May 20, 2043, 11 p.m.:
Tonight I was either going to die or travel in a time machine back to 1971. Hell if I knew which one. So I prepared myself for both and made my peace.
Sitting in the bedroom my college sweetheart and I had shared. I could feel us here, our souls frozen within these walls. I sobbed. Could I get back what time had stolen from me? Loud knocking snapped me back to reality.
“You okay in there, mister?” hollered the man from outside.
I opened the front door and was shocked by the darkness. A light fog hovered over the ground. “What time it is?”
“Almost eleven,” he said, glancing at his watch.
“Jeezus. I’m gonna be late, damn it. Sorry I stayed so long.”
I took his hand and thanked the current owner for letting me visit the vacant rental cottage. We had lived here seventy-two years ago. I hurried across the damp lawn to the solar powered car I left sitting in the driveway hours earlier. I switched it into auto-drive mode as a thousand thoughts raced through my mind. I made the forty-five minute drive back to Brookhaven Lab from Hampton Bays for my two a.m. rendezvous with the past and the possibility of altering it.
When I got back to my room at the lab, it was almost midnight.
“You were supposed to be back here two hours ago,” scolded Margot, my time-travel adviser. “Where have you been all evening, anyway?”
“I drove to Southampton to see what was left of the old college. Then I stopped by the house where I lived.”
“I could have lost my job if you didn’t come back. You wouldn’t be the first not to show up at the last minute you know.”
“Sorry. There’s no way I would have missed this.”
“Well, I was sure you’d be back. They started prepping for you two hours ago but I didn’t tell them. Did you eat any dinner?”
“I ate around five o’clock.”
“Better have something light,” she said. “I’ll be back in an hour.”
I took a container of yogurt from the fridge and a protein bar. It occurred to me that I had never met another potential time traveler during the few days I had been here for orientation. For that matter, Margot was the only person I’d had contact with, although I’d seen other technicians walking around the building in white coveralls. I never asked and she never offered any information about other time travelers she might be advising. I thought it odd, considering there were millions of seniors over age ninety who were eligible to time travel each year, but Brookhaven was just one of five Space/Time Manipulation Centers.
I packed up my few belongings and tossed them into the disposal. I couldn’t take anything from 2043 back to 1971, so I gave all my assets to my sixty-three year old nephew Daniel. The only other thing I had of value was the matching wedding rings from my forty-nine year marriage, to Inez Terumi Ikkanda. Since we never had children, I decided the best place for them was in a small box along side her urn at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica. All my photos and letters from Laureen, my college sweetheart, I gave to her son Makana.
At one a.m. Margot knocked on my door. “I need your virtual pod.”
I removed it from my pocket and handed it to her. It stored all my vitals and communications, in addition to all my thoughts and feelings, since I received the first generation unit in 2031.
“It will be destroyed unless you want to give it to a relative.”
“Send it to my nephew, I guess.”
“Please follow me.”
She escorted me to another room down the hallway and told me to wait then she left the room. I stood in what appeared to be a small medical office. A middle-aged man wearing a red turban and white lab coat soon entered and introduced himself as Dr. Radh Achuthan. He removed a device from his pocket and scanned my upper body.
“You’re in excellent health, but I detect a rapid pulse and heartbeat. Now I need to remove the nano computer chip from your neck,” he said, stepping behind me. “Might sting a little.”
This microchip, implanted just above my hairline, allowed my thoughts and feelings to connect with my virtual pod.
“Why bother removing it? It’s useless back in 1971 without nanochip technology.”
“Nothing, absolutely nothing can go back to the past from this time,” he said.
He quickly found the gold, inch-long, hair-shaped chip and plucked it out. Then he picked up a jet injection gun off the table and swabbed my left arm with alcohol.
“What’s this for?” I asked.
“I’m injecting you with your personal DNA/Genome nanochip and a GPS nanochip.”
“For the morphing process. They will both dissolve within two hours.”
“Oh. I...uh...I was wondering. How many others are going tonight?”
“Sorry, Mr. Goldberg. I can’t discuss that.”
“It’s just the rules.”
There was a slight pinch as the needle penetrated my skin.
“All done. Good luck on your journey, sir.”
Margot entered as he left. “Time to get over to the Space/Time Manipulation Chamber.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure. But let’s get going. It’s on the lower level.”
“How come I haven’t seen another senior the entire time I’ve been here?”
“All departures are confidential.”
“Why? I don’t get it.”
“Everyone is entitled to his or her privacy as they prepare to depart. Some want to say farewell to their relatives. I’m sure you can understand that.”
“I guess so.”
“It’s time to go,” she said in a calm voice. “Are you ready?”
She opened a cabinet marked STERILE and handed me a thin white paper robe and paper booties.
“Please remove everything,” she said, turning her back.
When I had complied, she escorted me down the long white corridor to an elevator at the far end. There was a flashing red sign on the door that read, “DNA Scanning Required.” She placed her palm over the scanner.
The scanner responded, “Margot Greenwood, cleared to enter.”
A small drawer opened, revealing a golden key. She inserted the key and the elevator door slid opened. Panic set in. My body began to shiver. I could barely stand. My knees wobbled, forcing me to lean against her.
The elevator dropped at a rapid pace. Within seconds, it slowed and the door opened into a colossal room filled floor to ceiling with massive machinery that hummed and buzzed. Large mainframe type computers and control panels covered the walls. It seemed as if I’d suddenly been thrust onto the set of a science-fiction movie.
“This is the Space/Time Manipulation Control Center,” Margot said. “This is where the wormhole is created. It’s the vehicle that takes you back to 1971.”
“Is it...is it safe?”
“As I explained when you first arrived it’s perfectly safe.”
I followed her to an adjoining room just beyond the Control Center where three glass-body chambers stood.
Two technicians in white overalls greeted me. A woman, who was thin but very muscular, grabbed my hand. “I’m Ruth,” she said, flinching slightly from the cold sweat of my palm.
“It’s quite all right, nothing to be afraid of.”
About fifteen to twenty technicians scurried around. Then the lid to one of the glass chambers slowly opened.
Ruth handed me a thin white tablet. “This is a sedative. Place it under your tongue. It’ll relax you.”
“I’m the only one here?” I said nervously.
Margot looked at me and said, “You’re the only one who has a departure time of May twenty-first, 0200 hours, destination 1971. Please take off your robe.”
Ruth and the other tech took hold under each arm and helped lift my ninety-two year old body into the chamber. Even though it was all clear glass, once they closed the lid claustrophobia set in. A cold, clammy sweat spread over my entire body.
I wanted to scream, “Let me out nooowww,” but I resisted.
“How’re ya doin’, Mr. Goldberg?” asked one of the technicians in a Southern drawl.
“Gettin’ very anxious and scared.”
“That’s normal,” said Ruth.
“Just take some deep breaths and let the sedative relax you. In a few minutes, you’ll be asleep. You’ll awaken in 1971, back in your twenty-year old body,” Margot assured me in a comforting voice.
Through the glass windows of the Space/Time Manipulation Chamber, I watched technicians maneuver around in the Control Room. They hovered over digital consoles with scores of dials and gauges emitting a soft glow of orange, yellow, and green.
I tensed as the chamber began to vibrate, slowly at first, then more vigorously. A loud buzzing filled my ears. On the wall of the chamber, a small display counted down 1:57, 56, 55...
Everything outside the chamber whirled into fuzziness. Dizziness overwhelmed me. My sense of time distorted. Deep breaths didn’t help. Every muscle quivered as a wave of fear raced through my veins along with the sedative. Scary thoughts raced through my mind...
Was this time travel technology for real or was it just a ruse to exterminate me along with the burgeoning senior-citizen population? As my departure dated neared, I found myself becoming more paranoid. It wouldn’t be the first time a government committed genocide on its own citizens. No, no don’t think that. I’m gonna make it back to 1971...back with my first love. But can I change anything? Can I save her?
Margot’s voice reverberated in the chamber. “Take deep breaths. Have a wonderful life...again, Mr. Goldberg. Don’t forget what I warned you about meddling with the past...it is strictly forbidden.”
Eyelids are heavy...feel myself drifting...from this place, this time, this old body.
Darkness swallowed me and plunged me into oblivion.
Montauk Dorm, Southampton College, Friday, May 21, 1971 2 a.m., The Second Time Around:
I awoke with a jolt, dazed and disoriented, unsure where I was or who inhabited this body, drifting between two times, uncertain if I’d been hurled into the future or the past...
I opened my eyes, blinking to adjust to the darkness. My heart pounded from a rush of panic. Holding back a scream, I jerked to a sitting position, attempting to recover my equilibrium. I was more puzzled than frightened by the feeling of nothingness. I had experienced this same feeling many years ago traveling on Amtrak. The tiny, cramped, coffin-like sleeping compartment vibrated fiercely in the dark. I awoke, startled by the sensation of nothingness, like the infinite timeless, formless, spaceless void before our birth. I’m going to die one day, whispered the voice inside my head. Was this that moment?
Still unsure where I was or when I was, I clutched my stomach as a wave of nausea overcame me. My ears rang to the point of deafness. My head still spun from the G-forces of traveling faster and faster, of being pulled back 26,280 days through the wormhole. My entire body was bombarded with sensory confusion, compelling me to create some kind of order out of the conflicting stimuli. Then I felt the youthful tightness of my skin, the strength of my arms and legs, and the powerful beating of my heart.
The technicians had prepared me for this--for my ninety-two year old body metamorphosing with and into my younger self, yet still retaining all my thoughts, emotions, and memories. The blood raced rapidly through my veins unclogging old, decayed arteries. The sensation of hormones pulsated through my groin. Energy flowed inside my body as it had when I was a teen, and I felt invincible, like I would never die.
I was keenly aware of feeling light. Free of all burdens and the massive weight imposed by age and a lifetime of regrets. Life had yet to beat me down. Lightness permeated my body, reminding me what it was like to have the freedom to not do anything. No worries, no job, no mortgage, no car payments, no one to take care of, no aging parents, and no goddamn responsibilities.
The moist Long Island humidity crawled over my skin. It was still dark outside. Shadows filled the room, but a smidgen of light reflected off the white cinderblock walls. The pungent smell of sea air from Shinnecock Bay infused the room.
My eyes finally adjusted to the semi-dark room. Two metal desks and chairs sat at opposite ends of the room. Stuff was strewn across both desks, but I couldn’t make out what it was. An empty metal bookshelf hung above each desk. Large, wooden, door-less closets filled with clothing stood next to the desks. The first item hanging was a dark-colored jacket with a large white logo that glowed--Southampton College. Several white suitcases rested on the floor next to a stack of cardboard boxes. Two frameless mirrors hung on the vacant walls reflecting the blackness of the room. The only sound I heard was that persistent ringing in my ears.
I recognized this place--Montauk Dorm. My sweetheart and I stayed here for a week in May 1971, after the spring semester, waiting to start our summer jobs for the Model Cities Program.
I was here. I really made it. I’m back...I made it back to 1971!
I remembered what Gatsby said to Nick Carroway, “Can’t repeat the past...Why of course you can!”
Time--that phantom, that great equalizer, numbering our precious days, unstoppable, relentless, indiscriminate, irrevocable time. Finally, I had conquered Time!
I found myself lying on a narrow bed. Another bed was adjacent to mine, the two mattresses held tightly together by the sheets. The ringing in my ears subsided and I startled at the sound of quiet breathing. A body cuddled beside me--my sweetheart, Laureen Kanaka’ole. The last time I saw her was sixty-eight years ago. She looks exactly how I remembered her, even better, so different from the pictures I found on Facebook. Those photos haunted me. I found them posted on Facebook after she died. Death was evident on her face. Her beautiful face turned frail and sunken and sallow, as the life ebbed from her body. If only I had known.
For a moment, I sat motionless, studying her, watching her chest rise and fall with each breath. My eyes traced the curve of her soft, full lips and the waves of her long, brown, silky hair. The feelings came roaring back. Feelings of intense love that had been dormant in my heart for sixty-eight years, when I had loved her more than life itself. My body trembled as I sobbed in silence.
Laureen was peaceful in sleep. Eighteen years old with no cancer, no pain, no suffering. I reached over and placed my hand on her chest to feel her heart beat strong. The smooth, dark skin of her face glowed, unblemished by age. Until this moment, I hadn’t realized how extraordinarily beautiful she was, how much I had missed her, how much I’d hungered for her touch.
I kissed her lightly on the lips. She wriggled at my touch, breathing a gentle moan. The last time we shared a kiss was sixty-nine years ago, June 5, 1974, when she boarded the plane to go home to Hana for the summer. Now I stared at her and beamed with inner satisfaction. I finally beat Marvin Bradley. He died many years before time travel was invented. Marvin stole Laureen from me. They were married for thirty-two years and had two children. Now I had Laureen back again--back in 1971--when she loved me.
I gently eased off the bed testing my young legs. The first few steps seemed shaky but I managed to find the bathroom and flicked on the lights. “Oohhh my God,” I gasped, startled to see an unfamiliar face. The wall of mirrors reflected the body of my twenty-year-old self. I stared at the image with powerful curiosity. It had been over seventy years since I’d seen that person staring back at me. My head was covered with thick, wavy brown hair and long sideburns. Lips were thick and full. The sag, wrinkles, and deep frown lines were gone, as were those horrible white eyebrows. Even the pimples I always despised had returned to my cheeks. The skin on my hands was smooth and silky, like a child’s. I had been reborn.
I physically looked the same, but something was different.
I stared at my youthface, trying to reconcile this young, vigourous body with the memories of the decrepit old body I’d had only moments ago, the body I would one day have again if I survived that long this time around. I couldn’t escape from one enormous burden--I knew the past and I knew the future!
I crawled back into bed, too afraid to go to sleep. The unrelenting ringing in my ears made it impossible anyway. Anxiety and nausea lingered. Conflicting memories tumbled around in my head. My head was in two places simultaneously--two different pasts, two different lives, two brains in one body.
The Time/Space Manipulator technician warned me in 2043 that I would experience schizophrenic symptoms as my ninety-two-year-old memories merged with my younger self. It could take several hours or even days for the process to be complete. Twenty-year-old Jeffrey was meeting his older self. Not physically, but in my mind, trying to reconcile the seventy-two years of memories that came flooding back.
The reality of 2043 receded.
Entering this old familiar world again, without the technological advances of the twenty-first century I had become accustomed to and taken for granted, was like going backward through the looking glass to a nostalgic, simpler time.
Who in their heart hasn’t longed to be somewhere else in time?
A time before the “quickening,” when you could go to sleep and wake up the next day knowing the world hadn’t changed overnight. When your choices seemed more clear-cut, when the mundane act of opening up and reading a newspaper was time-consuming and comforting. When you didn’t need a remote because there were only ten channels on the TV. When you knew who your enemies were.
Could I live in this world again? Too late, there was no going back. This place, this time, this 1971, was my real world now.
I watched with awe as Laureen slept. Oh God, to hear her voice again, and that special way she would pronounce words in her Hawaiian accent. I desperately wanted to wake her. I reached out my hand to shake her awake, but then drew it back. It was still the middle of the night, so I let her sleep.
I got up and rummaged through the boxes finding familiar belongings, including several pairs of bell-bottom jeans. It was odd because everything seemed brand new but I also remembered them as old and worn. Now I had my whole life to live again. A single day here in 1971 was worth losing the few companionless years I left back in 2043. My entire life was before me--all the time in the world. You only get one this chance to fix it, so don’t screw it up.
The twenty-year-old Jeffrey from the past had met Laureen nine months earlier in front of the Southampton College windmill. Yet images, feelings, and emotions from the events of a life already lived were slowly being assimilated, like data files transferring from one computer to another. My twenty-year-old mind couldn’t fathom the future, but the ninety-two-year-old me seized that memory from 2010--a moment when something changed my life forever.
“Oh God, no--how? God in heaven, no--no,” I mumbled.
The horror of what I’d seen, what I’d felt, sitting at the desk in my office staring at the computer screen, caused pain to lash through me, obliterating my euphoria.
© 2014 by Jeffrey Goldberg
Excerpted from "The Windmill of Time: A Time Travel Memoir" by Jeffrey Goldberg. Copyright © 0 by Jeffrey Goldberg. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.