But You Don’t Really Care For Music, Do You?
The morning my alternate-universe boyfriend appeared, I woke up to find him wandering our house like he was lost, confused. At first I thought he was sleep walking, even though he never had those tendencies'”I mean, the sudden onset of somnambulism made as much sense as any alternative.
“What’s the matter?’ I asked him, and the way he looked at me, I could tell he was wide awake.
“Who are you?’ he asked. “Where am I?’
My first impulse was to rush him to the hospital. I was trying to figure out how he could have gotten amnesia while I was naively asleep. Did he have some kind of stroke, an aneurysm, some kind of brain event? Did he fall out of bed and suffer a massive closed head injury while I slept soundly? I checked his forehead for bruises, lesions, but there were none.
“What’s your name?’ I asked him.
“Jared,’ he said, which was true.
“What day is it?’ I asked.
“March 8th, 2008.’
Then I didn’t know what to make of it. Could amnesia be that selective? All I really knew about it was what I’d seen in TV shows, which is the same thing as knowing nothing at all.
“I don’t have amnesia,’ Jared told me. “I know exactly who I am. My wife is named JoAnne, we live outside of Boston’¦’
“Your girlfriend is named Jenny,’ I corrected him. “Me. You don’t have a wife. You live here, in Michigan’¦’
“I used to live in Michigan,’ he said. “I left, for law school, I never moved back.’
“Law school?’ I sat down on the couch. I thought about tucking my head between my knees, like we used to in elementary school when we were pretending there was going to be a tornado. We imagined that making ourselves as tiny as possible offered some kind of shelter, like the funnel cloud wouldn’t see us there curled so tightly against the linoleum. As if the curves of our small spines and our bird-bone fingers laced behind our necks would have saved us. In the time before they rang the all-clear bell, I used to imagine how it would feel if the world was sucked up from all around me.
After I showed Jared our photo albums, he believed that I was his girlfriend, but he didn’t stop believing that he also had a wife named JoAnne outside of Boston, that their house was five times the size of ours, that they were talking about maybe having a baby even though he was ambivalent about it. What we decided, eventually, was that there had been some kind of tear in the space-time continuum overnight. That while we slept, my Jared had been replaced with this one. A different Jared, from a different version of reality, one where he had made different choices, lived a different life. I closed my eyes and felt my life rush past me like so much debris.
I called the new Jared “Jared B.’
Jared B was neater and more detail-oriented than Jared A had been; he liked things in neat rows and made sure that pictures were perfectly straight on the walls. He hung all the t-shirts in his closet in sections according to color. But most of his mannerisms were the same as Jared A’s. They both chewed their bottom lips a lot and preferred red wine and didn’t like celery or raw tomatoes.
For a while, Jared B slept on the couch. He kept going to Jared A’s job at the record store; he was lucky there wasn’t really much to learn on the technical side of things. But he did need me to tutor him in hipster music. I wasn’t as well versed as Jared A had been, but it was better than nothing. We spent evenings on the living room floor with piles of CDs spread out around us, drinking beer and listening to Radiohead and Built to Spill, Death Cab and Rilo Kiley, Neutral Milk Hotel and Elliott Smith, Belle and Sebastian and the little bands from places like Austin and Omaha who most people hadn’t heard of. Jared B caught on quickly, and I don’t just mean that he memorized album covers and song tiles and bits of trivia; he really took to the music, like it was something that had been there latent in him all along. I couldn’t imagine Jared A was faring as well at practicing law.
“Do you miss JoAnne?’ I asked one night, because I thought it must be harder for the Jareds. At least I had someone around who virtually was the man I loved. Jared B had described JoAnne, and she was nothing like me: tall and bleached-blonde and severe. She wore those shoes with pointy toes and sat on boards'”she was a board member, I mean, not some kind of cultist who refused cushioned chairs.
“No,’ Jared B said. “You know, it’s funny. I don’t really miss her so much at all.’
We were lying on the living room floor, then, each of us propped up an elbow. I thought about how when he first got here, Jared B seemed so stiff and awkward, but now he looked so relaxed in Jared A’s t-shirts, strangely at home. When he leaned toward me and kissed me, it was so familiar, it didn’t even occur to me to pull away. It was like dÃƒ©jÃƒ vu, like being touched by the same man I knew so well, but for the very first time. The carpet rubbed against my bare skin. In the background, Jeff Buckley was singing Leonard Cohen better than Leonard himself, the minor fall, the major lift, his voice straining until it broke.
After that, Jared B started sleeping in our bed. When I really thought about it, I felt a bit like I was cheating, though it was impossible to tell. But what else were we supposed to do? Neither of us could know if the switch was permanent. Sometimes at night, I watched Jared B sleep, and thought about how he slept with his arms folded the same way Jared A did'”his left hand tucked under the pillow'”and how he drooled exactly the same amount, which was not excessive. I thought about Jared A in bed next to JoAnne. I hoped he was happy. I hoped he was miserable.
“We should get married,’ Jared B started saying to me after a while. At first I was on board with the idea; a secret part of me had always sort of hoped Jared A would change his mind about marriage eventually, even though I professed to be as opposed to it as he was. But I told him I couldn’t do it. What if Jared A came back, and I had just made that decision for him? We would have to get divorced, if he still felt the same way, and I didn’t see how I could stay his girlfriend then.
“Don’t you think we have to live for now?’ Jared B sulked. “You know, inhabit the reality we’re in as long as we’re here? We don’t even know if we’ve swapped. Maybe there’s a whole other Jared living with JoAnne. Maybe your Jared is somewhere else entirely. We don’t know why we got switched around once, what makes you think we’ll ever get switched back?’
“Let’s give it a year,’ I told him. “We can start planning our wedding if you don’t switch back in a year.’ It sounded so far off, then. Beyond a distance my mind could reach.
Days have a funny way of piling up. Sometimes, I feel like I will never stop discovering the tiniest of differences between the Jareds. The similarities are never a surprise; they share the same DNA. But I can’t get used to Jared B’s dislike of strawberries, for example, or that fact that he wants to marry me. If I’m in the right mood, or the wrong one, I can still cry thinking about the absence of a little white scar on his knee. It shouldn’t matter so much to me, maybe, or maybe it should, and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it does.
The other day, I heard a story on the radio about how, in theory, you could create your own universe if you had a small black hole, and 10 pounds of matter condensed down to the size of a small marble. All you would have to do is toss the marble into the hole.
“Where would the new universe go?’ the host of the show asked.
“Into its own dimension,’ the physicist explained. I thought about how simple these little slippages are. How they probably happen all the time.
I wondered what it would take to create a black hole in the kitchen. If I could jump through it, I wondered what I would find on the other side.
Last night, Jared B gave me my engagement ring as promised, on what I guess you could call our first anniversary. I think he must have saved for it all this time, on Jared A’s salary. It’s platinum, with a big diamond in the middle and two smaller ones on the sides. It’s beautiful, but it’s like nothing Jared A would have picked out.
My mother likes Jared a lot better these days. She’s always saying how he’s finally growing up.
Jared B tells me he’s happy. For a little while, he thought about going back to law school so that he could practice again, but he decided he actually enjoys his new life'”his stress-free job, his modest house, the ratty t-shirts and the music and me. He tells me how he was never really happy in his other life. I hold my ring up so the light catches in it, and I try to feel that flutter in my stomach, but it’s bittersweet. I wonder why Jared B got to come here to the universe where he is really happy, and Jared A had to go there, where he is unhappy. I try to picture him finding his way in Jared B and JoAnne’s too-large house, digging through Jared B’s closet full of suits and designer ties. I bet he’s even less happy there than Jared B was, and it doesn’t seem fair. Sometimes, I tell myself that maybe they all traded up. Maybe Jared A is in a place where he’s even happier than he was with me. But the thought of that is just as sad.
Sometimes, I wonder about my own alternate universes, all the worlds that exist for all the other choices I could have made. I think about how they must be infinite. I wonder if there is one where Jared A and I are still together. I hope that there is. I hope that we’re happy there. I hope those versions of us stop every once and a while to appreciate it, I mean, just to think about how lucky they are, how things could have turned out so many other ways.