There are moments that arrive in your life that require re-thinking everything you thought you knew about yourself. Not often, thank the goddess, but often enough to be instantly recognized, with all the horror that accompanies such recognition. It is never fun to learn that you are much less than you thought you were.
You’d think being accepted to accompany the Nightmares back to their home planet would be the kind of thing that would build your ego.
At first, it was. Laura and I were ecstatic to make the cut from what could have been billions of applicants but was probably no more than a million or two. I mean how many people want to drop everything, literally, everything, to accompany some aliens back to their home, possibly never returning to earth? And, if you did get to return, the time lapses would make things so different that earth could end up being the alien planet. No, not so many people would be anxious to try that on for size.
But, we were. We reasoned that being together would compensate for what we left behind. Made a decent little fiction for us until we reached the cut line. Then, what seemed straightforward got a little sticky.
We knew that we would leave everything physical behind, that was stated emphatically in all the literature. We would take nothing with us. No keepsakes, no memory sticks with pictures of our loved ones, no wallets with photos, nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Contemplating those circumstances made for lively conversations, heated debates but resulted in consensus. With the two of us sharing the adventure, the rest could be jettisoned.
What would be jettisoned? The home we’d built for our retirement for one. We’d lived in it now for near 15 years and were as comfortable there as any place we had ever been. We were far off the beaten track making visits from friends and family rare enough to be prized when they happened. Surrounded by the Sonoran desert, we enjoyed the company of jackrabbits and coyotes, hawks and humming birds, vultures and road runners. We delighted in the ‘blizzards” that came and went within 24 hours, tolerated the summer heat, and wrote lovingly of spring and fall, gasped at the change of colors – on the mountains surrounding our valley – and lived peacefully.
We’d miss the home, but hey, we’d moved before and always adjusted to the new place, in time considering each new place as a candidate for our retirement paradise. We did that every time in our youth, planning on retiring in Hawaii, in Texas, well, not really in D.C., but where we wound up for certain. Where we wound up was where we started our marriage, in the Sonoran desert. We divided up the possessions with children who wanted them and sold or donated the rest.
Surprising, or maybe not, I was going to miss my PC. So much of my later years revolved around that machine, morning to dusk, writing, playing, searching for new facts to incorporate into the writing. Must have averaged 6 hours a day on that machine and leaving it behind was not an easy thing to do.
The dog stayed behind with no regrets. The cars and golf clubs. The restaurants and book stores. All behind in the care of those who would most appreciate them. No regrets. Manageable. Done.
Then, the people: children, grandchildren, relatives, friends. Leaving them behind was made easier because we saw so little of them as it was. Once a year, twice a year? Not a question of loving or not loving but a question of practicality. They had their lives, we had ours and ours was moving on. That was going to happen sooner or later anyway, the moving on. The Nightmares guaranteed we’d live through the trip and for some time thereafter on their planet so the kids would have the comfort of believing we were still alive and kicking even if out of touch for a while, a very long while.
Damn that sounds cold. Is it the case you can just walk away from your children? What about love, doesn’t love demand more than that? Or didn’t I love them?
Love is a question I’ve wrestled with most of my life, wondering if it was in me. Chameleon that I am, I walked away from one life into another at least a dozen times, never looking back. As a single soldier, that happened at least once every year, picking up and moving and settling into a totally new environment with totally different people. Never looked back; never wrote folk left behind. That was past and the past had little appeal for me. The present and the future were my concerns. Did that mean I never loved anyone?
Never could answer that question properly. Best I ever came up with was that I kept contact with brothers and sisters, tenuous though that contact was, and that must indicate something about my capabilities.
Then Laura entered my life and she went with me wherever fortune sent us. Spent the early years trying to convince myself that I loved her but could never get that down to my satisfaction. Kept wondering if I could walk away from her as I’d walked away from everyone else. Never did walk, though, and finally realized one day that she really loved me. What a thought that was! She really, honest and truly, loved me. Wow!
Did that mean I loved her? Yes and no. When I finally knew that I loved her it wasn’t because of what she did, it was because of what I did. I decided to love her and pretty soon I began to notice that, by golly, I did. That’s why we were going together to the planet of the Nightmares.
But, what about the children? You know what? I do love them for who they became, mostly on their own because they always seemed to be ignoring whatever advice I gave them. Maybe they weren’t but when I look at the adults they became, then I’m proud. I know it had very little to do with me and a whole lot to do with them and that ‘s as it should be, isn’t it? Can’t imagine loving a clone. They matured as they were supposed to do and they left home as they were supposed to do and getting together for the holidays is just the way it’s supposed to be. Leaving them says nothing about my love except that I love them enough to trust they can accept what we want to do.
So, any attachment to people, places and things that I have can be walked away from, I guess. At least, that’s how it seemed up until ten minutes ago when the Nightmares made another decision. Maybe something about the Nightmares can explain this. They arrived on earth three years ago, obviously more technologically advanced than we humans are but not particularly threatening. Ugly as sin, yes, but they evolved in a place we did not. They fit their home as we fit ours. In fact, I heard they consider us as repulsive as we consider them.
They proposed an exchange program. They’d send a dozen of themselves in exchange for a dozen of us. Their ship had precious little space for life forms so they’d made the trip nude; we’d have to make the trip to their home in similar fashion. They admitted to possession of memory space that could have accommodated whatever bits and bytes we might want to take with us but they pleaded two factors against this. First, a clean break, in their experience, was the best way to adapt to a new environment – and my own experience suggested they were on to something here – and, second, memory space tended to be gobbled up by the exigencies of travel. They’d filled more than half their available capacity on the trip to earth which meant the trip home was pressing against the limits.
Our scientists argued this circumstances in the media and with the Nightmares but, it was their ship, wasn’t it? And they called the shots. Folk not willing to play by their rules could stay home. Laura and I were willing to play by their rules.
Today, though, they made a new rule. Today’s rule is that no mated pairs were to be allowed. The rationale was that accidents happen and when accidents happened to mated pairs, the survivor tends to become less and less acclimated to the new environment. Perhaps the largest enabler for their initial adjustment would be the presence of the mate and removal of the enabler could cripple the survivor. They did not want to risk more functionality than they must.
Now, I must consider whether I can walk away from Laura. She must consider whether she can walk away from me. If she can and she is selected then I get to deal with that but before that can happen I have to work this out.
My first thought is that it will be no more difficult than leaving the children behind for the very same reasons. Sooner or later, one of us was going to go first and the other would have to adjust. There had been that time, the heart surgery, that I had been comfortable with going first knowing I had left no loose ends, that all I could do I had done. But that was not a willing separation. If it had happened it would not be because I chose to go. This time I would choose to go.
Can I choose to go? The lure is the same, new places, new people, new adventures, new learning. Someone must go and who is better qualified than I am? Not by education but by experience and temperament. I’ve done it so many times that this new time would be routine. And it’s what I’ve always done, move on to the next place.
I remember the time when I realized Laura loves me. It came when I finally noticed that she no longer attempts to improve me, to make me a better a person. She no longer argues with me over the foolishness that I am prone to. After the surgery, of course, I realized this and she told me that the surgery had made her realize that she didn’t care what I did as long as I kept her with me. I was more important to her, she said, than winning an argument. She said that she only learned that when she thought she might lose me. Her not arguing with me made me look at what I was doing, take responsibility for it, and wound up heading me down paths she always thought I should trod. Reverse psychology? Maybe but I don’t care. I just bask in the freedom she provides.
Remembering who she is, what she thinks of me – oh, she knows my faults. She can itemize with the best of them but these days we spend very little time doing that. We seem to spend time looking for ways to enjoy each other more. Remembering, I think the Nightmares are on to something.
Like the sun coming up over the mountains to our east, suddenly realization sinks in. My life revolves around Laura, watching the joy in her eyes when I do something she didn’t expect me to do, watching her laugh at my silliness, watching her smile at me when she doesn’t know I can see her in the mirror. How much of what I am depends upon her! We are defined by others and I need her definition.
We cannot go back to that home in the desert. We sold that and gave the money to the children. So, what we will do? I have no clue but that is much less a problem than attempting to do it without Laura. I cannot do that. Okay, Sartre, I will not do that.
I believe I know what she will decide so I’d best get to thinking about the future. It’s what I do, isn’t it?