Broke into the old apartment
This is where we used to live…
The Barenaked Ladies
I don’t know how other people’s marriages end. There is the myth that people get divorced on a whim because they’re bored, because they’re selfish… I’ve never met anybody like that, though boredom and selfishness may contribute to all the actions and inactions that culminate one day in a moving truck loaded with exactly half of the still-unused wedding gifts: the china plates detached from the crystal goblets; the VCR unhooked from the TV.
When I left then-husband on a sunny day, almost as bright and clear as today, the most striking element was the utter surprise of it. I was unhappy, but in a stable, prosaic kind of way. I was used to my pedestrian unhappiness and only a few hours earlier my entire concept of the future had been invested in that ordinary, imperfect marriage of mine. Then the tectonic plates of my life shifted, and I went home to my mommy, who made me applesauce and vanilla pudding and fed me on mashed potatoes until I was able to chew solid food again.
Do you remember the show Sliders? It was about a boy who was searching for his home, sifting through parallel realities trying to get back to where he began. That was my life for the next three months. I went to school, taught my tutorials, and went out with friends, but all along part of me was crouched on the balcony of my old apartment, peering in at the life that had somehow failed to materialize – the self that no longer lived there, the marriage that no longer existed. This sense of unreality was neither happy nor sad: it was not a feeling of regret or longing, but neither was it a feeling of relief. I felt all those things at other times, but when I pictured my old life – the one I had planned, the one that had evaporated so utterly without warning – what I felt most of all was surprise. I imagine it must feel similar to lose a limb.
I can see the appeal of multiple universes, the idea that each choice we make spawns a parallel universe. There is a world in which I got that job in Ottawa, a world in which I went to England for graduate school – a world, even, in which I’m still married to my ex-husband. It would be fun to go on a sci-fi field trip to that world, to watch myself struggling to raise children with a husband who contributes nothing beyond his complaints about the absence of peak experiences in his life. Perhaps in heaven we can simply pick which set of choices we prefer and live a life crafted from hindsight.
It’s kind of like the appeal of the block universe: the idea that the world exists in four dimensions, including all that was and all that will be. "Now" is simply a matter of perspective, referring to what I perceive through the electric pulse of my consciousness as it flickers along its linear path. The past, according to this view, still exists in its entirety and someday perhaps I’ll be able to go back and watch myself smashing a plate and driving down that tear-blurred highway. The vagaries of memory will give way to perfect knowledge.
But the price of the block universe is a high one. I’m not willing to become a determinist – my nostalgia is not quite strong enough to outweigh my desire for a future that is open, a shimmering sea of possibilities not yet realized. But if the future were like a mortgage, I wonder if I would be willing to risk the variable rate. Would I not prefer the security of a fixed-rate mortgage, with its assurance of modest returns, its protection from catastrophe? If I could wrest from the block universe a promise that no disaster would come to snatch my children from me, wouldn’t I bargain away my free will in a second for the sake of that guarantee?