There are many examples in both books and movies where someone experiences a slide into an alternate universe or timeline and witnesses how things could have been if things were slightly different.
Sliding Doors (Gwyneth Paltrow) and The Family Man (Téa Leoni and Nicholas Cage) are the two movies which first come to my mind.
This morning I realised that I am currently living the lucky narrow escape from an alternative outcome my life could have taken.
Thanks to both my wife and I getting new jobs last year, T2TT HQ has changed location – not so that we can be closer to work in distance, but in time. My wife can now spend 20 minutes on the bike to work instead of 90 minutes in the car, and instead of me spending 2 hours in the train, I’m now spending…2 hours on what’s supposed to be a 70 minute train journey.
The upshot is that now we live in pretty much the centre of the Netherlands (I mean this geographically and not egocentrically), but also in the sense of access to most parts of it. Easy to get to the train station (onward travel is admittedly more complicated), the motorway is 5 minutes’ drive away and if we want to go vertical, we’re under a flight path.
Come to think of it, owing to the small size of the Netherlands and the relatively large size of Schiphol Airport (in the outskirts of Amsterdam) most of the Netherlands is under a flight path. In fact you could almost say that because the Netherlands is small then all of it is the outskirts of Amsterdam! 😉
Come to think of it further, of course we’re under the flight path! Otherwise we’d either be over it (wow, near space travel!) or in it, i.e. on board the plane (which I suppose is the point I was trying to make).
This isn’t my only job change, and going back in time through my CV you’d see that at one time I worked at a company situated in a remote Dutch area. No-one lives there apart from sailing enthusiasts (the local village comprises a church, a hotel and a sail boat work shop) and people who don’t like commuting (via non sail boat modes of transport).
A couple of work-mates turned into a couple of work-buddies, who when 2 of us got fired and the third took on another job, turned into -buddies.
They’re a couple, and come to visit us (via non-sailboat means) fairly regularly. Our new house is central and accessible to most places, but I didn’t say that it was (easily) accessible to these remote areas.
So when one of them had an out of office work meeting near where I live, and another meeting the following day (also nearby) it made sense that he wanted to stay over the night with us.
The Family Man
Maybe I should have seen the signs, but at the time you don’t know it’s happening.
Train nonsense in the morning meant that I’d decided to spend the day working at home instead of on the platform, so I was already home when my wife arrived home with the kids. I did the usual round of kissing, hugging, rolling on the floor, applying plasters and having plasters applied, then I went back upstairs to finish a few things off.
(Tenuous link: the friend who lent me the book that the movie The Arrival is based on (The Story of Your Life) is this guy’s wife! She also lent me this one too!)
When I came down half an hour later my friend had already arrived. He wasn’t kissing and hugging anyone (apart from the standard Dutch 3-kiss-greeting-starting-on-the-left-cheek) but he was running around with my kids, applying plasters and having plasters applied.
Normal enough, right?
Dinner preparations next. My wife is in charge in this department – I’m all up for swallowing a pill with water and letting it reconstitute in my stomach. Eating just takes too long! When we fuel up our cars we don’t mess about with special forecourt manners or dress up for the occasion. We’re allowed to lean with our elbows on the pump. Fueling up is a chore. Like eating.
So my role for dinner was to limited to making sure there were enough chairs (there weren’t) so I pulled out a low wooden stool thing we use for household DIY jobs. Functional! 🙂 It’s not as comfortable or as pretty as a chair, but it does the job.
And being the perfect host, I was going to be the one to use it.
My wife served up dinner – something quick and easy after a hard day of work, so hamburgers. The Dutch eat mayonaise with everything, so that was on the table. My friend, opening the jar, paused and looked at me.
“Can I ask you a strange question?”
I nodded, expecting an introspective question on his own strange culture about the mayonnaise instead of ketchup thing.
“Can I borrow a jumper? I don’t want to spill mayonnaise on my suit.”
It was a b***dy strange question because generally speaking blokes don’t go round swapping clothes. But then again, I like strange.
The follow-up answer should have been “No, because I don’t want mayonnaise (or even my precious taste of England, HP sauce) spilled on my clothes.” But I’m a good host, so I got a jumper for him.
He put it on, and much to my relief, didn’t spill mayonaise on it.
By now, it really should have hit me – but it hadn’t.
My friend is sitting with my family in my jumper in my chair. Where am I? Sitting at the head of the table, but actually out of view because my head is not only hidden behind the bowls of side salad, gherkins, ketchup (and of course, the mayo) but also only some 3 inches above the height of the table.
Am I sliding into another reality with a different version of me…or a different version of my family?
In between the inevitable food fighting and squabbles that happen at the dinner table with young children, my friend described his recent trip to Barcelona, in particular to the La Sagrada Familia.
The last time I was there was back in 2005 during a sediment transport conference (there are conferences about everything…!). A group of us got together one evening and took a look at La Sagrada Familia. That’s when I met the girl destined to be wife (and also destined to be serving hamburgers to my friend).
It turned out that my friend was also in Barcelona around that time. I don’t know if he was wearing other people’s jumpers at the time, but it wasn’t lost on me that it was appearing that Barcelona may well be a location for crossovers between universes.
What if had been his eyes which had made contact with my wife’s before mine?
Brief redemption: The Rescue
A change is as good as a rest. But a change into pajamas is necessary for that restful sleep. Once that operation was carried out the girls were asking for a change of bed time story teller.
I was relegated to the kitchen to load up the dishwasher, and my friend was upstairs reading the bed time stories to my girls. It reminded me of having to get used to taking the girls to childcare and letting other people look after my children. I felt like such a bad father 🙁
Now too; so I left the dishwasher to load itself (I wish) and I went upstairs. My oldest daughter was leaning against someone else in my jumper who was kneeling by my youngest’s bed and reading her a story.
Her eyes caught mine and she pointed at me.
“I want you!”
I’m real! 🙂
I picked her up and learned that she’d hurt her finger. She was holding back the tears so I took her away from the room and got her alone. With her Daddy by her side and no external intrusions she could relax and just be herself. And let me show that I’m myself too.
Finding my place
By the time I got downstairs I had another situation.
Now I don’t want to be like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, but I do admit that I have a favourite spot on the settee. The reasons aren’t that important, and although my feelings about it aren’t as strong as Sheldon’s, the left side of the settee is nevertheless my preferred side.
And you can guess who was sitting there…
The world turns
Mornings are never my best times, especially now given my aversion to the daylight saving hour. Dreary eyed and still half asleep I bundled myself into the bathroom to freshen up. My guest had already done so and had left a hairbrush by the mirror.
I like to think that there’s a negative correlation between the progress through evolution and the amount of head hair. Think of hairy monkeys, slightly less hairy neanderthals, humans, bald humans (like Xavier in the X-men, for instance).
It’s been a long time since I’ve needed to use a hairbrush. Was I now devolving as well as being pushed out?
Through the looking glass
When I left for work, my wife and kids were at the table having their breakfast. I usually have mine on the train. I’m not a strong morning person, and not a strong cyclist to the train station either. I don’t have time to eat. Give me that breakfast pill!
I walked passed the patio door on the way to the garage to get my bike, and looked back through the window to see my wife, kids and my guest at the table, all sitting there like a happy family.
Is this the life that could have been if things in Barcelona had come out different? Is this what will happen if I don’t look after my 3 girls properly?
It’s a terrifying thought.
The perfect host
As I type this on the train on the way home from work I can’t help wondering about my role as a host.
One of the arguments against alternative universes and time lines is that the matter and energy need to come from somewhere; they can’t just materialise out of nowhere.
But the counter argument is that these aren’t additional universes and time lines, but that they already potentially co-exist.
This is quite a comforting thought – that we exist in some sort of cloud of probability and that our actions are not statistically predetermined or even pre-ordained for the easiest possible solution, but lead to the consequences from which even more future outcomes can be derived.
If this is the case, then this alternate reality family doesn’t exist – and won’t exist – because I already exist in it!
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