What the Hell’s a Jigawatt?

“I need a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 jigawatts of electricity I need.” ~Doc Brown

flux_capacitorThe first time I saw the flux capacitor I was like a kid in a candy store, eyes wide open, mouth drooling, frozen in place, hoping to hell that it didn’t go anywhere. I thought that if that thing was real it would be a gold mine. I would be able to go back to any point in time and change things I didn’t like the first time through, paradoxes be damned. But there was a thick piece of glass between me and it, and as naive as I was I didn’t actually believe the TV could be ransacked to steal the content inside.

I knew I would have to wait. And waiting has never been my forte.

It was 1991, and like everyone else, I had waited long enough to get Back to the Future, Part II on video. Blockbuster had this massive sale going on, and I was able to pick up a “slightly used” copy for $15 bucks, an absolute steal. I spent all of my money that hadn’t been used up on Slurpees and Teen Beat magazine to procure my own copy. Then I watched the hell out of it, hoping with each viewing that it wouldn’t be the one that wore out the delicate video ribbon.

It lasted for over 20 years. I still have absolutely no idea how.

“You built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?” I honestly felt like Marty every single time I saw that bitchin’ time machine. OUTATIME indeed. It was so futuristic that I felt like it outatime2-600x600could fly the moment Doc drove it out of that trailer in the first film. To me that car transcended both time and space, so the idea that it could actually fly in the second film made perfect sense to me. What didn’t make sense was the 1.21 jigawatts.

You see, while I was totally in sync with time travel and everything that entailed, I knew nothing whatsoever about the science behind it. I knew the “sucker was electrical,” and that it took plutonium to give it some real “kick,” but how massive that electrical current just had to be was beyond my scope. It was the first thing I really took on faith from the first movie, and that carried over into the second. It was that 1.21 jigawatts that took it over the edge from science fiction into some type of spiritual faith.

And I was okay with that, with moving it forward from a simple movie into an entire belief system. I was good with suspending all rational thought and going with the flow, even when the timeline changed, even when Marty almost ran into his former self, even when Jennifer did run into her future self. It was all totally believable because of that 1.21 jigawatts of electricity that took the car from a simple DeLorean into the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, come back to take his children home.

In that way I didn’t even care anymore what the hell a jigawatt was, so long as it could make me fly, so long as it could bring me back and forth in time like a swinging metronome easing to and fro, so long as it could give me everlasting life. You know, like a movie does the more times you watch it, like this movie does to me without fail, bringing me back to the first time I ever watched it, to that sense of childlike wonder I used to carry with me all the time.

Which meant that every time Marty got behind that wheel and hit 88 miles per hour I closed my eyes and felt the rapture. I still do.

Sam

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Boarders, Volume 8

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I’ve been good, right? I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do this year. I’ve been a good father. I’ve spent quality time with my wife. So why am I stuck in this excruciating limbo here in this place where time stands still and I can’t imagine anything past it?

You know me, I’m not one to complain. I generally try to expect the best from situations and people until I’m proven otherwise, and even then I’m not too quick to shift gears. I try my best to be the best I can be, and sure, I make mistakes, but I try to work through them and learn from them.

So why am I being tortured like this? What did I do in a previous life to warrant the cold stares, the hard sighs, the loud judgments and slamming doors? My therapist says I need to confront this woman who has been making my life a living hell for the past few months, but I’m never been good at confrontation. Maybe I need to start learning how.

I think I may have yelled at one person in my life, and that was an eternity ago. I don’t even remember what it was about, or how I even got so worked up that it came out in that red hot way it seems to do with others on a steady basis. I’m generally softspoken, enough that people mistake my kindness for weakness, but I’m not generally weak. I just do things in a different way.

But nothing I do has worked with her. She took me in when I had no place to go, and I will forever be grateful, but she judges me more often than not. I know I haven’t been perfect, but instead of talking to me like a human being she usually talks AT me, telling me everything without telling me anything. Because I still don’t know what I can do to make her treat me like a living, breathing human being.

And it’s gotten worse since we’ve been living here, not that it wasn’t bad before. She would come over our house and tell me all the ways I’ve disappointed her (subtly, of course). She would assume I wasn’t going to do anything to help with housework, to get the children a snack after school, or anything else. But at least then she would eventually GO, she would head back to her house and I could breathe a sigh of relief.

I can’t breathe here. It’s only five months into this living together thing, and I can’t breathe! I’d like to be able to breathe again sometime, please.

Sam

300 Writing Prompts: #130

“What do you and your spouse or best friend have in common?”

I want to say “love” but it’s so cliche, and the way she loves me is not the same way I love her. It can’t be. We’re individuals. So feelings are out, even though feelings are in, and I have to think of something else. Isn’t that always the way?

She’ll probably tell you that we both grew up in the ’80s but that’s not particularly true as she was a teenager and an adult in the ’80s while I barely hit 13 by the end of that decade. It means that she saw The Breakfast Club when it first came out, and I caught it on some nostalgia channel in the late ’90s. It means she was dyeing her hair purple while I was begging my mom to stop making me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for school.

She’ll probably tell you that we both have a fondness for cheesy movies, and she would be right there. We seem to like those romantic comedies that most other people pan. Or the time travel film where you can totally debunk the method of time travel in seconds. Or movies starring Meg Ryan, even though she hasn’t been in a good one in years.

She’ll probably tell you that we both have a sweet tooth, and she would be right there as well. Give us some cookies and chocolate any time and we can exist on just that for ages. Ice cream doesn’t stay too long in our freezer, and we have been known to snack on things even if we’re not hungry.

She’ll probably tell you many things, and she knows us as well as just about anybody, so I would listen to her, but I’ll tell you what she won’t. We are both writers. No, she has no aspirations at the moment to publish anything. She doesn’t even write all that much. I can’t recall the last time she wrote anything just because, and I write every day. But that doesn’t make her any less a writer.

That’s what first came to my mind when I read the journal prompt, even though it’s been an eternity since we wrote anything together, since she shared anything she wrote with me, but it’s one of the first things I found out about her. That was in the midst of our insane back-and-forth emails at the beginning of our relationship, when we were miles apart but drawn together by our words.

And I am in breathless anticipation for the day she comes to me and says, “Let’s do it again.”

Sam

@ Heathrow

heathrow-airport-terminal-5“I’ll sit anywhere,” she told the airline attendant behind the counter whose name tag read Patrick. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, London time, and Heather was surviving on fumes by that point, in a race against time trying to make her way back to Chicago.

“Listen, I missed my flight, but it wasn’t my fault,” pleaded the desperate woman.

Patrick looked up from the monitor embedded just below the surface of the counter as Heather strained to look down at the plane schedules he had pulled up. He had frosted tips, the type that she would have laughed out loud at if he were one of her closest friends, but at that moment he was her best hope so she stayed silent.

“Ma’am,” he said, in an impeccable British accent. “I don’t doubt that, but we have no flights available until 6:30, and that would be standby.”

“But I need to be in Chicago, like, yesterday,” she begged, stopping just short of getting on her knees. She adjusted her cleavage, hoping that might change things, but his eyes were on her own. It figured.

“Then might I suggest calling whomever you’re supposed to be meeting there and letting them know you will be a tad late,” said the ever helpful Patrick, smiling sardonically at her.

“It’s not like that,” Heather said, all pretense of begging gone. She was an executive, and used to getting her way. She wasn’t going to let some, some pencil pusher tell her she couldn’t get it done. “Look, I’ll pay you for whatever you can get done for me.”

“We don’t accept tit for tat,” said Patrick with a straight face, indicating with his index finger the security cameras trained on them. “It’s strictly against the law. But I can place you standby for the 6:30 and you can keep your fingers crossed.”

She walked away after giving him her name and cell phone number, feeling like an ironic mirror of herself, a meek version of who she hoped she would never be. But it was so much more than that, she finally admitted to herself, knowing that if she couldn’t tell herself the truth she would never be able to trust anyone else with it. She felt like a total failure not just because she missed her flight, but because she wouldn’t make it to such a significant event — again.

Jordan had called her on Monday and made her promise she would come, that she would be there for the most important day in his life, knowing how crazy her own life was and what it would mean if she said yes. But she had said yes anyway, because she was weaker than the facade she put on every single day, and for the simple fact that it was him asking. She had never gotten over Jordan, even with an entire ocean and five years between them. Yet she said yes, as if he were asking her to coffee to catch up, not to his impending nuptials.

“I can’t imagine my special day without you there,” he’d said, not knowing how it made her catch her breath, not realizing it tore her up inside. Still.

“But won’t it be awkward, Jordan?” she replied through slightly gritted teeth. “I mean, we almost got married.”

“Which was ages ago, and you’re still my best friend,” he had said, dismissing her fears like so much garbage. “You are my best friend, right?”

“Shouldn’t your fiance be your best friend, Jordan?” she asked, knowing his answer before the pause, before the exhale, even before she asked the question.

“You know it’s always been different with us,” he’d said. “And Shae understands that. She’s the one who asked me to invite you, that it wouldn’t be the same without you.”

And Heather had sighed then because he knew he wasn’t lying, that Shae had such a pure heart that she would want whatever Jordan wanted. But they were both such idiots, really, that they couldn’t see what was right in front of their faces, what was between them as surely as a hedge separating private lawns. Because she was balanced on that hedge, ready to spring onto the green grass on the other side, regardless of who it hurt.

“Okay,” she had said, half expecting cheers from the other end of the connection, but he just gave her the details and signed off, as if it had been a foregone conclusion the whole time, like the call had been a matter of course. She felt bruised in that moment, a peach that wasn’t quite ripe enough to taste good in the peeling, but at the same time she felt a rush of elation. She was going to see Jordan again, after five years of phone calls and dodging his requests to visit.

But she sighed again as she wheeled her carry-on across the tiled walkway of Heathrow, Terminal B. Even if she managed to get on the 6:30 flight there was no way she could make it to the reception hall to catch the ceremony, and only a thin wisp of a chance she could get to the reception. And if she missed that flight she would arrive too late for any of it. She knew she should call Jordan, that she should let him know she would indeed miss his special day, but she was too afraid to dial his number.

She imagined he would sound magnanimous, that he would say it wouldn’t be the same without her, that he would be sad over the situation. In that way the phone call would only serve to make her feel better, but she knew she deserved to feel as bad as she possibly could, because of the reason she had been late. The night before she had taken out all of their pictures, all of the photos that had chronicled their friendship since high school, every album she had created in secret, knowing how it would look to others. And she had allowed herself to cry the tears she had held in since her move to London.

Soon the vodka had come out, and then all pretense was lost as she drank her sorrows away, tears fat and heavy, falling onto the photos she had fought so hard to preserve. But she hadn’t been able to stop herself, because his marrying Shae was the final nail in the coffin of what could have been for the two of them, one last arrow to her heart from the man who said he would love her forever. It just wasn’t the kind of love she wanted from him, which made all the difference.

“Now boarding — 3:40. Flight 269 to New York City. Terminal C,” came the smooth voice over the intercom, breaking up the sound of the muzak that had been the soundtrack for Heather’s melancholy mood. She sat down on one of the unyielding black plastic chairs across from the news stand that somehow seemed to her melancholy as well, deciding whether staying would accomplish anything of merit.

“Now boarding — 3:40. Flight 269 to New York City. Terminal C,” said the voice again, and something tumbled around in her mind, finally settling into place with a snap, breaking her from her self-imposed torture. It was time to really move on. There was a reason she had missed her flight, and it had nothing to do with Jordan. It had everything to do with her, with her own opinions of herself, how she had said she wanted to move on, but had done nothing besides avoid the situation. It had changed nothing. London had changed absolutely nothing.

So she got up out of her seat, even though she had just sat down, and headed for Terminal C as fast as her legs could carry her, Patrick’s eyes on her the whole way until she turned the corner and joined with the crowd of people in the tunnel between terminals, hustling from one place to another just as she was. A smile crept its way onto her face as she realized what she had to do to change her life for the better, and sitting in an uncomfortable chair at Heathrow wasn’t the answer.

The loudspeaker came on once more, but she had stopped listening by that point, on her way past Terminal C to the exit, to the double doors that led to a freedom she hadn’t recognized was owed her. It was time to get rid of those pictures for good, she thought to herself, her mind racing, to block his number from her phone, to make a clean break once and for all. It wasn’t healthy for him, for Shae, and most definitely not for her at all, and she had to be the one who was strong, who severed the rotting limb before it took over everything.

Heather easily melted into the group of newly arrived passengers heading out into the rising sun of what had the potential to be a brilliant London day, and she smiled for the first time in a long time. Chicago could wait. Forever.

Sam

Haunted

“Come on don’t leave me like this. I thought I had you figured out. Can’t breathe whenever you’re gone. Can’t turn back. Now I’m haunted.” ~Taylor Swift

394245_315552211813007_315184498516445_1054979_1253620114_nWhy am I haunted by the ghosts of friends gone by? I know what my therapist would say. There was no closure. I never got the answers, the reasons why, and that bothers me to my very core. I am haunted by the ghosts of friends gone by because they decided I wasn’t worthy enough to get an answer, or a reason why. And that sucks.

I’ll admit right off the top that I’ve never felt adequate. I’ve never felt that I was worth time and effort from other human beings, and I have absolutely no idea where that came from. My mother gave me all kinds of attention and validation when I was a child, so it wasn’t that whole nurture thing. I’m thinking maybe it’s just in my nature, that it’s always been in my nature, some hidden part of my brain that is driving me in this direction.

And maybe it’s also the kinds of friends I’ve picked up along the way, now that I think about it. I tend to gravitate towards those people with big personalities, or the “misfits” who are deep and introspective. But those kinds of people aren’t the ones who keep in touch. They’re more interested in doing a plethora of things, and if I fit into their plans, great, but if I don’t then I won’t hear from them.

It’s uncanny how that happens too, because even when I think I’ve found someone who can be there for me when I need them they somehow disappear. And when they show up again it’s way too late, and then I carry around this disappointment like an anchor around my neck that colors how I treat them then. I hate that about me, but I don’t know how to fix it other than to get friends who are actually there for me when I need them, not when it’s convenient for them.

I understand being busy. I am busy as well. But I’ve always believed that people make time for the things and the people who are important to them. I make time for my friends, even if it’s a small piece of time wrapped around things I have to do, but it’s difficult to get my friends to take time out of their schedules for me. I have to admit that maybe I’m to blame for that. Maybe I’m just not special enough, not in that top tier of friends who warrant time being spent to just send a quick text, or a quick email… or anything.

So when the few and far between calls or texts are disappointing to me I try to rationalize them to keep from feeling like it’s me. I say that my friend must be busy, that they’ll get back to me when they can. And I wait. Then, after an interminable period of time (sometimes a week or more), they reemerge from wherever they’ve been with a text or a call that isn’t apologetic but picks up where they left off as if they weren’t gone.

I don’t know how to handle that, so I internalize my feelings, I withdraw from the friendship so that I’m not so torn apart when it inevitably ends. I get torn apart anyway because not once has someone told me before they disappear that they’re going to disappear and why they’re going to disappear. I have never gotten an explanation so my brain goes to dark places when yet another one leaves without a word, without a whisper, without anything to give me that closure I need.

It’s almost enough to make me say that friendships aren’t worth it, but then I look at other people who seem to have good, solid friends who are always there for them when they need them to be, who don’t fade into the ether like the phantoms I call or called my friends. And don’t get me wrong. My wife is incredible, the single most impressive person I’ve ever known, but I need a support group that doesn’t stop and end with her. I need the same kind of network that she has, those people she can count on aside from me.

I try not to be jealous of her, but while she has those who have been there for her the entirety of her life, I am still waiting to hear back from those who say I’m their friend. And no, a Facebook “like” doesn’t count as a response. Maybe if I ever got some closure from friends gone by I wouldn’t be so pessimistic about what the future holds in that regard.

Sam

The Trouble With Dating

I haven’t been single for too many periods of time in my life. You know, outside of my teenage years when I was generally seen as a pariah by both girls and boys. It was so easy to be celibate back then that I could have been the poster boy for virginity. I used to imagine going down into the subway and finding a huge advertisement for just that, with my face plastered all over it.

I was single for several months back in 1997 that somehow stretched into 1998, and in that space of time I had dates with several women, but none of them were particularly special. Perhaps because I still wasn’t over Amanda, but that’s another story for another time. That may have been part of it, but the other part is what I never really wanted to admit. I’m just not that good at small talk.

Did you know that dating is mostly made up of small talk? At least the early dates are, when you’re feeling each other out and figuring where you might fit in the long term. Which is ironic, considering that making a long term decision based on small talk is like getting a cat when you know you’re allergic. You need something to build off of, and small talk is the last thing that can help with that.

That’s why I was never good at being single, but also why I was never really good at dating either. I’ve never been good talking about the weather, or the price of tea in China, or how high gas prices have gotten. I generally skipped straight to “Have you ever been in a serious relationship?” or “How many kids do you want?” And I was surprised when they didn’t ask for a second date.

It was either that or my jokes, I’m sure, that turned them away. I think I’m ridiculously funny, but somehow I don’t think every single woman feels the same way. Especially when they give me a look that says I’m probably only a step up from an amoeba. That’s not good, particularly when I was on a first date. When I saw that look I knew there wasn’t going to be a second.

I was single for several months back in 1997 that stretched into 1998, and in all that time I went out with no less than 10 women on first dates. Only 2 of those first dates turned into seconds, and on those dates I withheld my jokes. Coincidence? Probably. But there were certainly no thirds, and I’ll take some small measure of blame for that. I know now, though, that none of those worked out because I’ve never had patience for small talk.

Because I was waiting for a woman who would appreciate my jokes, who would talk to me about big things right from the start, and who would understand that I need to be the center of attention more often than not. None of them lived within my radius in Philadelphia back then, and I’m glad of that now. Because I never would have found the woman of my dreams if any of those dates had led to more.

Sam

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