If he’d been a smoker, that would’ve been the day they began to fall in love, Nathan and Amelia. It was the bathroom-break in the middle of a three-hour seminar where the professor made them watch an interminably-long John Ford “classic” Western, under the threat that if they fell asleep, he’d fail them, never mind the fact the screening wouldn’t end until past ten. Damn fool thought it made him deep to force it on them and since he was the staff-member who always went on the “Today” show to talk media trends, the dean never called him out on his pretention. Still, at least they got a break halfway through.
Standing outside of time, I can tell you how things would’ve happened had they gone differently, if Nathan had smoked, if he had a cigarette to offer her when Amelia came up short. It would’ve started a conversation that would have led to coffee Saturday where they mocked that professor then eventually led to their marriage, all on the weight of one cigarette.
Nathan would’ve also died of lung cancer at the age of fifty-seven, a newly-minted grandfather, leaving Amelia widowed from her college sweetheart, all before she even could retire. That was the weight on the other side of the cigarette’s scale.
But that didn’t happen. Standing outside of causality, I can tell you all the other ways it could’ve gone but that isn’t how it went. In this timeline instead, Nathan never smoked cigarettes, he lived until eighty-seven and eventually married an entirely different woman he didn’t even meet until his thirties. Amelia ended up leaning into her bisexuality and marrying Juliana, the girl she was roommates with at the time. They bought out the Blue Ridge Goat Farm in Brattleboro Vermont and had damn-near thirty cats together.
It’s so easy to see from here, from outside, where I can parse all the alternatives, play it forward and back. I know it’s not so simple from where you stand, riding the torrents of wave functions collapsing behind you, pushing a billion potential futures like a zipper into one eternal locked-in now but from here, it’s easy.
During the break in the middle of the insufferable cowboy movie, Nathan stepped out, not for a smoke but just to be woken back up by the Syracuse December cold and when Amelia asked for a cigarette, all he could tell her was “I’m sorry, I don’t smoke… tobacco” repeating a joke going around campus for those who didn’t smoke cigarettes but did use marijuana. She laughed but that was that. They developed a casual friendship and even hit the same bong at a party once but that was that. Him off to ripe old age, her off to her goat farm.
You don’t get to know what’s going to happen next, but you get to live it. I myself am stuck out here, never experiencing anything, let alone knowing the joy or the horror of even one surprise.