Lewis Carroll once said that you can’t go back in time because you are a different person now. Lewis Carroll, one of my favorite humans. I should not have favorites, but I do. Maybe I’m a god, a goddess, a result of uneven heating that causes temperature differences and air currents, the adiabatic cooling and latent heat release leading to my precipitation and hot, dry air currents. Humans have never been able to pinpoint exactly what I am, but they’ve had lots of ideas. They call me Weather.
Scientists say that I’m not ‘sentient.’ Literary buffs dismiss my effects as mere pathetic fallacy—humans, seeing everything from the human point of view. They are naïve, locked up inside their ever-changing minds. But they still fascinate me—like now, I hear a shout:
“Leave me alone!” screams a boy, his wavy, ebony hair messed, sticking up from all angles as if one of my heavy breezes had caught it. I see it all from the window as he snatches his backpack up from the grey, stained carpet and dashes out the door, slamming it behind him, causing all the objects in the living room to shake and shudder like he is the one with super powers. The couple in the apartment above shouts noises of complaint, which come out the window and get lost in my wind. He looks up unseeingly at me, expression aggravated. Dark blue eyes blink rapidly but, despite his attempts, the tears begin to fall. His eyes flutter shut and, on that blink, we both remember.
One Year Ago
I had gazed through the window to watch them, but I shouldn’t have. “Hey Matt, can I borrow your jacket?” She turns towards him, holding up a leather jacket. Her inky hair, black as a storm cloud, frames her face in soft waves, blue eyes sparkling and deep. “Please?” she begs, her voice light and happy as if she already knows the answer.
“Don’t you have your own?” he grumbles.
She makes a face. “Well, I lent it to Emma and—"
“Okay, fine, Annabel, if you must,” he hastily interrupts and rolls his eyes. “But don’t think I’ll lend it to you next time,” he adds quickly, a smile identical to hers on his face.
With a light laugh, Annabel puts on the jacket. Her hair smells of citrus and cinnamon. I can feel her bursting excitement. It fills the room.
“Don’t come home too late,” he says.
Annabel rolls her eyes. “Who’s older?” she questions sarcastically—he interjects, “Only by a year.”
She laughs and dashes out the door without glancing back. She never comes home. I had just wanted to say hello. I didn’t mean it. The way that the car swerved—as if it wanted to get away from me—it was odd, an unanticipated event, a curveball in my afternoon of play. I’m shocked away from my thoughts and back to the memory by a knock at the door.
“Is Emily Brown home?” It is a deep, raspy voice.
“No, I’m Matthew Brown, her son.”
“I need to speak to Emily Brown,” the voice replies.
“She’s not available right now. Can I take a message?” He sounds confused.
“Do you know when she’ll be home? Is an adult at home right now? How old are you?”
“17. Mom isn’t home much. Look, are you Social Services or something? We’re fine.”
The police officer sighs. “I’m sorry, son. Your sister had a car accident. She’s in the E.R., at St. Vincent’s Hospital.” The deep voice sounds sympathetic but matter of fact. After all, he is a man who gives world-changing news every day. Omniscient deity or not, I can still tell you how he was there on 9/11, standing in front of the Twin Towers with the same stolid grace that he has now as he lingers in the dank shadow of our apartment’s entry. On that cloudless morning, he stood there, stopping a tall sobbing woman from running towards those manufactured dust clouds, and it felt like a car was parked on his chest. The horror of it has settled on him, and now bad news makes him seem matter of fact, waiting for what’s next.
“I..I...,” my boy says, struggling to speak. He glances out the window right through me to see the police car outside the apartment. I see that his world slows down. I see how, for him, it will pass agonizingly slowly and, thinking about it afterwards, it will seem incredibly quick—but the increment of time remains the same, 60 minutes.
Humans always have trouble with time. I guess that can happen when you live such a short life. Some humans try so hard to understand their existence in time. Take Heraclitus, for example. He says that you can’t step in the same river twice; time rushes past, and your people are gone.
Or you could consider Kant. I know that it can be difficult for young humans to figure out what he is saying about anything, but he seems to believe that time is just a perception, which changes based on the human. Einstein, too—time is relative. Maybe everything that you see and feel really comes from your own weird little identity, from your unique perspective. Maybe, if you put your head to it, you might create the elements, control my forces. Instead, most humans just waste my time. They can talk and talk, with words that beat down on you like hail, but they say nothing. Are their lives meaningless? It’s enough to make any human chronophobic.
“Let me give you a ride.” The cop’s voice is gentle now.
“No, I’ll follow you.” His voice is breaking.
The cop doesn’t move. My boy turns, reaching for the hook where the keys are usually kept, but we already know that he is grasping empty air.
“Annabel took the car.” He curses quietly. He pushes past the cop and doesn’t bother to shut the old creaky door behind him. He runs upstairs, the cop following, and starts pounding on the door. Mrs. Smith opens the door. Everyone in the apartment complex is impressed that she’s lived so long, a full 90 years. 90 years, as I’ve observed, is a fairly long time for a human to live. Some live past that, but those people do not live like Sarah Smith. I admire her, her curly grey hair, rosy cheeks, smile lines, how she dons a purple cardigan and wears yellow Crocs. She is not your average old lady. She smells of mothballs and fresh bread, but she is always ready for an adventure. She used to take the children to the lake and help them feed the ducks while their mother worked. They would feed the ducks and I would blow on the pond to make ripples in the water. My bursts of air caused the ducks to quack and the robins, soaring above, to glide and dance through my space. On the way home, the little car crept up and zoomed down the hills, while Matt and Annie yelled about roller coasters and I looked on through a window, unable to express my glee in the same way as them.
So, when Matt croaks out now that he needs to go to the hospital, in a flash they are down the stairs and heading into Sarah Smith’s bright blue bug car. They speed off, driving, of course, 15 miles over the speed limit. But this time, it’s okay—they have an escort.
“I need to see my sister!” Matt demands at the hospital’s front desk. The hospital with its white walls, its shiny floor that glistens, the smell of cleaning supplies and faint hint of bleach, just aggravates me.
“Okay,” a blond man says with a smile plastered to his face, eyes annoyed. I know that he had a fight with his fiancée last night and you can smell that he drank a little too much. His shift ends in 20 minutes and he is trying hard not to snap at this boy yelling at him, but the sound is a thunder clap, pulsing and throbbing through his head, and he just wants to go home and put up his feet, turn on the television and hang out with his kid. Instead, he’s still garbed in the pink scrubs of the hospital staff, so he leads Matt to the elevator and pushes the button for the fifth floor, taking us right up to the room where Annabel is staying. I can feel myself begin to blow apart in the elevator, which, of course, causes the other occupants to shiver with my cold.
“What about her?” the blond man asks Matt, motioning in my direction and, for a moment, I feel like I could take on human form. In human form, I think that I would have better boundaries. I think that I would own every thought in my head. I would not have to see into other ways of being. For a moment I can almost see myself, encased in a great barrier of flesh, independent of this sad little family and their web of friends, relatives, enemies, acquaintances, lovers, malcontents, and loathers. Even without the flesh, I see how I could better avoid these chance encounters. It would be the sensible course. Instead, I always seem to get entangled in these generations of family, and, as century follows upon century, I am immortal but never truly free.
“What?” Matt says, confused for just a moment, “Oh, she should wait here.”
“I’ll wait here,” Sarah Smith whispers, but Matt doesn’t even seem to notice. I watch as he walks into the room, and everything slows. Cool as air, I slip through the door after him. The beeping of the heart monitor, the yelling voices outside, the loudspeaker calling for a Dr. James. I see how her skin is paler than it should be, her long eyelashes casting a shadow upon her face, her hair spreading out motionless all around her, her bluish hand peeking out under the blanket. It smells bad here and I wish that I hadn’t come. He stands there blank-faced, seeming not to know what to do. He reaches out a hand as if bracing for the cold that he expects from her skin, but I know that it is warm to the touch. He jerks as he hears a doctor right outside the room, and we understand snippets of what the doctor is saying to someone:
“Coma…possible brain damage…internal bleeding.” But the next thing that really registers with us is a voice, high-pitched and anxious.
“That’s my daughter! What’s wrong? Is she okay?”
No one sees me as I drift through the window and away from this place.
At This Very Moment
His eyes snap open. Maybe he does not want to relive any more of that day. He takes off at a run, leaving his backpack on the ground. He lets out a tiny sob, which would pierce my heart if I really had one. A burst of wind is created, causing the leaves to dance and the old houses to creak. The only way that I can comfort him. His feet pound against the sidewalk as he sprints, his face turned towards the ground, and I lick his tears off his face so that they hit the ground like the rain. He runs and runs. Until he finally gets to where he’s going. He kneels in the dirt and looks at a large, gray stone.
“Hey, Annie,” he croaks. I begin to rain.