By the time you’re reading this, I will already be a human popsicle. I know you don't support my decision to freeze myself. Still, I want to make you understand it...
Winston Solis held the letter in trembling hands. Hazia’s exuberant penmanship swarmed over several handwritten pages like ants on a mission. There she was, having the last word again. But something about the cursive made Winston’s ribs ache and his breath catch.
It seemed more a piece of her than the sweaters she’d left behind in their townhouse, or the books that still littered the nightstand. He had noticed the previous night, when he returned home, alone, that she hadn’t even bothered to finish the last book.
Of course, there wasn’t time. When the publishing house called, informing her that she’d been selected (his Hazia out of a thousand other writers!), they let her know that her appointment at the cryonics facility would be in two weeks. They didn’t want to give anyone time to get cold feet, Winston thought.
After that, all of their time had gone into preparation—the engaging of lawyers, the freezing of assets, the making of prudent long-term investments, the suspension of personhood. Preparation and argument.
But that was part of the preparation, wasn’t it? Winston thought. They had to disentangle themselves, somehow undoing seven years’ worth of life that had knotted them together. Let it all unravel, or else how could she possibly leave? If she had shown some remorse, some regret about leaving him, Winston may never have let her enter that freezing chamber. He might never have let go of her hand.
“Would you like some time alone, Mr. Solis?”
Winston looked up from the blur of words to find Caroline watching him, concern subduing her features into a soothing stillness. She was Hazia’s agent—the one who had arranged it all, to whom Hazia had entrusted this final letter, and who was now contractually designated as her case manager. She was young, he noted. Maybe even younger than Hazia. It was very plausible she would be here in another thirty years. Winston took some comfort in the logical detour that Caroline’s presence afforded.
“No, that’s not necessary,” Winston said, and found that he was able to face those words on the page as Caroline spun in her chair to face her computer screen. He could hear Hazia’s voice, more measured now than it had been in their arguments. He could almost see her shoulders shudder in a sigh as she sat down to write, pouring all of her feelings into fast strokes of her wrist across a page.
I haven’t been able to make you understand so far. I know I failed in person. I saw that mixture of disdain and regret clouding your face when you’d ask every day, “Why on earth would you want to go through with this scam?”
I’ll give it one more shot, here in writing. I promise I’ve given this serious thought. Here, without further ado, are the reasons I’m freezing myself:
Because I’ve always been a fan of cryonic freezing plots. Think about it: Futurama, Idiocracy, Austin Powers—all of our favorites. There’s the comedy element, yes. A person bumping up awkwardly against the conventions of a new world they don’t understand yet. Imagine me, stepping out onto the street, my eyes nearly blinded by seeing the sun for the first time in decades, and I walk out in my thirty-year-old jeans that are probably cool again, but maybe my color palette is off—I’m wearing muted whites and grays and it turns out the 2050s are all about saturated azure and salmon. I look like a faded old photograph as I walk out into a world that resembles some postmodern adobe mission. Almost immediately I walk in front of a golden hover bus that has to make an abrupt lurch upward to avoid crushing my head. It's pure slapstick. But that’s all surface treatment. Think deeper. Has it ever not worked out for the heroes of these plots? Never. They absorb, in a short span, the great advances that would have seeped slowly and thus invisibly into their lives over the years. But to me they’re not invisible. All of the innovations and absurdities stand out as my mind stretches to absorb them. These time travelers see the world clearly for what it’s become. What a vantage point for an artist! I plan to leverage it into my breakout achievements. I plan to have breakout achievements! Maybe all I need is a different perspective.
Because the world is falling to pieces and I don’t care to be around when it hits the ground and shatters. Sign me up for the aftermath. I’m an optimist. I believe that in a few decades, humanity will have put the world back together. The order of things will be a little jumbled. Maybe so jumbled I can't tell if it's a utopia or a dystopia, and maybe the cracks from the broken places will still be visible. Maybe they’ll be filled with gold. You know that Japanese art where they emphasize scars by highlighting them in gold? I’m Googling it right now. Kintsugi. Maybe that’s how the world will turn out thirty years from now—museums dedicated to antiquated things like racism and poverty and wage slavery, honoring the things that grandparents suffered and overcame. They’re these architectural wonders, all swooping lines and skylights and marble and travertine. Maybe you’ve helped design one! And maybe I can be a docent there. Maybe they’ll invite me to give talks in the gallery on Saturday mornings—the woman who waited tables back in the days when people cooked and ate dead food, together in these things called restaurants.
3D-printed food. Need I say more? Right now they’re 3D printing guns and human capillaries. I believe in a few decades we’ll have 3D printers that cough out sustainable, environmentally responsible steak right onto our biodegradable bamboo plates. Or maybe our plates are made from pieces of the floating Pacific garbage island; we’ve found a productive way to clean it up. Like I said, I’m an optimist. I believe that either we won't have to cook food and do dishes, or else the robots will do it for us, and I am here for it. It’s the great equalizer.
Because I never thought I’d win. I was one of a thousand writers who applied for the honor of being frozen, and writing and publishing their story upon reanimation. You certainly never thought I had a chance. But no hard feelings. That’s what I ultimately wanted to say. I know we both said some heartfelt things before I left. Can we put that behind us?
Winston, you'll be nearly 65 when I thaw out if everything goes according to plan. That would give us enough time for a sweet dystopian romance, especially with future medical advances. I'm not looking forward to my bathroom mirror telling me how long to brush my teeth, but if all this stuff keeps you in good shape while I'm gone, I suppose I'll tolerate the chiding, almost-human voice that encourages me to “go another thirty seconds and don't forget to floss…”
But our dystopian romance—that's an under-exploited sub genre that I'm open to exploring with you. Maybe you'll meet me at the DMV when I go to reactivate my license (there's a place I foresee withstanding the ravages of time!) and we fall in love all over again as the musty vinyl smell of bureaucracy hangs in our hair. Is that dystopian enough? But this room with its tile floors and black stanchions and a dozen bored people sitting around in plastic chairs, sniffing from the decades of dust collected in the upholstered privacy dividers and the now-unfamiliar smell of paper—this microcosm of staunch gloom is our utopia.
I trace my still-nimble finger over the wrinkles that these thirty years have carved into your face, and marvel that I can still see you in your teeth and the lips that curl over them, thinner than before, but still yours. The sparkle in your eyes is a little duller, but you're still looking at me like you used to—not lately so much, but before, early on, when I was still a magical creature to you—that look rekindled by all those years of absence. Maybe that's enough to make it all worthwhile.
So those twelve bored people—at least those who aren’t lost in their VR goggles (I wonder if that leaves anyone?) get a show until the person at the counter clears her throat and calls number 19 a little louder, and I become a legal person again and we step hand-in-hand into the gray sky outside.
“The sun is getting brighter every year,” you tell me. “We’ve really made a lot of progress on the greenhouse layer. Some days you can see some blue.”
And we get inside your electric hover car and glide the familiar-but-wow-the-retail-signs-are-all-so-different and wow-look-at-all-the-trees-they-planted route to our home.
Or maybe not. Maybe the DMV is full of strangers, and I check into a hotel room and look up the thing that’s replaced the thing that’s replaced Facebook—some new window for gazing at other people like creatures in a terrarium, and I hope it’s immersive and lets you smell what they’re cooking for dinner—and I find pictures of your kid graduating college. There’s a hologram of a girl throwing her cap in the air, and she has your teeth and your eyes.
You’ve moved on and found something to make your last thirty years meaningful. Why wouldn’t you? I was frozen, and we’d been basically frozen for a long time before that. So you’ve moved on, but had the decency to maintain a tastefully informative public profile. I look at the date on your latest hologram and notice that it was posted this morning. I wonder if you were thinking of me, of this letter, of this date. But of course it’s about 31 years too late for us.
I figure out the new equivalent of a “like” and leave a tiny digital fingerprint on your life. I’m here, I announce. I see. No hard feelings. And that’s the end of us.
I don’t know which way it will go. That’s entirely up to you now. Probably none of the above. Now that I’ve written it down it’s become fiction, and truth is always stranger anyway.
I’m sure I’ll be wondering about it as the liquid nitrogen wafts in a fog around me and the glycerin joins the blood in my veins. And that’s probably the final reason I’m freezing myself: the wondering. I have not felt wonder in our world for a long time. It was all so predictable—I could just look at a customer and tell you what they were going to order or how well they would tip. You were predictable, with your 9-5 and bedtime and endless, infectious cynicism.
I could have taken a different risk—gotten pregnant or chopped my hair off. There were other ways to avoid the slow suffocation of my creative spirit. But this opportunity came along and stirred me in a way that felt important. I have the chance to be important, my voice amplified by thirty years of silence.
Be happy for me, darling Winston, and let me write my story.
Best-Selling Author Hazia Adam
Winston sat blinking as he took in the last of her message. He took a deep breath and looked up.
“It must be such a shock. Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” Caroline assured him.
For Hazia, thirty years went by in the space of a good night’s sleep. Winston didn’t know whether it was cold and still like an icy planet orbiting the outer ring of its solar system, or whether strange dreams floated through her head—a thirty-year-long fall, an ocean chasing her thirty feet up a steep cliff, a library with 30,000 volumes she had to sort through in the surrounding quiet. But he wondered.
He wondered when he and Caroline hiked to the top of the mountain and they had that perfect view of the forest below, a cool mist rolling over the dense treetops in a way that sent a chill down his spine. He wondered when their daughter was born. Not in that initial moment when his arms received her for the first time and he marveled at her tiny, flat nose, so impossibly tiny and perfect, but later on, when he held her in the dark and quiet, and the slideshow of her potential life rolled through his mind—first steps, a red tricycle, unicorn birthday cakes, a mouth with gaping holes that grown-up teeth would grow to fill, soccer games and talent shows, building tiny model cities together, and then watching her walk away down an aisle in a cap and gown with Caroline’s eyes and his teeth. In that moment he felt like Hazia had written this perfect creature into existence, a final gift to him.
He wondered about Hazia when he went to the DMV to register his new electric car, even though it was not a hover car. He wondered about her while he watched a gray squirrel digging ferociously in the leaf-strewn ground. Wasn’t it also preparing for a long sleep, hiding seeds to fuel its torpor? Only, Hazia was not the squirrel. That was the publishing company, spreading its investments across hundreds of hiding places to hedge an uncertain future. No, Hazia was the nut, stashed away in the frozen soil, waiting for the chance to sprout.
He wondered about her when he bought his first iPhone-compatible smart toilet, and when pieces of their world fell away. It didn't happen as Hazia had imagined, as the sudden shattering of a precious vase. It was more like the slow decay of grout crumbling between tiles. The world was, at most times, completely recognizable. There were no travertine gems memorializing poverty. Winston wondered how her optimism would fare as she took the dirty white bus that still drove on the ground.
It was this thought that almost convinced Winston to accompany Caroline to the cryo storage facility on the date where the gold hologram star had hovered for years and years, always out of reach until now. It would be a big adjustment. She would need a friend.
Winston read his yellowing letter for the ninth time as he thought and thought about it. She was coming back in search of a story. What if he was the character that would drag her new story down?
She would have Caroline, after all. Caroline would be warm and kind as she set Hazia up with her new computer and a temporary lease. And Hazia would, of course, still be herself—the very same 32-year-old, waking up with her zeal and optimism and untamable black curls that he didn’t fully trust himself not to reach out and touch.
He skimmed one thick finger over the faded cursive, and it struck Winston that perhaps he was the only one left to remember that Hazia always began drafting her thoughts on paper. Even thirty years ago, it was a bit eccentric to do one’s writing with their hand, not their fingers.
Winston didn’t need to be her tour guide in the new world, but he could give her a compass.
“No,” he told Caroline that morning as she sipped her coffee across from him at the table. “I’m staying home. Let me know how it goes.” He paused as the food printer dripped hot coffee into his own cup, then slid a large manila envelope toward his wife. “Will you give this to her?”
Winston pictured Hazia tearing into the envelope, pulling out the spiral bound notebook, feeling its pages travel between her fingers, rustling like tiny wings. She would find her paperback novel, the curled grocery receipt saving the same spot it had marked since the nightstand. And his letter. With a familiar ache in his ribs, Winston imagined her thawing for the second time that day as she read his three words: No hard feelings.