Constants are something of a rarity when I travel. Most things, from one alternate reality to the next, are different in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. People, at least the ones who were already around when I first died and traveled, are mostly the same as you remember them. So whenever I come across someone or something that is exactly the same in one life and the next, I tend to remember and savor their memory.
Traffic jams, bad weather, the city skyline, central station, New Year’s Day in Times Square, bad movies. These are all examples of constants of my hometown that never change from one life to the next. Even the smell of urine in the subway during the summer is a source of comfort for me. Almost like no matter how much other things around me change there’s still this one thing that is immutable to change. Something about that makes me feel at ease with this cursed existence.
I mean let’s be honest here. There’s no comfort whatsoever in knowing that you’re never going to really die. For me, this is all there is. No pearly gates, no eternal rest. If anything, you could say that what I’m going through is a form of never ending torment. Sure, I can check out of this hotel anytime I want, but–and please excuse the Eagles reference– I can’t ever leave it. Not entirely. Know what I mean?
For everyone else, life is an experience and then they die. Death, for them, is a release. For me, it’s just the beginning of another experience–one that I never asked for.
As for someone that is technically immortal, I treasure surprises. At times, I almost envy people who can’t retain short term memories. Almost. In a very real way, their lives are constantly intriguing and surprising–even though I’m sure it’s complete hell for the people who love them.
It’s why I’ll never forget Mr. Han. There’s a guy who was exactly the same in every reality. Right down to the last detail. He had been living down the way from my childhood home since before my family ever moved to the block.
I can see him now in his brown slacks and undershirt sweeping leaves from his front porch, lit cigarette in his mouth. When you’d pass by his house, he’d turn to look at you with his glassy, glossed over eyes. I don’t know how he did it, but he’d be able to look at you with those sightless eyes of his and just know who you were. He’d smile and wave at you, flashing rows of stained teeth and that one gold filling. Then he’d call you by your name.
His senses were so sharp that I didn’t realize he was blind until I was much older. As a kid, my friends and I used to try to sneak past him whenever he was outside sweeping leaves off his porch or shoveling snow off his driveway. It never worked. He always just knew you were there.
Unlike most people I came across in my travels, Mr. Han was one of those rare surprises that I felt compelled to unravel. So one of the last times I checked out of my reality and traveled I decided to pay old Mr. Han a visit. I remember having so many questions that I wanted answers to.
Why was he never different from one life to the next? Why did he always live in the same house and wear the same things? Was he born blind or did something happen to him to cause that? Did he always live alone or was there someone else? Were there children? Grandchildren? Were they constants as well?
Imagine my surprise when I found other people staying in Mr. Han’s house. Some young college kid, his girlfriend and their bulldog now lived there. I walked up and asked the kid about Han one morning while he was washing his muscle car in the driveway.
He just looked at me for a second and said, “Oh you mean the old guy who was here? I think he died. Yeah…”
I felt like I had just fallen through the floor. Everything I thought I understood about my reality, so to speak, went straight out the window. All this traveling and I hadn’t been paying attention to the one constant that should have mattered the most. Time.
Time was still moving forward in all these realities with or without me. Even having spent years in one reality or the next, it never occurred to me that there was an expiration date to all this.
On one hand, there was a real sense of hope. Hope that I may be able to escape this endless cycle of life and death. On the other hand, of course, there was a real sense of fear and dread as to what would come the next time I would die.
Now it seemed suddenly that there was an end to this seemingly endless cycle of mine and that time, for me at least, was running out.