Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In Retrospect

In Retrospect

Forty-four years, six months, two weeks, three days and a handful of hours. That's how old I was when I think I died.
I say "think I died" because I'm not really sure what the hell happened to me. One minute, I was laying under the sink with water dripping down my forearms, sweating and cursing the stuck nut that I couldn't tighten no matter how hard I tried. I felt pain in my left arm and a heavy, crushing feeling in my chest. I felt a wave of nausea then I was laying on my kitchen floor feeling not quite as bad.
I was confused as all hell because there was someone cursing in a foreign language under my sink. There shouldn't have been because I was home alone just a few minutes ago.
The voice was familiar, and cutting to the chase, it was me under the sink cursing and grunting and appearing to work on fixing that damn drip.
So I died and was a ghost, I thought to myself, setting up, feeling rather corporeal for someone who was supposed to be non-corporeal.
"Ain't that a bitch," is what I said aloud. I was hoping for heaven, expecting hell, but being a ghost for a little while would be good for a few laughs.
But if I was a ghost, why was I still under the sink? I looked around, still quite confused because I was pretty sure the extra strips of bacon, the snacks between lunch and supper, the pack of cigarettes I smoked every day and the past few years of lethargy had finally caught up with me.
Doc Ebaugh told me my blood pressure was too high and I needed to exercise, but I really didn't think so. I was only a couple of dozen pounds overweight. Dad was still doing well in his late 60s and some of my grandfolk lived well into their 80s, so I thought I had time. Mom had died of cancer when I was in high school.
Thinking back, Ol' Doc Ebaugh was probably right and I had a massive coronary infarction...damn ticker just attacked and killed me. I thought death would be a lot different than this. I didn't see a light to walk toward, heard no voices from the dearly departed, no angels or pearly gates. Things weren't adding up and as an accountant, I liked things that added up. Why was I still under the damn sink working on it if I was here sitting on the floor?
"Hey," I said, yanking on the other me's pants' leg. "What the hell?"
The material felt odd. It was stiff, hard like wood and not like the worn blue jeans I was wearing. But they were the same because the bottom was frayed, and looking at the jeans I was wearing, the fraying looked the same.
It made zero sense and if my mind was messed up enough to notice such a detail as a frayed pant leg, it meant I was really messed up in some way.
"Hey!" I said again, louder because I was getting a little pissed off that I was being cheated out of the afterlife I was promised at all those churches I attended over the years. I slapped the cheap house slippers the me who was under the sink was wearing, the same ones I had on my feet, expecting the foot to move at least a little.
The slipper-wearing foot didn't move. Not only didn't it move, it didn't move at all. It was like hitting a solid wall of granite-hard slipper. Neither did the me under the sink appear to have felt my slap.
Here's the short of it. I was watching my life backward. Even as I write this, it doesn't make sense to me because it doesn't make sense. I'll explain as best I can, but don't ask a lot of questions because I don't have many answers. If you want answers, wait for a scientist to die and ask him.
The first few days had moments of confusion mixed with touches of humor. I watched myself in reverse. I, and by "I" I mean the other me, got out from under the sink and turned the water off and walked backward out of the kitchen with a pair of pliers in my hand. My, and by "My" I mean the other me, bumped my leg on the floor where I sat and my leg moved out of the way without interrupting the other me. It was if he didn't even notice, which he didn't.
I stood up and followed him, fascinated and confused. I didn't know what questions to ask yet and even if I did, he didn't appear to hear me. The other me walked backward to the closet by the front door where I kept some hand tools and put them away, then walked backward to the chair I loved so much. I heard the dripping from the kitchen, but it sounded different to me. Have you ever heard a drip in reverse? That's what it sounded like.
A football game I was watching before the drip bothered me was on TV. I never found out the score because it was being played in reverse too. It was an exciting college playoff game, tied up going into the final two minutes and I thought I could fix the drip before the commercials finished. I would never see the final two minutes because I saw their wide receiver un-catch a pass and the ball flew back into the hands of a quarterback who was un-tackled by one of our inside pass defense specialists. The quarterback received the ball with one hand, danced back into the pocket and stuck it back between the legs of his center. I heard "tuH" and all the players stood up and backed into a huddle.
"Ha," I said aloud.
True, I was not a real smart man, but I wasn't an idiot. I'd read science-fiction all my life and I figured things out pretty quick. The first thing was the afterlife, if this was it, sucks. Some people live a boring life, but try watching yourself live your boring life in reverse. It is ten times more boring.
Through the first few days I began understanding the "rules" of this afterlife of mine.
Rule #1: You can't do a damn thing to anyone. No matter what you try to do you can't affect any changes. I suppose this is because history is immutable and can't be changed. I'm a bystander in this afterlife. I tried moving a stool so my backward-walking self would trip over it, but the stool wouldn't move. When I saw myself turn off the TV at the beginning of the game and back walk to the kitchen to un-eat the snack I ate earlier, I tried to stop myself from turning on the light, but his hand reached for the switch and my body was brushed out of the way without him even noticing. I tried a few other things to get noticed. I sat on the bar stool I always used, but he moved in and I was flung to the floor. Unnoticed, I sat on the floor rubbing my bum and watching him. It was disgusting watching him upchuck cold pizza. I discovered I am an ugly eater because a burp sounds even worse when heard in reverse.
Rule #2: You age. I figured this out when I went to use the bathroom and I saw I had a five o'clock shadow. For all you youngsters who don't know this reference, it means when I looked in the mirror, my clean-shaven face from early this morning was no longer clean shaven. I felt the stubble.
Oddly, when using the bathroom, the water moved when I added to it, but differently than regular, like it was adapting to the new fluid by assimilating it. I spit into the bowl and the spit changed in mid-flight and fell into the water without making a splash. It creeped me out.
Rule #3: You can't smoke. I couldn't get a smokey treat from a pack I left in my work jacket, and when I tried to take one from my other self's hand, I couldn't. This frustrated me for days because I could eat and drink, as long as it was food that was being thrown out or water that wasn't being used. I tried one of the cigarette butts I'd thrown in the garbage, but I couldn't get the damn thing lit. I didn't have a lighter. I tried the stove when it was turned on. When I got the butt near the flame, it wouldn't light. I tried until I burned my fingers. The point of interest here is fire is hot even in the afterlife.
I was so addicted to smoking, I even tried inhaling the smoke from a lit cigarette in my other self's own hand, but I got nothing, not even a little pleasure from it. Being dead was already turning out to be a downer, but having to go through withdrawals really put a damper on it.
Rule #4: You still feel pain. As noted before, I burned my fingers trying to light a cigarette butt, but I also felt pain being knocked to the floor after being tossed off the bar stool. I tried every way I could think of to get noticed by anyone and almost every time, I ended up getting hurt. I learned quickly to avoid backward walking people, backward driving cars and busses and such.
Rule #5: The word "boring" can not come close to even begin describing how boring watching your own life in reverse is. At least if it is boring in the natural flow of time, what you're experiencing is something you're watching for the first time usually. Watching it in reverse, knowing what's going to un-happen, is worse than watching grass un-grow and paint go from dry to wet. You know what's going to happen because you've seen it all before. As I experienced the passing of days, I learned sporting events were dreadful because I saw the final score before the game and the climax to every TV show before the plot. Entertainment as I grown use to it was ruined for me.
My other self, after un-watching the game, backed outside where I knew he was un-mowing the lawn after coming home from breakfast with one of my/his buddies from work. I had intended to follow him, but I was busy in the bathroom when he went outside and I couldn't open the door. I could touch it, kick it, slam my shoulder into it, but it wouldn't budge.
That's when I learned I can't open doors, drive cars, turn on lights, make coffee or even fluff a pillow. I don't know why. I didn't make up the rules I have to live by. I just suffer with them.
Funny little addendum here, the foreign language was people talking backward. I slapped my forehead and said "Duh!" when I figured it out. After a few days of hearing it, I began to understand bits and pieces and after a few weeks, I could comprehend entire sentences. I'd never tried to learn a foreign language, but heard that immersion in the language was the best way to learn. I was immersed because it was the only thing I heard beside my own screaming, which after a few days I stopped doing because it hurt my throat.
I also realized somewhere in the first few days that because I could feel pain and I bled when cut, I could probably die. This was a conundrum I fought with. If I died there under the sink from a heart attack only to enter the afterlife of watching my first life in reverse, how is it I could still die? If I died again, would I start a new life or would I just enter back into my old life where I was in time and would I remember what I was experiencing now? I didn't know because no one gave me an instruction manual and this was not covered in any of the church services I'd attended. I was afraid to die because I might also be dead for real if I tried and I wasn't ready for that...not yet anyway but it was close when I found out I couldn't smoke. As I said before, I'm not a scientist and can't explain why things are like they are for me.
They just are.
Weeks of boredom followed as I learned the rules and the few exceptions to those said rules. I was stuck in my old office a couple of times when I wasn't quick enough out a door at the end of the day. I sometimes had to walk home because I wasn't agile enough to hop in the car after my other self had opened the door. I learned to be aware of everything around me because I was nearly killed by a bus that was backing down the street at a good clip and I looked the wrong way. I was bruised by people walking in reverse and pets I didn't see until too late.
That's not to say I didn't find some things funny. I know it sounds gross, but watching a dog un-go poop and have his stool pop back up into it's butt was funny the first few times I saw it down at the dog park near where I lived. People un-falling down is pretty funny to watch too, but it doesn't happen often enough to be entertaining. I only saw it a few times.
My favorite past time in the first few weeks of getting used to seeing life in reverse was watching the pick up basketball games at the college court yard. I'd keep score myself and when the game ended, I'd know who won. It was fun watching the ball fly back up through the basket, arch away and into the hands of the shooter.
Soccer was surprisingly the same forward as backward...boring. Seeing football and baseball in reverse was just too wrong to watch. I tried, but the sports fan in me just couldn't make it work.
An interesting fact I found was the clothing I wore never smelled because of my lack of hygiene, but they would wear out. Finding new clothes was a chore because most were intended to be used in someone's future and couldn't be used by me. New clothes were out of the question and when I needed something to cover my forthcoming nakedness, I robbed an old guy's garage he left open. I don't know why I was able to, but I was.
Like I've said. I didn't make the stupid rules of this afterlife.
That's the short version of how I got started in my afterlife. I abbreviated the version because most of it is boring. No one will ever read this journal anyway because entropy travels the wrong way here and no one from the other side, as I have come to call my other life, can see here.
I sometimes wondered if I were able to travel more if I'd meet someone else in this backward running time frame, but travel, for me anyway, is hard.
Consider: I can't open a door, start a vehicle, steal a bike or walk very far. The food I was able to find nourishes me, but I've lost a lot of weight because of how much food I can't eat now. I knew I had a vacation I'd taken where I had flown to Reno. I didn't want to stay in my home for a week while my other self was losing at the poker tables and watching dancing girls so I tried to go with him. It was easy to get in the car when he un-put his luggage in the back seat. I'd gotten use to riding in reverse, but at highway speeds, it was still a bit nerve wracking even though I knew nothing was going to happen because I'd made it back from the trip without incident.
We got to the airport and my other self walked backward into the building, deposited his luggage on the baggage return and stood watching it be swallowed up. I then followed him as be backed up to the concourse. I kept getting bumped by others which was annoying because it hurt. It was like getting hit by moving rock walls.
We boarded the plane in reverse and as my other self was putting his carryon back into the overhead, I recalled the flight attendant saying before the flight left Reno, that it was a full flight. I hadn't thought it through, but there would be no place for me to sit and I wasn't spending five hours being knocked around by flight attendants and passengers who were getting up to go to the bathroom.
There was no place for me to stand or sit where I wouldn't be abused by an opening cupboard, door or person. I was just able to get back off the plane as the flight attendant was closing the door and I raced back up the gangway. I ended up spending the five days hanging around the airport waiting for me to get back. Watching planes land and takeoff backward gets old and the places to sleep are hard to find. It wasn't fun at all. It was good to get back home and I slept in my own bed when my other self went back to work.
Days, weeks, months and years went by. Sometimes I was bored to tears and I found ways to entertain myself that were rather eccentric. For a few days I played at trying to remember where I'd be going. I'd gotten pretty good at understanding backward talk so I'd go ahead of myself and listen in on conversations. I learned that not everyone liked me and there are some real gossip mongers. Even some of the people I thought were friends slipped a knife in my back when the other me wasn't in earshot. This bothered me for a while, but I got over it.
I got to see my two adult kids from time to time as they came to visit or I met them for dinner. It was probably the only thing that kept me from offing myself. I was depressed a lot, but the thought to seeing them un-grow up was a strong incentive to not take a header off a tall building.
My twin sister came by often to visit the other me, sometimes with her husband and kids. She was always my best friend growing up even if she was sometimes mean. We were the only two children of our parents and since we lived in rural Kentucky, we didn't have many close neighbors. I realized when I saw her, it'd been a few weeks since I had last talked to her. I really missed her. I hadn't seen my dad in a few years since he remarried and moved across the country. I knew if I stayed alive long enough, I'd see him again.
As time passed, women who I'd loved and lost went and came into my other self's life. I got some satisfaction from seeing them, but eventually I tired of watching that too.
Age does that to you. I was getting older as the other me got younger. I wondered a lot of how long I'd live before I died of "natural causes" or an accident.
I was nearing what I guessed was my 60th birthday when my ex-wife came back into my other self's life. I watched me un-go through the suffering and acrimony of the divorce. We started falling apart when she assumed I had an affair when I talked about Jennifer at work too many times. The years of tolerance and the love and joy that raising our two kids brought us played out in reverse. I watched my kids back up through their high school years and discovered their "little white lies" to me, watched them un-make mistakes and have un-broken hearts and un-skinned knees.
It was enlightening watching the love for my ex-wife re-bloom from the bitter, screeching, blood-sucking, money-grubbing shrew she had become later in our marriage. Our kids grew younger and I watched them with loving eyes un-age through school and then to be un-born. It was bittersweet, but I knew they'd be born in the other self's future. It brought me comfort and solace as I continued to age.
My other self and wife grew younger and re-attained the fit bodies of our 20s. I watched me as I saw her for the first time and knew that was the moment I knew there was heaven on earth. She was a beauty with grace and charm and all I longed for in a wife.
Then she was gone and I'd never see her again.
My graduation from community college with a degree in accounting wasn't much of a big deal because of other things in my life at the time. The joy of graduating was marred by my sister's car accident. She'd been the passenger and the driver, a kid from my college, died. With time running in backward, I was able to get to the scene of the accident before it happened. No one knew what had caused the accident because my sister suffered short-term memory loss.
The wrecker arrived just as I got there and unloaded the car and un-dragged it back to the tree it had been wrapped around. I stood in the grass waiting for the ambulance to bring my sister back to the scene, carefully put her broken and bleeding body, and the boy who'd been driving, back into the wreck.
Only the knowledge my sister would recover kept me from turning away. I waited for seven minutes after the police and ambulances screeched into high-speed departures, watching fluids drain back into the engine compartment. The car they were in un-slammed into the tree and in the brief instant before they hit, the driver realized his mistake of swinging a fist at my sister. In the reversing moments I could see the car speeding back away from their accident, he'd hit her at least once before the crash. It wasn't something my sister remembered, or if she had, she never told anyone.
I now knew my sister had been in an abusive relationship, but I didn't think I was any wiser knowing.
It was a long walk back to my house and I thought about the accident most of the way. There was one more major tragedy I'd have to face and it was five years further in my future. I'd tried not to think about it, but I know I'd have to face the un-death of my mom.
About halfway home my knees and ankles were really making walking a chore.
Aging sucks by the way. My back hurts more often than ever, I wake up several times during the night to use the bathroom, my vision isn't what it used to be and my feet always seem to hurt. There's also the dental problems. I've lost a couple of teeth by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and because of cavities I can't get filled.
I mention this because I watch my 20-something old self brush his teeth about once a week. Dumbass.
My high school years in reverse were as good and bad as watching my own children un-age. There were some fun moments when I finally found out who, during my junior year, filled my locker with shaving was my sister and her friends. She was also the one responsible for stealing $20 from dad's wallet, breaking the toaster and oven, allowing the dog to get out and get hit by a car, drinking dad's beer, knocking the urn with Uncle Dave's ashes off the mantle of the fireplace (something I got grounded for), lying to our parents a bunch of times and being a normal sister.
My mom un-died my freshman year. It was horrible to watch my dad, sister and other self back through the mourning process, watch the casket come out of the ground, and then have mom come back to life, lie in the hospital bed for weeks then return home. It was a year and a half of her suffering with an inoperable tumor in her brain.
I stayed away from seeing it, even if it was in reverse, as much as I could. I loved my mom, but we weren't real close and mom and sons go. I was always lost in books and my friends, while she and my sister were bonding. If there was a typical black sheep of our family, it was me and I think my mom understood. I mourned her re-life because I knew my other self would experience her death.
My life through middle and elementary school was as boring as the rest of my existence. I watched friends go and return into my life, some of whom I hadn't thought of in many years. I watched Casey, the tomboy girl with a good throwing arm take back my first real kiss behind the church when I was between eighth and ninth grade. It was my first touch of boob (over the shirt) and it wasn't much of one, but the look on my face was almost worth the hell the previous 30 years of backward living had been.
Growing into my late 70s, my other self became a youth unlearning his primary education and I watched his temper tantrums in reverse as he un-cried because he couldn't dress like his sister on the first day of kindergarten.
In retrospect, I saw how my mom doted on both my sister and myself. My dad worked hard and was gone a lot, but mom was always there for us. We took three "family vacations" when I was growing up and dad missed two of them. I never really noticed it then, but with my ability to view my life from my unique perspective, I see how mom did so much with so little fanfare and recognition.
My time was running out as I watched the other me become a toddler. Sometimes, while he was sitting watching something intently, I'd get down and look straight into his eyes, trying to pass the thoughts I had of his future into him. He never saw me.
I think I stated earlier that aging sucks. It really does. As I near my 80th birthday, I seem to be forgetting things I should remember. I think it's the onset of Alzheimer's. Some days I almost forget I'm the only one in my world and the people around me are normal. They have been normal for me for almost half my life now.
My other self is a baby and a crying one by the sounds of it. I didn't know I cried so much as a baby. My sister didn't which is probably why my parents always liked her better.
Some days I sleep for 18 to 20 hours and wake up tired.
I'm ready to die, but I really, for some odd reason, want to see myself born.
It hurts, but I climb into the back of the station wagon on the day my dad brought mom home with us two babies. In two days, I'll be born.
At the hospital, while dad un-straps first my sister, then me into the rear seat I nearly break my hip getting out. It's a good thing I can't affect the other me because clumsiness or age, it's one in the same for me now, my elbow connects with the baby me. He doesn't even flinch, but I get a nice bruise from it.
I have about a day and a half to wait. I find a spot in the hospital room my mom is in where I hope no one will accidentally trip over me because my bones are brittle. Thank goodness the door to the bathroom is left open. Every 10 minutes it seems I have to go.
I watch as a nurse backs into the room with two babies, one of who is me, probably the one with the powder blue hat. We un-nurse and mom and dad look happy. I fall asleep for a long time, maybe hours, and when I waken it's dark outside. I must move around a little because I hurt everywhere. I know I have one final thing in this life I want to do and in the morning, mom will be wheeled out of this room and to the delivery room.
My mind wanders. I'm confused and a little scared. A nurse backs through the door and I exit the room and wander the halls.
I see dad walking backward up the stairs and know my sister and I'll be born in a few hours. I remember them telling us how it was just after we were born, dad had to deliver cigars to all the guys where he worked. I don't know why this memory sticks with me, but it does.
I amble off to the delivery room. It takes me a while because it's at the far end of the corridor. I have to stop several times because I feel very weak this day, like my life is draining out. I get to the double swinging doors a few minutes before mom is wheeled in with two babies bundled in her arms and dad smiling like the proud papa he was.
I slip through the doors behind them and sit on a stool I suppose is for any dad who can't handle the birthing process. The squalling babies are taken from my mother one at a time by a nurse.
My sister goes first because I was born two minutes before her, making me the eldest. The nurse un-swaddles the baby and un-cleans her. I stay in my corner on the stool because there are some things a man just shouldn't see, but I wanted to be here as I was born.
The nurse takes me from my mother, removes the little blue cap, un-swaddles me and un-cleans me. I listen to myself cry as she hands me back to the doctor. I was an ugly baby with a long head and black hair when I was born. The doctor carefully retrieves me from the nurse and I disappear behind the blanket that covers my mother's lower parts.
My crying stops as I slip back into my mom and I hear the doctor, speaking backward, telling my mother to push one more time. She grunts in reverse and even after all this time of seeing and hearing things in reverse, a mother un-delivering a child is funny to listen to.
I fall from the stool mid-chuckle. My end was coming in the same hospital where I'll be born in a few minutes. I think I know I'll die here, in this cold place on the floor of my own delivery room, un-mourned and unseen.
I don't know why this happened to me, but I'm glad it's over. I feel me take my final breath in this life. I shudder and feel cold as I lay my head down on the hard floor. The noises I could hear just moments before fade until there is silence. I'm pretty sure my heart has stopped beating.
Seconds pass and the darkness that was closing over my closed eyes begins to change. I pray for a quick and painless end. I'm tired of hurting. I hear new footsteps but I don't care anymore, I just want to die.
I hear a voice. "Oh my dear son. How I've missed you." The voice was familiar. "Mom?" I utter through breathless lips, unable to even turn my head to see.
"Yes son, it's me. Most people don't wait so long to cross over, but you have always been a most unique man," she said reaching for me. I could see the veins on the back of my hand through the translucent skin of age. As she touched my finger tips, I felt myself being pulled from the wretched old body into a warmer and more solid form.
"Mom, is it really you?" I heard myself asking, "or is this an hallucination from my deathbed?"
"No son, this is real." The woman who was my mom hugged me with a might of the strong woman I remembered from childhood. "I've waited so long, son. So very long."

I enter the afterlife in my mother's arms and to sound of the other me crying for the first time.

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