Will J. J.

Day-to-day musings and occasional short stories for your delight.


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The Last Toy

 

Have you ever longed to return to a specific moment from your childhood, and change something? I can’t go back, but today it feels like I’ve finally done right by the little boy inside me, and I can’t help but smile.

 

Growing up, my family was very poor. My toys were few, mostly ragged trinkets from the goodwill. Every Sunday, my mom read the newspaper, and I would scour the toy ads, knowing that we couldn’t afford any of them. I would cut out the pictures of the toys and save them, playing with those pictures as if they were the toys themselves. I had an entire fleet of Star Wars ship pictures, and they were far more portable than most toys, because I could slip them all into a folder and take them anywhere. Still, any time one of my pictures was ripped or got wet, I was reminded of just how little I had.

kraft mac and cheese

In 1998, Kraft ran a promotion with their macaroni and cheese products for DC superheroes. If you mailed in a certain number of box tops from these kraft boxes, Kraft would mail back one of three toys: a Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman figure from the cartoons running at the time. As a kid, superheroes were the one fandom I was a part of, and seeing this promotion lit up my eyes. I had my sights set on the Superman balancing toy, because it portrayed him in flight, and I thought that was incredibly cool. We already ate mac and cheese on a regular basis, so all I had to do was collect the box tops and mail them in.

 

For the next couple of months, I carefully collected and stored the labels, until I had enough. I still recall the day I licked the stamp and mailed the envelope, specifying that I wanted the Superman toy. After that, I waited. Weeks went by, then months. In my naivete, I assumed that Kraft was simply slow with their response, and it would arrive any day. After over 6 months, I finally asked my mom, who had forgotten about the matter entirely. We called Kraft and explained that we had mailed in the box tops but never received anything back.The representative apologized, but said that they no longer had that toy line in stock. They offered me a Rugrats toy instead. A RUGRATS toy??? Are you kidding me? Rugrats cannot compare with the joy of imagining a hero flying over buildings and beating bad guys. Through tears, I told them not to send the Rugrats toy.

 

It might seem like a small matter, but to a 6 year old boy, it was devastating. I did everything I was supposed to. I collected the box tops. I mailed them in, following the instructions. I waited patiently for months, and I received nothing. When you’re a kid, your world is much smaller. You focus on the few things you’re aware of, and they are your everything. My view was even more narrow than most kids, so I invested a great deal of hope on that toy.

 

In the months and years to come, my life moved in other directions, but I never forgot about that Superman toy and that experience. I think it was the feeling of sorrow and injustice that stuck with me. Obviously I wanted the toy, but had I received it, I doubt I’d still be thinking about it years later. The lesson seemed to be that, no matter what you do, the world doesn’t always respond fairly, and that lesson stung. From that moment on, the toy represented far more to me than just play value.

 

When I reached my teenage years, I started intermittently combing through the internet, searching for the toy. It was years before I found any mention of the toy line or promotion, and I never found any for sale. After over a decade of looking, I had little hope of finding the toy, but I’d check every now and then, just in case. I never found any for sale until last week.

 

Emily and I were discussing a package UPS had shipped my way. There were issues with the shipment, and I was thinking through the steps I would need to take to get my package or a refund. Something about that thought reminded me of this toy, once again, and I offhandedly searched for it, the first time in a few months. Lo and behold, I found a man selling the exact toy on ebay, and I hastily bought the item, more excited than I would have thought possible.

superman toy

The toy came in yesterday, and I unboxed it in a fury. The man had never opened it, as the toy was still wrapped in the sealed plastic bag, as it would have in 1998. It felt like I was a 6 year old boy again, and all the expectation and sadness came rushing back to me, this time capped with a warm blanket of satisfaction, made all the more fulfilling because of the extremely protracted wait. I can’t go back and give this toy to that 6 year old boy, but even now, 19 years later, this is something worth celebrating 🙂


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Car Window

Car Window

 

Hey guys,

 

Today I wanted to share a poem I’ve been working on. I had a thought recently about the very essence of riding in a car, and how much that has changed for me since I was a little boy. This poem is a translation of that thought’s conclusion. Hope you enjoy it 🙂

 

Car Window

 

Gazing through to the world beyond,

The glass window, ever beside you,

Cruising down the winding asphalt,

Hills and plains rolling gently past.

 

Shifting focus to sights nearby,

A patch of grass, by the roadside,

A branching tree, atop the green.

At last, you draw them into view,

Out of the constant blur of speed,

Reaching out to them with your eyes,

A lone moment of clarity,

Before they’re gone, swept behind you.

 

Your gaze drifts into the distance,

Houses clustered, etching the bluffs,

Faraway mountains, standing tall,

Massive cities, sprawling and bright.

Passing slowly, distant landmarks,

As if you were barely moving.

 

Riding up familiar roadways,

Fingers tracing along the glass,

On the cold, wintry weather days.

Every bump and turn, routine,

The daily trip you know so well.

New, unknown routes still excite you,

Concrete webbed for thousands of miles,

Skirting peaks and dodging water.

 

Years pass, your position changes,

Passenger to watchful driver,

Your gaze forward, the road ahead,

Fewer moments to peer aside,

Allowing your mind to wander,

And take in the beautiful view.

 

But when you do, so seldom now,

You recall that soothing feeling,

The world passing, both fast and slow.


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Your Name – Kimi No Na Wa.

your-name-movie-poster

You guys might not know this about me, but I love movies. They are, hands down, my favorite form of media. A couple of weeks ago, I was on a flight back from New York City with Emily, and I found a Japanese movie called Your Name (also known as Kimi No Na Wa.) on the in-flight screen on the seat in front of me. The title immediately rang a bell because I’m a fan of anime and had heard that this one was insanely popular in Japan, breaking all kinds of box office records, and I had seen other films by the director, Makoto Shinkai.

 

I started the movie, expecting to watch it casually, because, let’s be honest, you don’t usually watch a movie on a plane expecting to be the most engaged. I was dead wrong. From the very first scene, I was sucked right in, and I was just praying the flight wouldn’t end before I finished the movie. At one point, I was actually crying and clutching the seat in front of me with both hands. It was an intense experience, an incredible movie, and it finished just before we landed. What I didn’t realize is that it won’t be released in the U.S. until April 7th, so no one I know has seen it yet. It has been KILLING me not having anyone to talk about this movie with, because it’s downright amazing.

 

Your Name is a fantasy, drama, romance story about two high schoolers in Japan who begin waking up in each other’s bodies at random, and the two must adapt their lives around each other while building an unlikely connection. The two are bound by fate, but kept apart by more than just distance. The premise might sound silly or overly sentimental, but instead, the result is genius. I don’t dare divulge more of the plot, because the film reveals itself in such beautiful ways that it would be a crime to spoil. What I can say is that the characters are equal parts hilarious and authentic, the animation is astonishing, and the story is heartbreaking, thrilling, and satisfying. Even saying that, though, doesn’t really capture the essence of what makes it great. This is so much more than just a romance, and it would be a shame to try and cram it into that category alone. 

 

Your Name is a special movie. It’s ambitious, original, honest, and vivid. This movie tapped into so many of the themes I cherish most, including love, time, and dreams. It explored love in such a pure yet genuine state that I have never seen portrayed nearly so well. Quite frankly, this movie reminded me of some of my deepest beliefs that I hadn’t really thought about in ages.

 

Your Name is my new favorite movie, and I haven’t had a new favorite movie in over a decade. I take favorites very seriously. Rest assured, when it comes to the U.S. on April 7th, I will be the first in line to see it again. I recommend you check it out too 🙂


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Remembering Me

remember-who-you-are-simba

For the past month and a half, I’ve been feeling revived, through and through, as if I’ve awakened from a stupor I wasn’t aware of until now. Early last month, one of my closest friends, Leah, surprised me with a visit. It was wonderful to see her, and during her visit, we had a profound and honest discussion about certain events of several years ago that changed the courses of both our lives. These were memories I had not explored in years, and ones she and I had never discussed in such depth. That conversation may have been the most meaningful talk I’ve ever had, and it reawakened me to my dreams.

The following day, I pulled out one of my old journals and read through my entries from the years Leah and I had discussed the night before. I’m a diligent journaler, and my thoughts and feelings from those days were detailed across the pages in crystal clarity. Between our conversation and my journey through old journal entries, I relived the entirety of a several year span in the course of a few hours.

Every joy and every despair came rushing back to me in full force. Quite frankly, it was overwhelming, experiencing that many conflicting emotions and memories simultaneously. It felt as if I had been thrust back into the mind of my old self, except I could see both forward and backward in time from that point. I could trace the path my life would take for years to come, knowing every twist and turn in that span. Most of all, I remembered my dreams for my self and what I cared about most at that point in my life, and that’s what shook me so deeply.

For the past several years, I’ve allowed a haze to fall over my life. It’s been so gradual that I didn’t notice it happening. I’ve felt trapped within myself, slowly buried beneath a perpetual wave of monotony and routine. Day after day, week after week, month after month. It wore on me, and no matter how hard I resisted, I couldn’t fight it, because the change was too slow for me to pinpoint.

When Leah and I revisited those olden days, I realized just how much I had changed, just how much I had deviated from the person I had wanted to become. In fact, I had forgotten who I wanted to be, and that surprised me most. It felt very much like visiting a friend or relative for the first time in years, and realizing how drastically they’ve changed over the course of your absence, except that person was me.

Earlier this very week, Timehop reminded me of a thought I posted on Facebook three years ago, and it was eerily prophetic and relevant to the feelings I had been grappling with since Leah’s visit.

quote-pic-2

 

Seeing that post made me realize that I knew, even then, what could happen, I just didn’t think it would happen to me. I underestimated the mind-numbing effects of time and relentless tedium. The constant grind can erode your dreams to nothing. I kept telling myself that who I really was and what I really cared about lay in my passions: Writing. Bringing to life new and interesting creations. Exploring the beauty of the universe. Expanding my mind and challenging others to do the same. Creating a better world, with whatever tools available to me. We are what we repeatedly do, and if you do not devote time to your passions, you may lose those passions. That is precisely what happened to me.

A perfect example is my writing. I told myself that I was going to write more. I kept saying it, for weeks and months, never quite taking that leap into action. I had put my head down and dedicated myself to my career, because I had so much to learn and I needed to succeed, but at the end of each day, I had no spirit left for the creative goals that kept me excited about life. Gradually, that voice reminding me to write more spoke less and less, and eventually, it left my mind completely. The one passion I held above all else, reduced to a distant memory of a forgotten goal that I stumbled upon from time to time, simply because of inaction. I didn’t work hard enough to make those passions into habits. What you make a habit becomes part of your routine, but it’s that act of finding the time on a regular basis and integrating something into your routine, that’s the hard part.

Time creeps up on you. It is both deceptively stagnant and impossibly swift. Ever since Leah came to visit, I’ve felt awake for the first time in a long time. I don’t want to go back to sleep. I want to fight for the part of myself that really means something, my passion and my excitement. It’s so easy to get comfortable, settle in, and coast. I don’t want that. Life is too short for coasting.

I want to be the man I always saw in myself, and I’m fighting to make him real. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that I’ve become a mindless drone, that I’ve spent my life scrolling through my newsfeed instead of living. I demanded more from myself then, and it’s time I did so again. I need to be the best combination of dreamer and doer, the person who bursts with ideas and makes them reality, because I know that’s what I’m capable of. Time will pass no matter what I do, so I’m fighting for the future I dreamed of.

Thank you for this gift, Leah, for reminding me of my dreams and giving me the opportunity to change course before it’s too late. Second chances don’t come often, and I won’t waste this one. 🙂

leah-pic-2


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Friday

friday-celebration

Hey everybody! I know it’s been a while. This is a little something I’ve been working on this week, a poem about the wonder of Friday. Hope you enjoy it 🙂

Friday

You spend your week, slaving away,
Fighting and driving and toiling, all day,
Waiting for the moment when you can rest,
Free of the work that’s had you so stressed.

The week passes slowly, each moment a grind,
Every minute dragging, exhaustion combined.
You claw toward the weekend, so eager to send
Those troubles away, replaced with your friends,
And become that person you are on the weekend.

At long last it comes, the wondrous Friday,
One day of work, all that stands in your way.
Your eyes light up, giddy with joy,
Flooding your mind with the times you’ll enjoy.

Remember how it was when you were a child,
Waiting for the bell so you could run wild,
Dashing away, your face a bright smile,
Knowing the teachers couldn’t catch you for a while.
All the effort and stress of five long days,
Releasing it all, that’s the magic of Friday.

So pick up a brew, go out with the crew,
Open a book, settle in your nook,
Run through the grass, catch a prize bass,
Start a game, bring glory to your screen name,
Go for a hike, break out your bike,
Catch up on tv, steep yourself some tea,
Whatever your choice, dive in and rejoice.

Embrace the cheer you seek,
For you’ve survived another week.
You’ve lived through many, with many to come,
But the struggles of life aren’t easily overcome.
Don’t lightly forget them. No, celebrate, and praise!
For we measure life in years, but live it in days.


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Forward and Back: A Short Story

photo (2)

 

Today, I want to share a short story with you guys, one I’ve been holding onto for quite a while. Of all the short stories I’ve written over the past ten years, this is the one I’m most proud of, and it’s about time travel.

Time travel is one of my favorite topics, because it presents so many fascinating paradoxes and puzzles. For a science fiction writer, it’s less about “could it work?” and more about “how would it work?” Even within time travel, it’s easy to get caught in the abstract, and that doesn’t always make for compelling stories. This particular idea was so striking to me, because it tapped into a place of humanity and yearning, and it uses time travel to explore that question further than it could otherwise.

So, why hold onto it until now? I’ve written a great many short stories in the past ten years, and a lot of them will be seen by my eyes only, for one reason or another, but this one is special. It demands to be seen. After giving it some thought, I decided that it was time to share this story. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

 

Forward and Back

 

     Hello, my dear friend. You don’t know me, at least not yet, but you are the closest friend I’ve ever had. Let me introduce myself; my name is Julie Thorne. It’s nice to meet you too. If you were watching me write this letter, you would think that I was a 65-year-old woman, and you would be half right. I certainly feel like an old woman, and when I look at myself, I realize that I am an old woman. It’s just that I don’t look nearly as old as I feel. If you are a young man or woman reading this, I bow to you. You have so much of your life left ahead of you, but then again, perhaps I do too.

     I apologize, I’m not doing a good job of starting this. The truth is, it has gotten difficult to keep the story straight in my head, but I’ll do my best to tell it. The beginning is easy. I was 17 and bubbly, excited to finish high school and step into another adventure. My boyfriend Eric was the sweetest guy, always my chivalrous knight. Neither of us were particularly ambitious, but we were happy. With college approaching, neither of us knew where we were headed, but we both thought we’d figure out a way to be together somehow.

     It was a Friday. The one day I can never forget. I had stopped at Freddy’s diner after school for a quick bite, waiting for Eric to meet me. The entire restaurant was designed to pattern a 50’s diner, and the owners went to great pains to echo every decoration, from the checkered floors to the leather upholstery. Even the waitresses wore those awkwardly bright uniforms.

     It had been a long week. My best friend Jennifer and I had gotten into a fight over some trivial nonsense, and things had escalated because we were both too stubborn to admit we were wrong. Jennifer was a sweetheart, and I had known her since we were both little girls, so we knew each other a little too well by that age. I hadn’t seen Eric all week, and with everything going on, I really just needed one of his hugs.

     The waitress came by and took my order, putting on the brightest smile she could muster. I commended her effort. As she walked back toward the kitchen, I heard a crunch as her foot stepped on something. She didn’t break stride, but I was oddly curious, so I looked over the table and noticed a small, silver key lying on the tile floor. Stepping around the table, I picked up the key and twirled it in my fingertips. One side was blank, but on the other was an inscription that read “temp”. I didn’t think much of the key, but it seemed like a quirky, little item, and I was into knick-knacks like that back then. I was about to ask if someone had lost a key, but no one else in the diner seemed to notice, so I stuffed the key in my pocket with a smile.

     Not a moment later, Eric surprised me from behind with a “boo” and a tickle. He knew I hated that, but I was so happy to see him that I didn’t mind. I spun around and grabbed the hug I had so desperately needed. We sat down and I dove into my tale of the week, and Eric listened intently with that glistening smile he always had when we were together. I miss him so much.

     Eric drove me home and gave me the warmest departing kiss. Back in my room, I plopped down on my bed, decompressing at last. I thought about going out, but I was pretty tired, and some Netflix binging with a warm cup of tea sounded better. Slipping into my pajamas, I remembered the key in my pocket. It seemed so plain, like a house key from the Home Depot, aside from the inscription. I wondered who had lost it and what it unlocked. Running my fingers slowly over the letters, I found myself mouthing them. “Temp”, I whispered involuntarily.

     The moment the word escaped my lips, I felt lightheaded, and my vision became cloudy with specks of purple. Something was very wrong. Inside, I was frightened, but my body wasn’t responding to me anymore. I tried to reach for my phone, but before I could, I felt flat on my bed, completely unconscious.

     Gradually, I came to. My eyes parted, and I looked down groggily at the key in my hand. Something was off, but I couldn’t place it. Suddenly, I heard a “boo” at my back and two hands tickling my sides. I was so disoriented that I jumped forward in alarm.

     “What’s wrong?” Eric asked, alarmed and concerned. As I peered around, it hit me: I was back in the diner. The waitress was detailing my order to the chef. A middle-aged man with a hunch sat in the corner booth, slurping his soup. We Are The Champions was playing from the jukebox. My table was clean, because my food had not arrived yet.

     “Are you alright?” Eric asked softly. I must have looked insane, staring wildly from side to side, wide-eyed and antsy. It took a few more seconds for me to calm myself. I grabbed Eric in a tight hug, this time for an entirely different reason.

     “I’m okay. Just a little spooked,” I told him, forcing a smile and trying to laugh it off. I didn’t know how to explain what had happened, so I didn’t try. Eric sat me down with my hands in his. He picked up on my discontent, but he didn’t press me.

     “How was your week?” I told him about everything that had transpired with Jennifer, and we ate our dinner, but it was different. I was on edge. The conversation went in another direction. On the drive home, I stared out the window, preoccupied. At my house, I rather coldly told him goodbye and rushed up to my front door. It didn’t seem possible that what I had experienced was real. No, I must have had a dream or a premonition or something, except that it felt real. I had to know.

     Back in my room, I set the key on my desk and turned the lamp on to get a closer look. Again, a blank front side with the word “temp” inscribed on the back. I noticed a few harsh scratches along the edge, but nothing that gave any clue to its origin. It was just another house key. I scooted my desk chair back and stood up with the key in my hand. It must have been a dream, right? Somehow I knew it wasn’t that simple, and it seemed foolish, but I was afraid. Part of me wanted to toss the key in a drawer and forget about it, but I also knew that I’d never be able to forget. Looking down at the key, I slowly uttered the word “temp” once again. The same dizzy, lightheaded sensation washed over me, and I passed out on my bed.

     Waking up, I was back in the diner with the key in my hand. Eric yelled “boo” and squeezed my sides once again. It is a uniquely surreal experience reliving the exact same moment. Though everything around you may be precisely identical, you never see it quite the same way. Any surprise quickly fades. You start to notice the details you hadn’t before. A white Volkswagen passing up the street just after we sat down. A young boy in a booth, pouting as his parents tried to feed him.

     I sat down with Eric for a third time and had yet another, completely different conversation. While I could not explain the situation, I did not doubt its authenticity. I was no longer afraid, but intrigued. I already knew the questions he was going to ask and the thoughts running through his mind. Midway through our meal, I clutched the key in my hand and whispered, “temp”.

     “What?” Eric asked, a puzzled expression washing over his face just as my vision faded to black and I was reset once again to the moment I picked up the key. Waking up, I smiled. It was like a game where I could save and reload anytime I wanted. I started playing out different scenarios at the diner, seeing what kind of reactions I could elicit from Eric. Poor guy, he was my unwilling guinea pig. I’d play up a sullen mood to see if he really cared or act super surprised about something that I knew he had already told me a million times. Occasionally, I’d try and get him to admit that he was cheating on me. God, I was so insecure with myself then.

     When I grew bored with Eric, I started toying with the diner. I found that if I scooted my chair back, the loud squeak alerted the man in the corner, and he raised his head. If I went to the restroom, the waitress took longer to bring my food. For a time, there was nothing more exciting to me than seeing what I could change in that little world. I felt like a god, and the diner was like play doh in my hands. Between the uncertainty of college and my relationship with Eric, all I wanted was something I could control. My mind ran wild with ideas, and I saw no reason to restrain them. I couldn’t say how long I spent playing in that diner, but I’m embarrassed to think that it might have been months, though perhaps no “real” time at all. I retained all the memories from every reset as if they were separate realities coexisting within my mind.

     Eventually, I grew tired with the diner. It was so limited. Rather than resetting myself every few minutes, I started spending an hour at a time, then a day. This yielded even more fascinating results. Good lord, I sound like a twisted scientist saying it like that, don’t I? But it’s true. I’d spend my Saturday heading as far away from home as possible before resetting myself and exploring the other direction. Everything, even the minutest observation, became a noteworthy puzzle piece in my mind. I wish I could say that I had altruistic motives at heart, but truthfully, I just liked seeing my changes at work. Then one day came the wake up call.

     I was driving to the store with my mom, staring out the window, when I heard screeching tires. Whirling around, I barely caught a glimpse of the truck before it careened into us, sending our car flying upside down. When I woke up, I was upside down, with the blood rushing to my head. My mom was unconscious in the driver’s seat. A fire had started under the hood and was spreading. I felt a pounding in my head, and when I reached up at my forehead, I realized that I was bleeding, badly. Just as I struggled to free myself of the seatbelt, I noticed the lights from another car headed right for us. Quietly, I slipped my bruised hand into my pocket and grabbed the key, whispering the magic word. The car slammed into our side just as my consciousness slipped.

     When I was reset back to the diner, I awoke with a shudder. Suddenly, it had all become more real. I was not immortal, and I had to be careful. Additionally, while my body was reset to its 17-year-old self each time, my mind was not. The combined time of all my reset timelines was adding up to full years now, and my memories were beginning to scramble together. I had trouble keeping my current reality separate from all the previous threads, and each morning I woke, it became harder and harder to make sense of it all. I was done playing scientist, and I knew that I couldn’t keep resetting myself every day or two. After some thought, I resolved never to reset myself again, but this was a difficult promise to keep. They key had become an addiction, always lingering in the back of my mind.

     I managed to go four days into that life, the furthest I had ever traveled since finding the key. Those days were peaceful, not free, but content. I relaxed with my family on the weekend, trying my best to reacquaint myself with them as people and not test subjects. On Monday, I went to school for the first time in years, and I was alarmingly rusty. My classmates asked if something was wrong, but they had no clue how much I had experienced in that single weekend. On Wednesday morning, I was walking up the street, when I noticed my neighbor’s newspaper lying on his driveway. I wasn’t in the habit of reading the paper, and I’m not certain what drew my eye, but the headline read “Former CEO Dead” with a picture of the former executive below.

     The picture seemed oddly familiar, but it took me a few moments to realize why. When it finally hit me, I stepped back in shock. The man in the picture was the middle-aged man from the corner booth at the diner, the one who always sat there, eating his soup in silence. I sped through the article. The man’s name was Richard Stevenson, and he had been the CEO of a fortune 500 manufacturing company that went under several months prior. He had left a note apologizing to all of his former employees before throwing himself out the window of his 30th floor loft downtown.

     I was stunned. I had seen the man in that diner hundreds of times, and yet, until the moment I read that article, I had never thought to ask who he was or why he had eaten there. I stood in my neighbor’s driveway thinking back upon every expression I had seen on the man’s face, and it dawned on me just how dispirited he had seemed sitting in that corner. I knew I had to go back, even though I didn’t want to. I felt like it was my fault, or at least my responsibility, and I needed to save this man. I had found the key for a reason, right? It couldn’t be a coincidence. And yet, I had been doing so well. I reminded myself of all the days I had spent toying with the people in that diner, and my guilt won over. I pulled the key out of my pocket and reset myself once again.

     My eyes parted, and Eric appeared from behind me. I greeted him mindlessly, muscle memory of a thousand identical experiences guiding me. After our meal, I walked over to the corner booth. Mr. Stevenson looked up at me. He had bags under his eyes. I knew from the newspaper that he still had millions of dollars despite his company’s collapse, but in that diner, on that day, he had chosen to wear a ratty jacket with holes and a black t-shirt.

     “Is this seat taken?” I asked. He shook his head and returned to his soup. I sat down and clumsily asked him how he had been. I couldn’t tell him just how sad I knew he was, but I could express an interest and provide a listening ear if he wanted to share. After a few minutes of uncomfortable prodding, he opened up, and I could tell that no one had cared to listen to him for a very long time. Talking to Richard Stevenson in the diner that evening, I changed the course of his life. I felt accomplished, but more than that, I felt that I had repaid this man a debt he never knew I owed.

     The following Wednesday, I passed by my neighbor’s house once again. I kneeled down to look at their newspaper hesitantly, hoping I had saved this man. Replacing the headline about Stevenson’s death was a story about a missing girl. I optimistically unfolded the paper and read on, but when I had finished the story, my heart sank. The missing girl was none other than my best friend Jennifer Gray. She had never made it home from volleyball practice the night before. I thought back on the silly argument we had gotten into before I found the key, and it all felt incredibly distant.

     I was furious to the point of tears. I had gone back and saved a man, but somehow, because I talked to Mr. Stevenson that night in the diner, my best friend had gone missing. The connection made no sense to me. It wasn’t fair. I was too stubborn to accept the truth of the matter at that point, so I reset myself again, and again, and again, each time determined to save Mr. Stevenson and prevent Jennifer’s disappearance within the same reality. The only time I managed to achieve both, a young boy was shot instead. Where within the diner I had felt like a god, I was powerless to provide balance outside of it. I felt exhausted and disheartened. I can’t even remember now which reality I left things on when I stopped trying to save them.

     Next came a phase of apathy that grew into acceptance. I reset myself to the diner with the intention of merely living my life straight through once again, and this time, nothing was going to pull me back. I must have been at least 30 years old inside of a 17 year old body then, and it was beginning to become torturous, reliving the same days over and over. All I wanted was to move forward with my life. Even if my body would never catch up with my mind, I figured the gap would no longer matter at some point.

     I managed to go 11 years without touching the key. Looking back, I’m awfully proud of those years, to go from days to over a decade cold turkey like that. In those years, I went to college and eventually married Eric. He entered a career as an engineer and I worked as a journalist. We had two children, a boy named Tommy and a girl named Elizabeth. We were happy. Oh how I miss that.

     One evening, I was washing the dishes and scolding Tommy when the phone rang. Eric was late coming home, so I expected it to be him telling me about a long day or a terrible traffic. I wiped my hands and answered the phone without bothering to check the caller, but I quickly realized it wasn’t Eric. On the other end of the line was a doctor at Southeastern General Hospital. Eric had been mugged and left for dead at the door of his car, and he was in the hospital, not expected to survive the night. I threw up on the spot.

     Grabbing Tommy and Elizabeth, I told them to get their shoes on as fast as possible.

     “What’s going on mom?” Elizabeth asked me.

     I yelled from the master bedroom. “We have to go sweetheart, I’ll explain in the car. Please, just put your shoes on.” I slid a box out from the closet and took out the key. It was the first time I had thought of the key in years.

     Standing in the hospital, my children cried their eyes out as they said goodbye to their father, his body hardly recognizable under the tubes and bandages. I was heartbroken and inconsolable. Tears streaming down my cheek, I twirled the key in my fingers as an idea popped into my head. I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I could go back, I could keep him alive. I knew that I would be resetting myself all the way to the diner 11 years ago, but I was emotional and irrational, and I couldn’t bear the thought of going through the rest of my life without him. I wasn’t ready to bear the pain I knew was coming, so my desperation won out. I told myself that I could do everything exactly the same as I had this time around and change the path a few days before his mugging to keep him alive. I was wrong.

     11 years is an interesting amount of time. It is not a lifetime, but it can easily feel like one. In my despair, I underestimated just how torturous it would be to know what was coming for such a long period of time. I just wanted time to speed up so I could get back to my children’s smiling faces, but I was trapped years before their existence. Every day and every moment dragged on for an eternity.

     To make matters worse, I wasn’t able to stay on my previous path. With so much knowledge of the future, all of my surprised reactions were faked. Even if I had been a better actor, I doubt my memory would have been up to the task of replicating every single action perfectly for 11 years. It was just too long, and the smallest changes make such a massive impact down the line. After two years, I was so far off course that I knew I couldn’t return to the future that had been my past. I wept for Tommy and Elizabeth, because I knew they would never again exist. The agony I had felt in the hospital room was nothing compared with my regret at going back.

     Only three years into this reality, Eric broke up with me. I couldn’t blame him either. I had been a shell of a person. I hated myself for a time after that, knowing that I had created my own undoing, but then I asked myself whether I would have been happy after Eric’s death anyway. Those kinds of questions can easily lead to madness.

     You already know what happened next. I went back again, determined to live my life free of any resets, but I was unable to break free. In one life I married a fisherman and moved to Malaysia. In another I became a high-powered stockbroker. A homeless old maid. A revolutionary. A computer programmer. An oncologist. I learned so many skills that I could have done anything. Each time, I thought that I would be able to let go and live free of the key, but I always committed some crucial error that I felt compelled to correct or I discovered something I thought I needed to fix. Without fail, there was always another reason to go back, even when I told myself there could never be another reason. The temptation in that ability was simply too great. The key became the ultimate addiction for me, and knowing that I could go back provided me with an everlasting source of misery.

     I’ve had more children than I can remember. I don’t know if they exist, or if they once did, or if they never did. I don’t know much of anything anymore, but here is what I do know. My name is Julie Thorne, and my body is 65 years old. This is the furthest I have ever gone without resetting myself. My husband was named Mark Robinson, and he died of lung cancer two years ago. We had three kids, John, Maria, and Hope, who are all grown up and have carved lives for themselves out of this universe. I feel bad leaving them, but I know there is one more thing I have to do.

     I’ve spent almost my entire life reliving my life. I’ve gone through anything you can possibly imagine, certainly more than I could imagine. I feel old. Going forward and back so many times has left me weary and drained. I don’t know if I have it in me to do this, but I have to try.

     You see, after my husband died two years ago, I began to think about the key once again. It occurred to me that I have never discovered why that key was on the diner floor in the first place. Perhaps it’s not a question I am meant to answer, only question, and as I’ve grown older, that idea has sat better and better with me. I am no longer the oblivious 17-year-old I was then. The thought of experimenting with reality no longer seems appealing. After all, what is the point of having all the time in the world if you don’t have anyone to share it with?

     In all my trips back to that moment, there is only one action I have neglected to take, and that is leaving the key where I found it on the diner floor. I know that if I do this, I will never be able to reset myself again, and I will be forced to live with any choice and every mistake I make. Considering everything I have done, that seems more like a blessing than a curse, to be finally able to live like a normal person free of this damned temptation. I only hope that I have not ruined myself, that I still have the spirit in me to live a life.

     So, you may be wondering, why did I choose to write this at all? I have decided to reset myself one final time, and that probably means that this letter will cease to exist because I will no longer be here to have written it. However, I don’t claim to understand how time works, and should this letter somehow manage to survive after I have gone, I wanted someone to know who I was and that I lived. Because of the unique nature of my lives, I have never had a witness to my existence, and I’ve never been able to explain to someone exactly what I’ve gone through. I’ve never had a friend like you.

     I’m holding this key in my wrinkled, arthritic fingers, knowing that when I say the word, I’ll be back at the diner where I spent so much of my life. And when I arrive, I’ll drop that key to the floor where I found it and spin around to surprise Eric just as he sneaks up on me. We’ll share burgers and laugh about teenage nonsense, because we’ll both be teenagers again. When we’re both done, Eric will hold the diner door open for me on the way out, and as I pass through the doorway, I’ll take one parting glance at the key before stepping out into the cool, spring air of that moment, feeling it for the last time, but enjoying it at last.

 


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My 24th Birthday

 

birthday

Ever since I can remember, a large portion of my identity has been my willingness to introspect, but recently, I’ve found it difficult to find the time. Soon after publishing Darkness Reflected, I started a new job as a Software Engineer, and between work and traveling for the holidays, things have been incredibly hectic. Sometimes, you don’t have time to stop and look around, you just have to keep going. That’s what life has felt like for me these past couple of months, like I’m flying, rocketing far faster than I intended, but I don’t dare stop.

 

That’s how it came to be that, for the first time in my life, my birthday has snuck up on me this year. Today, I am 24 years old, an age that carries no particular significance for me, but signals that I am no longer in my early 20s but instead my mid-20s. Yay! Or, nay? Again, not sure what the significance should be, but as someone who counted each and every single day for 10 full years, I see it this way:

 

Some people take age very seriously, and others say it’s only a number. I see years simply as landmarks in time, something to attach significance to through its context. Some landmarks are more important than others, and the importance changes as you age. When you’re a kid, every year seems to make a huge difference, but when you get older, you may not think about your age as much until you hit another decade of life. There is a reason that people lose track of their age after a certain age. Relevant milestones become fewer and further between.

 

I’m also starting to understand what people mean when they say that time goes faster the older you get. Today, I am 24. It feels like just yesterday I was turning 23, and 25 will no doubt come faster than 24 did. That’s why I find introspection so important. There’s no way (that I know of) to slow down or turn back time, so documenting our thoughts, feelings, and dreams in the moment we’re living is the only real way to time travel. It provides the closest alternative to speaking with our former selves.

 

Time is a funny thing. When you’re heading forward, each day feels so minute, but when you look back at yourself in years past, you realize just how much has transpired between then and now. Every year, I realize that I’ve changed more in the previous year than I thought I would, and this year is no different. 23 was the best year yet for me, but I have a feeling that 24 bears even greater experiences. I’ve learned a great deal about myself in the past two years, both my strengths and weaknesses, and my motto this year is simply “go after it”. I feel like I’m adulting harder than ever, and I’m quite proud of that fact. I’m thankful for the incredible people and adventures that have changed my life over the past few years, because without them, I would be lost.

 

I’m sure that I will look back on this post as I look back on previous posts, with fondness and with a slight shake of the head as I think “if only I knew.” I’m perfectly content with that. Today is my birthday, and it’s time to celebrate 🙂