talonkarrde: (color)
I hear the steps before I see them and smile, adjusting myself, waiting for them to enter the room. Two slow, steady pacers and one much quicker one, occasionally skipping, or possibly trying to climb up the hospital walls, which his mother would not be happy with.

"Robert!" her voice calls out, on cue, and my smile widens.

They come in, and we get the usual greetings out of the way, the questions work and school and it drags on enough that I start to get tired, even though I've been saving energy for this.

Daniel — my son — sees it in my face, and his face betrays his concern, though he tries to hide it.

"Robert, it looks like grandpa's tired, so maybe we'll—"

"No," I say, shaking my head, mustering up my energy. "You came this far to see me on his birthday — I must give him the gift."

Dan's eyes widen, but he nods slowly — we've talked about it, once, a long time ago, a time that he remembers like it was yesterday. Jamie, on the other hand, doesn't have that talk to rely on, but as she looks between the two of us, a thoughtful look grows in her eyes, and I give her a smile that she returns.

I always knew my son married up.

"Robert—" I say, looking up and down at the eight year old in front of me.

"Yes, gran'pa?" he responds, standing by the hospital bed, looking vaguely uneasy, as children in hospitals often do.

"What sort of gifts have you gotten for your birthday?"

"Well, daddy got me a train and mommy got me a Batman lego set and one of my friends got me a videogame, and, and, there was a party, and a cake, and—" he falls silent at my knowing nod, a surprisingly mature act for a boy.

"Would you like to know a secret?" I ask, and of course, he nods, not knowing the dangers of secrets yet, only seeing the allure.

I take a deep breath, squeeze both of my hands together, and then reach out for his.

"Take my hand," I say, and he does, and the world melts away like caramel, leaving only the two of us.

-

The hard part isn't convincing an eight year old that the impossible is possible — the hard part is convincing them that they shouldn't immediately do every single thing that comes to mind.

-
"What is this place?" he asks, and I explain. As best I can, at least.

"The past," I say. "Or maybe the future."

He looks at me, curious. I have made it a habit of not lying to him and treating him as an adult for all his life, and I now lean on that trust, watching as he thinks about what I'm saying instead of discarding it, or turning to fear.

"Watch," I tell him, and the world melts back into place, exactly where we were. His parents are there, and I start talking to them, though I keep my eyes on Robert. After a few moments, I reach out and knock my IV over, ripping it out of my arm.

It's surprisingly painful, and I instantly wish I would've done something else as a demonstration instead. But as Dan and Jamie lean in, as Robert's face contorts in surprise, I pause, and the world disappears again, leaving only Robert and I.

He looks at me, eyes wider than I've ever seen them, and I know he's trying to figure out what's happening.

"Robert, I can do something that very few other people can. Your grandmother had it, and you'll have it as well. What you can do isn't quite rewinding time, but that's the easiest way to describe it. Whenever you want, you'll be able to relive your life. And in fact, you can live lifetimes that you've never done yet — it goes both ways."

Some of the words register with him, though, not all of it, but he has, starting now, an almost unlimited time to understand.

"Can I keep doing it?" he asks, a question that I'm prepared for.

"Yes and no. There's a limit, a bit like burning a candle. Eventually, you run out of candle, though it burns slowly enough that it's hard to tell how long you have."

He considers this for a moment. To him, it must sound like it's limitless, and his face lights up as he considers the possibilites.

Now to make him understand what it means.

"Robert, what do you think you'll be able to do with this?" I ask, and his answer is immediate.

"Anything!"

"Anything, like..."

"Become a firefighter! Become an astronaut! Win at America's Got Talent!"

And now I know what TV he watches.

"Actually—" I say, and his face already falls. He's young, but he already knows that there are often rules stopping young boys from doing what they want.

"There are rules," I say, watching him nod in resignation. "You can't do something that would..." and I pause, trying to find the words. "...change the way the world works," I finish, seeing if it holds.

It seems to, which is surprising, given that I remember challenging that assumption, both during the explanation and afterwards.

"But I can..." he starts, waiting for me to finish, but I don't.

He pauses.

"...Make it so that Rufus doesn't die?" he starts, and I blink in surprise. I'm not quite ready for him to get to reversing death so quickly, but I've gotten at least some experience at rolling with the punches.

"You can, Robert," I say, slowly, waiting.

"Could I make it so that... no one dies?" He asks, thinking. And then, just as quickly, "No, because that would disrupt things. But could I make it so that no one dies before they should? No accidents like what happened to Taylor's mom on Easter weekend?"

The look on his face reminds me of a line from an old musical — 'to love another person is to see the face of God'. I've never been religious, especially not after the gift... but watching this boy think of all the ways that he could save people — it was pure happiness. Pure altruism. Pure good.

As close to God as I'd ever get, I reflected.

And it was, of course, up to me to tell them, again, that there were rules. But this time... maybe in a more lasting way.

-
"Walk with me," I say to him, and he does, and we walk a year at a time, watching a play where Robert is the main character, our frame of reference, and everyone else is just a bit part, though some characters appear more often than others. Ten steps later, little Robert and I are standing in his college bedroom, watching as he sobs into the sheets — a girl, I assume. But then I see the picture that older Robert is holding, and I smack myself for my assumptions.

It turns out it's a boy that dumped him.

"This is a hurt, isn't it?" I ask Robert, the younger, and he nods, understanding the tears, even if he doesn't understand what triggered them.

"And you would make it so that it never happened?" He nods, again.

"But what happens," I say, knowing the answer already, "if we keep going forward?"

The little eight year old boy stands there for a moment, and then, of his own will, takes a few steps, and each step is another year. We stop just a few steps in, five or six years, at a wedding.

His wedding, of course, and he stares upon his future partner — a future partner, more accurately — and thinks very, very hard.

I simply watch, content to let him draw his own conclusions instead of offering him mine. You see, in the end, everyone needs to discover Truth for themselves.

Especially this little boy.

-
We come back into the world — the real one — no more than a minute later, judging by the clock on the wall and the slightly worried expressions on Daniel and Jamie's faces, but the eyes that Robert meets me with are not the eyes of the boy that skipped into the room, slightly cowed by his mother. They're still the baby blue that they've always been, but they're deeper now — and more than that, his face is a little more thoughtful, his posture a bit more composed.

I suspect it's what mine looked like, a million years ago, when my grandmother gave me the gift. I see him turning over his experience in his head, trying to understand, trying to test it, trying to accept, all at the same time. And I know that even now he might be testing out possible futures, trying to figure out if the sadness that one event brings is worth the perspective, the happiness that comes later.

The gift is his now, and I can see, using the last remnants of mine, that his will be a happy life, and one day, he will have this moment as well to pass on as well. I even get to see who he passes it on to, and I smile a smile that's for him alone.

My eyes start to droop, but I see him smile in understanding. It's a moment that lasts forever.







----

A writing duel between myself and [livejournal.com profile] gratefuladdict. Given that Idol was some time ago, we figured some writing was due, and we had some time tonight! [livejournal.com profile] kickthehobbit provided the topic, and the constraints were originally an hour and 500 words, which got extended to ~two hours, and no word limit.
talonkarrde: (color)
A man stares at his desk. It's a nice desk, mahogany and huge and really probably an unnecessary purchase, but the unmistakable sign of someone that is Doing Well. He stares at the things surrounding the desk in his office — the bookcases, the high school trophies, the row of medals, the plaques and commendations and awards. He stares a bit at the knickknacks and curios and things that he's collected in his forty-six years, three months, and seven days, and sighs a bit.

And then he looks at his computer — at his email inbox, updating in real time — 'because I want to be on top of things', he explained to someone that asked — at his to-do list, currently hovering at fifteen items, three of them due before EOD, at three or four unfinished reports that he's been churning out.

And then he stops looking at anything at all. Eventually, he also stops clutching the papers in his hands. He sets them down, smooths out the wrinkles, and looks down at the unremarkable, nondescript manila envelope, and takes the papers inside out.

He spreads them out, one at a time, page after page telling him both things that he already knows and things that he doesn't want to know but suspected. He keeps on reading until he's read every word on every page, until his home office desk is layered with these letters that will stay there for the next four weeks.

The man doesn't speak - there's no one to speak to, not here, and so he simply bows his head, closes his eyes, and lets the teardrops fall silently.

After a time, he shakes his head, and, without moving the papers, starts answering his email and working on the projects that are due.

-

A woman stares at her phone. A missed call, from a number that she knows but hasn't seen in so long. She alternates between incredulity and anger, with two questions that war in her head. How dare he?! Why would he?!

After all these years, after missed calls and missed letters and clearly, clearly a complete lack of effort, this, here, now.

And then a thought strikes her:

Is something wrong?

She picks up the phone, hesitantly, and calls the number back, and starts a conversation with a man that she hasn't seen in ten years, hasn't talked to in five.

"Why?" she asks, and he struggles to come with an answer.

"I thought...I thought it was time?" he said. "I wanted to... to know how you were doing," he finishes, lamely.

She wants to scream in frustration, but she doesn't. On some level, she marvels at the irony, because he was the one to teach her that, to approach things rationally.

"I don't think that's good enough," she says. "You've been out of my life for half a decade, dad, and you can't just walk back in. I'm married. I have a kid on the way. I'm a director in my company."

"And I'm sorry," he says, slowly, something that she never thought she'd hear from him, and it opens up enough of a door that they start to have a conversation. It's not everything: she's still angry at him, for years of neglect and lack of care, but she's not so angry that they can't talk, and so there's a measure of reconciliation, a dose of peace. She talks about her life, at length, and he offers comments here and there.

"You've never been this patient," she says to him, eventually, and he responds lightheartedly: "Better late than never, right?"

Eventually, she asks him, flat out, "Is everything okay?" And then she tries to soften it, "—not that it shouldn't be, but your call was kind of out of the blue, you know, and I was just wondering."

"No," he says, "Everything is just fine; I just wanted to try and patch this up before something does happen, you know?"

She agrees and the moment passes, and he, quietly, breathes a sigh of relief.

They know that they're never going to be the people they could've been; they'll never have the conversation that some parents and children have, but they've mended at least enough of a bridge to talk to each other again, a few times a year.

That night, though, she turns his words over and over again, and in her heart of hearts wonders.

He was always good at telling people what they wanted to hear.

-

After a week, he asks his boss if he can work from home for a bit: just a temporary measure, he says, inventing some excuse about watching his sister's children for a bit. His boss easily agrees, the approval coming over instantly: If anything, you should take a vacation, John, but your work has always been top notch. Let us know if you need anything.

-

A grocery store owner stares at John as he walks in — he's a regular at this corner grocery, someone who's been coming around for years now. In fact, he had been shopping there before the current owner inherited the store from her mother, and both of them consider him more a friend than a customer.

But she's worried: he looks a bit off today.

"How's it going, Mister Wilson?" she asks.

"How many times, Rosa, do I have to ask you to call me John?" he responds, smiling. "I'm good. In fact, I was looking for something new today, actually — do you have any suggestions?"

The request is a bit unusual - sometimes he'll deviate from his usual preferences and try something new — one time, he bought three pounds of carrots, and she made a joke about him turning orange — but he usually doesn't ask.

"Well, that's not very specific, sir - are you looking for a new dish, or a new sauce, or a new something else entirely?"

He thoughtfully arcs an eyebrow.

"Have you seen Ratatouille?" he asks.

"As in, Remy, the rat that can cook?"

"Yup. There's a part in there where the food critic is waiting to test the quality of the food, and he says something really arrogant about-"

"—Wanting some perspective, right?" she finishes.

"Got it in one," he responds. "I was wondering if you had anything that might fit the bill."

"We-ell," she says thoughtfully, breaking it into two syllables as she ponders, "Speaking of ratatouille, have you ever had it?"

"The peasant dish?" he asks, imitating the line from the movie for a moment. "Is it going to bring me back to my childhood? Because that's a rather high bar."

She laughs, and shakes his head. "No, but my mom found a good recipe from a French friend of hers. I haven't tried it yet, but she swears by it."

"If it's good enough for your mom, it's good enough for me," he says, watching her scrawl the recipe down, and grab the ingredients for him. "Send your mom my regards, okay?"

"Alright, Mister Wilson. She asked about you the last time I saw her, so it'll be good to know that you're well." She's not quite fishing, she thinks, though he sees right through it.

Instead of answering, though, he simply hugs her — she accepts it, hugging him back, though it's another sign that something is off to her.

"Is... everything okay?" she finally asks.

"Just getting a bit of perspective," he replies, smiling, and then waves and heads into the night.
-

A doctor stares at the test results, frowning.

"How bad is it, Doctor?" he asks, and the doctor purses his lips.

"Six months," he starts, and is interrupted, something he's used to by now.

"No longer?"

"Maybe eight, if you're lucky," he says. "Your platelets are low, and getting lower, and the treatment that was supposed to stall it—" he starts, and the rest is lost on John, who's stopped listening.

Eventually, though, he realizes that the doctor is looking at him.

"No longer?" he asks again, and the doctor just shakes his head.

John goes home, and stares at his email, at his to-do list, at his five-year plan.
-

With every day, he walks a bit slower, talks a bit less, and finds it a bit harder to get out of bed. Eventually, it gets bad enough that he cancels his meetings, now, writing letters of apology, rescheduling them for later.

"Just a brief medical thing," he writes, and they wish him well.

He still works, every day, on things that he knows he won't see the launch of. But what else is there to do? Even when he can't get out of bed, he still works, writing emails, proposing solutions, troubleshooting problems.

Eventually, he calls his daughter, again.
-

"Why do you keep working?" she asks him, and she knows that she isn't just asking about the here and now.

"Because everything in my life has been about achieving a goal," he says. "I had a five-year plan when I was ten. I knew what college I wanted to go to, what I wanted to study, where I wanted to work, I knew what my life should look like, and I just never stopped pursuing it."

"And as a result..." she says, waiting for him to finish.

"And as a result neglected you more than I should have. As a result, didn't go to your soccer games, didn't pay attention to where you were going in college, and didn't talk to you for five years, and I'm so, so sorry for that," he says, and she knows that he means it, and simply hugs him close.

"What about mom?" she asks him, later in the day.

"She— she was the only thing I didn't plan for. It just...happened, really. It was a whirlwind romance, and she was the love of my life."

"Not part of the plan, though," she says, and he knows where she's going.

"No, but she fit in. I can't just not do anything, you know? I need to strive for something, or what's the point in living? I can't just sit around and..."

"Dad, you're dying," she says, sharply, and he exhales a breath he didn't know he was holding.

"I...well, yes. But I can't just sit around and die, you know?"

"But you're not going to achieve the goals you had. Whatever you thought your life was going to be, dad, it's not."

"Direct, aren't you?" he asks.

"I'm my father's daughter," she says, softly, and he smiles and closes his eyes.

"So is there any goal that you think you can still accomplish?" she says, after some time.

He shrugs, staring at the ceiling, and then slowly turns to her.

"I always wanted to go to space," he says, and she knows what he's asking.
-

She stands there in the early, pre-dawn light, digging into the sand with her bare toes and listening to the seagulls start to call. Any second now, she thinks, and she's rewarded with a flare in the distance, a flare that casts deep shadows and overwhelms the light of the not-yet-present sun. The rocket climbs into the sky and she watches as the ship arcs upwards, carrying her father's ashes into space, fulfilling one final goal.
talonkarrde: (color)
The first time was on my birthday, five years ago. Amber had just left me alone for a moment after a lovely day, full of friends and celebration, and I was sitting on our back porch, about to go up after her — a wife who says "I'll be waiting," is an invitation that I had every inclination of accepting. Joshua was already fast asleep, having been tired out by the evening, and so there was little likelihood of interruption.

As I stood up, though, the darkness lit up around me, transforming from a twilight lit by a crescent, low-hanging moon to a brighter, harsher, glaring fluorescent lighting. And the smell — the scent of sterility, of disease and death that is only sometimes kept at bay by chemicals and concoctions, of bleach above it all — invaded my nostrils. If I could've flinched, I would've, but I was rooted to the spot.

As my surroundings brightened, the brightness brought with it shapes, forms, objects — a hospital bed, the beeping of the incessantly invasive machines, the pumps and scopes and carts and drugs, the droning of the TV, the entirety of the terrible medical experience we subject ourselves to.

But the brightness wasn't done — after it formed the bed and the window and the ugly floral curtains and the bathroom — it brought to life people, shapes that stepped into the light and were given face and shape and voice.

My face, younger, with fewer lines but also a corresponding smaller understanding of the world. Amber, in a hospital gown, on the bed, clutching my — the younger me's — hand, and I knew what this was without reading the chart at the edge of the bed. It was the birth of our son, Joshua. There were others there — our friends, Chris and Danielle, Amber's sister, Sarah.

This was just after the birth — I remember her squeezing my hand hard enough that her nails drew blood; I could only imagine what she was going through. It was a relatively easy birth, the doctor said, but Amber told me later that it was hell on earth until the epidural came, and that she almost throttled the doctor for not giving it to her sooner.

Only then did I snap out of the vision enough to wonder how and why this vision was coming to me — but it was also that moment that our son was presented to us for the first time, with an adorable cap on his head, and all memories escaped from my mind but the vision of little Joshua, opening his eyes for the first time to the world.

And then, without further ado, I was back on my porch, my glass of mulled wine still steaming in my hand.

I did what any sensible father would do, I think. I went upstairs and kissed my son on the forehead, and went to bed with my wife.

-

It didn't happen again for months after that, and it got to a point where I was starting to wonder whether it happened at all, or whether I had just imagined it while I was nodding off, a gift from Morpheus himself. I asked Amber if she remembered the day, of course, and she had — at least enough to confirm that the TV was indeed playing Oprah and the curtains had a terribly ugly floral design, though she said that the rest was hazy. And I had seen the picture of Joshua taken shortly after we brought him home, still with that adorable cap on, and it looked very much like the vision that I had seen.

But I was content to put it from my mind, accepting it as a one-time gift from whatever deity may have been to relieve a very special day to me, until it happened again, a few months later. It was an innocuous day, too, which is what was strange to me — Amber had just kissed Joshua on his head and told our boy to go out and make his father proud, and then turned to smile at me. And as I was smiling back, I was transported, again, to that day.

It was a different position — a different vantage point, this time out in front of the nurse's station, and I watched the younger me go into the room, Chris and Danielle wait and then go in after the birth, the nurses kibitz and talk about their other experiences. There was no reason for me to be there, I thought — and no chance that I had even been in that position, observing those people, because I had to have been in the room.

And then, just as last time, I was back in my time and place, and Amber was smiling and I was already smiling back. Again, no time had passed.

After that occurrence, they started happening more frequently — each from a different position, a different moment, some before and some after the birth itself, and I started trying to figure out why. I read the books, of course: the Time Machine, the Time Traveler's Wife, A Connecticut Yankee, Doomsday Book, Slaughterhouse Five, all of them. It was dumb, I know — I was searching for a truth in fiction that could not be found. But even if none of those authors were time travellers, I thought that perhaps I could scour the limits of their imaginations to understand why, why I kept coming to this one place, this one time, this one moment of joy.

But none of them told me anything. I was not a literary figure, on a journey of love and self discovery; I was not Henry DeTamble or Professor James Dunworthy or anyone. I was just me, seeing the moment that my son was born, again and again. Or I was, until the day that Chris and Danielle and Amber and I got lunch, and as Chris poured Amber a cup of coffee, as she laughed at a joke of his and reached out to touch him on the shoulder, I was given another perspective on Joshua's birth.

It was a perspective from just in front of the bed, but my vision was narrowed to just my wife's face; her eyes. I watched as she struggled, I cried with her as her tears came, I imagined the soothing of the epidural, and I waited for the moment of joy as she saw Joshua for the first time.

And I saw it, and it was beautiful, in a way I can not describe. A gift beyond compare.

But I also saw that immediately after she looked at Joshua, she looked up — not at me, beside her, with her, but at Chris. And I see her smile at him, and finally, I think, I understood what I have been told, what these visions mean, and I think you do too. And I am reminded of a story I read once, about a merchant and an alchemist's gate, and I think of those words now: "past and future are the same, and we cannot change either, only know them more fully." In that story, it was a happiness that the past gave; in my story, it is not.

I know my past more fully now, but I do not know what to do — do I stay silent? Do I confront Amber? And if she denies it, how can I say that what I know, I know because of a vision? And at the heart of it all,
Joshua is my son; I have raised him, and I love him more than I love anything else in the world. If I had not known, then I would be living life happily. What does knowing change? And yet it is naive to say that it does not change anything; this knowledge casts into doubt everything that has been for the past decade, everything that may be in the future.

I love my son, whether he is mine or not. And I love my wife, in the past, and in the present. But I do not know what the future holds for any of us.
talonkarrde: (color)
Looking back at the texts and messages, he sees hints and suggestions from months ago — but for him, it starts on a Monday afternoon.

It's twelve thirty in the afternoon and he hasn't gone to work yet, because it's a fairly low-key weekday and there's nothing particularly demanding his attention there. She IMs him just as he's about to head out: she was feeling crappy and stayed home, and she's hating it — being alone with her thoughts isn't doing her any favors.

It was, unfortunately, his advice that she stay home if she wasn't feeling great — mentally or physically — and he furrows his brow for a moment before offering to grab some food with her. Her reply is quick: 'I'm not hungry, but the company would be nice.'

So he heads over and knocks on her door, she invites him in, and six hours later, he's missed work completely.

Instead, they've spent the entire time talking — he's learned a lot of her past and history, and has also shared some of his own, though it was a bit like pulling teeth, she says, later.

While sitting in class afterwards, he gets a text from her: 'For real, though - thanks for coming by'

He smiles, then stifles a laugh as her follow-up flashes on the screen: 'You're a really good friend. Don't worry - I won't tell anyone'


This, he thinks, could be the start of a really good friendship.

-

Their background is this: they're coworkers, they've hung out a bit outside of work, but they only recently started talking extensively (because of a crush he had on one of their mutual friends, amusingly enough). But this meeting — six hours, where they talk about love and loss and childhood troubles and there's complete honesty — is something that's much deeper than the interactions they've have before.

It also sets the tone for their future.

-

A week later, and he's picking her up from the airport: she's coming back from helping her boyfriend move down to LA. The two of them have had a rocky relationship for a few months now, but she wanted to give her boyfriend one more chance — and it seems like her boyfriend sees (at least for a few days) the error of his ways, because they're still in a relationship when she gets back.

He picks her up and drives her home, and then, on her front steps, they talk for a few hours, well past midnight — about her trip, about life and sundry, about hopes and dreams. Time passes, and it's getting late, and suddenly he realizes something that's been bubbling under the surface for a bit now: he likes her.

As soon as he realizes, he's caught in a dilemma — they've been incredibly honest with each other, not dodging questions and putting all cards on the table, as she puts it. And yet, for him to say anything would be a terrible time; even if she had broken up with her boyfriend — which she hadn't — now would be far from a good time.

And yet, that demand for honesty remains. It eats at him, and so even though he realizes that it's going to be the wrong move, it just won't let him leave without telling her the truth. So he does — sort of, awkwardly, not making eye contact and mentioning that it is, in fact, the worst of times — and lets her read between the lines.

Normally, he'd be telling anyone else in that position that it was a stupid crush, and he's an idiot for giving it voice, for making it awkward and screwing up a friendship.

But there are two things that are different, here, for one main reason: the same honesty that compels him to tell her also gives him hope that it isn't going to mess everything up, because they'll be able to work through it.

So he does. And then, after going home, he texts her about it, knowing that he couldn't just leave it like that, and spends an hour with her in a conversation where she brings up her negative past experiences with friends that disappear as soon as it becomes apparent that they're not going to get what they want, and he tries to show that it's not going to be like that. And he asks her to trust him, and she says she does.

Here, he thinks that whatever it is they're building, at least it's being built on the truth.

-

Every story she tells touches on a different facet of her life — the way that her parents raised her, the journey to college, the trips to the Middle East, and across it all, the relationships that make up the fabric of her life.

He responds in kind, sharing stories of moving frequently, of the horrors of middle school when younger than everyone else, of finally finding friends in high school, of his lackluster college days, of his family, of his relationships, too.

There's always something to talk about, always a story yet to be told.

-

The next couple of months pass with little fanfare but much time spent together — hour-long walks at work, meals with each other, and almost inevitably a few hours spent on Sunday night, by phone or in person. Even when they're both traveling — him to Boston, her to Chicago — they still talk just about every night. She eventually breaks up with the boyfriend, because he never starts to treat her well, but she still loves him — it's never more clear than the night that she calls him and asks that he come over because her ex and her just had a phone conversation, and she wasn't doing okay.

He goes, of course, and is her metaphorical shoulder to cry on for a few hours, and his heart breaks a little — perhaps surprisingly not because she's crying over another guy, but simply because she's crying, because she's hurt, because she's unhappy.

And there, with her, after learning about her life across the past few months, through phone calls after midnight and three hours on any given weekend, he's starting to see the shape of her life. She's learning some of his, too, in a way that few do.

They talk a lot about equality, and the strong desire and preference for it, and at one point in time she asks him whether she's being too needy — she says that she feels uncomfortable that it always seems to be her leaning on him, and if he'll ever need her for anything. He responds, rather flippantly, that her sample size is too small — it's only been a few months, after all.

But then he adds, quietly, that he enjoys every moment he spends with her; it's not exactly a terrible burden he's bearing, and in a lot of ways, he's leaning on her, too. And he is — she makes him a better person.

Another night, and it's time to leave again, after spending a few hours helping her through a protracted mess at work involving teams and transitions and entirely too much headache, after a few stories that she hasn't told anyone else, after a few vulnerabilities shared.

They're talking about something, and he's about to leave when she asks him why he likes her.

And he tells her, because what else is he to do? He stands there, for a second, and then he looks up at her and says that sometimes you meet someone amazing, someone who feels right, and you just want them to be happy. That she deserves to be happy. And that he wants to help, in any way he can.

Here, he thinks, well, maybe there's something more to this — but he doesn't dare say it out loud, not even to himself.

-

There's a conversation where she says to him, "I let him in, and I gave them all of me, and he didn't like what they saw and left and left me with nothing," and he understands, too well, and his heart breaks a bit more for her.

All he wants to do is hug her and promise her that it will never, ever happen again, and how could that guy — how could anyone that loved you — hurt you like that?

But that is also the nature of love, he knows, and he resolves, simply, that he will not be like that. Even, perhaps, if it happens to him.

-

He mentions why he likes her from time to time, and she tells him he's being masochistic from time to time, and then, on a Tuesday night, they have a fight — their first.

It starts with her telling him that she doesn't want him making a goal of her, that it makes her feel less secure about their friendship, and that when his expectations aren't met, it's going to be shitty for both of them.

He protests, of course, but he's also confused — what's changed since the first time they had this conversation? He thinks she's being rather curt, and figures that this conversation would be better over the phone anyway, and calls her.

But after a few seconds, she simply says that she'd rather not do this, and hangs up on him.

For a moment, he sits, stunned, and then reacts the only way he knows how: he accuses her of shutting him out. It's unfair, and he apologizes for it later, but in the moment, he snaps at her, and she retreats, saying that his actions are making her insecure about their friendship, and as it escalates he wonders, briefly, if all that they've built will be destroyed in a single bad night.

He still doesn't understand what prompts it.

But after some more back and forth, she takes a few minutes, and he uses that time to write something to her:

"I didn't have any expectations, you know. I just cherished our friendship for what it was, enjoyed every moment. I didn't go home wishing that things were different, I didn't think that I deserved more of your time or energy. I just thought that it was a good thing, and that it was equal, and that it was shared. And no, it's not to say that expectations wouldn't have come, but I was pretty vigilant about guarding against them. And I thought that you shared a confidence that it would persevere, despite whatever challenges, despite time and tide. Maybe I'm just arrogant enough to think that I'm different, or maybe I thought that you would trust me when I promised that it would be okay. Yes, maybe there would've been hard questions to ask one day, but the questions wouldn't have been disappointing. Or maybe they would've, but I think a few disappointing answers do not a friendship break, and are perhaps the coin to pay for the passage."

And then she comes back, and writes something back, and mutually, they take a step back, they take a breath, they apologize to each other. And then she calls him, and they're almost okay again, but for the fact that he figures that he might as well get the pain over with now:

"You're never going to like me the way I like you, are you?" he asks, softly, knowing the answer, but needing to hear it anyway.

"I don't think so," she says, and his world collapses a bit, despite all of his words, all of his bulwarks, all of his anticipations.

The next day is hell.

And here he thinks, well, maybe none of it was worth it at all, and that the closer you are, the more hurt you get, and all this honesty bullshit bought him, what, exactly?

-

There's a recurring question that they've asked each other more than a few times — sometimes she's the one to raise it, sometimes he is.

They're talking about the fight, and she says, "We got to that point because we were allowing ourselves to get into a mode that wasn't platonic enough. I don't have fights like that with friends, nor do I want to."

And he ponders for a moment, and asks the question again:

"Do we spend too much time together?"

But for both of them, the answer is always no — even though they've spent a lot of time together, it's always been enjoyable, always been worthwhile.

Today, she says something else: "Maybe too much of a certain kind of time. Not that either of us doesn't like it that way, but the question is whether it's appropriate or sustainable."

And he says, "Well, I think it's fine—" and she's quick to respond that of course he would, and that it's not a robust philosophy.

But he understands, suddenly, the difference between their worldviews in that moment: he would rather live fully and take the ups and downs, the triumphs with the tribulations, and fight to expand local maxima, even if it means expanding the minima as well.

-

A few days, or weeks more, he recovers, and more importantly, he remembers.

"Corinthians", he said, that night. And after their fight, he wrote something to her, from the Bible verse, though not the usually quoted one: "It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

And that is what he holds to, what he remembers — the way she laughs, the quiet gratitude on her face when he says goodbye, after a night spent distracting her from a bad memory or rough day, the way she sticks out her tongue, the way she slightly furrows her brow when she concentrates, the mock-exasperation when he's being obtuse, the banter shared, and all the moments in between.

He holds to the moments she's helped him, too — the times she's held him accountable in a bet with a classmate, the times she's kept him honest, made him a better person, and cheered him up when he was down, simply because she knew he was feeling down, simply because she chose to.

And he takes a moment to think about it, about the big picture, the long road to Eden, and not just the last five minutes or five days, and realizes that he's not everything to her, and may never be. But he's a close friend; he can make her laugh, he can bring her tea when she's sick, he can help her ease the pains of heartache and headache, and that's enough.

He's not everything to her, but he's a close friend. He loves her, and he wouldn't change a thing.

Yes, and

May. 8th, 2014 04:57 pm
talonkarrde: (color)
He just turned eight — a week ago — and he's playing at a soccer game. The team isn't quite competitive enough to have starters and bench warmers, but if it was, he'd probably be a bench warmer.

Still, he gets his chance to play, close to half-time, and swaps out for one of the forwards. Running on the field, he looks to the stands and waves excitedly to his parents, who cheerfully wave back.

The whistle blows, the ball is set out, and he plays his little heart out. He's not going to be the world's next Ronaldo or join FC Barcelona or Real Madrid, but he's been practicing, knows how to dribble the ball, and almost manages to score a goal after a few minutes on the field. After a few more, he even sets one of the other forwards up for a goal, and their team wins.

On the way home, he babbles excitedly to his parents, who seem pleased with the team's victory. His mom turns to him and gives him a high five.

"Good job out there, Timmy! You definitely helped your team win. But next time, try to score by yourself, okay?"

"Okay, mom," he says, promising that he will, in fact, try harder next time.

-

It’s his senior year and the party season is kicking in, along with a sweeping epidemic of senioritis. There's definitely been more than a few cases where he's looked at all the prep books his parents bought for his six AP classes and then said 'fuck it' and went to the party-du-jour. Besides, there's this really cute girl in his biology class that he'd like to get to know better, especially if they both end up going to Yale.

He does end up getting to know her better, asks her out, and even ends up taking her to prom. As the year wraps up, it turns out he's done pretty well in school, too — full fives on all of his AP exams except for a four in European History (where the teacher was honestly pretty awful), and good enough grades that he's the salutatorian — the second highest graduate by GPA — in his class of three hundred. The valedictorian, Susan, is a close friend of his that sailed through all of her classes without barely cracking open any of the books, as far as he can tell.

As salutatorian, he gets to give a short speech to the graduating class, and spends a couple of weeks crafting it, wanting to make everyone — but especially his parents — proud. The material is solid, the moral meaningful, and the humor well delivered in all the right places, and he gets a standing ovation for his speech.

As he gets his diploma, he turns to the audience and sees that his parents are beaming. After it's all over, and his cap is thrown to the winds, his mom reaches out to hug him tightly.

"Well done," his dad says, "though, you know, maybe you could've been valedictorian, and even got all fives, if you had spent a bit less time out with friends, and with Megan."

"Yeah," he accepts, smiling ruefully, "But Susan really deserved valedictorian. Besides, I wouldn't trade the time with Megan for anything — and I got into Yale in the end, didn't I?"

"Oh, yes, and we're very proud, but still, it's important to do as well as possible, " His mom responds. "And yes, it's good you got in — it's a shame Megan didn't."

-

Halfway through his first semester at Yale, he breaks up with Megan, after over a year together. She wasn't that far — she ended up going to Cornell — but in the end, seeing each other only once a month, at best, is something that they can't overcome.

He has a conversation with his mom about it shortly after, which ends in, "Well, she didn't get into Yale, so maybe it's all for the best," and he's struck speechless for a moment.

"Mom, that's not fair," he responds, at which point she apologizes.

"You're right; I know you really liked her. But keep in mind what you're trying to do, okay? You could really be amazing." And the conversation goes on to other topics.

He ends up dating others that he meets, but can't help but wonder from time to time what would've happened if he had gone to Cornell instead — he had gotten in there, too. But his parents pointed to all of the information that said that Yale was the better school, better for his future, better for whatever he wanted to do.

-

He’s in New York, working on pitches for various brands at a creative agency. They're doing pretty well and have a great selection of partners, and he selects a rather difficult pitch for a fairly abstract company — a tech company, a search company, in fact. How do you make an advertisement for a search company compelling?

To him, it's a great challenge, and he dives into it. Six months later, just after his twenty-fourth birthday, he comes up with an answer: it turns out that you can tell quite a compelling story, very minimally, with just a search bar. A few animations, a few clicks, and he knows it's a success when his prototype leaves his boss — and then his friend — and then his favorite bartender — in tears.

It hits the internet six weeks later and gets three million views in an hour. His mom, in fact, calls him — he had mentioned something about working with the company to her a few conversations ago — and asks about it.

"Yeah, mom, that was our team. I did some work on it, but it was definitely a team effort."

"Well it's really sweet, Tim. Good job on that. It seems like you're doing well for yourself. Have you thought of what you're going to do next?"

"Well, I think I might get promoted for this—"

"Oh, that's wonderful. Well done, Tim, just remember that you could also get an MBA, or maybe a JD if you're interested, if you've thought about that?"

He allows himself a brief moment of irritation, watching his video view count tick higher and higher, thousands every minute, before he quashes it.

"No, mom, I haven't. I'll think about it, I promise."

-

She’s not a doctor, a lawyer, a Ph.D., or any of the other things that his parents have consistently dropped hints of wanting to see in a future daughter-in-law. Instead, she's an comparative literature major from a liberal arts college in the pacific northwest, working in customer service at a startup that's trying to make shopping more efficient; they meet because of a mutual friend.

He falls for her quickly, but hesitates for months before telling his parents, knowing, in his heart of hearts, what they're going to say. When he finally picks up the phone, he's not disappointed — or rather, he is, but he's not surprised.

"You know, Tim, you've accomplished a lot, and maybe it's just not the right time to get into a serious relationship — there's so much more you could do," his father says, to his credit quite diplomatically.

Tim pauses for a second, and then two, waiting for his dad to say something else. But instead, the silence simply stretches on.

"Dad, I really do love her," he says. His dad waits just a bit too long before responding.

"Which is important!" His dad says, and then adds, "But think about what else you could do with your life. We really just want the best for you, son. You have so much potential."

Then there's some more smalltalk before they finally hang up.

The thing is, at the end of the day, she makes him laugh, spending time with her makes him happy, and he's starting to realize that maybe it's not about what he could do.

-

A few years later, his company has done so well that it's been acquired by another, his boss has quit and been replaced by someone a bit less good, and things just weren't quite the way he thought they were going to be.

The new boss, Monty, drops something on his desk without even looking at him, and Tim stares at the folder, hoping it'll just grow legs and shove off.

It doesn't.

He'd been thinking of leaving, but something always kept him from doing so, something that whispered to him about what he could accomplish if he could keep trying, something that told him that he should stay the course.

His phone rings, and he answers it absentmindedly.

"Hey, Tim, just checking to see how you're doing," his mom's voice comes over, and right as he's about to answer, he realizes: that something that had kept him from quitting sounds very, very much like his mother's voice.

"I- I'm doing fine," he says, weakly, looking at his desk, at the work that's piling up and the projects that no longer interested him, at the culmination of years of effort, of 'success'.

It's a nice desk, at least, he thinks.

"Fine? You don't sound fine. Did you and Sam have a fight?" And finally, now that he's listening for it, he feels like he almost hears the faintest note of eagerness in her voice.

"No, mom, just the opposite," he says, frowning.

"Oh, well. That's good. How's work? Are you gearing up for that next promotion? It's crunch time, isn't it—" and she goes on, and on, and Tim stops listening, really, until his phone beeps — a text message.

Tim takes his phone away from his ear for a second, looks at the notification: I love you is all it says, and Tim blinks.

And then he blinks again, and puts the phone back to his ear. His mom was still going, about doing better, doing more, about working longer hours.

"Mom, I'm quitting my job," he says, cutting straight through her endless stream of advice. Her response is quick, and surprisingly vehement.

"But Tim! You can't! How will you support yourself? This is a terrible idea, you just need to put some more—"

But he's no longer listening to that voice; there's a better voice to listen to now, a better message emanating from his phone's screen instead of his phone's speaker. A better person to listen to.

“No, mom. This is what I’m going to do with my life,” he says, and hangs up.
talonkarrde: (color)
You met the girl of my dreams, I want to tell him, and now you're getting married to her. You dated her for these last years, and now you're engaged, and soon enough...

It's not my place to judge, to question, to wonder, so I stop that, now. I will keep my peace, as I should: it stopped being my decision over three years ago.

So then, only this: as someone who built castles in the sky with her, I hope that you can do the same. I hope that you know that there's more to life than just keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground, that it's useful and desirable, even, to dream and wonder and explore. I hope you know that a fanciful idea can change your day, your relationship, or even your life.

I hope you read, but more than that, I hope you write. I hope you create, together, scenes beyond imagination, thoughts beyond belief, for she's one hell of a writing partner, and an amazing editor, too.

It is a little presumptuous of me: maybe she doesn't want that, maybe she's changed, as we all do. But if she does still want it, if she looks to you and asks for a prompt or for you to write with her, I hope you'll be able to weave those words and worlds, creating tales like we once did, of Madelynn and her king, of two strangers that met once and what happened after.

Even if you do, it won't quite be like those pieces, but there's no reason they should be: those are our stories, our history, and are the past. Create your own stories, your own future, and may your heroes be brave, vanquish evil, and befriend the dragon.
talonkarrde: (color)
"...for her plea is not for distance and detachment, it is for stasis, a tepid pond for waves to settle and find rest. Perhaps some day, when they are both ready, they will find… -what? She will only know once she gets there."
talonkarrde: (color)
M: The love is devalued without the relationship, but it's nice to come back after a week of silence and months of estrangement and still be warmly received

M: I think that's really what the value of displaced love is-- it's still a part of our fundamental interaction, even if it isn't a very pressing factor in what we decide to do

M: So maybe we won't always go out of our way to find the other's tag and post an 'I love you,' but it can be expected when we brush

S: -nods-

M: Whether for lack of necessity, awkwardness, disdain, or lack of careful thought, we'll be strange toward one another, but never strangers, thanks to the love.

S: that

S: is a lovely line

M: <3
talonkarrde: (color)
Our lives — mine and yours (and in a way, his) are delineated by two sharp lines, two lines which cut neatly across the line of memories that I have.

I think it's the same for you, isn't it?

At first, there's only the one line, and it segments our lives into Before and After.

In a clinical sense, an objective sense, the psychologist in me notes how neat it is in the way that everything falls neatly to one side or the other. Before, we were two normal yuppies, in love, with a small house and good careers and all of the other things that a newly married couple at the ripe old age of twenty-eight can lay claim to.

I remember those times, occasionally, and wonder at how different we are now. The nights out, the clubs, the diners, the drinks, the music, the madness, the moments of freedom and of exploration. We were young and we really were living life beautifully, wonderfully.

There was that period in between, where we knew, but it's all so different on this side, isn't it?

Because even though we knew, it wasn't the After.

After came with him, and it came with diapers and screaming and milk and oh my god he's still sleeping right why is he so silent. After was also about freedom and exploration — but it was about his freedom, about his exploration of this bright shining world, where we are only observers.

It's worse than that, actually, because we couldn't stop him from getting hurt — not really — but we feel that hurt as keenly as he does, feel the pain as much as he does with his screams and cries. Every nick and gash and scraped knee is something that tears at me, even though I know he'll — we'll — get better.

I'm sure you feel it too.

I think the main difference between then and now was that we lived for ourselves Before, and life was one where we were beholden to each other, but nothing else. There was no future to think of, no activity that was truly too dangerous to consider.

But After, we were beholden to him, and all of those decisions we made suddenly had a new input. A crying, wailing, sobbing, smiling, laughing, bundle of sadness and hurt and and joy and happiness that overrode everything else we did.

And it changed us, and so suddenly, didn't it? We went from being at least somewhat irresponsible (more than somewhat, in my case) to wondering why no one else could be on time, from being those people that were up for every meeting of the friends to those who made apologies that we only sort of meant, because, well, the baby.

It focused us on what was important, I think. Not that our friends weren't important, but they didn't have the same experience yet.

Some of them do now — Jerry and Michelle as of last month — but we've gone beyond that now, haven't we? We were always first — first to marriage, first to After, and now first to...

It would be funny, almost, if it weren't so sad.

No, no, you're right, it won't ever be funny. I don't ever want them to follow in these footsteps. No parent should ever have to...

Now there's Before, After, and...

I don't even know what to call it.

After-After?

It's such a shitty name. It fits, if only because it's so wrong. It's the After that should never happen. The After that comes with the lack of focus, that comes with silently going through the day, wondering why you go through the day. It's the motions, and the dullness, and the grey.

It's the tears, sometimes, in the middle of the night, and in the middle of the day at my desk.

You know, in my mind's eye, I still see the moment, so clear, too clear, when the bus pulls out and—

Maybe it will be less clear, one day. Maybe it'll get duller.

Maybe.
talonkarrde: (color)
He sits back in the overstuffed armchair and raises the cloudy glass vial to his nose, uncorking it and taking a deep breath.

Her footsteps are soft, but he strains his ears, not wanting to miss a single moment, a single piece of stimuli. He smiles, easily, as she leans down to wrap her arms around his neck, planting a soft kiss on his cheek. "Hi," he breathes out, inhaling her scent, and he's rewarded with a giggle, the same giggle he remembers so well.

He opens his eyes as she comes around the chair to curl up on his lap, one arm supporting her neck, the other pulling her in close, and their eyes meet. He simply sees, smells, feels her, and the minutes blur together as he exists purely in this moment, a moment that goes on and on.

Outside of his mind, though, time passes. One minute, then two, and then ten minutes later, a song begins to play — their song — and as the sound of the grand piano drifts through the house, he closes his eyes, knowing sight will be the first to go.

She seems to know it too, and slowly gets up, her fingers running over his arms, reaching up to cup his face as she plants another soft kiss on his lips, one that has never, in the hundred times that he's done this, gotten easier to bear.

"I love you." A whisper, and then an echo.

The song ends, and he's alone again, with just a vial in his hands. He turns it over, reading the inscription one more time, though he knows it by memory.

It's the only one he ever orders.

A quiet kiss goodnight

-

She waits until her husband is gone; he wouldn't want her doing this. She knows he's right, too; one day, she'll get the strength to stop.

But not today. She peeks out the lace curtains, watching as his car pulls away, and then checks all the doors meticulously — front, back, side, garage — to make sure they're locked. She sets the alarm to active, even though she's staying in the house, and then retreats to the bedroom.

For a moment, she sits on the bed, wondering if it's right, until she realizes that it doesn't matter, really. She goes to the drawer, moving her clothes aside, taking out the small flat, nondescript wooden box, and opens it. She ignores the diamond earrings and necklace, lifting up the jewelry section and seeing the true prize underneath:

Five vials, each one differently labeled.

Her long, thin fingers caress the glass and she thumbs over the labels, reading each in her mind over and over, until she chooses one: today, the second one from the right. She nods to herself, setting the jewelry back over her most prized possessions, and then sits back down on the bed.

She uncorks; she inhales.

She hears the pitter-patter of feet on the tile of the bathroom today. Sometimes it comes from under the desk that they have in the bedroom, sometimes from the walk-in closet. But today, she turns to face the bathroom, and there her baby boy is, five years old and exuberant and just done with going potty by himself and his face seems to say isn't she just so proud of him?

And she is, her heart filled with bursting, and she tries so hard not to cry, because if she does she won't see him as clearly, and instead she opens her arms and folds her darling dearest cherub into her arms.

This week has been hard, harder than normal, and she can't help but rock and sob and feel his little arms around her neck and listen as he asks, "Why are you sad, mommy? Can I kiss it better?" which only drives her to more tears.

Ten minutes pass, and eventually she is only holding herself, still sobbing, her face a wreck, when she hears the garage door open. This spurs her to action, and the empty vial is hidden under the pillow, the box replaced, the bedroom door unlocked, and she retreats to the bathroom to hide the tears and wash away the snot, and in fact does pretty well, she thinks.

She pulls herself together, even gives her husband a smile when he comes back. "Forget something?" she asks, and he nods. "Just some papers. Oh, and this—"

And he hugs her tight.

They've been married long enough that he knows, knows why she's a bit unsteady this morning, knows her secret. But he doesn't tell her it's unhealthy, doesn't repeat what the doctor said, because he can't bring himself to do so.

What she doesn't know is that he has a stash of vials as well. What she doesn't know is how many days of the week he doesn't go to work until he stops at the playground first, for ten minutes.

What she doesn't know is that some days, it's too much for him, too, and he comes back home instead of going to work because he needs to see her and be with her.

But today, he decides, there should be no more secrets between them, and he takes the empty vial out of his pocket, showing it to her.

"The first time at the playground," he says, simply.

She turns away for a moment, reaching under the pillow, and pulls her empty vial out, rolling it between her fingers and showing it to him.

"Potty training," she replies.

And they smile at each other, through the tears.

-

They sit together, a gathering of old octogenarians, not much longer for this world despite all the best efforts of medicine and technology. Many of them are invalid and failing in their mental faculties, and the overwhelming thing that visitors notice is the smell: a slightly sweet, slightly sterile one that hints of decay barely held back, one present in all such hospice facilities.

And yet, despite all this, there is an almost tangible feeling of hope in the room, one that comes from the doctor and the more lucid residents but also seems to permeate the mostly catatonic. The doctor checks the time, nods, and the nurses come in, each with a handful of vials to distribute.

They proceed through the tables, stopping at each wheelchair and making sure the name on the vial matches the elderly man or woman they stop next to, and give them the dose before moving on to the next one. The doctor makes a round, watching the residents' expressions closely, knowing that it would take ten minutes before she would learn anything, but impatient all the same.

The initial results are good to see — smiles, of course, because of the nature of memories which were chosen. Tears, from some, including some of the orderlies and nurses who had worked closely with the residents. One of the men who had stopped responding suddenly looked all around him, his eyes alert and taking in every detail. Another, an Alzheimer's patient who had forgotten most of her life, suddenly started reciting the names of her children and grandchildren — but that, of course, was from a memory given to her of their visits.

A minute passes, and then two, and then a quiet descends on the hospice staff. They wipe away their tears, stand ready, and wait. The doctor among them most of all, still pacing back and forth, watching, hoping.

At the nine minute mark, an audible sigh comes from some of the lucid ones who have experienced this before. They know it's coming to an end, but don't fight it, simply accepting it for the gift it is. Even though it's only for a few minutes, it's more than they could've hoped for, even five years ago.

At ten minutes, it ends, and some lift their arms, grasping for receding memories that they can not catch.

The doctor goes to work, kneeling besides each individual and asking them their names, what they just felt, and most of all, what they remember.

The first few remember nothing, not even what they just went through. Another remembers what had happened, but when asked for details, can offer none. And so it goes, through the group, and the doctor slowly confirms that the vial only gives a temporary, ephemeral activation of the hippocampus; nothing permanent. Never anything permanent.

The doctor tries not to react, but with each negative response, she slumps a little bit more, her questions a bit more rote.

Then she reaches the woman with Alzheimer's, and dully asks the resident her name, ready to move on.

"My name...is Angela," the woman says, slowly. "And I remember... I remember my grandchildren."

Within three months, vials are being given for the memory related disorders with FDA approval and there are multiple papers on the topic, peer-reviewed, in Nature, in Science, in Psychology.

At the end of it, though, what the doctor remembers most isn't the Nobel prize announcement, or the NHS funding call. It's after she makes a phone call to Angela's children, and after they gather in the foyer.

It's when Angela sees her grandchildren again — and for the first time, it's not the first time.

---

Prompt explanation here.
talonkarrde: (color)
"Daddy, what is time?"

She was six, then, and it was the first occasion where I remembered being speechless in a very, very long time. Eventually, she tugged at my hand, wanting her answer.

"Time, my darling, is like a long line of marbles, and each marble is when something happens — good or bad, happy or sad. There is a marble for when you got your bike, and for when you ate your cereal this morning, and for when you woke up."

Only later would she ask me about the past, about events before her birth, and foolishly, I answered too many of those questions.

-

"Daddy, why is the sky blue?"

I smiled, looking down at this eight-year-old girl who had become one of the centers of my universe. I had never expected to find someone that I would settle down with, and yet I did, a wandering comet captured by a star. Afterwards, I hadn't expected that we would have the benefit of children when I revealed I couldn't — and yet we did, adopting a baby who had been given up at birth.

And here, now, this girl was part of the binary star system from where all the light in my universe radiated, and it was a singular delight to watch her grow.

"Because," I said, after a second, "there are different wavelengths of light, and the shorter ones, like blue, are absorbed by the gases that make up our atmosphere."

Only later would she start to think like a scientist, and ask why the sky wasn't violet, or ultraviolet, instead.

-

"Daddy, why are the stars so far away? Are they in the past like people say?"

She was ten, then, and I had a glimpse of the person she would be when she was older, when I had moved on. She never stopped asking those questions, never stopped being curious about the world and the infinite natural phenomena that surrounded her every day. But this question — this question touched something deep within me.

"The stars are far away because they're moving away from each other. Billions of years ago, everything was close, very close, but every galaxy has been moving away from every other one. And since they're farther away from us, and light takes time to get to us, we see galaxies as they were in the past. Do you remember the first constellation I taught you, Fornax? There are galaxies in that area that were created just over 13 billion years ago, just a few hundred million years after the big bang. They're not in the past now, but what we see is in the past."

Only later would she ask me how I knew those figures so exactly, when not even the astrophysicists she worked with were ever that specific.

-

"Daddy, why do people die?"

This was the moment I would remember for another millennia. This was the moment when she first asked me a question that I could not answer, after the death of one of her friends. I could answer it with science, with biology, with genetics, but it wasn't what she was asking. It wasn't why she was asking it.

Instead, I thought back to a time eons ago and galaxies away, and said nothing for a long time. But she was still staring at me, holding my eyes with hers, and eventually, after a long pause, tugged on my hand, wanting her answer.

"Because life isn't fair, honey," I said, and that's all I had in the face of such a crushing question, in the face of my own past.

Only later would she ask me — the last time I talked to my daughter — if this was the first time I had ever done this, if she was special or just another marble in a long, long line of them.

-

"No," I said. "Never just another marble."




---

A/N: After last week, I really wanted to do something shorter. The prompt almost begs scifi, but I didn't want to make it too overtly so. Instead, while I was thinking about it, I came upon the idea of an interstellar traveler, someone who was effectively immortal. Something causes him to step back into the river of humanity — he falls in love and raises a child — and what would that relationship be like? What would the child grow up to be, and how would the father's secret be handled? If you enjoyed this, I would highly recommend the indie film The Man From Earth, which touches on very similar topics.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Time passes,
and people change.

And yet, there are still moments
when, spurred by some passing glimmer of an idea,
he remembers what their time was like - together.

A movie, perhaps, he would've liked to share-
Or a book that he knows she would've loved.
Or sharper still, a new idea for a piece,
its ending yet undetermined.

They are more rare now, as it should be,
as years pass, but still they linger,
and lurk, in the shadows. Waiting,
until he puts pen to paper,
or his hands on the keys.

And then they spring,
merciless as always.
talonkarrde: (color)
You've heard this story before, I'll wager, or seen this movie. At least, you've likely heard something like it, because most stories are really this one — one person meets another, they form a connection, have a relationship, are happy for awhile. And then it all goes up in flames.

Or, if you want to be very stereotypical, boy meets girl, boy loses girl

It's about love and it's about loss, and like I said, you've probably heard this story before. It's not about a hero's journey, and it's not a morality tale. It's simply a story about what happens when you're a specific type of person, and you meet someone who's another type of person, and what happens when you were together is something that you're not able to let go of, ever.

-

It starts in media res, as our protagonist steps inside a complicated machine, whispers something under his breath — a line from a poem — and pulls the lever.

Nothing happens.

Then he steps out, looks around, and asks someone in the lab what his address is. This is not, apparently, a curious request, and the answer is exactly what he's expected:

1125 Larch Court.

It's wrong, of course, because he lives at another address completely, but it means the experiment was a success.

You see, he's traveled between worlds.

Cue flashbacks.

-

Twenty years ago — high school.

Our protagonist is a boy, and he sits in biology class, in the second row. His head slowly nods forward as he listens to the teacher droning, and a few seconds later, he falls asleep, only to be jerked awake by the teacher slamming a hand down on his desk.

The boy is smart, which doesn't count for particularly much at this point in life, but it allows him to coast through most of his classes. He continues coasting and being something of an outcast through all four years, until college... where he goes to a state school and coasts some more like the unmotivated person he is.

But at some point in time, something changes in him, a very specific something, and he turns into someone who is not only motivated but driven. How do you go from being an average student in high school to having two doctorates when you're thirty, and being the foremost expert on theoretical physics?

More often than not, it's because you've lost something very dear to you, and you'll do anything to get it back.

Flash forward.

-

It's college, and he sleeps through most of his morning classes, and attends fifty percent of his afternoon ones, if that. He works in the computer lab at school, which is a relatively boring job. He's a bit older, a bit more sarcastic, but otherwise the exact same person he was in high school. A collage of his life doesn't need to play for you to recognize that it's the same old underachieving kid wasting his potential.

And then, of course, he starts talking to a girl. It doesn't matter to describe the girl, dear reader, just as I haven't described the guy, because there's no need to. Everything is interchangeable, and all the details are just that, details. The only thing that matters is that these two fit each other — when he wraps his arms around her and look in the mirror, or when they curl up in bed together, there's a distinct sense that they fit, as objects more complex than puzzle pieces rarely do.

Flash forward.

-


He loses her.


-

He graduates at the top of his Master's class in only a year, does some very advanced research, and pushes the envelope of science forward, in more than just the pimple-sized expansion that most Ph.D. students end up doing with their thesis. He publishes in multiple journals on theoretical physics, submits experiments for consideration to be performed by the LHC, and has not one, but two doctorates by the time he's thirty, as mentioned

And then, theory complete, he turns to practice. He starts building the machine that he will step through at the beginning of this story. He finances it with money earned from patents and papers, and wholly devotes himself to this project, which, if it works, will completely transform humanity's understanding and knowledge of the world.

A year later, the machine is finished. He sells his apartment, gives away the furniture on craiglist, and puts all of his belongings in a single moving box, which he then throws out. 

Flash forward.

-

And here, now, we're at the second most important of his life. Now, here, everything matters to him, because it's the moment he lives through again, and again, and again.

But this is the first time.

It's right before dusk and he stands on the doorway of an old colonial home, with an old but well-maintained Toyota Camry in the driveway. It's just finished raining, and so the air smells new, which he finds appropriate for the occasion. He raises a hand to knock, and his new suit pulls back from the wrist, revealing a navy-blue collared shirt underneath. He knocks once, twice, three times, and then rings the doorbell which chimes three times, also, a low-medium-high tone.

He waits five seconds, and then, as he raises his finger to the doorbell again, hears footsteps coming down the stairs. The door unlocks, and opens, and there she is.

They stay there, like that, for a long time, as night falls. They talk in gestures, in glances, in thoughts, but neither one breaks the silence... until the choice is taken out of their hands.

From behind her, a baby starts crying.

-

He remembers that first time vividly, the following times less so. Tries blur, as the Toyota changes into a Mercedes into a motorcycle, as the colonial becomes victorian becomes an apartment. Sometimes, it's raining, or snowing when he visits, sometimes there's a fog so thick that he approaches the wrong door at first

Each time, though, the answer is constant; the answer is negative.

So he keeps jumping through his machine, sometimes tirelessly recreating it when science didn't go the way it did from the world he came from. He keeps tweaking a formula that he keeps in his head to figure out which variables need to be changed to jump closer to the world where their split didn't happen

At first, he tries to keep the rest of the world constant, but eventually stops caring, until he jumps into worlds that are not even close to his own, into worlds that he wouldn't recognize otherwise. But he always recognizes her.

And her answer is always the same.

-

He tells someone, only once, in one world, a friend of his from a long time ago, in a form that is foreign to him but yet undeniably the person he knew. She's smart enough — perceptive enough — not to ask him why he doesn't jump to a completely foreign world, which he surely knows how to do. She asks, instead, why he doesn't go back, earlier, to before they stood outside in a parking lot and bid their goodbyes for the last time it was meaningful. And frustrated, impatient, he tells her that it's not possible to do that, or why the hell wouldn't he have done so already? He can only travel across worlds, not forward or back.

He doesn't tell anyone else after that.

-

One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. But for him, it's worth it, because there is a chance, he believes, no matter how infitesimal, that there is a world closer to where it worked out. Closer to, in his mind, the center of things, where everyone is happier, if there is such a center. And so he keeps jumping, keeps trying, even though each world is exactly like the last in the only way that matters: losing her.

-

'Why' is the question to be asked, here at the end. What causes someone to love so deeply, so much, for it to become obsession, or is love itself simply an obsession? Why doesn't he just give up, or kill himself, or find someone else? Why doesn't he just give up?

-

There are two types of people in the world, he would say.

Those who are alone
and those who aren't.

To stay in the ignorance of the first is understandable,
and to be in the paradise of the second is preferable.
and to have been complete, but no longer be — hell.

So he keeps jumping, because he believes in heaven.
talonkarrde: (Default)

There's a boy and girl — a man and a woman — you and me. 

And there's their last meeting, in a room, where they talk, where they kiss, and where he drives her home. The next morning, she says that she'll never see him again.

It's been almost two years since they met, since they started this journey of theirs, this relationship (albeit on and off), and it ends here, after they discuss what can be, and what can't be, and she makes a decision for the both of them. He doesn't blame her for it, though he knows what it means.

The truth — or a truth — has always swirled around them, sometimes acknowledged, sometimes buried, and it is this:

It was always going to be hard. It was always going to be the two of them in a rowboat that was leaky and had one oar, and they'd only make it to land (assuming there was land somewhere out there) if they worked together, if they had faith (the irony abounds), if they kept at it. And they did, for a while, and even when he would falter or she would despair, the other would be able to convince them to keep trying. And he thought that maybe it meant that they'd make it, them against the world, and eke out a compromise that would work for them, even if it didn't work for everyone.

And then it stopped working.

-

For all of it, for so long, I just thought that love was all that mattered, and...in the end, it wasn't. There were other things — tradition, acceptance, and religion, and what us being together would mean for her children, and more still. And part of it, I understand — I understand that if there are areas of her life that she is very passionate about that I am indifferent to, she may want to find someone who shares those interests.

And yet... I don't know if I do understand the sheer animosity, the sheer horror of even the idea of dating, or marrying, someone outside of the faith. We shared the same views on so much, the same outlook and worldview, and yet, the fact that I did not grow up a certain way excluded us from having a future together. The sheer fact that we kissed was wrong, because we could not have a future. 

That, I will never understand. 

talonkarrde: (Default)
For Liz — [livejournal.com profile] _asherah_

(I figured I'd do the Christmas ones first, and as usual, this is a bit late. It's still Christmas in...uh...Tonga?)

---

It's been the little moments that hit me the hardest. The big pieces — the awful emptiness of the house, the passenger seat in the car, the empty side of the bed — can be neatly compartmentalized, explained to the therapist, and dealt with, generally with distractions and work and staying busy and doing a relentless job of making sure the kids are where they should be, when they need to be there, and have what they want. Staying busy makes it so that there isn't enough time to carefully study the large, gaping hole that's been in our lives; it's hanging a blanket in front of it and as long as no one studies it too closely, we all get by — more or less.

But every once in a while the blanket slips, and hole only seems to have grown larger since the last time we looked at it. Like the way that our — my — seven year old, Jessica, tilts her head at me some mornings after examining her lunchbox and says that her lunch isn't packed quite right; that one line destroys me every time, though I can usually keep it to myself until after the bus comes and I see her up the steps. I'm fighting the tears as it pulls up to the street corner, so much so that I can't make out the doorknob when I turn around.

Or how after cleaning the house relentlessly every weekend (even though I hated cleaning before), after vacumning and sweeping and dusting, there's still Shadow's fur, somehow, even though everything's been cleaned a thousand times before and it should've been picked up last week, or the week before, or somewhere in the five months since it's been since the accident. Every time I see the telltale black hair, I can't help but listen for the scratching at the door that never comes, can't help but feel the wet slobber on my toes that means it's really — and Shadow means really — time to get up, on the weekends.

Sunday mornings are the worst, when Rose and I used to wake up around nine or ten and simply lie there and talk, hold each other close, and wait for one of the children or Shadow to scratch at our bedroom door. Sometimes, one of the kids would let him out, and so we would lie in blissful peace until eleven or twelve, called downstairs only by the growling in our bellies. 

Nowadays, I set an alarm for 7:00 a.m., before the sun gets a chance to cast its rays on the bed, before the tentative knock on the door by one of my daughters looking for breakfast — or, sometimes, when they're not fully awake, for their mother.

When I brought it up, the therapist said that it will get better with time, as the memories fade. The first time I heard it, I was struck by the unimaginable cruelty of the statement — these memories were all I had left of them, and the only thing that would make it better was forgetting? Bullshit, I said angrily, I want a better answer. But she only shook her head, looking apologetic, and said the words I wanted to hear the least.

"You have to learn to move on, John, and you need to face it to do so."

As if I could just move on from someone who had been a part of my life for so long. But she said — using my metaphor, of all things — that instead of hiding the hole, I needed to accept it, that I needed to spend a few minutes each day thinking of the accident, of what we had and lost, and make my peace with it. And more importantly, she said that I had to move on because it was the only way that my daughters would grow up at peace with it as well, and that struck a chord in me, I guess.

I had always tried to be a good father and do right by them, and now I was the only one left.

It was hard at first. No, it was worse than that, it was fucking terrible — purposely calling up memories of the two of them, of trips to the park and playing with other pet owners and wrestling with the adorable dog for a frisbee — all it did was paralyze me, until I was breaking down at work, in the car, my body wracked with sobs as I pictured their last moments, the small Mini turning sideways as the SUV came barrelling towards them.

That didn't last very long. Instead, I simply... slowed down a bit. I moved a bit less quickly to busy myself with the next chore and the next, and simply let some things remind me of them, sometimes. In time, it did get easier; I never forgot about any of the memories we shared, but they became... softer. I could still tell you what Shadow smelled like when we adopted him from the animal shelter, or what Rose wore on our first date together, but it wasn't as present; it was more like seeing a vision faraway, a bit hazy from the distance, and that made it a bit easier to deal with.

When I told the therapist this — seven months after the day — she nodded, telling me that it was a normal part of the process. I would never lose them, she said to me, but it would be easier because I didn't remember it as distinctly, and there were different, other ways to remember and cherish them, ones that wouldn't hurt like that. 

And then, just when I thought things were going well, she asked me what I had planned for Christmas. The holiday season was always tough on people, she said, especially the first one after a death in the family.

Christmas had always been 'an event' in our household. We wouldn't say it was any more special than what anyone else did, but there was a certain order to the season and to Christmas Eve and the day of in particular — we always got a tree from our local tree farm two weeks before Christmas itself, and decorated the tree not just with the usual baubles and lights, but also small pictures from our scrapbooks — it was a way to remember moments that we had all forgotten through the year. Christmas morning, Rose and I always stayed awake until 2 a.m. to put the presents under the tree; we were very careful not to let either of the kids catch us, though of course they tried, but we always engineered an active and exciting Christmas Eve of family time, and they always nodded off before one in the morning, despite their best efforts.

But this year...I hadn't given thought to what I would be doing, partially because I was busy, and mostly because I had managed to block it out fairly successfully, living a day, or sometimes two, at a time. It was just about two weeks before Christmas, and I made the trip right on time to get the douglas fir. After planting it in the middle of the living room, I went to the attic to get the decorations, and then froze solid when I came to the box and remembered what was inside. I simply couldn't open it, no matter how much I wanted to; I had only gone a few weeks with only the dull ache inside me, and wasn't particularly wanting to stab myself in the heart again.

I don't know how long I stayed there, sweating, standing a few feet from the box and trying to levitate the baubles out without disturbing the pictures; it was only after my older daughter Rachel called for me was I able to move. I must have been a sight — sweating buckets, shivering, standing there frozen like a deer with invisible headlights shining on me. In a fit of desperation — or maybe determination — I grabbed the box as I answered her call and headed back upstairs, ignoring what I was holding and focusing very hard on my daughter's request and her voice.

The box then laid next to the tree, for a day, two, and then a week, as Christmas crept closer and closer. I just couldn't touch it. Instead, I went out and bought gifts for the kids (in the spirit of equal opportunity, both a 'girly' gift — a doll, and some makeup set thing for Rachel — and a less girly one — a science set and a remote-controlled car) and managed to buy myself some socks and a belt that I probably needed.

Wrapping them was another quest that I hadn't really had the chance to master, but it was important to get it right, and I ended up going through pretty much a whole roll of it in my relentless pursuit of perfection. The presents ended up without any noticable creases, though, with the folds correct and neat, and in the quiet moments after doing so, I reflected that Rose would have probably approved, and felt something besides sadness for the first time since the accident while thinking about her. But I still didn't touch the box.

And then it was Christmas Eve, and we watched TV and went out for some shopping, and as the day wound down, I put the kids to bed. They never commented on the bare tree, for which I was very thankful. And around 3 a.m. — a bit later this year, because 2 a.m. didn't feel right — I snuck out to place the presents by the tree. It was still green, and still alive, and still missing all of the ornaments. But no matter how much I wanted to, no matter how much I told myself that I had to, I couldn't open the box. I must've sat there for half an hour, looking at the tree, but in the end, shamefully, I went to bed, slamming the door behind me, and fell into a sleep that was mercifully dreamless.

But when the alarm woke me up at 7:00a.m., when I walked into the living room, the tree wasn't empty and green, but bright and shining, with red and green and white balls hung, the star affixed to the top, and — and — the pictures as well, hung neatly on the tree, each 2x3 inch photo extruding happiness from Disneyland, and the park, and our wedding, and everywhere else we had ever taken pictures.

I sat down, not entirely intentionally, and heard Jessica behind me, still clutching her blanket. "Morning, daddy. Rachel says Santa put up the ornaments on the tree!"

And before I even turned to meet Rachel's eyes, I knew; it was enough that my immediate instinct was to flee and lock my door and take a forty minute shower where the tears wouldn't be discernable. But I couldn't move, my eyes still flicking over each picture, remembering where each was taken, cherishing the moments, and the world blurred as I felt a pair of arms wrap around me from behind.

"Merry Christmas, dad," my elder daughter said quietly, and I could only close my eyes and nod, bringing her around and hugging her back fiercely, sobbing only a bit. Jessica came over for the hug as well, and we all took a bit of time to cry, and smile, and remember those we had lost. But we didn't hide from it for once, and the hole seemed a bit smaller because we were here together, on Christmas.

And after a bit of skillful extraction of arms and bodies, the girls opened their presents, and I faked looking surprised at my belt and socks. But there was one present under the tree that I hadn't seen, wrapped in last year's 'Santa and sleigh' wrapping paper, a small, flat object, with small neat handwriting on it that said, simply: 'To Dad'.

Taking more care on it than anything else I recall in my life, I slowly slid my fingernail under the tape, gently lifting the fold and removing the object from the wrapping paper. It was a frame, a picture, one of the ones that must have been in the box with the others.

I flipped it over, and saw the four of us, and Shadow, smiling together from the dining room table, with a cake in front of us. It was from my last birthday, and someone must have set the timer on the camera at the other end of the table, as we were clustered at the far end, smiling, Shadow with his tongue lolling out of his mouth and looking goofy as always.

"I think, maybe, mom would've wanted you to have this," Rachel said quietly, and all I could do is gather the two of them up for another hug, thanking anyone listening for being the luckiest father in the world. And from under my arm, Jessica chimed in.

"And I think maybe mom would've wanted us to get another dog from the shelter, daddy."

And somehow, I knew that my daughters were both right — that somewhere, my wife just paused in her ball-tossing with Shadow to send a smile our way.
talonkarrde: (Default)
My first memory of my grandfather is when I was six or seven, perhaps, and we lived in Colorado. I remember wanting to snuggle up to him and my grandma at night in their king sized bed, right in the middle, and I would frequently leave 'my' bed and escape to theirs. It wasn't because it was more fluffy (which it was) but rather that there was something incredibly safe about being between them.

After Colorado, I think, they were getting to the age where a twelve-hour-plus cross-continent flight to the other side of the world was getting to be a bit much, but I still saw them when I traveled back — in 2000, 2003, and then 2009 for my cousin's wedding, where the pictures of the entire wedding party (I was the best man, being uniquely qualified as the only person aside from the bride that could speak the language the groom understood) are very prominent in my grandparents' home.

I don't remember anything earlier than Colorado, though — not the years that they came to visit in California, nor, in the formative years of my life, when they raised me after my parents went off to cross the Pacific without their little baby boy. My grandparents raised me for more than two years, and according to my mom, I was the one child that my grandpa was really able to raise as a baby, to bounce on his lap and coddle and spoil to all hell.

And now, twenty years from when I first left my grandfather's embrace, I am back, to see him once more. This time, though, he is in a hospital bed, and he is unlikely to ever leave it again.

-

I can't say I know my grandfather all that well — there was always something of a language barrier that got in the way of being able to have completely fluid conversations, and even if there wasn't, from what I do know, our worldviews aren't quite the same. Where I have lived in the suburbia of middle class all my life, my grandfather had fought in the war against the Japanese devils, as he calls them, and did well enough to be recognized by the Chinese government. 

There was a distinct conversation that I remember when I was ten or so, I think, back when I still had the summers to go back to China yearly; I asked my grandfather what he thought of America. 'Bullies!' he said to me, wagging his finger, "All they do is they bully around the weaker countries!" I protested, in my ten year old way, that America was great and grand and glorious, and he shook his head, and said that, yes, the average person was very nice (having been directed home by them variously when they used to go on walks in Colorado by themselves) but the government, they were no good at all. 

I didn't accept it at the time, but it sounds rather right, doesn't it?

Beyond that, though, I never asked, that I can remember, about his youth, or about how he met my grandma, or what his hopes and dreams and wishes were — though there's still time to do so, now that I'm here. But in the last few days, just by watching, I've still learned an incredible amount — all of the important things, maybe?
I've seen all of his children and grandchildren — my four aunts and two uncles, and their families, and my various cousins — come through and visit him. There's a steady rotation of his children who will stay the night with him, and care for him, help him to the bathroom and make sure he takes his pills, and every face that comes in is someone who has loved him and been loved by him and comes to do what they can to ease his pain.

And my grandmother, of course, who is always, always there, who, as my dad says, my grandpa can't be without. He's always been a proud man, I think, more than anything, but I've seen a bit of what's under the surface these last few days. When he goes for a CT scan, and we wheel him out of the room, he asks if she's coming, even if he'll only be away for a few minutes. And this afternoon, when my dad and I are taking over the night shift to watch him, as she leaves, he presses his palm to his mouth and sends her a kiss, and she returns the gesture, and for a moment, they simply stand there, looking at each other.

-

It's an odd feeling to sit here, perched on the edge of the bed, ready to spring into action at the slightest sign of discomfort and yet be comforted by the fact that my grandpa snores and speaks in his sleep. Every time he makes a noise, it's a sign that he's breathing well, and deeply, and it's... soothing, for lack of a better word, whereas normally I can't stand any noise when I'm sleeping. When he doesn't make any noise for a few seconds is when I start to worry, even if it's irrational (because he's still lucid and fine), and I hold my breath until he releases his, and only then do I start typing again.

I should be sleeping as well, actually, so that when something does happen, I can jump up and assist; he wakes every few hours, fairly regularly, and so there's little reason to simply sit, and watch, and wait, but I couldn't go to sleep even if I wanted to.

I've had experience with hospice care as part of my clinical fieldwork class for psychology, and as an EMT, I'm no stranger to working in a hospital, even with long-term patients. But this is different, of course. It's different for a multitude of reasons, mostly collapsing onto the fact that this is someone I know and love and care about not dying on a very personal level, instead of on a more clinical or even professional level. It's also different because I'm not in a professional capacity here; instead of having to give medical care, I'm simply... here. There's no protocol to follow, no one else to contact, no medicine to push.

Instead, I'm simply here to... be here, really. I'm here to lend a hand, but more than that, I'm here so my grandpa can see me, so he can comment on how, erm, 'solidly' I am built, and so he can know that he — and by extension family — is the most important thing in my, and  all of his children's lives, and adherence to that principle is why we're all here.

And we're here, of course, because it makes him happy, and the look on his face as my uncles and aunts enter, as I come in, is something that I could come back a thousand times to see.

-

It's 3 a.m. now, and I think for a moment of the parallelism, that here we are, three generations of us in one room (and my dad and grandpa are now competing in the snoring Olympics, and I think my dad might win this one). My grandpa looked over at me a few hours ago and said, "This is our tradition — the elderly take care of the young, at first, and then, when it is their time, they count on their children to take care of them", and I promise to myself that this will be my tradition as well.

I wonder when it will be the time for me to take care of my mother and father, or my children to take care of me. And then I realize that it's not, really, just my parents I should be worrying about, but also my uncles and aunts, my teachers and professors, and everyone I know of that generation, and I wonder, for a moment, how we deal with all of this, a loss of this magnitude, one by one, as each generation passes on. 

But it's the natural order of things, isn't it? That's the best I can come up with.

I hope that I can pass on what I have learned to the next generation, so that whenever anyone in our family is to pass on, they will do so with their family and friends around them, reminding them that they are loved and cherished. I don't know if the secret is having a large family so that the burden may be spread and thus lightened, or if it really is a cultural issue where the bonds between families, especially extended ones, are looser in America than they are over here, but I'll find out.

There's no reason that the ones you love and love you shouldn't be at your side when you start needing help to do the things you can no longer do by yourself, and no reason that your loved ones should shy away and push that burden onto another, who will care less than you will that it's done right. And even if there are those who do care who are not family, no matter how much they care, their caring will never replace a family's bonds.

-

I've learned something, I think, though it shames me that it took so long to learn and that I hadn't learned it beforehand. Before I came, I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to communicate well with my grandpa, that I wasn't going to say the right things or be able to reassure him in the right way, or that I would be powerless and helpless to, well, do anything. I was afraid of messing up in a million different ways, and so I asked a friend of mine what you do for those in pain, who are near the end of their lives.

And he told me a great many things, and I thanked him, and then I promptly, I think, forgot most of what he told me. I think perhaps there was a bit of difficulty in communicating, and a bit of difficulty in saying the right things, and maybe I did mess up.

But it doesn't matter — none of it matters, because I'm not here for me, and this isn't some sort of a choreographed dance. I'm here for him, for him to look at me and hug me and understand that a part of him lives on in me, and in that, I think, I have not disappointed him.

I was lucky to have such a chance, and I may be visiting again soon, if things turn worse, because even though I'll still be afraid of not being able to say what I want to say, even if I'll be afraid that my last memory of him will be him even more gaunt than he is now, if there's anything I can do to make him even a little bit happy, it's what I should do.

Thanks, grandpa, for teaching me that, for raising me, and for everything.

Mirage

Mar. 29th, 2011 08:56 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
Sometimes, she’s there for him.

He settles down to sleep, and hears her breathing, slow and steady, coming from just beyond the next pillow. He feels the way that her form curves the blankets around her, enough that he almost reaches out to touch her shoulder.

But he doesn’t, because he knows better than that.

He catches her sometimes, catches snippets of her words in the air when he reads them, and he whips his head around so fast he almost gives himself whiplash, but he never catches her. Eventually, he gets better at it, he doesn’t look directly, just out of the corner of his eyes, and she stays, sometimes, sometimes.

And then she’s gone again, because she has, he tells himself, better places to be.

He sees her, he knows it, in the lady whose back is turned to him but dresses exactly like she would, conservatively usually but with that hint of wildness, of flair. He sees her as he rides up the escalator in the mall, running away. He almost jumps to the other side, almost calls out her name; it threatens to burst out of him, and his heart pounds so hard.

But he doesn’t, because all he’ll get is strange looks, or the cops, or worse, a strange woman turning around who isn’t her.


And sometimes, she isn’t there at all.

He walks in the door sometimes, and he says, ‘Honey, I’m home,’ to the empty silence. And somehow, it’s not his words that ring out against the walls, but rather the silence, growing second by second until he can’t hear anything but the unbearable lack of sound, and he flees — he runs from his own house, from the emptiness within.

He sits in his office sometimes, and he picks up the phone to call her and tell her how the kids are doing, and he still dials the first few numbers before he realizes, and all he does is sit there, and sit there, until the phone beeps angrily at him, and still he sits, until the line goes dead completely, and only then does he set the phone back down.

He gets promoted, he comes home in a shiny new BMW, he writes a livejournal entry he’s particularly proud of, and he wants to tell her, “look, let me share this with you,” but she’s never there those times.

But it’s okay.

It’s okay because she’s there when he needs her the most: when he’s a second away from giving up, from finding the pills he’s stashed away, waiting for this moment, when he’s thinking about how much smoother it’d be if he just kept his foot on the accelerator until he couldn’t, when he wonders how much it would hurt for his friends to find him in the bathtub, like all the movies....

Well, those times she comes to him, and embraces him, lays her head on his shoulder, and tells him that it’s all going to be okay. It’s those times that she appears on the other side of the bed, the side that he leaves unmade, sort of, the way she would leave it, it’s those times that he swears to god there was less tea in that teacup he set out for her.

She isn’t real, the others say, and they may be right, some part of him knows. After all, she left, or she disappeared, or she died, or she moved on, or she insert blank here. he doesn't remember. And he doesn't care.

She’s real enough to make a difference, to get him up every morning, to keep him from...well.

She’s real enough to give him hope, and that’s all that matters.

Jetsam

Mar. 22nd, 2011 09:00 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
It’s a dream, he thinks. It has to be.

Because this — this beach around them — is something that never happened. It was a writing exercise, one where the two of them traded turns writing paragraphs in a love story, one that never got finished. But here it is, the veranda twinkling behind them, the full moon overhead lessening their shadows...

And the two of them, here, now, on the beach.

He’s in the tuxedo he remembered writing the character into, with the jacket draped over his right shoulder, his bow tie untied and draped around his neck. Her heels are dangling from her right hand, her hair cascading down around her shoulders, and the satin dress she’s wearing almost fades into the darkness of the ocean.

“What—” is this place, he starts to ask, but she just shakes her head and leads him on, across the beach, across the surf, until they reach the low pier. She pulls him down and shushes him when he tries to ask again, waiting until they’re both comfortable, the water swirling around their feet, before she speaks.

“Do you remember how we met?” she asks, looking up at him now, their faces barely apart. This close to him, he remembers the first time he kissed her — he remembers asking her if he could, because he was that nervous, because he couldn’t read the signs... and because he wanted to, so badly, that he had to ask.

And he remembers her smiling and saying yes.


“Sure,” he responds. “It was at a forensics tournament,” And from there, he almost launches into the story of their mutual friend, and the casual knowledge they had of each other before meeting, and how they were both interested in writing and... 

“No, silly,” she says, laughing. It’s at him, something that should always have bothered him, but never did — maybe because he knew there was never any malice in it, unlike the rest of the world.

“I meant us,” she continues, and he finally realizes that she’s talking about them — this set of them, here, on this beach.

“We met here, a year ago. You were wearing a red tank top and a maroon skirt, and I was wearing a hawaiian shirt and shorts, and you were walking down the beach, and I told you I was looking for inspiration.”

“And I said, ‘Oh, so you’re a writer,” she finishes, with exactly the right emphasis on writer to make it sound like a puppy who had just spotted a new ball to play with.

“You know all of this,” he — the real him — says. “Why are you asking me?” 

“Because I want to know how it ends, of course,” she says, very matter-of-factly. “I want you to finish it.”

And here he pauses, not because he was written to pause, but because he doesn’t know if it's possible. So he dodges, the best way he knows how.

“It wasn’t our story, you know. It was a story of people that vaguely resembled us, people that were bits and pieces of us that were drifting on a current far from who we would be, what we would become. It was an alternate universe—“

And she cuts through it all, already leaping ahead to what his point was, as she always did.

“Filled with us, or at least, versions of us that were easy enough to put to paper without thought. It starts on a beach, wanders through a museum, and misses a trip to Europe because she has responsibilities to other things now. How does it end?”

"With philosophy, and with romance, with attraction and companionship and the love of two people who both read," he whispers, tilting his head down to hers.

And then, a moment later, just before their lips touch, with just enough time to dispell the dreams, the hopes, and the memories, he finishes the thought.

"Make sure, love, that he reads."

Cracks

Feb. 19th, 2011 02:57 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
There's a boy and girl — a man and a woman — you and me. And there's their first meeting, outside the library, with the sound of cars honking in the background. It's May, and there she is, sitting on a bench, late but finally present, waiting for him to come out of the library.

And there he is, inside, passing the time by reading the Sandman, hoping that she’s just delayed. He had spent half an hour outside, waiting for her, before coming in, and he's trying not to feel crushed that she's not there. Not because she stood him up — the possibility doesn't even occur to him — but because he knows how hard it was to arrange a day to meet, and he has no idea when the next one would be. And he's nervous, of course, because he loves her — like an idiot, he said this to her already — and he’s kicking himself and wondering if he’s scared her off.

He looks up at the clock — it's an hour past when they said they would meet — and decides that he’s going to take one last look around before heading home. When he comes out and makes that final sweep of the area, though, there she is, sitting on a bench, and she jumps up and goes to him as their eyes meet.

"Sorry," she starts, and he sarcastically pretends to be hurt, and all is behind them.

Then they talk, and the afternoon floats by on words and smiles, as they walk through her town, as she reads and he watches, as they talk about war and peace and politics and psychology and everything but each other. But the open secret is that everything that they say, really, is about each other.

When she leaves, he sits in his car, watching the sun go down, watching as the colors fade.

-

It is a week later when they have the first conversation that almost breaks them apart. It's because she told her parents the truth; ironically, something that he always believed she should do. He walks aimlessly down his street as she tells him they can't talk again, as she trots out a laundry list of reasons why they shouldn't have met, or talked, or anything, and how there's no hope for them. None of them really make sense to him, and he says this, but he knows that nothing will change tonight. He also knows, though, to be patient, that there are stronger forces than parents telling their children what they can't do, and he hopes.

It is a week after that when they finally start talking again, despite her parents’ wishes, and his world comes back together.

He tells her, one day, about the kids that they'd have, and how they would be bright and obnoxious, and possibly more than a little sarcastic. He tells her, offhand, that they'd change the world, and for once, he's absolutely serious. They talk about it sometimes, or at least he does, and she tries not to get too nervous about it. She cautions him about planning ahead so much, and he says that it isn't planning, it's just...something that comes to him, something that feels right.

Besides, he says, she'd be a great mother.

-
 
And then she leaves, to go across the ocean for a year. She might not have internet, and calling is expensive, and so their relationship becomes 'come what may', with a promise of a phone call when she comes back.

But it turns out to be better than that. She has access to the internet, and a computer, and they talk online, finding time for each other, and he gets used to seeing 'good morning' on his screen when he wakes up, and typing 'good night' to her when she goes to sleep.

They have their crises of faith, both of them, but they support each other, reassure one another, and they make it through, even when she thinks it can’t work or he thinks it’s impossible. They talk, and that's the important thing, because there’s nothing they can’t work out, even if it means giving up nights out or sleep. It’s a sacrifice gladly made, by both of them.

Then she has her computer stolen by someone, and it all goes to hell...until they work it out, as they always do.

He gets a phone that provides for international calls and starts his day with a call to the other side of the world; the first thing he hears is her 'good morning, starshine'. He hurries home from work to call her so that the last thing she hears before she goes to sleep is a 'sweet dreams, love'. They talk less frequently, but with more meaning.

And it works out for months, and even though it's not perfect, there is love, and there is the two of them, facing the future together, bridging the distance.

-

But there are some things they can’t overcome.

-

There are things that we can't work out, fundamental areas where we are different from one another. We love each other, but we each stand on solid ground and can not be taken away from where we are. Where we choose to plant our faith is not the same, and there is a fissure between us; we would lose ourselves if we crossed to the other side.

There is an ocean of emptiness between us, one I can not cross and one I do not know how to bridge.
talonkarrde: (Default)
We will always be different, you and I; I know this now.

But let me explain something.

Before you, I was different from everyone else, in every way I could imagine, in new ways that I learned about, every day. My time spent with others was not easy, not enjoyable, and did not happen without me fighting myself, every step of the way.

But even as I despised it, I knew that it had to be done, that I had to - what is the word? Assimilate. Such an ugly word. But it was necessary, or eventually, I would be too much of an outcast, and I would never be able to truly live.

That was the choice.

Even so, how it hurt. My every action and every moment spent with them only convinced me how hopeless it was. I was foreign. I was alien. I was not of their kind. I was different in appearance, in dress, in behavior; more importantly, I was different in the views that I held, the thoughts that I had.

In all the time that I spent trying to fit in, I was never accepted.

And then — of course, and then — I met you.

And it was the light of day after a long, dark night and it was peace after a thousand years of war and it was getting to the promised land, and so many more allusions that you’ve taught me, if only I could remember them from our talks late at night. It was being safe and known, something I had almost given up on.

I came to view the night as the only time when I was truly awake, even though I was sleepy and incoherent; I came to think of our conversations as the only ones where I was truly talking, even though I was always of few words; I came to think that what we had was what life should be, even if it was for only a few hours, and only sometimes in person. I loved you, then, which I’m sure you knew; I hoped, dreamed, dared to believe that you loved me too.

Every day, we grew closer and found out more about each other, learning things that we already knew but had never said. You were more than just a gift, though; you saved my life.

You see, each day, you explained a bit more about where you came from, how you were raised, what you thought, and it let me understand them a little more. What I had seen as cruelties you showed me were simply habit, a different upbringing, a different culture. And you revealed in me the cruelties that my own culture had, and it broke down the walls, so that I for the first time, I realized that I could, eventually, fit in, that I would not be an outsider for all my life.

There is nothing greater you could have given me.

And then it all unraveled, the careful tapestry that we wove together. It was a disagreement over something we both thought carefully about, and that made it all the more jarring, that we had examined the same facts and came to different conclusions. It was a moment’s worth of shock that turned into a night’s worth of anger.

But looking back on it now, I wonder if it was anger or just pain; I wonder if it was realizing that we were different for the first time, that we would not always agree on everything. And I was at fault: instead of trying to find a middle ground, I did what I had always done in the face of a challenge, and I insisted that I was right. I tried to bring out facts and figures and instead of thinking that it would be okay that we disagreed, I took the position that it was only okay if you ended up agreeing with me.

I was wrong, and I drove you away, and I’m sorry.

We will always be different, you and I. But what you taught me, what I never truly learned until now, is that differences between people are not insurmountable, that with time and effort, what divides us can be bridged, if not eliminated, and that cultures and upbringing should never doom us to be trapped by them. And what I learned about you and I is that even though we will not always agree, we share more in common than anyone I’ve ever met.

And I write this hoping that maybe, just maybe, it gets a bit slow at work sometimes and you sit, staring at your screen, wondering if I’ll IM you; maybe the phone rings sometimes at night and your heart speeds up for a second as you answer before you realize that it isn’t me, maybe when you hear a car stop outside, you take a look out the window, hoping that things have changed.

So, this is my apology, and this is me, knocking at the door.

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talonkarrde

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