By Andrew Moxon © 2008
It’s not what I expected, I’ll say that much.
Not because I lost control of the moment-- which I did – but that part at least didn’t take me unawares. In the afterward, you can see Time, so you know what to expect on that account. I’m talking about something else. The best way to describe to you how Time is in the afterward is to say that it is present like a monument in a city square, an honor to a great orator, a general, a founding father, a reminder of a bloody war. But, in the case of the afterward, and in the case of Time, the monument does not show the effigy of a person, and the medium for the piece is not marble or granite. The medium is the same as the subject; it is Time. It is made of time and it is Time. Not an effigy. Time itself.
Perhaps I should introduce myself first. My name is Maxwell Redman. I’m a gambler by trade and by inclination. Of course, we’re all gamblers, aren’t we? Some of us just embrace it more tightly than others do.
I just took a rather large gamble. I changed something. Let me see if I can explain to you why that matters.
Everybody in the afterward, save perhaps the most dull and the most enlightened, comes and observes Time when it suits them. From a safe distance, it looks kind of like lightning; for, like lightning, it is bright and dangerous, tree-like (or perhaps root-like) in construction, with a thick trunk springing from the base and winding up and up and up in seemingly random jags and crooked turns, and at irregular points of its transverse sending off sprays of bright ragged tendrils in all directions. Each tendril in turn wends its own indiscriminate path, like the taproot dodging this way and that in hairpin turns, and each in turn giving birth to its own spray of tendrils, which give birth to more tendrils, which give birth to more tendrils, and in that way it forks and spreads, children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And still in the center all the way rises the main trunk. It is the brightest of all. This is the way in which Time resembles lightning.
And this is how Time does not resemble lightning: In every other conceivable way.
Everybody in the afterward comes and observes it on occasion, as I say. I will say to you that some watch for a long while and some watch for a short while, but I’ll say that because it’s the only way I can make you see precisely some of the truth of what I really mean. Nobody watches it for any period of time, obviously. How you say for how long you sat outside of Time, observing it? Time in the afterward is immaterial. But some watch deeper than others, and those who come to watch in that way see the ways in which time is nothing like lightning at all. All you need to do is look at it; it’s always there. You can look as near as you want. This is the beauty. This is the trouble.
The differences? To begin with, lightning is there and then gone before you can take it in. Time is fixed; it’s going nowhere. But that is just the most superficial difference. As you come closer, you can see that it is not composed (as lightning is) of ionized atmospheric particles and charged electrons. It appears, as you come closer, to be made of threads, intertwined in patternless and beautiful configurations. No longer bright white as you draw in close, colors begin to appear, dive, duck, reform and spread. Nearer still, you begin to notice shades of tendrils that are not actually there, phantom limbs, placeholders that splay out with the slightest gossamer gleam until they tessellate into nothing. With wonder, you know you are looking at the infinite threads of May Have Been, the nowhere glow of Never Was, and you realize that each dodge off from that main thread, and each similar twist on each tendril along time’s dynasty, is the choice that was taken, is the way it could have gone and then, among infinite potentialities, the way it finally did go.
As you draw far too near, you see that the trunk is not entirely static; it pulses. The threads that compose it are woven densely, and they pulse, sometimes leaping away from the trunk and then diving back in. Each thread within the trunk zigzags like the body politic they collectively form. Each turn of each thread an individual choice. And the threads are moving. Not enough to change the shape of the trunk, but within that shape, they adjust. Not wriggling like worms. More subtle and elegant than that. A change here, then a change there. Then another. Then another. Then nothing. Then three at once. There’s no predicting where it will strike; why, it’s almost like watching a lightning storm. Somehow, here deep within time itself, things are changing.
You are among the threads now. You are looking for your own thread, because if these threads can be adjusted . . . just a few things . . . if that’s possible . . . it is more than most souls can resist. You keep looking for the thread that is you.
They say “live as though you have no regrets.” Impossible. Everybody wants to move the furniture around a little after they see the way the dust collects.
You have found your thread. A light purple one. It lies among its twitching brethren, as still as an abandoned boot. All you have to do is wish to enter it and you can. There is no such thing as “cannot” in the afterward. You wish it, and you are back. Right there for the beginning, and locked in until the end.
I think I told you it’s nothing like what I expected.
And again, it isn’t the fact that you can’t control your actions most of the time. The way that, on your deepening approach into them, the threads all made nothing but the most occasional and random twitches let you know that you wouldn’t have the controls. If you did have control, then it stands to reason those threads would have been writhing; that main trunk would surely lose integrity. So, as expected, you sit back, nested in warm sub-consciousness, and observe. You’d think it would be boring, wouldn’t you? I thought it would be. That was my primary concern before taking my second trip through. But you’re not bored, you’re utterly engrossed. That, more than anything, is the unexpected part.
It’s your memory, of course. How much of it you have is a constant surprise, because you have all of it. Every bit.
Inside your own head, experiencing it again, you realize. You have no idea the things you still remember from being a baby! You just haven’t figured out how to visit it. If you could, you would remember your crib. You’d remember what your parents looked like when they were younger than you are now. You’d remember your hands waving in front of your eyes. You’d remember the wallpaper you stared at when you couldn’t sleep during naptime, and the curtains, too. The stain on the carpet in the living room. The feeling of filling your diaper; the relief of being clean. The frustration of inadequacy. The simplicity of need. The comfort of touch. The indignity of immobility. The sounds of wakeful helpless night and the relief of daybreak. And it keeps on, too. Your classmates in kindergarten. Every song you ever heard. Every knee scraped. Each time you ate spaghetti. Do you realize that you remember, right now, each and every time you ate spaghetti? You can take my word for it. You can’t imagine how much of your life is there, available to you, and which you never access, ever. Unbelievable.
If you could access it, you’d remember it. But when you are actually there again, living it, then of course access is no problem. There’s no arguing with really being there. There’s no way to avoid that one. When you’re faced with the reality of the place, you remember in a flood.
I’d say that it’s lucky that we are not able to come forward, we interlopers, souls or whatever you want to call it, running it a second time, into the front rooms of the consciousness. I’d say that, except there’s really no such foolish thing as ‘luck’. You’ll realize why (why it’s lucky and why luck is a mirage) later, when you yourself are taking a second trip through.
And you are, you know. You, reading this now. You’re taking a second trip, too. I don’t know you personally, but I’m just playing the odds. Almost everybody does trip two at some point.
You doubt it? I’ll prove it.
You ever had that feeling, as you walk into a room, or you have a conversation, or you see a cloud, or whatever the hell it is; you ever have that feeling of hey I’ve been here before, didn’t we say those exact same words, I’ve could swear I’ve seen a cloud that shape . . . You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? They call it déjà vu. A decent enough word, but inaccurate. It’s just the second-timer you, coming to the front for a second. Just for a moment. So remember: you feel like you’ve been there before because you have.
Next time you feel that old déjà vu coming on, just tell yourself ‘hello.’
It’s been wonderful so far; I’m constantly transfixed by what’s happening. Almost all of my life feels utterly fresh, utterly new; constantly remembering things I never knew I’d forgotten. So there’s my point; it’s a good thing that we second-timers don’t spend much time in the cockpit. Imagine spending your life like that. We’d just walk around in tranced-out wonder. It is better to observe.
There are, however, certain points of opportunity. Soft places in time, when the cockpit door comes open and we second-timers can take over. That’s when things can change. Sometimes, every so often, we walk through that door and start flipping the switches. Every so often, but not at every opportunity. Only when regret comes in do we (or at least I) risk changing the constant stream of wow! New recognition of old things is a powerful thing, and not to be abandoned lightly.
My first words came out differently this time. I spoke them at 20 months to both of my parents as they watched me bounce in one of those plastic and cloth harnesses. That part wasn’t different, but what I said was. I bobbed up and down, pushing in uncoordinated jerks with my fat little legs. My mom and dad bounced their heads along with me like idiots, hoping to make me smile. Just then, everything became lighter. Not brighter, but more faded, as though reality was becoming thin. It was the first time I had experienced a soft place.
“Buy Microsoft,” I said to them, clear as a mountain stream and sober as a judge.
It didn’t make a difference. Nobody takes financial advice from a toddler, no matter how precocious. The folks still just invested in mutual funds, but it made a funny story for awhile. After Microsoft took off, it brought more nervous laughter, and then it just disappeared. My folks didn’t think about it anymore, or at least they never spoke of it. I think I have mentioned that most of us do that with almost all of our memories.
From this I learned that you can change something without changing anything. That’s not always the case. Once I took the fall for a petty theft in middle school, which had resulted in a kid being expelled. Lester Franconia was his name. I never saw him again. This time, when I did it, I copped to it. Because I admitted guilt, I got leniency and just took a couple weeks off (the time before, Lester had protested his innocence to the end and got the book thrown at him). I graduated with Lester Franconia this time. I mention this because it’s probably the best change I’ve made, so I’m a little proud of it. There have been changes for the worse, too. But nothing much has changed. There haven’t been serious ripples in my life’s pool. I was hoping to create some major ripples yesterday. I’m still working out whether or not I have done so. I’ll know soon, I suppose.
As I said, I changed something.
It was a big poker tournament. You may have seen it on television, the thing I wanted to change. I won’t bore you with the details of the hand. I used to do that all the time the first time around, tell all the details of a poker hand. But now, I have been able to observe, and as a result, I have heard myself relay these stories. To everybody reading this, if you knew me, and you heard one or more of these: I am so, so, so, sorry. I have been boring myself with them for years now. I can only imagine what it was like for you.
So never mind the details of the hand, suffice it to say that this was a big hand. It was the big hand. Every gambler has one. I thought in life (and still do now, for what it matters) that it was the biggest hand I ever played. The shit of it was-- it was a loser. I made what I hoped was a big laydown on the river and was shown a stone bluff by a little snot in a parka and dumb mirrored shades. His little smirk. He had the kind of face that was made to smack. Instead I shook his hand. He shook limp-wristed, too. I’d known he would. It felt kind of like pulling a Kleenex out of a box.
The hand left me half-crippled, and a half-hour later, that was it. That was the closest I ever made it to the real cheese. If I’d called I would have been the guy with the chip mountain when it mattered. The Snot won the whole thing, and I was left with a clip of myself on cable television that played every four hours for the next six months. Me with a sad look on my face and my ass showing. It’s not a nice feeling.
It eats at you, I have to say. You try not to let it, but it eats at you all the same. I try not to have regrets, but that’s one. It’s the big one. That hand, what it did to me, led me to make more mistakes. Error piled on error, all the big ones stemming from that little one, growing and splintering out from the root like lightning. So it seems. My hope has been that I would get that chance over. Now that it’s all over, I must say that it was the reason I came in for another ride through in the first place. Of course it was. I wanted to alter this one big thing.
But then something else happened on the way. Something I’d forgotten.
It was the day before the big hand, the end of the day at the tournament, and by this time there was electricity in the air. Some of us – more than half of us – were going to become very wealthy. The rest were going to be forgotten scrubs with a decent payday. As I was bagging up my chips, things got thin again, more faded than I’ve ever experienced before. This was unexpected, and, coming as it did a day early, not particularly welcome, either. Then I felt a fingernail slide up one shoulder blade to my neck, and I remembered. I knew who it was before turning.
It was Roxy Michelson. You probably don’t know her, but I happen to know she is going to be pseudo-famous within the subculture for about a minute. In the world I lived in, there is always a Roxy Michelson or two, or three. Good looking and utterly damaged and just draped in crazy, always shooting some angle and usually high, Roxy was a couple months away from being every degenerate’s combination pin-up girl and punch line.
“Hey,” she said, and I felt something light in my hand. It was a plastic hotel room key. Roxy had sniffed money on me, and she and I were about to go upstairs to her place and do squalid things to each other until daybreak. Later, she would ask me to bankroll her. I’m not a good looking fellow, so I wasn’t surprised that there were strings attached. Everything has its price, and so I’d promise to help her as soon as I broke into the large money. After I busted early, she was gone, on to the next thing, and the next, and the next. She’d use them as badly as she had used me, and almost as bad as she was getting used herself. Fourteen months later, she’d disappear. Two weeks after that, they’d find her hanging by her designer belt in her motel room, and the world would go on to the next Roxy Michelson. I remember at the time feeling bad about having been a part of it, but I certainly hadn’t given it as much thought or worry as that bad fold of mine.
And now, hanging out back in the green room of my mind, I felt bad. Life could be cruel sometimes, and what was about to happen felt sort of like playing with a bird whose wings are broken. The bird’s going to die, but you don’t have to mess with it, all the same. The world was so thin at this point; I couldn’t even hear the cacophony of the slots. I gave her back the key and gave her a solemn kiss on the forehead. She just stared at me with tranced-out bovine eyes. She was on something, that was for sure.
“Listen,” I told her. “Somebody in this life actually cares about you, and it sure as hell isn’t me. Why don’t you go back to your room by yourself and try to remember who that is. Then go find them. There’s nothing here for you.”
She looked at me for a few seconds. I couldn’t read her expression. Then she laughed, sharply, staccato, four times. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
“Oh whatever,” she said. “Like I was into you, anyway. Faggot.”
On impulse I pulled a black chip out of my pocket and put it in her hand.
“That’s fine,” I said. “Just think about it.” Then I turned back and started bagging up my chips again. When I was done, the world had snapped back into focus and Roxy was gone.
After that? I don’t know. I got a chance to make the call and I busted that little snot. I didn’t even have to feel his dead fish of a handshake, either, as he wouldn’t shake. The Snot left in a snit. Snap. He didn’t win his big money, and I expect he’s better off for it.
As for me, it was odd and exhilarating, but also completely unexpected and horribly disorienting. Nothing was familiar to me anymore. I’ve never seen these poker hands I was playing before. Gradually, I found that I had come to the front completely now, and I was making decision after decision – something I haven’t done in decades. I had to do it by rote, and I suppose I did alright. I’m still in the tournament. And I expect that if you were in the afterward watching my thread of Time, you may have seen it take a little jump.
But I’m amazed that it never occurred to me before: I’d still have to play. I’ve spent so much time obsessing over that one play that I’d assumed that all I had to do was change it and I’d win the whole tournament. Now, though, I have to play the next hand, and the next, and then the next. Nothing is guaranteed. I may win, but then again maybe not. It’s like that, of course. Anybody who has spent some time outside of Time, observing it, knows that. You make your choices, one after the other, until your choices are done. And who’s to say that I’ll make the right ones? I told you from the beginning, I’m a gambler at heart.
And I wonder about Roxy, too. She wasn’t on hand today. Did she take my advice, or is she still making her slow inevitable way to that motel room with her demons and her belt? It just strikes me, that maybe there is a shot, an out. The world got so thin when I was talking to her, I have to say, maybe it was just my imagination, but it seemed like it was twice as faded that time . . . is it possible that I wasn’t the only gambler last night who was running it twice? Is it possible that both of us were making the threads of time twitch?
I only know what my regrets are; I don’t pretend to know those of another. But it strikes me that I have had the benefit of knowing exactly what my mistake was. Hands of poker are often clean in that respect. I know what error it is that I am guilty of in that case. The sin of bad reads, perhaps, or the sin of choosing fear over facts. But most people, they don’t know what they did to bring badness on themselves – or, worse, they know beyond a doubt that they didn’t do the wrong, and yet wrong was done to them all the same. Perhaps it isn’t the guilty that are tortured by tragedy; it’s the innocent. The guilty understand what has happened to them. The innocent understand only that they are at the mercy of fate. And so here I sit in the front seat again, maybe for good, until some end comes that I’m not so sure of anymore.
As I said, it isn’t like I expected.
Andrew Moxon is a writer living in Michigan, where he is currently seventy-four inches tall. He enjoys most things that are not coleslaw. His writing can be found either on his blogs The_Goat_Speaks, FilmChaw, and Coventry, where he writes under the nom de livestock Julius_Goat, or in his filing cabinet, into which you are not invited.