I never was like other girls. I didn’t like playing with dolls. I didn’t like making myself pretty. I enjoyed playing in the dirt with the boys. I enjoyed the little plastic soldiers, the action figures, guns and violence. I wanted to be a hero, plain and simple. I hated wearing dresses. Give me blue jeans and a t-shirt any day. The only problem is this made me a little bit of an outcast. At first it was no problem, but as I grew up and things started to change, the girls rejected me and other than my best friend, the boys saw me as the weird one. I was picked on, sometimes cruelly. I tried to not let it bother me. I tried to pretend that I didn’t care, but it did hurt. Thank goodness for my best friend Timothy. Timothy accepted me for who I was. He never tried to force me to do anything I didn’t want to do.
Timothy even stood up for me when the A-listers at my school tried to run a smear campaign. I’d tried running for student government. I wanted to be involved. To do something. I knew super heroes weren’t real, but I also knew you didn’t need super powers to make a major impact either. I just needed a place, a role, that would give me that opportunity. The “in” crowd saw fit to destroy my opportunity. They made up some awful rumors about me. They put up posters around the school with terrible lies. They even doxed me in the restroom. My parents had to change our phone number to get the non-stop calls to end. The worst was the cafeteria event, but that was when it happened for the first time.
It was a normal Thursday afternoon. I failed the test in English. I hadn’t even read the book I had been assigned over two weeks prior. It wasn’t that it was a terrible book. I was just too busy planning how I could make a come back from the smear campaign. Elections were over, but I wasn’t done trying to make a difference. I’d just have to find another way to change the world. The rest of the morning was completely unnoteworthy. I’d just picked up my tray of food and as I walked out the door into the main cafeteria, I knew something horrible was happening. I knew this because my tray was a good ten feet away and I saw the lip of the trash can fast approaching! I couldn’t stop myself. Inertia, something we’d just learned about in physics, controlled my movement. What had caused this motion, you ask? We’ll, Beverly, the witch (PG title here), had decided I’d needed to take the fall, or a fall, into humiliation. She’d stood just opposite the door and as I exited, she stuck her foot out. Perfect timing for her, the worst for me. I’d had no time to react. No time to stop, or adjust my stride. Ken, her boyfriend had also conspired, having moved the trash bin the three feet to the right he needed to ensure maximum humiliation. He let go as I fell in, and the bin tipped over, rolling with me inside until both I and it hit the cash register stand, knocking over the poor cafeteria worker as well. I slipped out of the bin covered in filth. I wish I was more covered. The humiliation was too much. My face turned beet red. Tears welled in my eyes. The laughter from the entire room filled my ears until I couldn’t take it anymore. Then there was the snap.
I wasn’t sure what had happened, but suddenly I wasn’t covered in trash. Suddenly I wasn’t in an uproar of laughter. Instead, the guy behind me in line said rudely, “Hey, make up your mind! I’m hungry.” What happened?! How’d I get here?! I asked myself. I looked at the tray in my hand. Confused, but unstuck by his comment, I grabbed an apple and headed for the door. I stopped suddenly again, remembering what had just happened. It was a little, too sudden of a stop as I made the guy behind me flip his tray into the floor. “Freak!” he cried out. That’s when I saw it. A foot quickly drew back from the base of the door. I looked out to see Ken putting the trash bin back in place, the cafeteria worker giving him an odd look. Beverly stepped away from the door hastily, as if she’d forgotten something back at her table. I walked slowly to my own, pondering what had just occurred. I couldn’t process anything at that moment. I don’t remember eating, but I must have as my tray was empty when the bell rung a half hour later. The entire time I went through one scenario after another.
Maybe I hallucinated everything. No, I saw her foot right where it would have been if I’d not stopped, tripping me into humiliation. Maybe I was precognizant. (Fancy word for knowing the future.) I heard my phone beep at that moment. I imagined it was Timothy. It was him, wanting me to meet at the ice cream shop after school, but that hardly was proof of seeing the future. We always did something after school. If I could really see the future I’d have known where he would pick. I had no clue until I read the message. Setting aside that thought, maybe I’d just imagined seeing her foot move, and him moving the trash can. Maybe I’d imagined the worst and luckily the worst hadn’t happened. That had to be it. The bell rung. I looked at my empty tray. Five minutes until class. No time to day-dream anymore. I put my tray away and headed to physics class.
We were still early into the year, so we’d only just finished with pendulums and springs. We were starting in on sound waves and harmonics. When I got to class, though, my teacher wasn’t there. Instead, there was a tv stand at the front of class and a sub at the desk. “My name is Mrs. Tinchner. Mr. Polaski will not be here today. He’s taken ill. It was last minute, so they were unable to get a physics substitute, so your Principle, Mr. Makenzie asked me to play this video instead. What’s your name?” she asked pointing to the girl in the front row. “Nancy, ma’am.”, she replied. “Please turn off the lights, Nancy.” Nancy got up and turned off the lights as the movie started. It was one of those boring documentaries with one of those monotone voices that put you to sleep. I’d almost nodded off until I heard something that snapped me awake. What had he just said?! “As the space ship nears the event horizon, time appears to slow down for their companions in the other ship. It looks like the ship comes to a complete stand still. For the passengers on that ship, though, time still moves at the normal rate. To them, the black hole is getting ever closer. In fact, they see their friends zoom away leaving them to their fate.” Hold, the phone! I’d read about this before. Relativity. Time is not constant. That is when it hit me! Time! What if I’d gone back in time?!
Not there. Not then, but back in the cafeteria. Suddenly it made more sense. I was there, and then I wasn’t. I was humiliated, and then I wasn’t. I’d jumped backwards in time! But what did that mean?! Was it a one off? Could I control it? So many questions. I couldn’t even focus on the movie anymore. I couldn’t focus on school. The rest of the day passed with me present in body, but absent in mind. I was wondering how I could test things. I obviously didn’t want to put myself in another embarrassing situation. I didn’t want to try something dangerous. I mean, what if it didn’t work, or I couldn’t control it at will? Step in front of a car. Blam! “She will be missed.” At least that’s what my family would feel. The others at school would just point, laugh, and say, “What an idiot!” No. I can’t even talk with anyone about it. Who would believe me?! Then I remembered my meeting with Timothy. He wouldn’t judge me. At least I hope not. He might not take me seriously, though. He might think I was joking. Then again, he is into comics. Maybe I could just pose it as a hypothetical question. Yes. A “What if?” He’d give me the answers I need and I wouldn’t look like a fool. That’s perfect!
I was in such a rush I almost forgot to stop by my locker. That would have been bad, though. One more failed test in English and I’d have to retake it. Luckily my English teacher told me I could make up the test by writing a ten-page paper on the book I was supposed to have read. Ugh! It could be worse, though. I had to beg him for the chance. He was more for having a parent teacher conference. Double Ugh! Timothy was already in the booth with my favorite, mint chocolate chip under some butter cream in a waffle cone. “How’d you know I’d get here before it started to melt?” I asked. “What else were you going to do?” he joked back. We both smiled. We so got each other. I sometimes think he is psychic in a way. The ice cream diversion was so what I needed. The campaign and election were still painfully in the back of my mind, but the more pressing matter was what happened earlier that day.
“Hey. I got a little hypothetical for you.”
“Shoot.”, he replied.
“Say someone could rewind time. How would they go about controlling it? I mean, without hurting themselves, in case it was a fluke?”
“Well, that depends.”, he continued, “Are we talking big jumps, or small jumps? Are we talking localized time change, or the whole universe?”
I hadn’t thought about that. I didn’t even think there was a difference, but he was right. There were more questions. More tests that needed to be done.
“Let’s assume it is universal. And small for now.”, I said.
“For now? That’s an odd thing to say. What is this for?”, he asked, with his eyebrows raised.
“Nothing. Just wondering.”, I said hastily, covering my tracks, “I just know you like this stuff, and I was trying to show more interest, but if you don’t want to think about it…”
“No. No. That’s cool. Hmmm. Let’s see.”, he stopped to ponder.
Whew. That was close. I finished off the butter cream and started on the mint chocolate chip. His rocky road was starting to get dangerously close to his hand on one side. He was lost in thought, though, not noticing.
“If it is just a short time rewind, I guess we’d need to first figure out how to trigger it. I mean, was there an event that caused it? Radioactivity? A device? Was it the person themselves? Something traumatic? Or did it just happen?”, he fired off, rapidly.
“Something traumatic. Definitely. Nothing radioactive. No device. Just the person.”
“Cool. Cool. Well, often the first time is accidental. Something startles the hero and it just happens. From there they have to learn to control it.”
He finally notices as the ice cream drips over his finger and hits the table. He quickly licks the mess from his hands, taking a big bite off the top of the scoop as he dabs at the table with his napkin. I chuckle.
“Well, how would the, um, hero, learn to control it. If it just suddenly happened, how could they make it happen again? I mean, without hurting themselves, or going through the same traumatic event?”, I eagerly asked, taking another bite out of my ice cream, and starting in on the waffle cone.
“That depends.”, he started again. Ugh! So frustrating, I thought. Why couldn’t this be simple?! “If it was emotional trauma, then it would seem to imply it is tied to emotion. That would make it harder to control, and harder to test. If it was a reaction to danger, then that is easier to test, but could get the hero hurt some while they learn.”
“How can I know which? The event was traumatic emotionally, for sure, but there was also a little danger involved.” I started.
“I thought you said this was hypothetical?”, he said. Dang, he’s too smart!
“It is.”, I replied a little too quickly, as he raised his eyebrows again. “I was just wanting to, um, make it more challenging. More detailed.”, I recovered.
“Okay.”, he replied slowly, unconvinced. “Well, if it was both, it might require an even more complex trigger, but having a physical component, that is what I’d test first.”
“But how?”, I asked, growing impatient.
“Start simple. Drop something on their foot. If pain is the trigger, then even a little bit should do the trick. If that doesn’t work, try and fake them out. Blind folded drop from a few feet up. Make them believe the danger is real and then they won’t know the difference. They’d have to react.”
“That’s it, huh? Pain, and more pain? I thought I said without getting hurt.”
“No pain, no gain.”, he said, grinning. “Nothing is easy in becoming a hero.”, he finished as he ate the last bite of his cone. I’d just finished mine a minute before. I remembered savoring that last bite. It was so good, I’d almost lost track of what he was saying, and then it happened again! I felt cold rush into my mouth! I hadn’t moved much, but there was definitely ice cream in my mouth again! Mint chocolate chip with just a bite of waffle cone! And something else. “fake them out. Blind folded drop from a few feet up. Make them believe the danger is real and then they won’t know the difference. They’d have to react.”, Timothy finished.
“That’s it, huh? Pain, and…”, I stopped mid-sentence.
“No pain, no gain.”, he began to say again, except to him, he was probably saying this for the first time. Relativity. Not really, but anyway. “Nothing is easy in becoming a hero.”, I said this time.
“Hey! Are you a mind reader?!”, he laughed. “I was just going to say that!”
“I know.”, I said, a mock evil grin on my face. He laughed again, nervously. “Okay, let’s say it is emotionally based, mainly.”, I say to distract him.
“In that case, then the hero would just have to tap into his emotions. Learn how much emotion is required to trigger it. Maybe even how much emotion is required to control it. Could they go back further with more emotion? Or is it a set interval? What are the other rules?”
Again, so many questions. This was good, but if he kept piling on questions like these, it could take years to learn! I don’t have years. I need answers now! I tried to remember the taste of the ice cream again. The sweet flavors. The rush of cold. Trying as hard as I could, nothing happened. Was I doing it wrong? No. I had the same sensations, but something felt different. Off. Like it was about to work, and then just not. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. I redoubled my efforts, sweating a little with the intent.
Timothy looked at me concerned. “Are you okay?”, he asked. “Brain freeze?”
“Yes. Brain freeze. Ugh!”, I tried to pretend that was the pain I felt. The real pain was that nothing happened again. I so wanted to figure it out, but that wasn’t it. What else could I try? I recalled the humiliation. All the laughter I’d just knew I’d heard the first time around. I could hear it all. I could picture myself covered in the grimy trash. A banana peel hanging on my forehead. The embarrassment was too much. I felt the tingling sensation all over my body, but then nothing. Again, nothing!
“What if emotional trauma isn’t enough? What if even good emotions could trigger it, but it only works once?”, I asked, flummoxed.
“Well, maybe there is a limit.”, he said.
“A limit? What does that mean?”, I interrupted.
“Maybe in order to avoid paradoxes, the hero can’t go back to the same moment more than once.”
“What do you mean by paradoxes?”, I ask, intrigued.
“Well, in traditional time travel, if a person went back in time and killed their grandfather before their father was born, how could they be born and then travel back in time and kill their grandfather? That’s known as the grandfather paradox.”
“That is sick, is what I call it. I get your point though. So limited time travel. Do you think it is limited in the number of uses, the amount of time you can travel, or both?”, I inquire, asking one question, too many.
“This isn’t hypothetical, is it?”, he asks me, looking around to see if anyone is overhearing our conversation.
“Umm.”, I can’t bring myself to lie anymore. He’s my best friend. He deserves the truth. But what if he thinks I’m crazy?! “Maybe.”, I stall.
“Maybe, what?! What happened?!”, he asks a little too loud, making me look around, too, before continuing.
“Well, this morning, in the cafeteria, I, umm, I, well, how can I say this without sounding crazy?”
“I promise not to judge. What happened?”, he implores me to continue.
“Well, I could have sworn I was tripped by Beverly into a trashcan with the help of Ken. Everyone was laughing. It was horrible!”
I got the same tingling sensation, wanting to desperately undo even the memory of the event, but I stayed where I was.
“I’m so sorry! I can’t imagine what that was like, but wait, that didn’t actually happen, did it?!”, he asked.
“I. I. I don’t know!”, I started to cry. I’d never broken down like this. Not in public. Not even when alone with Timothy. He didn’t know how to react.
“I didn’t mean to make you cry.”, he said.
“It’s. Not. You.”, I said between sobs. “I don’t let them get to me, but this was too much. I’ve taken insults, I’ve taken rude comments. I’ve even handled other harassments, but this took me over the edge.”
“So, it really happened?”, he started to ask.
“Yes and no. It happened, as clear as day, in my mind. But I’ve been questioning that all afternoon! One minute I was there standing covered in debris, and the next, I was back in line. I started to go back out the door, but then I stopped and that is when I saw it. Her, pulling her leg back, and him putting the trash can back in place. Both pretended it didn’t happen.”
“Oh, my gosh!”, he said, “I’ll kick their butts!”
“But it didn’t happen!”, I exclaimed. “How can you punish them for something they didn’t technically do?!”
“So, you think you really went back in time?”, he asked, skeptically.
“I don’t know. That’s the problem. I can’t tell if I imagined it, or if it really happened. But just a minute ago, I was thinking about the most amazing taste of the ice cream and it happened again.”
“What do you mean? You never even left…”, then he remembered me finishing his thought.
“Yeah. Oh.”, I replied.
“Do you know how to control it, then?”, he asked.
“Why do you think I was asking you all these questions?! If I could control it, I wouldn’t need answers.”
“Well, we now know it is tied to emotions.”
“Do we, though? I tried it again, just now, several times, actually, and nothing happened. I felt all tingly, but nothing changed.”
“Both times you were experiencing a sharp emotion, though. The first, intense embarrassment, the second intense pleasure. That has to mean something. Maybe the reason you didn’t jump again was because of a limitation. Maybe you can only jump back so far?”
“Maybe.”, I replied, feeling beaten down, and wore out.
“Let’s test things! Find out how it works!”, he said, all excited now.
“Let’s not. I’m feeling exhausted. I just need some rest.”
He didn’t look happy, but he accepted. “Maybe tomorrow, then.”
“Maybe, tomorrow.”, I said, getting up, heading for the door.
He knew me well enough not to continue. “Have a good evening and feel better!”, he shouted after me.
I waved bye, and went home. I was so tired I fell straight to sleep even though it was only a little before five.
I woke up to my mother knocking on my bedroom door. “Are you okay, honey?”, she asked.
Groggily I replied, “Yes. Is it morning already?”
“Oh, no, dear. It is only nine at night. You’ve been asleep a few hours though and missed dinner. Do you want me to heat it back up?”
“Sure. What is it?”, I ask.
“With meatballs?”, I interrupt.
“Yes, and that four-cheese toast you love.”
My stomach rumbled. “I’ll be down in just a minute.”
As she walks away, I try to gather my thoughts. Was it just a dream? Or did today really happen? I remembered tripping and my body tingled. I also remembered not tripping. I remembered the long chat over ice cream. Timothy is such a good listener. I don’t know where I’d be without him. He’s saved me more times than I can remember. I think we’ll be friends forever. I look over at my desk, at the novel I’m supposed to be reading. I pick it up. Hard back. Not heavy, but not light. I look down at my foot. Then at the book. I sit the book back on the desk. I’d be stupid to drop the thing on my foot. I don’t think it’d do much damage, but it still wouldn’t feel good. Plus, I saw that a pleasant sensation could trigger the jump as well. That’s when I get an idea.
I head downstairs and instantly smell the best thing in the world. Mom’s pasta makes me think that she lied about growing up in the Midwest. I’d swear she was Italian through and through. She doesn’t buy the premade stuff. She rolls her own pasta. Nice perfectly rounded noodles. Her sauce comes straight from our garden. Ripe, fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, onions. You’d think you’ve never had pasta before if you tried it. And the toast!! O. M. G! The toast. Rich fresh butter, and expensive cheeses! None of that shredded stuff you get for two bucks. My mouth is watering. I wolf down an entire piece of toast before my mom can even scold me for not saying grace. The flavors are so rich, I enact my plan immediately. I feel the tingle and then the snap. I’m holding the toast in my hand again. I pause though. Self-control. I say grace. Then I eat the toast as quickly as the first time, butter dripping down my chin. I wipe it off and then try and jump again. I get the tingling sensation, but nope. No jump. I frown.
“What? Is the toast not right?”, my mom asks.
“No, it’s perfect.”, I say, “I just was thinking about the book report I have to do.”
“How many pages, this time?”
“Ten. Ugh. He hates me, mom!”
“He doesn’t hate you. He just wants you to learn.”
“I know. I know. There is just so many other things. More important things.”
“Social life is not as important as learning.”
“I don’t have a social life, mom. You know that.”
“You know what I mean. You can do anything you put your mind to, but you can do it better if you learn what you need to know, first. If I can help you, I will. What book is it on?”
“To Kill A Mocking Bird. Boring!”
“It’s not a boring book. Maybe not the wizards and dystopian worlds you’re used to enjoying, but there are a lot of good lessons to be learned from that book.”
“I know, mom. Sheesh! I’ll do the report, just not tonight.”
“Okay. Just don’t put it off, too long. Promise?”
The thought of the report disgusts me. I turn back to my plate. It is half gone. I’m getting full, but that toast was so good! I try again. Nothing but the briefest tingles.
I think back to my comment about the book. The look of hurt on my mom’s face. I wish I could have been nicer. The tingle happens and I’m back. “…lot of good lessons to be learned from that book.”
“Thanks mom. You’re right. I should try harder. I’m just not up for writing a report tonight. Can I go for a walk?”
“Okay. Just don’t put it off, too long. Promise?”
“I promise.”, smiling as she smiles back.
“I’ll get the dishes for you. Go enjoy your walk.”
“Thanks, mom!”, I say, heading upstairs to put on my tennis shoes.
The brisk early fall air is still plenty warm. No need for a jacket. I head over two blocks to the small park our town mayor had put in a few years back. I sit on the swing and ponder over the day. It seems unreal. So, I have the ability to jump back in time. Only a minute, and only once. No repeat, repeats, but that is okay. I have a super power now! I wonder what I can really do with it. A minute may not be a lot of time, but it is enough to right some wrongs. It is enough to avoid some catastrophes. A lot can be done in a minute!
Copyright December 12, 2021. All Rights Reserved.