by Julie Carpenter
Lately I’ve been having some odd experiences with time. So, this going to be an odd, drifting sort of blog post. I like that the topic of the piece is also my excuse for the disorganization of my thoughts. I don’t know where to start, so I will start with a dream I had about eternity. (Yes, my subconscious is an odd place.)
I was in my early twenties, and I had a dream about the afterlife. I dreamed I died, and I’d woken up in the living room of my parent’s house, a small cozy wood paneled room with a picture window looking up a hill, past the rustic woodshop, and up to the garden and meadow at the top of the property. In my dream of death, this room was all there was. This evening was the only day and time. A heavy snow fell beyond the window, a single lamp gave off a warm light that didn’t quite reach the dim corners of the room and a fire burned in the woodstove. I was there with the boyfriend I was dating at the time (we weren’t quite getting along in real life, so it seemed strange that we’d somehow chosen to spend the afterlife together – but dream logic does not have to offer reasons). We sat on the couch together, not speaking, looking out into the snowy night. It was very nearly dark, the sky was heavy with clouds, and the tiny light in the room allowed us to see that it was still snowing huge, puffy flakes just outside the window, but beyond that everything had already faded into the silence of night and snow. I was warm and comfortable, but at the same time I felt a deep well of sadness because I knew that this was it. Eternity. Forever was going to be sitting in the same place watching the flurries pile up, fire flickering, in the small circle of light. The moment stretched forward as far as I could see and I could feel memories sinking under the somnambulant weight of the infinite, as though not only the future was disappearing, but my past as well. Everything I was or had the possibility of being had been swallowed by the forever moment, which made it more than just a stop on the space time continuum. It was a black hole of now, sucking everything into it.
After the pandemic and the first few weeks of isolation, this dream came back to me with startling clarity. I hadn’t thought about it for a very long time, but the strange interruption of time must have triggered the memory. Suddenly it seemed as if time had stopped and there was no guarantee that it would ever start again. Again, there was an underlying feeling that only this moment had always been, past and future were rushing down its steep sides, drowning hopes and memories. This is, of course, not a constant state of mind. Like the dream, it’s something I slip into as I’m falling asleep, or letting my mind wander while sitting in the garden under the sun. It’s a sly, small thought that itches the back of my brain.
That’s not the only place where the timeline has worn thin. When we first moved to Atlanta, over a year ago, my husband and I took a walk on the greenway near the soccer field where my oldest daughter used to play. I remembered taking the girls, one a pre-teen and one an infant on long walks there (and sometimes their friends too). Something about the golden sunlight pouring through the trees seemed just as it had all those years before. I had a sudden memory of stopping to look at a baby turtle, the size of a quarter, crossing the path, and it was as though the two points on the timeline existed concurrently. I was a ghost, haunting my old life, walking down the green and gold tunnel of the path I’d walked so long ago, as if I could see myself and the girls standing there on the path hunched over the turtle. I wondered if I ever, as a young mother, felt the haunting presence of my older self, stumbling into the same pocket of time.
We walked into the sun, further down the path that day, and I felt I was leaving all my lives behind me, preserved in amber as Vonnegut would say, and walking into a tunnel of light into the afterlife. On some timeline maybe this was the end.
Over the last few years, I sometimes feel time bending back on itself this way. Like Billy Pilgrim, I find that time does not move in only one direction, and I haunt my past more and more. But it’s even more than that. The future feels less like a solid landing place than a thin spot where time itself is wearing away, where someday I will slip through and land…where? I’m not exactly sure. Time seems to expand and contract unevenly, sometimes running forward down a straight track, sometimes transforming itself into quaking bogs where everything disappears. The past seems immeasurably far away…as though my life happened to someone else…and then suddenly it intrudes aggressively and pushes away the present.
The strangest thing about all of this is that I kind of don’t mind. I like feeling time opening up, bending on itself. This is a gift I didn’t expect from aging and I like it far better than aching hips, bad knees, and sagging skin. I don’t mind being a ghost, at least for now, until I finally find the thin spot and seep through.
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Julie Carpenter is the creator of the Sacred Chickens website and author of Things Get Weird in Whistlestop, a collection of short stories . She is dedicated to telling stories and making sure that indie writers and publishers have a way to be heard. She uses narrative, her own and others’, to help interpret the world. She has a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Memphis, with an emphasis in Composition Theory. She wants to bend reality one story at a time. Julie’s work has appeared in Fiction on the Web and has appeared in The New Guard. She is currently working on a novel.