I’ve been doing a little time traveling lately, and I am reporting back to say the trip was highly successful. I visited the Southwestern part of the great U.S. of A., circa 1976, and was surprised to discover that my high school sweetheart was living but a few miles away from me. Of course, in real time, I had no way of knowing that since I had not seen or heard from him since the Summer of 1965.
“Why time travel?” you might well ask. “Don’t you have enough to do at the Pie Shop and Driving Range without gallivanting around the time-space continuum? Aren’t you worried that you might accidentally change history and miss out on all the friends and loved ones you have now?”
Well, no. I don’t worry about that much at all. For one thing, I suspect that you are not that easy to lose. For another, I enjoy the fantasy that we are happily coexisting in different configurations in alternate realities all the time anyway. I’m just especially attached to this particular reality where there are so many lessons yet for me to learn.
But back to the Southwest in the late 1970s: One of my favorite places there was the great dry lake, or playa, near Willcox, Arizona. If you walk out on the cracked and dry land toward the center of the lake, you will at some point realize that you are surrounded by a 360-degree mirage. There, you can convince some fairly gullible people that you are now invisible and can do whatever you like. Warning: You might want to try a few gullibility tests outside the mirage before attempting anything too elaborate.
I loved the idea of living inside a mirage, a conceit which is itself a mirage, and so I wrote this poem, way back then:
Notes on living inside a mirage . . . .
They’ll have to admit
I’ve gotten harder to find.
The illusion I’m here is proof enough.
I no longer need guards posted outside
to gain belief in my frail disguise.
(A mad dog or two is enough.)
I hold my mirage skin before me
like a face held up only by bones.
And those who love me,
those I must trust
prevent the world from consuming my life
by keeping in touch with my wavering light.
Passing by, they falter and halt,
taking the chance of talking to air.
They shout at the blur to reach me,
but I’m wrapped like an island
in that watery haze
that cushions the landfall
from the storm dreaming sea.
I gauge their uncertain eyes,
their every response
whenever they think they’ve found my soul.
And just as they leave me,
they’ll tell me one more time
if this shimmering skin
is just around me,
or if it’s wrapped around everything else.
That was the desert. Now back-flip me to Maine and my life at 16. It’s a place and time I rarely visit, but now that I have made contact with my former true love, I’ve feel safe to unfurl those memories which I’ve left rolled up so tightly like scrolls for years. Or maybe more like one of those noise makers that you have to blow into to give dimension and sound.
I’ve enjoyed seeing myself as a optimistic girl again, and learning that she was intelligent, artsy, and quirky, all in a good way, mohair sweaters, white lipstick, and all. I’m still flicking the dust off some of those souvenir boxes, marveling always about how much was packed into such a small space of time.
Now, it seems, weeks go by with hardly a single significant event, and I remain the same. I grow a little more skilled at golf and pie-baking. I love you more all the time. I learn a new song for Karaoke night. I am happy, and yet dissatisfied.
I’ve returned from time-traveling thinking I’m on the brink of something new, and maybe I am. Or maybe I just need to spend more time exploring mirages.
As the pie shop takes on an increasingly Victorian ambiance, perhaps we’ll draw in a few steampunk deep-thinkers who will take multi-dimensional travel seriously, as they sit around and sip tea from bone china cups and savor my lemon mirage pie.
Who knows? Maybe they’ll be able to convince me that the road not taken does, in fact, go somewhere else. So far, I’m not so sure. After all, what road did you take to bring you here? Not the one that I took, but I’m always happy to see you walk in the door, still in your safari togs.
Yes, I’ve lived in the desert. I know what it’s like to see it dry out until it cracks. I’ve lived in the mirage and dreamt of water night after night. We have no mirages in the swamp, but we do have golf and pie, and maybe that’s enough.