Contemplating Time Travel, as Usual

I have an unhealthy interest in time travel. I like to be practical about it, as practical as you can be when you’re contemplating time travel instead of doing the dishes. Like, for example, if I were to go back in time and do this one thing differently (not go to that grad school, take that job, write this book and not that one, call this person, wear these shoes, walk this street… the smallest of possibilities unending) where would I be now? I picture the different thing and then loop off from there, playing choose-your-own adventure with my memories, until I am the age I am now and I look around and see where it is I ended up.

If only I could really do this. I would change so much. What I wouldn’t change is meeting E, my other half, that’s the piece of time I keep intact, always, no matter where I travel and what bits of the past I scatter. It’s good to have some grounding when you time travel, so you know what to hold on to.

As a time travel enthusiastic, I love the movie Donnie Darko, of course. My sister—not knowing my particular attraction to revising time, though maybe I told her, probably I told her—told me to read The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is such a good book, and left me in tears by the end because it is so romantic. Love transcends time. I happen to believe that, too.

But, and this has perplexed me, what if I were to go back in time, far far back, to the ninth or tenth grade, and adjust a few of my bad choices? Yes, there’s the danger my new life could go off the rails and I’d irrevocably change something that needed to happen in order to meet and catch E. And I worry about this, yes, and I also worry about what would happen to my mind if I step that far back into the past. I don’t want to go back in this body, you see, I want to be the person I was before and make myself take different steps. This isn’t time travel at all, possessing yourself in the past to force your hand, and I don’t know what to call it. And then what if you land in your 15-year-old body, all set with a mission from the future to not sleep with that guy or to write the novel you wanted to write back then or to at least fix your hair because you looked awful, and yet once there you have absolutely no memory of the present? What if you land back in the past and you’re just… in the past? Fifteen again, and forced to do it all over? The whole point in going back would be to bring along this wisdom, this wonder, this regret. Without it, you’re just in high school again, and once was hard enough, thank you. Thinking this kind of thing stresses me out.

Maybe I should just wish that I could send myself messages. Letters that transcend time. Like, I’m 23. I’m in my second year of grad school. I’m starting a novel. And one morning I’m getting dressed in the dark to head off to that early class I signed up for and I don’t remember why and I find a letter in my shoe, tugged up tight in the toe. I pull it out and it’s a letter from me to me.

Don’t start that novel. You will spend five years writing it and then you will give up and nothing will come of it and your dreams won’t come true.

I’ll read that, toss the note aside, and put on the shoe. I can see my self in the past ignoring my self from the future.

So I’ll have to leave a second note, on the bathroom mirror:

I am telling you the truth. Don’t write it!

And a voice mail message:

You will fail. Write something else.

And an email from the future:

When your thesis reader says he worries it will fail: He is right. Write something else before this happens.

And messages in chalk all over the sidewalks as I walk my way to class:

You can do it!

Write a different book!

Or you will

fail

fail

fail

fail

p.s. Don’t write the one about the astronaut either.

Will I listen? I wish I knew.

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