Heaven is the Best Moment of Your Life, Infinitely Remixed and Played on Loop

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in The Opposite of Memory: A Collection of Unforgettable Fiction, February 2024

“…while you’re frozen, we’ll keep your brain stimulated, causing it to form an endless dream centered on those seed memories.”

When I was a kid, cryogenically freezing yourself was something crazy rich people with more money and desperation to live forever than actual common sense did to themselves to escape dying.  It was a joke.  And I can’t entirely get over seeing it that way.

And yet, here I am.

I put my daughter in charge of my finances years ago, and she assures me this is affordable and works.  She’s good with numbers and research, like her dad was.  I’ve always been the impulsive one.  The artist.  She’s more grounded, and nonetheless, she says a lot of people have come out of cryogenic freezes lately.  While it all sounds a bit hokey to me, I have to admit, it’s easier to accept than the idea of dying from this damned disease before the scientists finish testing and double-testing the damned cure.  I just need to make it a few more years without dying, and then I can have another twenty or more.

So, if that means letting my daughter pay a bunch of entrepreneurs to freeze me for a little while, I guess I’ll trust her and play along.

“Come on, Mom,” Haley stands up from the chairs we’ve been waiting in, gesturing toward a woman standing in an open door.  “The guidance counselor is ready for us.”

“Guidance counselor?” I ask.  “What am I back in high school?”  I chuckle at my own joke, but Haley just shakes her head and leads the way into an office decorated in different shades of white, extremely minimalist.

We sit down at the one desk, and the woman, who’s now sitting behind it smiles.  She’s dressed in a white suit to match the room, like an angel in a 1980s movie’s depiction of heaven, where everyone stands in orderly lines, waiting to be reincarnated.

“Hello, you must be Dani,” the woman says.  “Your daughter’s told me all about your case.  We’ve already gone over the administrative and legal side.  All I need from you before we can proceed is to select the mix of moments that you want to build your personal heaven from.”

I look at Haley uncertainly.  The roundness in her cheeks when she smiles encouragingly back at me makes me think of Marty, like it always does, no matter how many years he’s been gone.

“It’s very simple,” the woman dressed in white says, proceeding in spite of my clear hesitation.  Though, I think she’s made her tone softer in deference to it.  “We do a quick brain scan, and our proprietary AI will select a dozen or so of the moments when you were happiest.  We’ll agree on two or three of them — we’ve found it’s best if we keep the dreamscape simple — and then while you’re frozen, we’ll keep your brain stimulated, causing it to form an endless dream centered on those seed memories.  You’ll create your own slice of heaven for yourself while you sleep, waiting for us to unfreeze you and wake you up again.”

The woman smiles.  It’s the smile of an actor at the end of a commercial when they hold up the product they want you to buy.

But Haley reaches over and squeezes my arm.  Her smile is real.  “Doesn’t that sound great?  A few years of dreaming, and then I can have you back again.  And I’ll catch you up on everything you missed!”

Now I smile too.  I like that idea.  I want to survive to make it into the future and see how much my daughter can accomplish, and see how her son, my young grandson, turns out.  I have more things I want to accomplish too.  I always told Marty I would write a book someday — something longer than my poetry.  Maybe a graphic novel, combining words with my drawings.  And right now, if I still want to believe in that dream, I have a choice — I can buckle down and try to write a book while getting sicker and sicker, racing against time.  Or I can do what my daughter’s told me to do, and let this corporate idea of an angel scan my brain.

“Okay,” I say.  “Whatever you need to do, let’s do it.”

The woman in white beams at me, opens a desk drawer, pulls out a simple headset, and hands it across the desk to me.  “Just put this on, and we can get right to work designing heaven for you.”  Now she turns to my daughter.  “Haley, why don’t give your mother and I some privacy?  I can have her back to you in an hour so, and then we can schedule the freezing for early next week.”

Haley’s brow wrinkles.  She wants to stay.  She’s paying for it, and it’s her idea.  She’ll have to spend years waiting for me to come back, while I take the short road of falling asleep, dreaming awhile, and waking up like no time has passed.  It does seem only fair that she should get to see what I’m dreaming about.  Except…

“Uh… when you say ‘happiest,'” I begin to ask, putting air quotes around the final word, “what exactly do you mean?”

“Oh!” the woman in white exclaims.  “No, no, we won’t be selecting any memories of a — uh, shall we say — more physically intimate nature.  Our research shows that they don’t play nicely with the cryogenic state we need to keep our clients’ bodies in.  We’re looking more for memories that involve a state of euphoric, peaceful joy.  True, pure happiness, plain and simple.”  Again, that smile straight from the end of a cereal commercial.

Do they still advertise cereal?  I don’t even know.  I’ve paid to keep every form of media I imbibe clean of advertising — except the really targeted ads that are for things I’ll actually enjoy — for years now.

“Great,” I say, fidgeting with the headset in my hands, “then I see no reason why Haley can’t stay and help me choose what I’ll be dreaming about.”

The woman in white looks uncomfortable.  “This can be a very personal process…”

“My daughter and I are very close,” I say, and I’m rewarded with a smug grin from Haley — the same one I remember on her face when she was five and would convince me to let her have dessert for breakfast.  I love that grin.  It makes me feel like we’re co-conspirators, not just parent and child.

The woman in white shrugs and explains how to properly fit the headset behind my ears and across my forehead.  It has sucker discs that Haley helps me affix properly.  When the woman in white activates it, the headset hums warmly on my brow.

The woman picks up a computer tablet, swipes her fingers across the screen a few times, nods to herself, and then says, “There are some definite peaks that standout.  Shall we start looking at them?”

I say something that comes out as a confusing hybrid of “sure” and “okay,” at the same time as Haley announces, without any hesitation, “Absolutely!”

The woman turns the tablet towards us, and there’s some kind of graph on it, showing peaks and dips.  It makes me think of a seismographic chart or the readout from a lie detector test.  The woman flicks her fingers, zooming in on part of the chart, and then taps on a tall spike.  Suddenly, the chart is replaced with hazy imagery of me sitting on a couch.  An old, beat-up yellow couch.

“I remember that couch!” I say.  “Martin and I found it at a thrift store.  It’s the most comfortable couch we ever had, and I’ve always regretted that we didn’t get a U-Haul and bring it with us when we moved.”

Haley’s brow has furrowed again.  “You’re just sitting on a couch, Mom.  What’s going on here?”  She looks quizzically at the woman in white.  “Are you sure you’re using that thing right?”

“This memory is definitely a significant peak in your happiness timeline, Dani.”  The woman in white is making a definite point of looking at me, and not my daughter.

“We still had that couch when you born,” I tell Haley.  “We used to nap on it together when you were a baby.  In fact, based on the rest of the decoration in the room, you’d have been a few years old in this memory.”  I stare at the image a little longer and realize that the important part of the memory isn’t the couch — it’s what’s on the television screen.

At the same time as my realization, Haley asks, “What’s that you’re watching on TV?”

“Uh…”  I feel my cheeks burn bright red.

“Is that Yessica Casper onscreen?”

I can feel Haley’s gaze peering into the private side of my past.  I hadn’t realized I had any secrets from her, not really.  And I guess, it’s not really much of a secret.  It’s too silly to be a real secret.  “Yes,” I say.  “I was watching this lawyer show.  It was okay, nothing special.  But then, one week, they did a musical episode and had Yessica Casper as a guest star.  I’d never heard her music before.  And you know I love musicals.”

“Okay,” Haley says, trying to make sense of this.  “Yeah, okay, I remember when we started watching all her movies and listening to her music.  She was pretty good.”

I shrug, trying to play it off as nothing.  “Yeah, I liked her music.  She’s very, uh, talented.”

I must have replayed her songs in that episode about a thousand times in a row when it first came out.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when the whole cast of the show started dancing around her, and her voice?  I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven just listening to her.

So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it registered as such a huge happiness peak in my life.  If Marty were still alive, he’d be laughing at me.  He wouldn’t be surprised.  The crush I had on Yessica Casper bordered on actual love.  Sure, I didn’t know her, never would, but simply seeing her face could make me happy.  Reading her song lyrics — the ones she wrote, because she was a damn good songwriter and wrote most of her own songs — made me feel like I was learning about what it meant to be alive.  And watching her dance?  It felt like my whole body turned to water — all wibbly and transparent.  Like the brightness of her light could shine right through me.

Marty had never minded my celebrity crushes.  He just played along and said he enjoyed the extra, shall we say, passion they incited.  It was like a rollercoaster ride for both of us when my brain latched onto someone like Yessica.  Just strap in and stay for the ride.  Marty always liked rollercoasters better than I did.

For me, it felt like my brain had turned into a golden retriever, and videos of Yessica were its favorite ball — the dog ran off, refusing to come back, refusing to drop the ball, and I had to just keep thinking about Yessica and how perfect she was, thoughts of her dancing intruding in everything I did for weeks, until my idiot of a brain got tired and went back to normal.

I guess that’s what falling in love feels like?  It’s not what it felt like with Marty.  I loved my husband very much.  He was my best friend, and I loved every year we spent together.  We did everything together and told each other everything.  But…

Well.  There it was on the damned screen in this stranger’s hands:  the happiest I’d ever been in my life — a life with a husband and daughter I still loved — was the moment I’d first seen Yessica Casper and heard her sing.  If that’s not falling in love of some sort…  Well, I don’t know.

The woman in white walks me and Haley through several other peaks on my happiness timeline, and we talk about each of them in the same way as the first one.  Ultimately, they’re all similar — moments when something surprised and truly delighted me in a movie, television show, or music album I’d been anticipating.  Haley’s expression is getting weirder and weirder.  Usually I can read her like a book, but right now, I don’t what she’s thinking.  It makes me feel judged and small.

“I think our best bet is to simply go with these top three moments,” the woman in white says, turning the computer tablet face down on her desk.  She holds one of her hands out and says, “You can take the headset off now.  We have everything we need.”

“So… you’ll… what?” Haley asks.  “Build a heaven out of Yessica Casper singing on a lawyer show, sitting in a car listening to Yessica’s first album for the first time, and whatever that thing with the doctor show was?”

“It was a crossover event episode,” I say, handing the headset over to the woman in white.  My words are dry, mechanical.  But I remember the episode — two episodes of different shows, actually — and they were spectacular.  It was the kind of episode that a pair of shows can only do when they’ve been on the air for decades and you’ve seen all the characters grow up from baby twenty-year-olds to confident adults in their fifties.  You just can’t tell the same kind of story with one-off characters who the audience has never seen before and will never see again.  It takes history.  The kind of history that simulates reality so well that, apparently, my brain can’t tell the difference.

“That’s pretty much the idea,” the woman in white says, sounding serious, but it’s more forced now than before.  Less like a cereal commercial, and more like a parent telling their kid it’s time to leave the playground while hoping the kid isn’t going to throw a fit and embarrass them.  But her expression softens suddenly, and she says, “Look, there’s a reason I suggested you should leave for this process.  These happiness charts don’t always work the way people expect them to — I’ve built heaven out of a person watching a leaf fall onto the surface of a pond, playing fetch with their dog, and enjoying the warm sudsy feel of washing dishes.  Washing dishes!  Can you imagine?  But the person in question felt content and peaceful during that moment.  And that’s the kind of feeling we’re looking for.  We need emotions that play nice with long term stasis.”

Haley nods and quirks her mouth into an expression that manages to look like both a dissatisfied frown and a polite smile at the same time, like some kind of optical illusion of emotion.  She thanks the woman in white, and the two of us leave the office.  And the building.

When we’re standing outside on the sidewalk in front, the leaves in the trees above move in the breeze, making the shadows and sunlight play over us.  It makes me think of a heaven built out of falling leaves and dishwater.

“I’m sorry,” I blurt out.  “It should have been memories of you, when you were a baby.  Maybe Marty’s and my wedding day.  Not… Yessica.”  And yet, I love her music so much — everything about her, really — that just saying Yessica’s name, even all these years later, makes me happy.  Again, if that’s not a kind of love…  I just don’t know.

Haley shakes her head, squares her shoulders, and looks at me straight on, expression serious.  “You don’t need to be sorry.  It’s your heaven.  And… it’s not like it changes how close we are.  I just…”  She smiles impishly and raises a single eyebrow.  “I didn’t realize Yessica Casper meant that much to you.”

I shrug and sigh, like some kind of deflating balloon.

“I guess it makes sense, though,” Haley says, mulling her thoughts over.  Sometimes when I watch her while she’s thinking, I can practically see the thoughts churning and turning over in her head.  “When I was a baby, you were probably scared out of your mind for me.  That’s how I felt after Ryan was born.”

“All the time,” I agree.  “Happy and terrified.  And tired.”

Her eyes brighten, and then cloud again just as quickly.  “What about when Ryan was born?  Meeting your grandchild?”

“Twice as terrified,” I say.  “Childbirth is dangerous, so I was scared for both you and him.”

She nods somberly.  A beat later, “And when you married Dad… that’s like a whole thing, doing the old-style wedding with family.  It was probably a lot of pressure?”

“Probably.”  I don’t disagree.  “Although, honestly…” I amend, “it’s hard to remember.  There was so much chaos on that day.”

Haley’s lips tighten and she nods.  “Yeah, I can see that.  And, like, when WWIII ended?  I know it was only a few years long, but like, I’ve seen the videos of people dancing in the street all around the world.  They were ecstatic!”

“Oh god, don’t even get me started on that,” I exclaim.  And yet — too late — she got me started.  “I was so torn up from the bad things that had been happening… and so convinced that the peace would be overturned before anything really settled down–”

“Okay, okay.”  Haley holds her hands up, palm forward, placating.  “I get it.  And I should know better than to bring up politics with you.  That was never something that would make you happy.  But… Yessica.”

“Yeah, Yessica,” I agree, shrugging again.  “She’s… perfect.  At least, what I get to see of her.  Polished, produced, and performed to perfection.  There’s nothing quite as perfect as a Yessica Casper music video.”

“It’s simple,” Haley agrees.  “Simple happiness.”

“Yeah.”  I reach out and take my daughter’s hand.  “But it’s not real life.”

Now I get that smile I love so much again — the beaming one, the one that reminds me of Marty.

“So, I’ll dream heaven for a few years, and then I’ll come back to reality.  Because that’s where I’d rather be.  And you’ll catch me up on everything.”

Now she gives me a mischievous smile that’s all me — I’ve seen it in pictures; I’ve seen it in the mirror.  It’s the expression I make when I know I’m about to try to stir up some trouble.  “Perhaps, especially the new Yessica Casper music videos,” she says.

Read more stories from  The Opposite of Memory:
[Previous] [Next]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *