripped the sides of the razor-thin laptop in his large hands and, as the keyboard flexed and popped and Oz began to look a little nervous, stared at the numbers, hard. What had he done with her gift of years? Heedlessly buried himself in taking care of patients – patients who were, when it all came down to dust, only strangers. Heedlessly trusted that if he simply did the right thing, his and Sheyoni’s life would work out fine. Heedlessly, completely, utterly, failed.
Oz might act like his practice was just another tanking business, but it was all he had left; since Sheyoni’s announcement it had come to stand for everything his life, his hopes, his otherwise broken dreams. They said you couldn’t feel the axman’s blade when it hit your neck, but this hurt.
Three miles to the south, where the highway from Denver crests a grassy rise and the wide valley that corrals Boulder is first visible, Junie Blanche spotted a reflective green sign for a lookout point. Still not quite one-hundred-percent ready to commit to her new home, she pulled her venerable Pontiac convertible into the exit lane and stepped on its stuttering brakes, barely stopping before the front tires rolled over the far edge of the parking strip. Unwinding her fingers from the steering wheel she’d gripped for the last fifteen hundred miles, Junie ran them through the cocoa channels between the tiny pigtails that bobbed around her head,
then cranked the tattered top open and considered the lake of lights below her.
A new start, she thought, and as new starts go, completely new starts, this landscape easily fit the bill. The cliffs that rose toward the broken spine of the Divide, the indigo sky that framed one side-lit copper band of cloud – all of it as beautiful as the glossy brochure the University of Colorado had sent her. As beautiful as she’d expected, but also, unexpectedly, unsettling.
Junie found herself longing for the pancake landscape, flat and urban, she’d spent the better part of an academic year scraping Mississippi River mud from – a landscape she’d abandoned the instant she received the University’s offer of a graduate placement and a functioning, mud-free lab. A ruthless choice, her mother had said, a comment Junie’s watching younger siblings did not have to echo. But her mom had made plenty of ruthless choices – evicting a faithless husband and whipping five too-smart but too-poor children through New Orleans’s struggling
public schools – and Junie’s family was now safe and dry, folded in the embrace of countless cousins in the city’s Seventh Ward. And, as her professor had known when he sent out his pleas to save a favorite student, Tulane’s former molecular biology lab wasn’t going to rise up from those saturated ashes soon.
Colorado’s offer had been one of those post-Katrina gestures that really could change a life, at least for this impoverished near-PhD. A lifeline, and maybe a lifeline she’d been reaching for all along, a chance to fly free into an unfamiliar orld. She’d read the letter, looked at the brochure’s deceptively welcoming peaks, packed her bags and hardly looked back. Or wanted to, until this minute.
Now, all she could do was put her chin on the steering wheel and watch the strange Western scene blur and blend, the first bright stars above and the mercuryvapor lights sparking on below, all softening to something as soft-edged as a Delta memory, distorted by the melting pools – Could those be tears, the first since her faithless father walked the walk? – that swelled and threatened to overflow each latticework of lashes before she could bring herself to wipe those tears – Yes, tears away.
After David’s bout of self-loathing had subsided, he registered the rainbowhued distortions from his iron grip on Oz’s computer screen and gingerly eased it closed.
“Maybe...” he began, “Someone else could make it work.”
“Someone else?” Oz’s eyebrows went up.
“Another doctor,” David said, ignoring that skeptical look. “Someone with different... priorities. Someone who could, you know, bend things here and there.”
“Bend things?” The eyebrows went up further, heading towards Oz’s almost
“Sure,” David tried. He’d thought bending things was Oz’s specialty. “I mean, the patients are great—”
“When they pay their bills—”
“And the inventory,” David tried again. “The vaccine stock, for instance.
That could be worth, well, thousands, right? If I found the right doctor, someone
with some business sense—”
“The kind you’ve never listened to?”
David stopped and glared. “Anyway...”
“Yes?” A beatific smile lit Oz’s face.
He took an even breath. “Well, I thought I could sell it, and...” David hadn’t been completely blind; he had a back-up plan, or kind of. Face burning, he took a folded printout – a listing for a small but ocean-going sailboat from his pocket. An errant gust rattled the spindly sidewalk tree in front of them, and David felt a sudden chill. Oz plucked the paper from his fingers and read the details below the photo, then shook his head and pointed to the numbers on the screen.
“Even a crummy one?” David asked. “I could stay close to shore.”
Oz shook his head again. “Remember what you said last week, when you weren’t telling me how everything would turn out fine? How in the worst case, however unlikely, your patients had to have a two-month warning? I’d like to make it easier on you, but things didn’t work out fine, the worse case wasn’t unlikely, and it’ll take every penny from those vaccines – which I’ve already
figured in, by the way – to buy that time.”
David looked down to the espresso that sat cold and forlorn in front of him.
So much for a clean getaway. Raising the tiny cup to dry lips, he drained it, but
the bitterness brought no relief.
“I never expected more than a living wage,” he said, “but everybody, Sheyoni more than anyone, acted like we could have anything. Even you, telling me I’d gotten a license to steal.”
“You did get one.”
“It’s not all about money, Oz.”
Oz snapped the computer shut and drummed his fingers on the top. “Really.”
David didn’t like it, but Oz was right. “It’s almost funny... a doctor who isn’t
worth a secondhand sailboat.”
“A family doctor,” Oz said. “A doctor who spends too much time with patients.”
“I didn’t hear you complain.”
Oz shrugged. “Too busy squealing from that rectal. But I would have, if you’d showed me your books sooner. You’re inefficient; you can’t help yourself, whether your patients pay or not. And that – plus those exams, big guy – is why we love you.”
“Some people think a good doc should be broke, or nearly,” Oz added. “Not only you family practice types, but all of them.” He scratched reflectively at his beard, a close-trimmed carpet above a starched collar. “If healing’s a religion – the white coats, the secret Latin words and all of it – maybe you’re supposed to offer it up.” Oz pulled a cigarette from the open pack in his monogrammed shirt pocket, then paused, catching David’s look.
“What I’m supposed to do,” David said, “is convince you not to do that.”
“See? Like I was saying: you can’t help helping.” Twisting to one buttock,
Oz rummaged for his lighter.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t, as your friend or as your doctor.
Health starts with stopping those.” David was warming to the task, to any task that would take his mind off his disasters, recent or impending. “The cholesterol meds, the blood pressure, those extra fifty pounds? None of it comes close.”
“I can skip it all? Great!”
“No, of course not: life is short, too short... make it longer any way you can.
Cigarettes kill more than half of smokers; smoking outweighs everything.”
“Excuse me,” Oz said, cradling the heavy gold lighter in his palm. “Didn’t you say that about the drinking?”
“That was then – this is you killing yourself now.” He’d found Oz lying at the bottom of his wine cellar steps, drooling sweet nothings into the empty mouth of a Mouton-Rothschild ’45. David had cleaned him up and pointed him towards rehab, but maybe he should have hammered Oz on every one of his bad habits. He could have pushed Oz harder, but no, that wasn’t his style. Oz had him nailed: he was a helper, filling other people’s needs, and look where that had gotten him...broke and divorced. On the other hand, between David’s light touch and Oz’s chagrin at siphoning the cornerstone of his investment-grade wine portfolio, Oz had quit drinking. Not only that, but he’d yet to light that cigarette, and almost looked like he was ready to listen.
And so, as a thoroughly sober Oz glanced at his watch but gave up center stage with an unusual degree of equanimity, David kept on delivering the message.
Doing the right thing, the helping thing, pushing along the information, not too hard but lots of it. Starting with everybody’s greatest mortal risk, heart disease, which most people didn’t realize was more than doubled by smoking, not to mention...
Junie’s eyes had dried and the night had grown darker – those far peaks etched with a fine gold line that made them even sharper – by the time another vehicle crunched to a stop on the gravel beside her. The rumbling engine died, leaving a ticking silence, the rare car rushing along the unseen highway, and a rusted red pickup, huge and flecked with mud, that was almost as low-rent and sketchy as her ride. Without moving her head, she counted two unshaven males.
They were white, of course, white and gaping at the same falling night and complex topography spread out in front of their parking space.
Then the nearest slowly turned, with a lopsided grin, and leered down at her.
Worse, that looming leer was completely unimpeded, with nothing more than her convertible’s raised windows and the rapidly cooling night air to separate her bare mahogany shoulders from whatever they did to strangers, strangers of color, in this vertiginous Western place.
Carefully, but casually, Junie put the car in reverse, and managing to only spin her nearly treadless wheels a little, slumped down so as not to present too clear a target during her anxious exit.
Wayne and Jeremiah turned to watch her go, watched the fishtail swerve before she hit the on-ramp’s pavement and the sudden acceleration after. As Wayne’s hand clasped Jeremiah’s, rough warm palm to rough warm palm, both sympathized with that rapidly receding driver, feeling the same bright eagerness to get on with their new lives – to love in a Western city that accepted all lovers, or so they’d heard, and even had cool black people who drove interesting cars.
Oz listened as David waded on to the perils of emphysema, doing his best to look like he was paying attention. The oxygen, the drowning phlegm... Whatever.
Oz would quit the instant he was ready, something he’d been sure of since his first sweet pre-teen inhalation two decades ago – so sure that it was beneath his dignity to try. But he knew David was finding solace in the meddling that was medical care, and that David needed solace now.
For another moment, perhaps two. Then he had to bring him back on point.
Because Oz had big plans for David, and this evening’s event, or something very much like it, had been headed David’s way for decades, ever since Oz’s boyhood pal decided that doing the Right Thing would be his guiding light. Not the Smart Thing; not the thing you really wanted to do but were only calling the Right Thing; but the single course of action that would both satisfy all ethical criteria and please absolutely everyone, alive or dead – an impossible presumption that David, nonetheless, had often managed to pull off.
Throughout their shared adolescence, Oz had tried to demonstrate that David’s approach might be too simple, that bad could be good and often truly excellent. But all his attempts, from the school-lunch Ponzi schemes to the afterhours liberation of a certain church’s sacramental wine, hadn’t make a mark.
Behind David’s beneficence, defeating Oz’s efforts, lay the pernicious moral influence of David’s parents.
Oz had known them well; in fact he’d loved them, if only for living next door.
Their kindly presence – a white-haired Unitarian pastor married to a junior college professor – had proved a useful counterpoint to his own father, who’d been unfortunately inclined to limber up his belt for anything less than an A-minus.
While David’s A’s came easy, and his choices easier: always the Right Thing. Too easily, Oz thought. Maybe David had needed Oz’s father as much as Oz had needed David’s.
Then, as Oz labored and David floated through college, that vague humanitarian dad had died – an early stroke from his nonjudgmental Lord, a classic Western sun-filled funeral, and David’s mother collecting cash donations for their church’s African orphanage where she planned to teach English, soon. Oz’s gruff paterfamilias had taken David aside, telling him he needed to be practical, now more than ever, practical despite the tears. After David made it into medical
school, Oz’s father thought David had heard him, but Oz knew David hadn’t.
Medicine, primary care, an absurdly small and self-sacrificing practice: his friend
might have been working hard but he was still cruising on moral autopilot. The Right Thing, no questions asked.
And now, finally, a chance for his friend to grow up. David’s fall from his unthinking, impractical grace had taken this particular alignment of ill-favored stars: Sheyoni finally serving a purpose by softening him up, and then, right on cue, a set of wickedly bad spreadsheet numbers.
Could, Oz asked himself, he have pulled this evening’s financial punch? He’d been disgustingly soft-headed enough to try, but even with the mitigating influence of this meeting’s venue (civilized, if a mite too Boulderesque), the surprisingly well-crafted coffee (an oxymoronic decaf espresso for David vs. a triple-hit caramel-vanilla latte for yours truly), and his careful selection of two organic (but all butter) scones, the boy was going down hard.
My story started in Detroit. After a rather truncated high school career, I worked in a bronze foundry, briefly attended art school, got my GED, then slipped into a progressive college at Wayne State University and segued to med school at the same. This was followed by a residency in Colorado, an alternative practice in Boulder, and a fellowship at UCLA Public Health. After that, my partner lured me to her beloved NYC, where we had the second of three great kids, I taught for a few years, and was certified in Preventive Medicine -- before dragging her back to this near-fictional isle in the great literal West.
Currently, I have a half-time position as a family doc, the world's best day job, a solid dose of life and patient care that usually leaves time to write (and, yes, exercise regularly, wear sunscreen, practice safe monogamy, and struggle to eat right).
Aside from a few published studies, I began writing professionally with the "Zen of Science" column for Nexus, covering topics from sex to homeopathy, yoga, massage, meditation, acupuncture, social connectedness, and the psychology of cancer survival. A decade ago, I fell into fiction and have been addicted since. This led to the novels Resonance, Thrilling Romance, The Mortalist, a handful of short stories, and now, How To Live Forever. The last has been the best: the characters became friends (as opposed to friends becoming characters), plus I've been fascinated by aging and longevity since, well, forever.
A few recent short stories, and (soon) my columns and samples of novels, can be downloaded gratis from howtoliveforever.com. I can also be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!