A New Year’s Fantasy

30 Dec

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”

                             –Lloyd Alexander, Author

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A couple of years ago, when I strolled through the Barnes & Noble store in Manhattan before Christmas, I came upon the latest Stephen King novel entitled “11/22/63”, which was the date JFK was struck down by Lee Harvey Oswald. On the book’s front cover was a newspaper containing the familiar headline: “JFK Slain In Dallas, LBJ Takes Oath,” but shockingly on the back cover, a completely different newspaper is pictured. That headline reads: “JFK Escapes Assassination, First Lady Also OK! Americans Breathe Sigh Of Relief.” WOW ! I stood there stunned by the whole concept, and I knew I had to have that book.

jfk cover

jfk back cover

The book’s premise is that a Maine school teacher, Jake Epping, learns from his friend, the owner of a diner, that the pantry in the back of his diner is actually a portal for time travel back to a specific date in the past, September 9, 1958. Step into the pantry, and you can travel back 53 years. Jake’s friend had been using the portal to buy ground beef at 1958 prices, but he offers Jake the opportunity to go back there for a deeper purpose—to stalk Oswald for five years and then prevent one of history’s most infamous events from happening.

The combination of a subject that fascinates me and the sheer concept of going back in time to prevent a senseless tragedy sent my mind into an absolute frenzy that day at Barnes & Noble. I had to sit down in the store’s Starbucks to compose myself. It was because I’ve had recurring fantasies since Jeff died that I actually stopped him before it was too late. These aren’t dreams I’ve had while sleeping. These are wide awake, sitting-at-my-desk-with-the-door-closed fantasies that I can’t stop visualizing.

The Los Angeles Times review of King’s book says:

“This is the conundrum of any time travel story…Every action taken in the past has an effect on the future, which means even the best intentions often have unintended consequences. Jake learns this early in the novel, when he tries to save a man he knows from a childhood catastrophe, only to learn, upon returning to the present, that in the new world he’s created, his acquaintance was killed in Vietnam.”

I don’t see the conundrum. Was it better that Jake’s friend died in childhood, or 15+ years later in Vietnam? My view is that every day of life is a blessing, and I’d have taken another 15 years with my beautiful son in a heartbeat, if that’s all I could have. No brainer. The future is always uncertain, but all senseless tragedies should be reversed if the power exists to do so. I do understand the horrors that people endured serving in Vietnam, and I don’t mean to make light of those. But to have 15 extra years with my son, almost under any circumstances, would be my choice.

I have two very distinct fantasies, one simple and one dramatic. The simple one has me coming home early on the afternoon of November 9th, 2010, and I pull up to the house just as Jeff is backing out of the garage. I say “hey, where are you headed, I came home early so we could grab an early dinner at Michael’s and then watch the Knicks-Bucks game at the bar afterward.”

And Jeff, not knowing what to say, kind of stammers and says, “Oh, sure, ok, great” and he pulls back into the garage. I wonder why he says he needs to go back into the house to get his wallet, while I stare at a $1 bill and his loose driver’s license in his car’s cup holder. There are also a few sheets of paper on the passenger’s seat. I assume he just forgot the wallet while rushing out of the house.

He seems surprised and definitely out of sorts, but he pulls himself together, and we drive over to Michael’s. We then have our typical great time together, talking about a plan for him to regroup and to figure out how to channel his true passions into a career that he will love. And after a few beers, we start screaming at the TV as the Knicks proceeded to get blown out by 27 in Milwaukee.

But in the real world that night, Brett sat between Carey and me on our bed, and we mindlessly stared at that Knicks game on TV, not knowing what to do or say. And we spent at least two hours trying to summon the courage to call Drew at college to tell him his big brother was gone forever. How do you tell a 19 year old middle son that, in the blink of an eye, he had become our eldest ?

In my dramatic fantasy, I also come home early. I don’t know how or why, but somehow I’ve been tipped off to what Jeff was on his way to do, and I speed toward the bridge. I get there in time, and as he gets out of his car, I pull up behind him. I get out, lunge toward him, and wrestle him to the ground, all the while telling him how much I love him and that everything will be ok. I usher him into my car and drive him home.

I tell him that we’ll just tell the police later that his abandoned car had broken down. The next day, I take him to the behavioral therapist he was supposed to see on this day. It goes well, as we expected, and the session gives Jeff the motivation to move forward in a positive way. The meds he had been on the month before completely leave his system by the end of the year, and he feels back to himself again. He is ready to embrace 2011.

The Associated Press’ book review says:

“Revealing how ‘11/22/63’ ends would, of course, spoil the book. But it kind of doesn’t matter, because the lesson is clarion: Don’t mess with yesterday. It may bite. Pulling at the threads of time’s tapestry is done at our own peril, and the conventional assumption that changing one thing about the past would make today better is simplistic. Besides, King writes, ‘The past doesn’t want to be changed.’”

That may be true–the past may not want to be changed—but I would do anything including selling my soul if that’s what it took to bring Jeff back. And changing that one thing absolutely WOULD make today better. It would make the world a better place, brighten the days of many people who have been deeply hurt by losing Jeff as part of their lives , and it would erase the devastation that our family has endured and make us whole again.

There would be no peril in changing the past to prevent what Jeff did. There would only be goodness, beauty and hope. There could be no negative repercussions to bringing back a young man who truly touched people’s lives and who had so much potential to do great things someday. And since his death was an isolated incident that didn’t involve anyone else, reversing it would not alter the natural order of the universe.

The New York Times book review says:

“There is a darker what-if. What if history is too forceful to redirect? What if jiggering the engine produces no favorable outcome — merely a postponement of the inevitable? If he had lived, Kennedy might not have escalated the war in Vietnam, and might have kept America out of a bloody mire. But we don’t know. What if we were headed there anyway? Then our tampering might only make things worse. It is not historical inevitability, but something close.”

I disagree with this passage. I don’t believe there is anything inevitable about any of our fates. We shape them through our actions and our approach to life. If Jeff had gone to his appointment that day instead of to the bridge, he wouldn’t have simply been postponing the inevitable. He would have been embarking on a new path, the right path, to getting his life back on track after the detour he took by leaving his job. And every day that each of us is out there in the world battling it out is a day that brings us new hope and promise. If our destinies were inevitable, why bother trying to shape them? Why bother striving for anything? Of course, that is ludicrous.

In mid-August 2010, we left for East Hampton for what would be our final family vacation with Jeff. The first day there, I got pretty sick, and by the time we went out to dinner that night, my temperature had spiked to over 102. I almost never get sick, and I guess it unnerved Jeff to see me in that state.

He asked to me to get up from the table so he could speak with me privately. He brought me to the vestibule by the restaurant entrance and said, “Hey, I see what my whole job situation has done to you, and I don’t want you to worry. I’m gonna step up and go to law school.”  He broke into a big smile as he said that.

He was clearly concerned about me and was making a very loving gesture, and I responded by embracing him right there and telling him how much I loved him. But I corrected two things about what he said. First, I told him I just happened to get sick- his leaving a job had nothing to do with it. And second, while I appreciated the sentiment, I told him I only wanted him to go to law school if HE wanted to go. I said I’d rather him step up and strive for WHATEVER he wanted to do. Either way, it was an amazing moment.

Less than three months later, though, medication-induced thoughts led Jeff to commit an irrevocable act. Tragically, when it comes to suicide, there are no “do-overs”.

But “11/22/63” prompted me to dream that maybe there can be a do-over after all. Maybe there really is a time-travel portal somewhere in the world, in some abandoned inner city warehouse, or some vacated farmhouse in the heartland, or maybe even in Atwater Commons at Middlebury, for all I know. I guarantee you this—if one exists, I will find it, even if it takes the rest of my days.

And when I do locate it, I will travel back to the afternoon of November 9th, 2010. If I have a choice when I get there, I will opt for the simpler fantasy of catching Jeff before he leaves our house, and then taking him to that long overdue dinner at Michael’s, so that I can eat, drink and watch basketball with him again. After setting life back on its proper course, I will return to 2015 to find Jeff blogging away about the world of sports, getting ready for a night out with the guys, and talking about his exciting new job working at ESPN.com.

The realist in me understands that I won’t likely find the portal that I seek. But my worldview is always that as long as I’m out there working hard every day to realize my dreams, there’s always a chance that I will. And while writing about Jeff in this forum has been great and therapeutic under the circumstances, I look forward to the day when, after fixing the past and returning to a beautiful present with Jeff in it, I visit and express my gratitude to Elon Rubin (this blog’s creator) for having given me the opportunity to write on the Kleinsaucer blog.

When I see the look of sheer befuddlement on his face, as he asks me what the hell a Kleinsaucer blog is, it will be the most beautiful sight that I have ever seen.

-Rich Klein

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3 Responses to “A New Year’s Fantasy”

  1. Susan McClanahan December 30, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

    Hi Rich – your portal made my heart sing thinking of you and Jeff at Michaels and Jeff blogging and happily working at ESPN. Thank you for sharing such beautiful images. xo, Sue

  2. John Re January 22, 2015 at 9:53 am #

    Amen. What I wouldn’t do for another day . . .

    • kleinsaucer January 24, 2015 at 9:00 am #

      I know you understand, John. When I travel back in time, I’m taking you with me.

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