The following story is by Kaille Kirkham. If you enjoy this story, check out Kaille’s poetry, short stories, and short essays on her blog, pluscachange.wordpress.com.
My grandpa is a time traveler.
Most people live their time in one solid, unrelenting direction. It changes pace now and then (the slowest night before Christmas; the fastest eighteen years of your daughter’s life) but for the most part we are trapped, locked into the forward direction of the fourth dimension. It goes, and goes, and goes until the day you die—except that then, time hasn’t stopped, really. It’s just left you behind. It continues to carry on for everyone you leave behind, or rather, everyone that keeps moving without you.
My grandpa’s first trips through time were small things. Sometimes, he was at lunch when everyone else was at dinner. Sometimes, he was on Tuesday while everyone else was on Wednesday. Sometimes, he was in 2011, or maybe 2010, while everyone else was in 2013 and barreling headlong into 2014. He stepped back, off the tracks, and started moving in a direction that no one else could follow.
I’m not like my grandpa. I’m just like everyone else, clinging to the runaway train that is my life and hoping that I don’t fall off. I squint and can see next month; I blink, and I’ve missed last year. I can’t keep up with it, but I can’t quite fall behind. Every time I reach a place where I think, “Enough, enough. I’m getting off here!” (I have thought it, and I probably will again) I still end up staying on anyway.
For my grandpa, everything he walked past recently has started to unravel. As he marches backwards, memories unwind themselves and float away. He’s not just going back—he’s unseeing, unfeeling, unknowing. He is leaving time behind.
I’ve got a little talent too, I guess. I can’t move backwards like him, but I can see the things we knew together if I look over my shoulder. I can see him at my university graduation, proud of his very first grandchild (not the only one, but the first.) I can see him taking me to the archery range and showing me how to shoot (recurve, properly strung, compounds are too complicated.) I can see us leaning over the lathe, me wearing special gloves (he made himself, out of golf gloves and a special thumb) so the friction against the tools that makes them hotter than a frying pan don’t burn my fingers. I can see the hand-made dresser we built together, little birds on the front (a sparrow, a black-capped chickadee, and not-quite robin with a crimson front) on his favorite birds-eye maple. I can see the first lock I ever owned, set to my birthday so I wouldn’t forget the code (but not my exact birthday, or someone can guess it.) I can see myself sitting in his burgundy leather office chair, marveling at the colors and sizes of the books around me and wondering if I’d ever read as many books as there were in that room (never, not in my entire life, not even close.)
It’s just that when my grandpa moves backwards, those things disappear for him, and since I can’t stop moving forward any more than he can stop moving back, every step he takes erases a little bit of time between us, a little bit of life we had together. Every single day, we move away a little bit faster, farther, from the last middle point between us. Every single day, I get closer to being the only one that can look over their shoulder and see what’s behind them.
Last year, I saw my grandpa for the first time in a long time; it was probably too long, honestly, but I live across the world now and seeing him, or anyone really, is hard. When he opened the door and saw me, he smiled. It was big and warm and happy.
“I remember you!” he said. “I remember you when you were this big!”
He gestured to his hip, about where I’d have been when I was ten years old.
I hugged my grandpa and kissed his cheek and realized that even if he couldn’t see the places in between ten years old and twenty-five, it was okay. He looked at my graduation photo and walked past that day. He looked at our dresser and walked past that day. He looked at my face, my twenty-five year old face, and walked back until all he could see was my ten year old one. But don’t get me wrong; it was still okay. Even though there was so much more time between us, he still had something to share with me. It wasn’t everything, and sure, every day it was (is) a little bit less.
But he still knew me, and I still know him. That’s the best feeling.
My grandpa is a time traveler, and someday (soon, much sooner than I want) he’s going to go back beyond what I can see. After that, I’ll be the only one to see them all, all those moments and memories. He’ll go back until he doesn’t share any time with me at all, and then I won’t be able to see him either. He’ll go back beyond what I have ever known.
Someday, my time-traveling grandpa will leave time, for real. For good.
I hope he enjoys the view on his journey back. I sure have.