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When the genetic test results arrived in the mail, Harmon was right there eager and ready to receive it. He tore open the envelope and devoured the report. It was not what he was expecting. He always thought of his ancestry, when he thought of it at all, as a mixture of Scots/Irish with a bit of Eastern European mixed in—Slav maybe or Gypsy if he was feeling romantic. His lineage was murky. It wasn’t discussed much when he was growing up and now it was too late to inquire. What little he thought he knew he gleaned in bits and pieces listening to his elders who, it appears from these results, were assuming it themselves.
He didn’t know why understanding his genealogy was so important but affordable DNA testing made tracing one’s ancestry easy and fun. So when Harmon saw the advertisement he spent his hundred dollars and sent a cheek swab off to GeneSearch for analysis. The report was a total shock. Harmon was forced to sit down and read it a second time. The report said that Harmon was almost 36% Neanderthal which, according to the enclosed graph, was completely off the chart. Most modern humans registered one or two percent of their genome as Neanderthal; but 36%? That was astounding. It was so unprecedented that one of the testers at GeneSearch added a note in the comment section asking if Harmon would be willing to allow the company to share his test results with the greater scientific community.
Harmon was flabbergasted. He looked at himself in the mirror for a long time. He looked like what he was, a middle aged accountant—slightly overweight, balding, greying. He Googled Neanderthal and read what little is known about these distant relatives. How they either died out or were exterminated by modern humans. How they hung around in isolated pockets until being absorbed into the better adapted species. Apparently Homo Sapiens men found Neanderthal women suitable for breeding if nothing else. This is why traces of that long lost gene pool still survives in our genome albeit in trace amounts.
Harmon didn’t look anything like the images he saw on the Internet. He did not have a prominent brow ridge, a massive jaw and gangly arms. Then again, on closer inspection, maybe there was something unconventional about the shape of his head; was there a certain cave man aspect about his features or was that just his imagination? Harmon knuckle walked and grunted around his apartment for the rest of the day just for the heck of it. That night he dreamed he was part of a band of hunter-gatherers. He was strong and bestial; he ate what he liked, did what he liked; took a woman when he needed one and ignored them when he didn’t. He awoke feeling better about himself than he had in years. He decided not to shave and stuffed his necktie into his pocket rather than tie the stupid thing around his neck. Cavemen don’t wear neckties he thought to himself.
That day at work he went through the motions of being an accountant. He’d always disliked his job. Not so much the accounting/numbers part, that he found satisfying. He found the artificially illuminated, air conditioned office confining and oppressive. He hated the closet size of his work station, the feel of plastic surfaces, the muted colors and the constant clicking sound of a hundred computers. Above all, he realized, he hated the smell of his co-workers. He always hated it. One reason he’d never married was because of how his fellow humans smelled. Now he had a good idea why—he was not one of them, at least not entirely. He was Neanderthal, a distinct species. A sizable fraction of his being had miraculously avoided getting assimilated into the modern human race. Later that afternoon at a departmental meeting he sat silent and slightly nauseated as his fellow workers droned on about company profits and losses. When someone asked his opinion on a matter, Harmon just grunted something unintelligible and excused himself. He’d never done anything like that before.
For the first time in his life Harmon understood why he had never married. He was simply not attracted to homo sapiens. He wanted a mate who might understand him on a genetic level. If his ancestors could manage to keep his Neanderthal blood line so pure for the last 30,000 years without the benefit of DNA testing then he would be damned if he was going to contribute to its dilution. What Harmon wanted, no needed, was a good solid Neanderthal woman. Surely he couldn’t be the last survivor of his kind. Finding a comparable mate became his obsession. He couldn’t wait to get home and start the quest for “his people.”
The more he researched his people the more he came to appreciate how exceptional he was. Just because Homo Sapiens won the evolutionary lottery didn’t make them superior. He was pleased to read that Neanderthals had larger brains than modern humans and may very well have had a complex culture although very little is known about that. He read about the Neanderthal’s meat rich diet and decided there and then to adopt a similar paleo regimen. In the office he began distancing himself from his co-workers. He became suspicious of them and was less willing to socialize with them after hours. He began overtly sniffing people before speaking with them. His vocalizations became brief and guttural. Put off, his old friends drifted away. Harmon no longer cared what they thought. They were not to be trusted. Thanks to people like them he was a living fossil, a relic of a lost people. He couldn’t allow this slow genocide continue.
It was about this time that Harmon began actively searching for a mate. That is how he thought of her, as “his mate” not his girlfriend or his fiancee. Those labels seemed so modern, so Sapiens. None of the females in the accounting department smelled right. He began sniffing random women in the elevator, on public transit, in the supermarket check out line. He had no idea what he was smelling for but expected he’d recognize it when he smelled it. Most women found his behavior off putting. Several found it down right perverted and confronted him on it in no uncertain terms. What did he expect from the dominant race, sympathy?
The few times he thought he smelled potential, he would ask the woman out. If she accepted, he would take her to dinner and, when she was otherwise occupied, he would gather her cutlery and glassware together and hide them away in a plastic bag and smuggle them home. He would then send these purloined bits of DNA off to GeneScape for analysis. He was unvaryingly disappointed. The proportion of Neanderthal DNA in these women never exceeded 3%. Clearly he could not trust his nose. How his ancestors ferreted out their mates was a mystery. What he needed was a fresh approach to the problem.
The answer was staring him in the face the whole time. What Harmon needed was an internet dating service, one that matched couples based on their DNA rather than such ephemeral criteria as looks, religion or social status. After a bit of searching, Harmon found the perfect site—a dating service called “XactMatch.” XactMatch promised to find “Your soul mate” based upon “real science”. By entering numbers and percentages from his original GeneSearch profile, XactMatch promised to return a list of the closest approximations from its extensive data base. Harmon indicated on the form that he was interested in only those females with the highest percentage of Neanderthal DNA. He sent off his request and the $60.00 fee and waited for a reply.
He didn’t have long to wait. The woman XactMatch returned was everything Harmon could wish for. Her name was Ann, she was 32, chubby, long limbed, lived close by and, best of all, was a healthy 26% Neanderthal. He was delighted to see that she had a slightly simeon look about her and, beneath her blond bangs he thought he could detect the outline of a prominent brow ridge. For Harmon it was love at first sight or at least the Neanderthal equivalent of that Homo Sapiens emotion. True to his primitive nature, he texted her and introduced himself. She texted back. They met at a trendy bistro downtown. After drinks and nervous small talk they settled into a conversation about their complementary profiles.
Ann said that she was drawn to the fact that he seemed mature and stable having had the same job for ten years. He told her that he was drawn to her appearance especially her attractive forehead. Ann seemed pleased with this assessment. They toasted their good fortune. At no time did the word Neanderthal enter the conversation. They chatted and ate, laughed and got to know each other like an ordinary couple. By the time the check arrived they had made plans to meet again. Harmon was elated and Ann, who had never before been found attractive, was too.
After a couple of months of steady dating, Harmon finally broached the subject of their rare common ancestry. He thought she would be embarrassed by the fact but, to his surprise, she embraced it. “It’s our heritage,” she said, “we shouldn’t dilute it any further.” Harmon’s heart soared. They were married soon after in a wedding ceremony that can only be described as unusual. The bride and groom wore matching pelts. The groomsmen carried spears and the bridesmaids held large wicker baskets. It was, as one observer put it, “cave man chic.”
With the wedding out of the way, Harmon and Ann settled down to make their dream a reality—to raise the next generation of Neanderthals. A problem not made any easier by a total lack of cultural history. They soon saw the need for creative improvisation. What, for example, did Neanderthals do for entertainment? Did they read? No, how could they? Maybe they couldn’t read but Ann and Harmon could. What were they supposed to do, throw away 50,000 years of human development? They knew that they could never be purely primitive; compromises had to be made. They lived in this world not that long lost one. They could read and write, useful skills neither wanted to do without. They had cell phones, computers even Netflix for heaven sakes. They had all the trappings and shortcomings of modern society, leases, jobs, bills, mortgages. There was no way to escape the dominant culture. And so they muddled along doing the best they could.
They started a blog and a Neanderthal Support Group. They homeschooled their children and tried their best to instill a kind of racial pride in them. They lived off the grid as much as their middle class lifestyle would allow. This amounted to primarily heating the house with wood except during the coldest months when they would reluctantly turn up the thermostat. They deprived themselves of sweets, ate a lot of meat and mostly watched black and white movies. In spite of his best efforts to remain aloof, Harmon was promoted to the head of the accounting department. The extra money allowed them to buy a better car and move to an upscale neighborhood with better re-sale. As a result of all the research into Neanderthal culture, Ann earned a masters in paleo-anthropology. She became an adjunct professor at the local community college. It turned out that living like a Neanderthal was easier than either expected.
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