I almost forgot.
Of course, I never do. It’s not the kind of thing you ever forget. You put it away. You wall it off. You get on with the business of living, occasionally allowing yourself to wonder about the road not taken.
Or, the road closed.
Stephen King did it in Pet Semetary, and for me, it’s the most poignant section of prose I’ve ever encountered. Gage graduates high school. Gage wins a gold medal. Gage finds that special girl. But most of all, Gage lives. It’s a waking dream to combat the horror of reality, but all it does is accentuate it.
And while King’s laying down his beat, I’m at a table in the back of the bar, snapping my fingers in time with his rhythm. Yeah man, I can dig it.
Would I trade you for your younger brother? For your sister? It’s a futile, hypothetical mental exercise, but don’t kid yourself, it’s the price of playing coulda, woulda, shoulda.
Change one thing, and you change them all. That’s the bargain science fiction writers rarely consider when they weave their tales of time travel and parallel universes. Step on a butterfly in the Crustacean era and suddenly dinosaurs are the dominant species millions of years later? That’s good drama for the second act, but it isn’t what needs addressed.
The difference of one chromosome prevents the life that follows in its malformed wake. The union that thrives instead of failing negates the issue of the union that replaces it. And in a paroxysm of causality never imagined by the Madison Avenue executive responsible for “and they told two friends,” an entire generation of lives are altered.
For good, or for ill? Who can say? The only certainty is that tragedy and triumph will occur in equal measure, all because of one life.
That’s the cost of “If only,” the fee hidden in the fine print, down near the bottom of the contract, buried in pages and pages of affidavits, declarations and disclosures. If you took the time to read each and every word, would you still sign?
Thankfully, the universe doesn’t work that way. There are days when I’d scribble my name without a second thought, just for the opportunity of having the last twenty-two years back. Then, there are days when introspection reigns, and I torture myself with the hypothetical repercussions of impossible choices and improbable miracles. Is my pain, so far removed by the passage of time, more or less valid than the pain of another? Is the life –and lives- I’ve created in the aftermath more or less deserving than the one I lost?
The permutations can make you crazy. Some might say they already have.
Happy Birthday Alexander. Daddy loves you.
But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .