Last night I was nearly delirious with a fever, and as I drifted in and out of sleep, I thought of this short story.
My name is Anderson, and I have lived for almost one thousand years. I wish I could claim to have seen ancient Babylon, Rome, Jerusalem in the time of Christ, the dark ages, the renaissance, and the industrial revolution. Instead, what I got was 2003-2008, one hundred and ninety four times in a row. I am here to plead for your help.
I was born in 1973, raised and educated in New England. I led an unremarkable life, never really settling on a lucrative career. I worked for the power company for most of my adult life, reading meters. I lived in the same apartment for the last five years of my chronological life, with the same furniture, same car, and same grocery shopping habits.
That’s why I didn’t notice at first, one morning, that there was anything different. I woke up, got ready for work, and came downstairs. I was eating a piece of toast when I noticed my work computer. It was the second to last model they’d issued me. I stared at it for a minute, wondering how the older piece of equipment had found its way back into my apartment. When I started to look for my latest laptop, I quite thought I’d lost my mind. My TV was my older, CRT monstrosity, in the place of my LCD flat screen. My DVD collection was smaller, and VHS tapes also graced the shelves of my living room. By the front door, my cell phone was the old model, too.
I called in sick to work. My supervisor was the same man, so the call went as expected. I spent the rest of the day sifting through my life from five years earlier. I was terrified. Had I just imagined the last half decade? The confusion was overpowering, but it didn’t last forever. As the day went on, I remembered that it corresponded to a day in 2003 when I had called in sick. In fact, I remembered everything, a perfect recollection of each day as if I’d taken notes each minute.
I went back to work the next day, and went through the motions of my job. I knew all the data from the meters before I even looked at them. After being right 40 times in a row, I stopped checking. I finished my quota for the day by simply entering the numbers from memory. And so it went, day after day, until I didn’t even bother leaving the house. My employer was none the wiser until they started implementing RFID metering devices, for those I actually had to show up in order to have a record of my visit. Still, most of my time was mine to do with as I pleased.
I made every effort to hide my state of mind from my friends and family. I did what my memory told me I did out of a sense of helplessness and fear. I was too afraid to deviate from the same path, and there was comfort there. As time went by, I became convinced that I hadn’t lived those years at all, but instead had been granted the gift to know my own future. I fell into a pattern that worked so well that I began to dread that day in 2008 when I went back. After five years with a known future, an unknown future was a horrifying prospect.
By the time that day came around again, I’d taken precious few liberties with my advanced knowledge. Sure, I was cheating at my job, but my data was never wrong, and I managed to get away with it. I also managed to avoid a speeding ticket or two, and there were several times I took the opportunity to correct minor relationship errors. Many people who have entertained my ramblings, as you are doing right now, have asked me why I didn’t try to improve my life to a greater extent, since I had a few regrets during that time. It was such a strange situation, I didn’t want to mess with it. The universe had broken somehow, and I thought I might make it worse if I became too adventurous. After all, it wasn’t like I’d had any disasters or devastating losses during those years. They were, like I said, quite unremarkable.
Then, my hell became apparent. The day when I got my future back came, and I awoke again in 2003. I was devastated, broken, and hopeless. I contemplated suicide, but by then I’d already formed a theory about my situation. If each iteration was its own reality, then killing myself would only harm my loved ones in that timeline. If I awoke again in 2005, then I did nothing but to cause them suffering and pain. So I lived differently, but I lived.
Last time around, I had paid careful attention to the stock market, and by doing so, money was never an issue. Within a year of each loop reset, I was a millionaire. I was free to spend each iteration doing almost anything I wanted. While such financial freedom was convenient, it never softened the hopelessness of knowing that no matter what I did, no matter what I accomplished, it would just be reset. I tried to hold out at least a small reserve of hope that someday I would see 2009, only to be disappointed time and time again.
By the third iteration I realized that there was only one thing I could take with me with each reset: my perfect memory. While I tried different lifestyles with each subsequent loop, I also began giving myself knowledge and skills that would persist. I became fluent in twenty languages, and mastered several musical instruments. I memorized vast swaths of classic literature, and educated myself in dozens of fields. By the twentieth iteration, I could pass myself off as an expert in a hundred different areas, and rightly so. These skills easily brought me fame, but of course that was ultimately pointless.
I began to change. Explaining my new mastery of language, music, or art was, of course, impossible. Maintaining my original relationships became more and more difficult. I was becoming quite possibly the most educated and talented person that ever existed, and my friends and family remained the same. Though they were the people that I valued the most, I began to value myself far above them. Eventually I would abandon them almost immediately at the start of a new loop, whether my preferred actions that time around were another introverted devotion to study, or an extroverted search for fame and adventure. I lived every kind of life imaginable, except my original one.
Romance? There were women, of course. I didn’t have any particular target for my affection at first, though later I would sometimes pursue a woman across more than one iteration. Unlike that movie with Bill Murray, knowing every detail of a woman’s life was never any guarantee of success with her romantically. If I tipped my hand too far, it could backfire atrociously. Over so many years, I have fallen in love, but even a successful relationship could only end in agony as I found myself back at square one. Even still, I married fifteen times. I never had any children, though. Can you imagine the horror of raising a child only to have it cease to exist? Plus, kids are just starting to get interesting at four or five years old.
I guess that brings us to the point of our conversation, though I apologize for it being so one-sided. For so long, I accepted the fact that I had been cursed somehow, that there was a malicious deity responsible for my entrapment. However, it didn’t take long for me to consider other possibilities. If there was a scientific explanation, maybe I could break out of the loop. I became an expert in quantum mechanics, specifically, how the space-time continuum could be bent or broken. I also studied what might have happened to me in the days leading up to the first loop, though if I’d been bombarded with gamma radiation or something, I think I’d remember it. I have many theories, but I’m suffering from a limited imagination. As much as I’d like to solve my own problem, I need a fresh perspective. I know you think I’m insane, so I can only appeal to you as a scientist. Yes, Occam’s Razor would indicate that I am crazy, but is that how you properly conduct a research project? I hope you’ll agree to at least consider other possibilities. After all, you did the last thirteen times.