The Turn happened on a Thursday, on October 7, a day when I was concerned about a finance exam, and where I was going to spend my winter break, and whether I could afford to do any of the internships that interested me. It happened to me because of other people’s circumstances, other people’s mistakes. It happened to me.
I opened the door to find Sandy, my housemate’s girlfriend, on the stoop. My own girlfriend, Elizabeth, was at her apartment, trying to study for the same finance exam, despite having one of those horrific colds we all came down with once or twice a semester. Sandy showed up to meet John, and we were making small talk when she got a text saying that a hot water tank had rusted out and flooded the restaurant where he worked. So he was held up. He guessed he’d be back around 7. It was awkward, but also diverting, a little racy, to be just sitting on a cheap couch with this woman whose blouse sort of—I guess it was designed without a lot of buttons or something. Like she’d been forced to choose between prim and hot, and she’d gone with hot. And I couldn’t help looking there, really quickly, but she noticed, and she let me know she’d noticed.
Another text from John: not 7, maybe 8. Maybe she shouldn’t wait for him. But she texted back that she would; she didn’t have anything better to do. Communications major. I thought of excusing myself to get back to my studying, but my papers were spread out on the kitchen table, so I’d have to gather them up to take them in my room, and then I guessed I’d have to shut the door. Maybe I could swing it without being rude, but there was no way I could do it without seeming like a gigantic nerd. And nerd/non-nerd status was something that mattered.
So I poured her a beer, and we talked some more, and somehow her glass got knocked over and broke. We had to clean it up, and her blouse opened even further when she was leaning down like that, and just after we exchanged glances about it, and I got the distinct impression that she’d be able to keep a secret, she noticed I was bleeding. I’d only had one beer, not even, but I felt drunk as she held my hand in both of hers and rushed me to the sink, and I hated—hated—the loss of that drunk feeling when she ran to the bathroom looking for a band-aid. When she got back, as she laughed at what a mess I’d made of myself again, I knew something was happening to me. The gravity of the Turn was apparent, but I had no way of interpreting it.
She rinsed away the blood, and turned the water off, and the smile dropped off her face all in a millisecond, and she raised my hand and lowered her face and kissed the wound. When she looked up again, there was blood on her lips—she didn’t lick it away, just left it there—and the way she trembled as she blotted my hand and opened the band-aid showed we both understood and accepted what was coming. And when she looked up again, of course my hands were in her hair and on her neck; it seemed as if they had to be, and I wondered very briefly if I were carrying the bug that had made Elizabeth so sick, and then there were tears streaming down Sandy’s face for some reason, and I managed to unbutton that blouse.
We didn’t hear John until he was right beside us, screaming, but even then we wanted only to finish, and I actually pushed hard inside her twice while he hit at my back and shoulders and pulled insanely at my hair.
Then Sandy was sitting up on the kitchen table and pulling her clothes around her as if someone in the room had never seen her naked before, and I was still all momentum, with (I knew) a stupid expression on my face, and John was screaming his disbelief that he couldn’t leave his friend and his girlfriend together for one hour and trust them not to debase themselves. I remember my finance textbook falling to the floor—silently, somehow, under his screaming—and a piece of paper following it down, also silently.
Debase. Some days, I miss John nearly as much as I miss Elizabeth.
I had just shifted to wondering if there were any way news of this would not make it back to Elizabeth, when Sandy began screeching at John that she loved me. The first time it came out, so shrill, I wasn’t sure I’d heard her right, but then I was on alert, and by the second time, all my hair was standing on end, for real. That’s a thing that happens. She said she’d loved me for months, and she’d tried to talk herself out of it but couldn’t; we were meant to be together.
I knew that if I opened my mouth, I’d vomit.
When Elizabeth confronted me, the next day, her eyes were red and her face was puffy. She said something like, “So I heard from John that you and Sandy have had a thing all semester. You could have said so. Why did you waste my time? I’m a big girl. You could have said, and spared me this.”
The last thing I heard from her was, more or less, “I’ll admit it is some consolation to know you have feelings for her, and you’re not just a complete dick who cheated on me and fucked his best friend’s girlfriend for no reason whatsoever.” When I think of this, it’s the word “consolation” that tears at me. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say it out loud since.
If I hadn’t been so keen, still, to get back inside Sandy and finish, just finish, that I did so at the earliest opportunity, and if Sandy’s parents hadn’t already scheduled a visit seven days later, maybe I could have found a way to tell all of them that yes, in fact, I was a complete dick, that I’d fucked her, fucked them all really, and myself most of all, for no reason whatsoever. But there I was meeting Sandy’s folks, wearing a goddamn jacket and eating a goddamn steak that I knew someone else would pay for, and loving the way Sandy’s dress fell across her chest in the low light of the restaurant, and I decided I had no idea about anything. I had no idea whether I was a complete dick or not.
Here’s the thing: the possibility of not being a complete dick was very, very appealing. In fact, in those days, not being a complete dick was so attractive that it stood out as the most important aspect of the story.
But. After a year or so, sometime after the wedding, I realized that things hadn’t been right since I was with Elizabeth. I’ve read about people who don’t feel alive, and it’s something like that, but not quite. I’ve been living without her for seven years now, and I know I’m alive, but everything else is off, not quite real. I’ve told myself it’s silly to put stock in an idea like this. Of course things are right, and real. The house, and the city, and the bank—all of it—is how it should be. Are my folks less real than they were when Elizabeth was around? Doesn’t make sense. Nevertheless.
If I’d been studying at Elizabeth’s place that evening, the Turn wouldn’t have happened. My life would be on track today. If the hot water heater hadn’t failed just when it did, if the restaurant owner or the restaurant owner’s landlord hadn’t “deferred maintenance,” I’d be living my real life now, not this alternative life. If the whole thing had happened just a few years earlier, John and Sandy wouldn’t have been able to text. He’d have called the landline in our apartment, and we’d have been reminded that he was a living, breathing human, and not just some abstract, misspelled words on a tiny screen. If Sandy and John had planned to meet at her place, if there had been no beer in our fridge, if Sandy had worn a T-shirt, if I hadn’t washed the dishes earlier in the day and it had been a good sturdy bottle that got knocked over, maybe even if I’d been studying in my room instead of the kitchen when she arrived, I’d be living my real life now. Maybe in some other dimension, I am.
Maybe in that other dimension, I have Elizabeth in my life. I have John. I’m in a real city, not a city near where Sandy happened to have grown up. I have John’s connections—and his Dad’s connections. Which means I have a real job, and I’m not sitting in a damn bank every day, staring at the weird carpet in the weird silence, and the highlight of my days isn’t bowing and scraping before clients who have a net worth of a couple hundred thousand dollars. And I have kids that feel real, and feel like my kids.
Sandy wanted to name our second daughter Maya, and so I looked it up, and found out one of the things it means is something like this feeling I have about my life. The world we see is an illusion. So I agreed, and now every time I say her name I’m reminded. She’s cute; the girl is, believe me, a wonderful kid. It’s too bad she isn’t real.
So I’ve been thinking for months about how to take a second Turn, how to jump from this unreality back to reality. And I’ve done a lot of research, intensive research, and I’ve gotten some expert advice. I’ve trained myself—mentally mostly, but also physically. At night in the basement. And I’m nearly ready. I thought it would be a good idea to document all of this, because if you take the long view, it’s a big deal. Really big.
I wonder what will happen to this notebook? Probably it will stay behind, or disintegrate. I guess we’ll find out.
Well. I had intended to write much more frequently, but I’ve been super busy. People who don’t have a scientific-spiritual practice would probably be shocked by just how much time and effort it requires. I’ve been working with an amazing guru, a teacher, who’s got the most incredible breadth of knowledge. He’s Native American I think, but he’s been all over the world, studying everything from Hinduism and Sufism to Zoroastrianism, and Theosophy and The Fourth Way of course, and he’s distilled all of those teachings and made them his own, set a few things straight that were crooked in the other systems. He has a lot of clients, students, patrons, like me, all over the world. I could put down some of their names, but I’m sworn to secrecy.
He’d surely be a millionaire if he didn’t do so much bartering. Etan prefers not to handle currency. Like, right now, he’s spending a few nights out in my shed. He says the energy is exceptionally good here (maybe for astral travel; he won’t say), and anyway Sandy had started scolding me about all the cash I’d been pulling out of the ATM.
When I met him, he told me he’d been waiting his whole life for me. I asked him how he could be real, here, in the middle of this unreal world, this world that was created as a result of others’ mistakes, how he could have waited for me, and he laughed and laughed. He told me I had much to learn. He’s just incredibly astute and wise. Sometimes he sounds like fucking Yoda. I’m not kidding.
Today, Sandy found Etan in the shed—or rather, she found him shitting out in back of the shed. Thank goodness I was home when it happened. After a very long argument, she calmed down, and despite not understanding anything about my practice or how important Etan is to it, she’s allowing him to stay in the garage for one week, max. That way, he has access to the bathroom through the kitchen. But she dug out the baby monitor and set it up in the girls’ room again, and just now decided that wasn’t good enough; she’ll sleep in there on the floor with them. After failing to talk me into sleeping on the floor. Like I said, I’ve been super busy. I’m exhausted. Sandy just has her job, and you know, making dinner. I’ve got a space-time recalibration on my plate.
Sandy is not a spiritual person. But then, she’s only a thing in a dream I’m having, a dream I need to wake up from. Etan is clear about that; he puts a lot of emphasis on my waking up. He gets it.
Things are coming along. My practice has been developing rapidly, since I’ve had a teacher so close at hand: I’m stronger, more disciplined, more focused. Sometimes I’m so aware of the dreamlike nature of this world I walk through, it seems as if it could all fall away, like one of those big, background paintings in a theater, to reveal the reality behind it. Sometimes, there’s even a twitch at the edges of things, like it’s about to go. I’ve been working with Etan on how exactly to make the shift, and he’s with me, only he says I’m not quite ready to absorb it yet. It’s okay though. I have a couple of weeks. So exciting.
Absorb—I like that.
Sandy relented; Etan can stay in the garage a while longer. No particular end date, and he can use the washer and dryer. She says, “The guy’s a fuck-up, but I’ll hand it to you—he’s an entertaining fuck-up.” I think even Sandy can sense a hint of his extraordinary presence, his wisdom, but she’s uncomfortable saying so. Right. Back to work.
It’s late. It’s almost October 8, in fact. I have a lot to write.
I had planned to be in the basement by 5:30 or 6:00 this evening. I had planned everything. I was going to be meditating, facing east, on the sofa cushion. The couch is the one I had in college, so it’s a pre-Turn sofa cushion. I hadn’t told Etan about the whole plan, or even the importance of the date, because I hadn’t ever told him how Sandy and I got together. I mean, I had asked him about it dozens of times—cause and effect, the sequence of things fitting together, and so forth. But it had been abstract. And he’d been saying, still, that I had much to learn, things like that. Anyway, I’d decided to try this thing—the ReTurn, I’d been calling it—without him. I’d just tell him I was practicing, like any other Sunday evening. I could absorb it, or not. I could always try again next week.
But. Sandy had taken the girls to their grandparents’ house for the day, because she wanted to, I don’t know, get her hair cut or something. And then around noon, she called to ask if I could go and get them. Because she wanted to get a drink with a friend. I said no, of course, but she insisted. She said she couldn’t remember the last time she’d done that—had a drink with a friend—and to be honest, I couldn’t either, and so finally I said yes. I calculated what I’d have to do and when, and called my in-laws to let them know when I’d be there to pick up the girls.
On my way over, I stopped to get the big amethyst cluster I’d ordered from the rock shop on 12th Street. It was gorgeous, and I could just feel the power rolling off of it. I had them wrap it in bubble, and I put it in the trunk so the girls wouldn’t ask questions. I pulled away from the rock shop five minutes early.
But. When I got to my in-laws’ place, right on time, the girls weren’t ready. They were out back in the creek, for God’s sake. We’re having this Indian summer, and they had their pants rolled up and they were in the water, splashing some neighbor’s dog, instead of there on the porch waiting for me to pull up, like I’d imagined, like decent kids. Like real kids. So I had to put a stop to all that and get them moving, which didn’t make anyone happy. My mother-in-law frowned a lot as I rounded them up and got them into the car.
Then. Once we were on the road, Nora said she was hungry. The grandparents had fed them lunch, but that was hours ago, and they were ready for dinner, and what was for dinner?
I texted Sandy, and she texted back that whatever I wanted to feed them would be fine. The nerve. Give Sandy an inch, and she’ll take a mile. She mentioned some things in the freezer, but of course she didn’t know about the space-time fix I needed to get to. I texted that I’d take them out, and told the girls, and they yelled happily because they thought that meant we were going to Richardson’s.
Richardson’s makes a great burger, and I liked the thought of that. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, because I’d been training intensively, and hadn’t figured food into my timeline for the evening. But Richardson’s would take an hour and a half, maybe even more, on a Sunday. It was the best place in the city to go with a family. And it wasn’t on our way.
So we drove through the golden arches instead. It was so much cheaper than Richardson’s that I ordered more than we needed, and the girls and I stuffed ourselves, so we were burping and droopy when we arrived at the house. I figured I’d clean up all the packaging the next day—if and only if I existed in the same dimension with the car full of McDonald’s cups and wrappers the next day. I parked outside the garage, knowing Etan was living in what used to be my bay, and herded the girls out of the car. I retrieved the amethyst, carefully set it down on the driveway while I closed the trunk, and followed the kids into the house. Since both hands were busy with the amethyst, I pushed the door closed with my foot. The girls veered toward their room, and I made for the basement, to put my time crystal into place and get started.
In the kitchen, I was happily surprised to see that I’d left the door to the basement open. I didn’t have to set the amethyst down; I could just keep going. It was only when I was halfway down the stairs, and I heard a kind of murmuring, that I realized something was up. I came off the last step and turned to see Sandy’s bare back, rising and falling, with a pair of naked legs stretching out underneath her, toward me. On that couch, the cheap, relict couch.
For a—you know—climax, to the story that was “my” “life” after the Turn, it was all very calm. I followed my breath. My stomach hurt a little, and I wished I hadn’t overeaten. I considered throwing or dropping the crystal, but I could feel it radiating energy between my hands, and I felt I had to respect that. I stood there, four or five feet from them, for what seemed like several minutes, considering how I ought to be angry; I ought to be acting like John had acted eight years earlier. But really feeling only curious about what all this was doing to the space-time continuum, and bloated.
I cleared my throat. And at last Sandy stopped moving.
She turned around, and as she did so, I saw past her to the face of the man underneath her. It was Etan, of course. Of course, somehow. Of course. My eyes met his, those deep black eyes, and after a tiny flutter of wondering whether he’d done this on purpose, to liberate me, I understood that he was ashamed.
Then my eyes met Sandy’s, and I saw that she, too, was ashamed.
I found I had nothing to say. I turned and walked back up the stairs, the amethyst’s power billowing in waves behind me. I carried it out to the driveway, and opened the trunk, and put it inside. Off to one side this time, leaving room for a suitcase.
Back in the house, I found Nora and Maya in the kitchen, squabbling over cups and straws. (The angel cup, with its fat pink straw, was the most desirable.) I swung the basement door shut quietly, and asked the girls if they had any homework. They thought this was hysterically funny, and I realized it was possible I’d never once wondered that, or asked them that, before that moment.
Embarrassed, still feeling my breath in my body, I saw them. The slight asymmetry around Nora’s eyes, Maya’s bangs a mess because she’d cut them herself, the pale blue stain circling their mouths because of the nasty candy their grandmother liked to buy for them.
I told them to wash their faces and brush their teeth, and repeated myself until they did. I told them to get into their pajamas, and I helped them agree on a story they’d both like to hear, and I read it to them. I regretted not putting them in the bathtub, but decided not to worry about that. It all felt very natural, and right. I felt grounded. When I tucked them in and kissed them good-night, they smelled good, and seemed drowsy and happy. I told them I’d see them tomorrow—not in the morning, but in the afternoon.
As I switched off the light in their room, Maya sat up and asked, as if it had only just occurred to her, “Where’s Mommy?” I told her Mommy was home, just busy, and she would look in on them soon.
And then I gathered some things from around the house, and I got into my car, which smelled like dirty peanut oil and salt, and I drove away.
Toward my real life.
Christina Craigo, MFA, MBA, was brung up in West-by-God Virginia. The decades since have featured making, exhibiting, and teaching about art; traveling to India with support from the Fulbright Foundation; writing grants for nonprofits; and a sustained involvement with Buddhist teachings and meditation. Her work has appeared in Exposition Review, Hobart, and Eclectica. She’s currently seeking representation for her first novel and developing a second.