I open the front door of my house and walk toward the kitchen, dropping my key card in the small dish that sits on the counter, as I do every evening. And just like every other day, I head straight for the refrigerator and pull it open.
Not surprisingly, today options are also the same as yesterdays. I have a door full of expired condiments, four bottles of beer left in a six-pack—now three, as I pull one out—a jar of pickles, and a pizza box with three-day-old pizza.
I grab the box and put the last two pieces of pizza on a plate. Putting the plate in the microwave, I hit the “1” button which auto starts the microwave for sixty seconds, and then set the empty pizza box next to the almost-full trash can. As I wait for the countdown to reach zero I twist open the beer and lean against the kitchen counter. A long sigh escapes my lungs.
“To the future,” I say out loud, holding up my beer in a mock toast to no one, before bringing it to my lips for a swig.
As disturbing as what the future we saw today holds, in this house, I am more haunted by my past.
I never planned on being a scientist. My parents always encouraged me to do whatever I love, but after my dad left, I felt I had something to prove. Though, looking back, I’m not sure how following in his footsteps really proved anything. I guess deep down I thought that whatever moral dilemma he faced that made him leave us, I would do better.
After going away to earn my doctorate degree, I returned to Studio D at the urging of my mother. Dr. Garner was looking to groom a replacement for his eventual retirement and it turns out I was on his mind for the job. I didn’t expect him to hand the keys over to me immediately, but I never expected it to take ten years, either.
Garner took over as the director of Studio D after the previous director was forced to resign. The second casualty of my dad’s final actions at this facility. I never had any interaction with Director Stevens, but my parents always spoke highly of him.
I don’t remember a whole lot, but from what I’ve heard, the transition to Garner was pretty seamless. He didn’t try to shake things up but took the approach of letting the scientists do what they do. He’s been very hands-on, providing valuable guidance and direction on every project, but also giving each department a pretty wide berth to explore and experiment as they see fit.
When he finally retires he’ll be missed, but Studio D is ready for some fresh leadership. But now, after our discovery today, I’m worried that Garner is headed right back to where he was after his wife died; no passion for the job, but clinging onto it for dear life. It may finally be time to nudge him out the door.
The microwave beeps. I grab my pizza and stare out into the living room as I take a bite. I can’t remember the last time I sat on the couch or turned on the TV in that room.
The decorations throughout the house have not changed since my wife, Allyson left a year and a half ago. Everything remains exactly as it was—even the family pictures still hang on the wall. The entire house is a museum in remembrance of her, almost as if it expects her to return at any moment, so we can pick up where we left off.
I know better, though.
I grab my pizza and beer and head down the hall. My mom occupies two of the three bedrooms, one to sleep in and the other to work in. After Allyson left, there was no sense in both mom and I living alone, so she moved in with me. Not that it matters though, with as little interaction as we have. After work, she comes home and goes right back to work and then to her bedroom to sleep.
I can’t say I do much different.
As I walk down the hall, I pass a dozen pictures of a smiling, happy family hanging on the wall. I see a dozen familiar faces that I no longer recognize, each a snapshot of history that I barely even remember. Yet, I refuse to take them down.
Every day I go about my business, oblivious of my past. But twice a day I walk this hall, forcing myself to be reminded of who I was—or am—and face the pain of a life full of bad decisions. If nothing else, I’m sure Allyson and my daughter, Peyton, would appreciate this self-flagellation I put myself through each day, however brief.
Hands full, I knock on the door frame to mom’s office with my foot and then gently push the door open. I poke my head in. “How was your day, mom?”
“Same as any other. You get the reports. If there is anything worth noting, you’ll be one of the first to know.” This comes out sweet, even playful, but I know she means it.
“I’m not asking about your work, mom, I’m asking about you.”
“And I told you, you can stop.” Her reply is polite, without any harshness in her voice. She’s a woman resigned to the monotony of her life. “Every day is the same. I get up, go to work, come home, work some more, and go to bed. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“You forgot about your nightly bowl of popcorn and falling asleep to the Game Show Channel.”
She smiles, and, for the first time tonight, looks at me. “And here I thought I was keeping my addiction to game show reruns a secret.”
“Not from me,” I smile back. I step in and kiss her on the top of her head. “Love you, mom. Good night.”
“Good night, Camden.”
After my dad left, mom changed. She went into seclusion both physically and emotionally. We really haven’t been close since. Even though she was present, she disengaged, ultimately becoming a recluse in our own home, burying herself in her work.
I check in on her every day and try to make small talk, but without any kind of personal relationship, the only thing we have in common is the job. And as a preventative measure against hearing anything about her former team in the time travel department, she never asks about my day.
Unwilling to live with the reminder of her work with a husband she dearly loved, she left the time travel project. Today, she is the sole member of her own division, where she can work alone. Several times over the years we asked for her help in Soundstage 16, but she refuses, wanting absolutely nothing to do with the work we do.
I walk into my room and set my pizza and beer down on my nightstand next to my bed. Just as I turn on the TV that sits on my dresser, my cell phone rings.
I toss the remote on the bed and pull the phone from my pocket. It’s Cleaner.
I listen as he tells me the news. As if this day couldn’t get any worse, he tells me he found Dr. Garner, dead in his office. From the looks of it, it is a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.