I work exactly across the street from the school I attended in Kindergarten and First Grade. Another biographical fact is that I used to live with my mom in Pasadena on the weekends, and with my dad and Stepmom on the Westside the rest of the week. Mom was poor so I lived poor on the weekends too, giving “You wanna start something?!” scowls at people in line at the grocery store who sighed exaggeratedly as she fished out wads of food stamps from her pockets. The rest of the week, when I was middle class, and happened to be in a grocery store, I always made sure not to scowl at people in front of me in line when the fished out wads of food stamps from their pockets; I always tried to make it seem that I wasn't noticing anything. Some people think it’s nice to go out of their was to smile and fuss over someone who is feeling embarrassed, but I usually find it's kinder just to act like whatever disaster they’re undergoing is the most natural thing in the world. I think that people who go out of their way to smile and fuss over someone who is feeling embarrassed, they just want a big pat on the back for how caring they are. In some Raymond Chandler novel, it’s explained that Hollywood used to be just some pioneer town with dirt roads, and rich people lived in Pasadena. Now it's an eyesore of tacky live-work buildings and shops like Abercrombie and Fitch. Still, I see some things I remember from before, from when I was a kid.
I cannot fully accept the idea that time travel isn’t possible. There’s a movie theatre in Pasadena that I go to with my husband and son sometimes. It’s been there forever. When I was a kid, mom and I lived so close, we walked there all the time, like, every weekend. I can’t help but believe that if I just started heading in the right direction, her apartment would still be there, with me sitting on the front steps.
Another reason I find it hard to accept the impossibility of time travel is because of how quickly people age when we become grown ups. Children seem to take all year to grow a year older. Adults blink away whole years. I am 36, and I remember so many details from childhood. I remember my 3rd grade teacher Ms. Wilson correcting a poem I’d written for being grammatically incorrect. It started dramatically with the statement “Flowers.” I remember showering in the public shower with my grandma after taking a swim in the faculty swimming pool at Michigan State University; everyone else kept their bathing suits on out of modesty, but there was another woman showering with us who was completely naked and old. She sweetly smiled at us when we made eye contact and it made me feel sorry for her for some reason. I also felt sorry for her because she used a bar of soap to wash her hair, and I’d been taught not to use soap on hair because it dries it out. I think I’ve used this woman as a character in maybe a million short stories and little autobiographical non-sequitur ramblings like this. It’s just that she seemed so perfectly content to use whatever was available, the little sliver of soap from the soap dish. It’s hard to believe that she’s not still there in Michigan, sudsing her gray pubic hair, so unselfconscious and tangibly content. Grandma and I were able to use the faculty pool because grandpa was a professor there, and now he is dead. Other people are dead too. My friend Bill is dead. Almost every night I dream about him. He is pretty much his usual self in the dreams, except a little testy, which he almost never was in life. We do our activities with mom, who was his best friend and the love of his life. Sometimes the activities are absolutely awful, like picking food off the floor in a hoarder’s apartment to eat for dinner, or visiting Bill’s old bookstore just to look at how it’s so wrecked, no roof and rubble everywhere with most of the books charred. One particularly sad activity that Bill, mom and I repeatedly act out in my dreams is that of wrapping up the utterly worst pieces of trash in the world to give to each other on a Christmas day with no fanfare. Pigeon brains, empty bags of Ruffles chips, dirty underwear. Other times, we are all just doing fairly commonplace errands together like picking up a repaired pair of his shoes or buying several bags of kitty litter from Target. One thing is always the same in these dreams, though. I always have to break it to Bill that we’re in a dream, and that he’s not really alive anymore. Sometimes I warn him that he will be dead when I wake up. He always believes me when I tell him that, and he just tries to take his lumps.
Is there any way to bring him back? Is there any way to stand up, smooth my skirt over my big fat curves, here at work, walk to the elevator with a head full of mischief and hope, cross the street to my old Kindergarten, and just stay there forever? Just stay there and wait for it all to come to me, all the things in this world that I like? My son could come to me in the classroom where I am sitting in my old seat. “You’re going to really like your new teacher, Ms. Hays,” I’ll promise him, even though she’s long gone, dead as a doornail.