Arbitrary Exchange

Annoying things happen all the time, or things I’d rather not deal with, like getting shit on by a bird or having to do anything in general. The last time I was shit on by a bird, it nearly made me turn around, go home, and go back to bed. I was on my way to work. The birdshit didn’t smell (it generally doesn’t), and it wasn’t visible after a few dabs with a spitty napkin. There was a Wendy’s nearby, so at least I was able to get a napkin to spit on. But the thought of going through the rest of the day in that shirt deflated me. No one could see or smell the birdshit, but I would know, and it would bother me until I forgot about it, and I knew that I would forget. I would be going about my day as usual, and then remember that there were invisible, odorless traces of birdshit on my shirt. Had I touched it without thinking, maybe brushed a finger against it by accident, and then touched my eye or my mouth? Probably. And it wouldn’t matter. It would be more proof that nothing matters. Why bother cleaning clothing tainted by invisible, odorless traces of birdshit, food, sweat, etc? The invisible and odorless parts are the most sickening, but appearance and odor matter more. You could be the biggest fool on the face of the planet and covered in birdshit, but as long as it was invisible and odorless, you’d blend in just fine.

   I wondered how much I’d pay to be able to go back in time a few seconds and dodge that birdshit. How much less miserable would my day be without a cloaked spot of birdshit on my shirt? $20 less miserable? $5?

   I decided it didn’t matter. Miserable is miserable. Why spend even $1 just to be slightly less miserable?

   This line of thinking occurs to me whenever I’m faced with an ordeal. When I had to write a thesis, I asked myself how much I’d pay to not have to do it. Technically, I didn’t have to pay anything. I could just drop out of school. But for some reason, I couldn’t. I had already wasted so much time and money, I had to finish, no matter how pointless and worthless my degree would be.

   Now, I think about going further back in time. Would I exchange my present for another shot at my past? If I had a wife and children, it would make the decision a lot easier. I would definitely go back and undo her, them, all of us. Or at least the children. I would make sure to avoid the woman at all costs. Even if I liked her, or liked some of the things about her, why would I want to go through it again? I’d ultimately end up where I am now, considering what I’d give up in order to go back.

   The thought of having to live through the past again is exhausting, but you wouldn’t have to do anything again. I wouldn’t have to write a thesis or any papers or even graduate from high school. I could play the stock market and bet on football games. I could be rich, happy, and young.

   But at the same time, I’m relieved that going back isn’t an option. The things I wouldn’t want to undo are seemingly minor, but somehow, they’re enough to make it a debate. I have one published book, short and maybe read by a few dozen people, but I wouldn’t like the idea of it not existing, and I would hate to try to write it again. It isn’t that great, but I would never be able to write it again. There are other long things that I would hate to have to rewrite. I wouldn’t have to, but again, I’m not comfortable with the idea of them not existing, or never existing. After a week or day of being rich and young, I probably wouldn’t care, but right now, I do. And maybe I don’t want to be rich, or at least not rich and young. Even with all the perks, it still seems tiring. I would have to watch all of the same, stupid, futile events unfold, and I would be powerless to change them. Indifferent or not, I would be powerless. I’ve already accepted them, I would forget about them until they happened again, and feel a puzzling kind of despair. Each of these events would remind me that it is all inevitable. Or at least the parts that matter or are remembered. I’ll arrive again at this time, with money and in better condition, living in a high rise or on an exotic beach. I’ll look out over the city or the ocean and a bird will shit on me. I’ll have a thousand new things to hate and dread. I’ll look back on this life, and think that at least it had some adventure or uncertainty, when in reality it is drudgery and everything that has left its mark has been predictable. Inevitable. But in my alternative life, I’d feel like I had no soul. Like I had cheated. Like I was one of those rich people I wrongly look down upon for never having really lived.

   The only woman I’ve ever loved in my life, I would avoid her. I would make sure we never met. We met at college, so I would make sure never to go to college. Whatever part of the world I remembered her being in, I would stay away. And if I did happen to run into her, I would ignore her. If I couldn’t ignore her, or if I ended up wanting to test fate, I would try to be with her again and see if being rich made a difference. Either way, it would depress me, so I would be better off staying away.

   Going back, even thinking about going back, is a bad idea. It’s pointless. But I can’t stop thinking about it. On my worst days, I want to go back. I curse myself and my bad decisions, avoidable injuries, laziness. Everything that has led me to become the person I am today. But at the same time I can’t go back and I don’t want to and I know that thinking about it is a waste of time.

   What I really want to do is to go forward, but not in the healthy way some might imagine. If I could be put to sleep for 100 years right now, I would do it. I am curious about the future, and despite all my past experiences, I imagine that they (whoever they are) will be able to fix me in the future, and that they will want to. They’ll repair my game leg and know how to remove my scars and blemishes. They’ll know how to clean my lungs and reinvigorate my liver, how to tighten and loosen the appropriate orifices and joints. They’ll want to do it because I’ll be like a caveman to them, a living relic. But I won’t be ancient enough to put in a zoo or a museum or a lab. 100 years is just about the perfect amount of time. Humanity will probably survive another 100 years, and whoever is left, well, hopefully they’ll have the technology to at least revive me so I can see what happens (or has happened). But thinking about it now, there’s a good chance they’ll have even less resources and technology than we do.

   The best decision, really, is to just crawl into a coffin. Or put myself into a coma. If I tried to put myself into a coma and died, it wouldn’t really make much of a difference. I would never know. But it takes courage to do something like that, something that can actually be done, and already I have doubts. What if I just turned myself into a vegetable, or a paraplegic? What if people who are vegetables are still self aware? It would be a nightmare.

   So like a self aware vegetable, I’m trapped. We are all trapped in a present that zips past before we’ve even seen it coming. All we can see is the past. The present is a dark gap between reality and our perception of it, and we are forever falling forward into an unknown that will never be known. And without ever knowing it, it will have already become the immutable past. For one constant fraction of a second, we are flying blind into the unknown, staring backwards as everything that has been and will ever be is transformed from the future into the past. All of life is reflection and memory. Maybe I would like to go back after all, to repeat all of my mistakes, but at least know what to hold and enjoy as it’s happening. It may be invisible and odorless, but it leaves a mark that reminds you with its absence.

H. Seitz
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