What If?

Everyone collects one thing or another throughout their life. It may be part of the human condition, but it sure seems like the human race has been wired to squirrel away little trinkets for no particular reason other than they seem to create some sort of happiness that is almost tangible.

Sure, on occasion you'll witness the odd man out. The guy who doesn't seem to have anything to really show for thirty or forty years of living. But invariably if you look closer at these strange specimens you'll notice the same underlaying humanoid mechanics and the need for unnecessary clutter to arrange and sort just so.

Enter the world of Joel.

Joel was thirty five, balding and enjoyed the rather uninteresting sport of cricket racing. It wasn't really an obsession or a hobby, this cricket racing. But he found pleasure in watching the occasional match on his back porch, nestled safely below the super highway that straddled his sprawling fictional city.

Upon first glance Joel did not seem to collect anything. He was logical and thoughtful about his clothing. He regularly gave away old DVDs and CDs. He had no elaborate temple dedicated purely to a specific variant of sub-antarctic water fowl. No cupboard full of antique salt and pepper shakers from central Turkey.

No. Joel was altogether different than the average man on the street. He dealt exclusively in the world of his imagination.

Joel collected ex lovers and the future lives therein. He maintained no in depth manifesto or law suit inducing photography collection. But rather an elaborate series of worlds constructed purely on the "What if it worked out?" scenario that was all too common with men of his economic, political geographical and racial profile.

He mentally maintained twenty six relationships, twenty five of them purely imaginary with people who may or may not have expired sometime in the recent or not so recent past.

This average run of the mill man might have become a genius in another world and in fact he maintained three realities wherein two college sweethearts and a one night fling encouraged him to further his understanding of the universe and subsequently bettered the whole of humanity a significant amount.

He held marriages to fifteen women, two men (oddly enough the most stable of his collected "What-ifs," even though he was firmly heterosexual throughout much of his life) and was theoretically proposed to nine individuals. He held doctorates in biology, metallurgy, chemistry and homeland security. Three of his potential selves were severely obese and two were very healthy.

Twenty potential selves, oddly enough did not find cricket racing interesting in the least. This greatly troubled Joel when he mulled it over while watching the sport. It sort of ruined it for him, in an oddly recursive way.

Every one of his worlds was completely realistic. There was no reality wherein he was not fully himself.

But this is not the story of how Joel collects worlds in his mind for his own petty amusement while riding public transportation. This is the story about how these worlds, however imaginary, killed him in twenty seven ways.

It happened purely by accident one morning while Joel was in reality brushing, flossing, rinsing and washing his rather so-so set of adult teeth. While fully aware of his surroundings he was engaged in one case of wake up sex, ten morning defecations, five early commutes, three breakfasts, two mind blowing blow jobs, two hangovers, one agonizing case of the flu, and one father son talk.

The theoretical wake up sex was great. His husband (a boy he met when he was 13 at Camp Spruce Goose) had always been a great, gentle man. But had always been interested in the weirder side of sexuality. While sudden and completely accidental asphyxiation may have seemed amusing to the average person against Star Wars themed relations, the void it left was sudden and complete.

Joel stopped brushing his teeth and replayed the instant of gratification. Up until that moment in his life the number of theoretical lives had steadily been growing. There was never an instance of losing one.

This happening troubled Joel. With tooth paste dribbling from the corner of his mouth he wondered what had just happened. He was fully sane and in no way delusional. His what-if lives had been purely constructed and in no way had lives of their own.

Yet there he was, his first theoretical life ended. His storm trooper body slick with sweat and death shit while his husband (a cardiologist) performed CPR.

But it was over. The reality slipped away and by the time his mouth was rinsed of his breakfast sandwich, it was gone altogether.

His other selves gasped in unison creating a strange chain reaction in their respective lives. Twenty spouses looked at him oddly, three cats glared indifferently and a goldfish spat bubbles and shat. There was no Darth Vader clad cardiologist to ask what the hell was wrong with him.

Joel and his now twenty four selves went about their days. They collectively mulled over the incident while the real self went about on his daily routine. The real missus was out of town, so it was going to be a beer and chicken wing fueled morning.

It was during the morning news that his second self died. Just as he had begun to grasp the reality of an isolated incident, his second life came to an abrupt and terminal end as his cheating spouse (his first girlfriend, a nerdy little seventh grader) set their home ablaze in a prescription drug fueled frenzy.

An exploding propane tank filled his worlds with pain and fire. Visibly shaken, the remaining selves broke out in cold sweats.

Collectively, within their different theoretical homes each self found a mirror and stared into it. The real Joel just stared slack jawed into the reflection he cast on his ancient television.

Am I mad, he thought to himselves collectively. No, of course not.

Every theoretical life was carefully and thoughtfully fabricated. There was no grand delusion. It was simply his imagination (by then overly active) running away with itself. But however hard he tried to will the nerd-girl loving investment broker, or the Darth Vader loving web designer back to life it was futile.

They were gone. Their realities, more than two decades in the making each had been snuffed out. Over forty collective theoretical years. He and his collective selves shuddered like beanie baby collectors would after a home flood.

He and his twenty three remaining theoretical selves stopped. They immediately formulated a plan that involved every self withdrawing from their lives temporarily. It was a strange precaution, but Joel wanted to safeguard his elaborate collection to the best of his ability.

He laid down on the couch as a fleet of men nearly identical to him started their theoretical cars, hopped on their theoretical motorcycles and departed in their theoretical yachts.

Six hours passed before a coastal storm drove his third self to the bottom of the sea clutching a deflated life raft. Another two hours passed before his forth met it's untimely end at the hand of a freak car jacking incident with an enigmatic corn rowed youth named C.J.

Frantic, Joel directed his likewise upset selves into hiding. Withdrawing from their carefully built lives was not good enough.

This directive inevitably and immediately brought the brutal end to five, six and seven. Terrified by their own theoretical deaths they had all failed to pay attention to their environments. Five found himself hit by a bus, six fell down a flight of stairs and seven curiously enough was caught in the epicenter of a U.S. Air Force bombing range.

And so it continued in sequential order. The husband to an iron worker, dead. A marine biologist and father of six, dead. The would be husband of a pop star, crushed to death by a stage light. Occasionally hours would pass between ends. Sometimes two within the span of minutes.

Gradually Joel's stress began to build. Number twenty three, a severely obese self proposed to a McDonalds franchiser sustained a massive heart attack brought on by the severe mental condition caused by watching yourself repeatedly die. Go figure.

Nearly five hundred years of theoretical life were extinguished. Within Joel's mind, only one terrified self remained. He imagined the man gasping for air, clutching at a shooting pain in his right arm. His eyes were wide and laden with baggage.

It was then that Joel himself began to experience the tell tale symptoms of a heart attack. As life bled from his last remaining theoretical life his real body cried out in agony.

Soon the last remaining theoretical Joel collapsed into unconsciousness.

Rolling off the couch, clutching his left arm as if it were broken his view of the last what-if grew blurry. Remarkably like it's actual self, he was only three months removed. Proposed to a Russian immigrant, he'd never see his unborn son.

He died, ironically enough in a gutter. The real Joel was left with only his own thoughts and a failing heart. He considered just letting it happen. But the phone rang.

It was Clara, his girlfriend of two months.

She wanted to break it off. It seemed she had been wrong to assume she could change his strange habit of examining her faulty logic. As the real Joel's eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed onto the kitchen floor, a new one was born.

A Joel that received a call from Clara. Her just wanting to say "I love you." before bed.

The real Joel passed into unconsciousness. But the new theoretical Joel remained aware. His connection grew fuzzy with his progenitor as blood bled from his real brain.

Soon there was nothing.

Theoretical Joel pondered this as his real self died. And he continued for quite sometime afterward.


Newer Post Older Post Home