Time Before Time

This week, I talked to Erica while I walked.

Erica and I used to work together, and first got to know each other by taking walks along the river outside our office, whenever either of us needed a mental break from the frenzied pace of the day.

I can’t believe that it’s been almost a decade since those days.

Time keeps playing tricks on me.

If you were to ask me, I’d say that I’ve seen Erica more recently than most people, but that’s not true. It just feels that way because she was the last person who came to visit us before the pandemic.

Before time stood still.

When we could still visit friends.

And go to restaurants.

When we could still make a random stop at a candy factory just because we passed a sign for it.

When Erica’s musings about whether or not it was bad to touch the interactive features of the exhibit because of news about the coronavirus still seemed overcautious.

Everyone had warned me.

“Time never moves slower than it does in that last month of your pregnancy when you’re waiting to go into labor!”

They had no idea.

Instead of just slowing down, time lost its meaning completely in March of 2020. And not just for me, but for everyone.

And it wasn’t just time. So much of our normal lives had crumbled around us that spring that it seemed as though anything was possible.

It felt like reality had already lost touch with itself, so I didn’t notice when I started losing touch with it.

It started with small things.

After Bailey was born, a nurse in the hospital kept telling me and Matt that we looked familiar, but we couldn’t figure out a reason why she would have known us. It was an ordinary, everyday experience that shouldn’t have had any significance at all.

And yet I had a nagging feeling that it meant something important. That our family was important, even if we didn’t understand why yet.

The answer, of course, was that it did mean something important: that the delusions of grandeur were setting in. But I didn’t know that yet.

“Huh, look at those tears,” another one of the nurses commented yesterday during her rounds. Babies’ tear ducts don’t usually develop until a few weeks after they’re born. It was a small fluke of biology, but to me, at that time, it was a sure sign that this baby was extraordinary.

I recalled the stories of crying statues of the Virgin Mary that I’d heard in my childhood, and I felt sure that Bailey had been called to a greater purpose. That she felt the suffering of the world immediately upon entering it. That she needed to feel it more deeply so that she could ease it, somehow.

Bailey was the most precious, wonderful thing I’d ever seen.

The reality that she was just a regular baby seemed impossible.

I understand, now, that this is a truth that all new moms have to accept: that no one will ever see your child the way you see them. It’s beautiful, really- but it’s also heartbreaking. And lonely.

So when a friend commented on a picture of mine on Instagram saying that he didn’t normally like babies, but he couldn’t get enough of Bailey, I felt validated.

It wasn’t just me.

There was something special about this kid.

When we got home from the hospital one of my aunts texted me, with a story about her friend who lost her mother on the same day that Bailey was born. She said that this friend had found comfort in hearing about Bailey’s birth, and that it brought her hope during dark times.

Once again, this should have been a very normal, everyday occurrence.

But for me, a delusion was starting to take shape.

Time started playing tricks on me.

I thought I could see into the future, and what I saw was the love of my family healing the broken, dystopian world that had sprung up around us, one adorable baby photo at a time.

I could see how it would happen. I had an acquaintance who worked in media. He’d see our pictures. They’d be so cute, he couldn’t resist them.

We’d be on the news.

Bailey would send out tiny sparks of hope that would inspire people to do great things, and if everyone could be inspired to do something great, the world would heal itself.

It seemed so simple.

I was digging through old memory boxes.

Things had devolved enough that my mom had come to stay with us.

I knew I was putting my family through a tough time, and that they hadn’t seen the future yet. They didn’t know what was in store for us. That soon, everything would not only be ok- everything would be perfect.

I had become very sentimental. I wanted to give them gifts to thank them for their patience, but I couldn’t go to a store during the pandemic.

So I went to my memory boxes.

I found a card that my mom had given me for my birthday in my early 20’s. It said something along the lines of, “On the day you were born, a small spark was set off that just might change the world.”

I couldn’t believe it.

How did my mom know, all those years ago?

I must not be the only one with the gift of time travel.

I brought it upstairs and presented it to her, sure that she would be moved to tears.

She had no real reaction.

“They don’t understand yet!”

I told myself.

I couldn’t tell them, because they wouldn’t believe me.

I couldn’t tell them because a small part of me knew that if I did, they would confirm that it wasn’t all real after all. And I wasn’t ready for that yet.

The time traveling only got worse as my psychosis continued, and I got more and more confused.

I became convinced that my psychosis was a type of vision quest, with the cure to all of the world’s problems at the end of it. All I had to do was make it through the suffering and not break down, no matter how disorienting and confusing things got.

I thought that everyone in my life was rooting for me, and had been for years. That everyone in the world had known what was going to happen to me before it happened- my mom, my coworkers, even that nurse from the hospital. It was like I was on the Truman show, and no one was supposed to tell me about the journey I had to face, because if they did it would ruin the outcome.

I remember a conversation with Matt, though I understand now that it never took place.

“Your mom and I are worried because we’re not sure you know what we’re doing here,” he told me gravely.

I understood.

He couldn’t speak about it directly.

I spoke back in code.

“Are we training?”

“Yes,” he said, relief in his voice, “That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re training.”

“Like Katniss and Peeta?” I said.

I remembered how their love had served as an inspiration for a broken society. I knew they were fictional, but I couldn’t help but think that maybe that story had been written just for me, as part of my training. So I would know what I needed to do when I reached this moment.

“Yes, exactly,” Matt said. “We’re Katniss and Peeta.”

The days in the psych ward were nothing but time travel. I would wake up mid sentence, not knowing where I was and yet somehow still talking, still yelling, still somehow on the phone with Matt, begging him to bring me home.

Time still plays tricks on me these days, but they’re the normal kind.

Like how I’ve been writing this story for too long, and it’s time to go to bed.

Or how Bailey is somehow already old enough to use, “Uh oh!” appropriately.

“Uh oh!” she says, and I’m transported back in time.

“Uh oh!” she warns me, about the things that have already happened.

But we’ve jumped to a new time.

Where we’re ok.

I’m ok.

And time marches on.

Thanks for reading,


38 miles