I had to fast for the fortune teller, no eating or drinking after midnight. The company required the blood test to confirm the year of my death.
In the second half of my life, I wanted to be a novelist, so I lifted $21,000 from my loving husband Al and enrolled in an MFA program. I sat in my first fiction writing class, sixteen-ounce bottle of Coke Zero in hand, ready to absorb the how-to’s from a twelve-times-published author and accept the adage, “You should never write to get published.” Wait. What?
“That’ll kill you,” said the woman sitting next to me, pointing to my morning pick-me-up. “Diet sodas cause brain tumors.” She drank water from a Hydro flask and wore a Fitbit.
“Yeah, I don’t like coffee.” I took a giant gulp. “Guess there are worse vices.”
“I’m just saying, you’re going to die.” She held up her flask in toast.
Before the fasting, I’d received the preliminary results of my death date from the “Power of Vitality” online health survey. Last year, I’d lost only one year off my life. I jumped from forty-six to forty-seven years old, and that was with boozing and buffalo wings and cheeseburgers, though I’d kept to a strict liquid diet of sophisticated New Zealand wine after 8:00 p.m.
This year, I was confident things would be different. I’d lost eighteen pounds because I quit drinking.
“How much alcohol do you consume in an average week?” the survey asked. None now. The hangovers were cramping my ability to mother, and I’d spent too many mornings racking my brain to recall what had happened the night before.
“How often do you eat fried, fatty foods?” Rarely. “How many fruits and vegetables do you consume?” Okay, that would cost me. One to two a week. And then the kicker: “How often and for how long do you exercise in a given week?” I wanted to lie, but Al assured me the survey was nonjudgmental. Plus, if I finished it and took the blood test, we’d receive $500 off our annual health care expenditures.
How often? Never. For how long? See answer to previous question.
I moved on to the mental health section, contracting severe depression just by reading the questions. After completing the goals section—I had none—the system vomited out my adjusted age: fifty-three. I’d aged six years in less than thirty minutes. WTH! I gave up alcohol for this?
I did the math. Assuming a rapid, cumulative age increase per year, like bank interest or the spread of disease, I’d be eighty-nine in two years.
That night, Al and I met some friends for dinner. Jacqueline ordered the strawberry kale and walnut salad. She made sure the dried cranberries were grass-fed. Her husband Freddy ordered the grilled salmon with lemon mint dressing; he asked to go light on the dressing. Al ordered the bison cheeseburger, so much leaner than beef. I chose the chicken piccata and asked for extra sauce.
“Is your chicken cage-free?” Jacqueline asked.
“Oh, yes,” the waiter replied. “We only recruit from local farms committed to pasture-raised animals.”
“Recruit,” I said. “Do the chickens come with CV’s?”
“Our animal keepers believe they are morally responsible for providing creatures under their care with a full life and a good death.”
Would fifty-three to eighty-nine in two years’ time be considered a full life and a good death?
The waiter continued, “We ensure the animals are treated well, fed an appropriate diet, and are allowed to express their creaturely character.”
I pictured a chicken lifting a paintbrush in its talons.
“That’s a relief!” Jacqueline said. “Have you guys seen ‘What the Health?’”
“You bet!” I said with a smile and a hearty fist bump, though I hadn’t seen it.
What was the over-under on how long before a fit suburban woman brought up that documentary? I checked my watch. I had seven minutes; Al had two. I gave a nod to the winner.
And we were off. Jacqueline held a one-woman debate on the evils of the chicken and beef and dairy and sugar cane and processed food industries.
“I’m vegan, but Freddy eats fish sometimes.” The scoundrel.
“Are you leaving those yummy brussel sprouts on your plate?” Is that what they were?
“At our age—” Which age is that? “You shouldn’t ask for extra sauce.”
“Excuse me, waiter?” I called. “I’ll have a margarita.” Jacqueline gasped.
“Regular or grandé?”
“What do you think?” I said. “And keep them coming!”