This is why I hate time travel. I was listening to some music. I’m sure it was a band you’ve never heard of. I’m not going to mention what it was because it doesn’t make any difference. The album is out of print. You’d never be able to find it, and if you did, you’d only wonder why you bothered.
When I heard it the first time, I hated it so much, I scratched it with my class ring, took it back to the store and told the clerk it was defective. He let me trade it for a copy of the Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat. I don’t know how much later it was that I realized I had to hear it again, but it was still in print (barely) at that point. The store I went to that time wasn’t carrying vinyl anymore, so I had to make a special order. The clerk made it clear that they didn’t do returns on vinyl, that I was “assuming the risk,” but at that point I didn’t care if it was scratched or warped or covered with mold; I had to hear it again.
When I woke up, it was 20 years in the future, but the machine had malfunctioned, and I was stuck between two different possible realities. I recognized the situation immediately. It happens often enough. Maybe it has happened to you. The first thing you’ll notice is that your body has a kind of ghostly, see-through quality, and depending on how much time has passed since the divergence, your circumstances can be significantly different.
Oh, but maybe you haven’t ever done time travel before! It isn’t like in the movies. Your body doesn’t go anywhere. What happens is that your present consciousness inhabits and shares your future body. You are immediately aware of the totality of your future circumstances, recent history, your day’s agenda, what you had for lunch and so forth, and as you settle in, you will slowly recognize more remote memories. It’s a little freaky, adapting to the new information, because you can’t think of everything all at once, but you have the benefit of your future self’s comfort with your future circumstances to relax with the transition. It’s kind of like trying to remember where you parked your car. You know where it is, but you have to focus your present mind on that idea in particular, and then it becomes clear. You will suddenly be aware of a great number of things that are new and familiar at the same time.
But if your trip fractures into two possible time streams, your two future consciousnesses can get tripped up. I had experienced this before, and it was maybe a little unpleasant, but on this one occasion, it was bad. One of my future selves had a particularly traumatizing experience involving a loss; I’m reluctant to explain further because the future is unwritten and I don’t want to influence its course unduly, but it was a major loss. My present consciousness slowly recognized a perspective that was overwhelmed by a pervasive sadness, a dull aching pain that had come to characterize that half of my future self, but one that I (in that future) had processed and with which I had come to terms. It was odd to feel a pleasant nostalgia for something I had yet to experience in my present existence, but when the “loss” flickered into my present mind, unblocked by that future self’s otherwise careful ability to maintain composure, my other future self was unable to take advantage of the processing of the experience and took the full brunt of a horror I will not attempt to describe.
That other half of me shuddered with the shock, became nauseated and nearly vomited. For a moment, I focused on that side, the one that hadn’t actually suffered the loss, in order to settle my stomach, but the newness of the alien memory made me break down. I found a more reliable peacefulness in the side that had the chance to process the memory, but even that side of me was moved to tears by the sudden sharing of such an intense memory.
Meanwhile, I do hope that the new film version of “Slaughterhouse-Five” in this reality is as good as the one I remember seeing by way of my other future self. I’d like to see that again.