Instant Monologues
Cells Instant Monologue



Alice is sitting on the couch, musing to herself.


Someone told me a long time ago that you get new cells every seven years, but I can't for the life of me remember who. It's a lie, anyway. You don't get to be a whole new person after just a few years. Actually, some of your white blood cells only last a couple of hours before they're replaced. They're called neutrophils. Can you believe I learned that back in school? I was studying for the boards then, in psychology, and we took a detour through anatomy. I remember it like it was yesterday.

The cells lining the gut get replaced every week or so, and the cells in your taste buds don't even last that long. Maybe that explains why I started liking tomatoes in my thirties. Sometimes there are things you think you know about yourself, but they don't stay true very long.

Your skeleton lasts a lot longer. The cells of the spine slowly get replaced over the course of ten years. That's enough time to get married, have a baby, move to the suburbs. You'd think you'd feel the change as it happens. You'd think you'd notice the cells dying and coming back new and different. But you don't. It all flies by and you barely even register it. In any case, the idea of being given a bright, shiny new body every seven years is pure fantasy. It's a dream to imagine yourself without the sags and the ticks and the little creaks of pain at the joints. Anyone past the age of sixty can tell you that. Here's why it's all a lie, though: some cells never get replaced at all. It's true! The cells in your brain are yours to keep your whole life. They never regenerate. They never get replaced. Never ever.

So when the neurons and synapses in my cerebral cortex fail, there will be no second-string cells to take their place. They'll simply snuff out, like a bedroom window going dark. The cells that hold the memories of hash browns frying in the cast-iron skillet; of Carl's gentle, calloused old hands; of Maggie's sweet, apple-cheeked smile-gone. Irreplaceable. The temporal and parietal lobes will be in similar trouble as they atrophy into pudding. No fresh-faced intern cells will appear suddenly as replacements.

My diagnosis is similarly inflexible. I have roughly seven years until the degeneration shuts down my main bodily functions and I die. Not that surviving is the important part. By that point, I'll be a quivering mass of gibbering nonsense. I won't know my own husband, or child, or grandchildren. I suppose…I suppose I'll be a completely different person.

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