Any time is a good time to add a new dimension to the mystery of human life.
One blistering Florida summer afternoon, on one of those routine office days of my youth, I entered the examining room to see the last patient.
“Hello Mr. Lasting,” I said to a shriveled old man. He was sitting down, leaning with one arm on a walker. Next to him sat a woman, a heavy-set German-looking matron, twice his size.
He didn’t answer.
“Is it Abraham Lasting?”
I noticed a questioning look in his eyes. Accustomed to Florida’s hard-of-hearing retired patients, I yelled the question.
“Yes Ma’am, Doctor,” he answered.
The man struck me as being vital in his deep base voice and his intense blue eyes, and faded in his bony, angular features and frame, his furrowed skin, and hunched posture. His hands trembled.
“What can I help you with, Mr. Lasting?”
“My wife says I have a hickey and she is madly jealous about it,” he said pointing at the woman with his thumb, in a hitchhiking gesture.
The wife rolled her eyes.
“Do you want to see it?” he asked, his voice alternating between low-and high-pitch, like that of a teenage boy.
“Can you show it to me? Is it on your neck?”
“Where else?” he said, pointing to the left side of his neck.
I came closer and leaned toward him to examine him. He took a fold of my skirt, rubbed it back and forth between his thumb and forefinger, and grinned at me.
“Nice, silky material,” he said, his dentures dancing.
Mrs. Lasting gave him a smack on the hand. He let go of my skirt.
“Nice material, eh? Wait till we get home,” she said with a frown.
“I didn’t do anything,” he said in a subjugated voice like a child caught stealing candy from a store.
I examined the “hickey.” A brown raisin-like mole had grown on the patient’s neck.
“It’s not a hickey,” I said. “It’s a mole. Want it out?”
“Oh, no. I wished it had been a hickey.” Mr. Lasting winked at me.
“Do you have any more hickeys for me?”
“Not at the moment.”
I wrote a note on Mr. Lasting’s chart, and was getting ready to leave when I noticed that the office personnel had typed his age as forty-two.
“How old are you, Sir?”
“I beg your pardon. How old did you say?”
“Three hundred-sixteen give or take a year or two.”
I decided to stay in the room.
“Tell me about your long life, Mr. Lasting,” I said. I hadn’t heard such an absurd story ever.
“Come on, Abe,” said Mrs. Lasting, pulling on his arm, trying to make him get up.
“Do you have to go into that again?”
Oblivious to her protests, Mr. Lasting shifted his body in the chair and crossed his legs. He took his dentures out, placed them carefully in his left shirt pocket, and began his story.
“The first time I died was by drowning. I was about seventy-nine-years-old. I should have stayed home that evening, but I went sea fishing with a buddy of mine. I just had a check up, and was in great shape. But we ventured too far inside the Atlantic. A black cloud crept behind us and the sky closed on us.
“The boat rode the waves, rocking terribly. I tried to hold on. Waves flew right over the boat. Others splashed on the deck, making it slippery. My buddy disappeared. The boat lost control. I couldn’t see anything. Then the boat overturned, I fell in the water, and got tangled in the propeller.
“Of course, I died instantly and the ocean carried me to a faraway beach and spit me out on the shore. I didn’t complain. I was happy to see dry ground again. I didn’t go home because I knew no one would believe my story.”
Mr. Lasting paused. My curiosity rose.
“What happened next?” I asked and sat on the examining table.
“After my funeral, on a rainy afternoon, I was able to break through the loose, soggy dirt without any effort. After I dried up, I found a new job and a new wife in a distant town. Life went on until I was one hundred-eighty. Those birthday celebrations in bed can almost kill a man . . .” He winked at me again. “I don’t need to explain the facts of life to a doctor.” He looked at me forcefully.
“Go on, go on.” This is fantastic, I thought. The man’s reality was different from mine, but reality comes to us only through our senses. Therefore, it may not exist at all. Perhaps only mind’s imagination and creativity are real.
“The second time I kicked the bucket,” he continued, “was before my one-hundred-eighty first birthday. I fell in the shower and busted my skull, bleeding all over. They thought they’d save me, rushed me to the hospital, operated on me, but I died in the recovery room.
“I got a nice burial: “Ave Maria” sung in church, calla lilies at every pew, ribbons and golden angels. It was worth dying for all this. At the cemetery, since I had had an honorary discharge from the military during my first life, the cadets blasted the canon salute. My eyes teared, and I almost raised the coffin’s lid, jumped out, and screamed, ‘Good job, boys!’”
“After they lowered me, I felt suffocated. Water was seeping into the coffin, reminding me of my first death. Luckily, as usual, they had forgotten to lock the box, so I pushed the dirt from above and crawled out.”
“And then?” I asked. I was taking notes frantically on the back of my prescription pads.
“I inhaled a few gasps of fresh night air and hitchhiked to a different state, so I could find a younger wife. Too used to the old one. Besides, she could die and I’d be alone.
“I traveled far. I wandered around until I found a job as a welder. The business owner’s daughter nursed my head wounds and eventually we fell in love.
“On the weekends we trailed up mountains and swam in creeks. We skinny-dipped. Of course something bad had to happen. When I was two hundred-seventy-years-old, while climbing one of the peaks, we slipped, fell, and landed two thousand feet below on a rock.
“We didn’t make it. The same ordeal of the leaking coffin–why don’t they seal them properly?”
“And then?” I asked.
“Then I met this girl here. We’ve been together for forty-six years.” He lowered his voice, “But . . . I’m ready for a new wife.” Again he winked at me and kept staring at my legs.
I hopped off the examining table and patted his shoulder, laughing so loud. I woke Mrs. Lasting, who had dozed off.
“I believe your story,” I said. “I hope you live another three hundred-sixteen-years and return to the clinic to tell me about it.”
As I escorted the Lastings to the door, I thought of the mysterious ways our human minds can indulge in marvelous imagination.
Today, fifty-some years later, my arthritic knees and weak heart remind me daily of my place, that of an octogenarian. I often remember that afternoon and that unique older couple; I wish I could speak so freely, so earnestly, and so boundlessly like Mr. Lasting, and stay suspended for centuries in a silk veil above time and actuality.
Eduvigia (Junia) Ancaya is a nonfiction writer who has taken creative writing courses at USF and numerous courses at OLLI. She has recently published two nonfiction books honoring her parents’ saga during WW II : Struggle for Freedom: Marta’s Courage—A Memoir and Stefan’s Journey on the Road of Sorrows.
A native of Poland, who escaped Communist tyranny in 1946, she immigrated to the U.S. in 1963. She is a retired physician.