So, today has me thinking about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, mostly because of several conversations I’ve had with Dad over the last couple weeks. It’s amazing how philosophical he can be, without even realizing it. Mostly, these talks all boil down to how he just can’t understand how he came to be at this place, at this time. “I just don’t understand it,” he’ll say – not so much out of frustration (though he’s certainly frustrated), as much as pure puzzlement. “I was just fine before all this happened. How’d I end up here?” This lack of even a basic acceptance of cause and effect isn’t a new thing – it’s had me banging my head for years. But today, running through yet another of these talks, I now finally understand the underlying cause. My father, it seems, is a timeline-leaping alien.
Now, I have an extremely elementary understanding of Einstein’s oeuvre; so, those of you who actually do understand it – feel free to post corrections, but do so kindly, please. (And also know that I probably won’t change much as a result, especially if your more accurate interpretation starts to muck up my metaphors – because my understanding makes for really cool metaphors.) But I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of multiple, parallel universes, along with the idea that time can be a place – a “where” as much as a “when.” Now, I’ve never taken a physics course, and my math ability tops out at first-year geometry, but I have decades of Star Trek, X Files and Fringe episodes in my TV-viewing past, which, I am certain, more than make up for my lack of any actual scientific training.
The way I understand parallel universes is that at any point where life could go left or right, it actually goes both ways, with our current state only perceiving/remembering the route our current self chose. In other words, while the Robert Frost we know chose the road less-traveled, in some parallel universe, there was a Robert Frost who extolled the value of over-stressed super highways, winning multiple alt-universe Pulitzers in the process. There is a timeline connecting our memories back through all those left/right choices, but there are also innumerable other versions of ourselves with memories of their own timelines, in which they went left when we went right, all with their respective connections between decisions/causes and related effects.
In this framework, Dad presents himself as a relativity superhero, able to leap multiple timelines in a single bound. Though this super-relativity ability has made itself evident throughout his life, it really jumped out at me just a few days ago, when we were talking about his colostomy last November. Apparently, Dad switched bodies with one of his other-universe doppelgangers at about the time the emergency room doctor was checking out his CT scan. Dad seems to have fallen into this universe’s physical form just after a doctor on the other side of the space/time continuum had diagnosed his intestinal blockage as a kink in his intestines, instead of the cancerous tumor discovered in the here and now (or, rather, the there and then).
I say this because, 3 or 4 days ago, Dad was astounded to learn that he’d had an intestine-blocking cancerous tumor removed during that 3-1/2-week hospital stay. And he had no recollection that he’d been stuck in the bed in excruciating pain for an entire week before the operation even took place. Instead, he was convinced the surgeon had over-reacted to what certainly had been nothing more than a twist that would have worked itself out if the doctors had just given it some time, instead of cutting into him with their overactive scalpels.
“Dude,” I can hear you saying (if you’re someone who says things like “dude”), “those meds and all the trauma, and the fact he was pushing 90 at the time… those are all excellent reasons why his memory would be less than accurate.”
Damn you and your Vulcan logic, anyway.
However, in the face of that extremely logical response, I present 52 years of first-person evidence that his immediate and extended family all will support. The man has an absolutely uncanny lack of unpleasant memories – not a lack of unpleasant experience, mind you, but a lack of any memory of those experiences. While, in the past, I’ve seen this behavior simply as some sort of neural inability to store such memories (as you can tell, I’m perfectly happy inventing pseudo-scientific explanations in any number of disciplines), this latest instance has convinced me the timeline-jumping alien theory is the only possible explanation.
What would lead me to this seemingly bizarre conclusion? Well, I simultaneously have discovered my own relativity super-power. There are times, lately, when I’m with my father that I’ve felt myself to be in multiple space-times simultaneously (yes, in my own version of relativity, “space-time” is an actual working phrase – I’m thinking of trademarking it, so I best not see it show up in some current reader’s future screenplay). There I am, sitting on his bed, next to his wheelchair or, as today, in the July sun on a bench, with him in his chair parked opposite me, while at the same time I have the sense of sitting next to him on the bench seat of some generic oversized, mid-70s American sedan (Is it the Caprice or the Bonneville? Maybe the Le Sabre?) as we drive downtown to the mental hospital that was my stepmother’s residence for weeks and, sometimes, months at a time during my teen years. And I’m also sitting at any one of innumerable restaurant/country club dining tables when he and my stepmother continue well-past the just-one-more limit on Scotches and mai-tais, with loud and embarrassing results. And I’m also standing in the living room of that old house on top of the hill, that candidate for an episode of “Hoarders,” filled with decades of my stepmother’s obsessive thrift-shopping finds (“It was cozy,” Dad remembers), as then-82-year-old Dad reaches for yet another of the nitroglycerin tablets he now claims never having needed, just before falling into the sofa in a faint I thought certain to be a heart attack.
My presence at – and memories of – so many such unhappy experiences, of which he has little or no recollection has set my opinion firmly in place. I’ve determined that I’m a repository that somehow must exist in any arrangement of time and space that supports such timeline-leaping aliens as my father – the repository of his unhappy memories. Up until now, he’s had the ability to leap from his current space/time coordinate just before – or, perhaps, just as – such memories were being formed, leaving them to hang in mid-air. I, in turn, have been sitting next to, across from or, simply, nearby him so many of those times that I think I became some sort of receptacle for those memories that were incapable of existing in the limbo created by his oh-so-well-timed leaps.
I realize this theory needs a little fleshing out, probably involving many blackboards’ worth of chalk-scribbled formulae and maybe a lab table or two of Bunsen burners and bubbling test tubes. Or, maybe the science doesn’t exist yet to provide definitive proof. But, like the physicists now pursuing that elusive “God Particle” in their Swiss accelerometer, my belief in this somewhat unbelievable theory persists, despite the absence of verifiable, repeatable results. You see, I’m absolutely certain that, when it comes to the physics of family caregiving (and you know I wouldn’t be able to resist this pun), it’s all relative.