“We always let him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.”
In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, readers are treated to a unique idea in the form of the Tralfamadorians, a race of aliens who capture Billy Pilgrim to put him in their human zoo. They teach him how to become unstuck in time. These beings do not experience their lives in the way that we think of as “in order”, that is birth to death, but instead as if all their life is happening and has already happened all at once. This idea of all moments, or time travel if you will, becomes the major structure of the novel. What interests me is how the Tralfamadorians acknowledge that the idea of free will is taken out of the picture by this conception of time, but fail to see how that should bother them. The quote at the beginning comes from one of the beings telling Billy Pilgrim that one of their people will shortly do something that will cause the whole planet to explode. Billy asks why they don’t stop him, still thinking in linnear time.
What if all things that happen are already predetermined in some way? I don’t know if I mean by any sort of higher power or just by natural events. If we think about it rationally, any time something happens, even something shocking, upon reflection there are always events that lead up to it, causes for the effect. Every moment in our lives is cause and effect. I can explain every facet of my personality by relating it to something that happened to me when I was younger. I am very uncomfortable with my face getting wet in the shower, the rain, or swimming because once when I was eight, I almost drowned in a neighbor’s pool. I didn’t drown, of course, because the moment wasn’t structured that way. Even if as people we are unable to become unstuck in time and live our moments out of sequence, we can still relive them through the way we remember them. I can still feel the cranking pain in my mouth as my mother expanded the crank in my palate when I had braces. I can still see the three brightly colored sailboats on my third birthday cake. I can still smell the lilac tree that flowered every summer outside my school.
I do begin to wonder if our lives are planned out in some way. A couple of weeks ago in Ruth’s tarot class, I drew the 6 of pentacles, a card that I was told is a positive message of prosperity or something of the sort. I did not see this at all. Instead, I became very concerned by the images I saw on my card. I became very suspicious of the being handing out the glowing orbs to the smaller beings waiting with outstretched hands. I particularly became concerned for a small, innocent looking gnomish man at the bottom of the card. He looked so beguiled by what he had been given, so childishly excited. I didn’t trust these gifts and I became taken over by a desire to help this small gnome man. I told the class that I felt the underlying message of the card was not to trust things that seem too easy, that I shouldn’t deny feelings of unease just because it would make others happy. I remember thinking nothing more of it at the time.
A week later, I started talking to this boy. He seemed very intelligent and keen on me. A tiny part of me felt very surprised, a tiny feeling that this was all too good to be true. I pushed it aside. He and I agreed that since I was graduating in a couple of months, there was no real point in our getting too serious, but we could entertain a sort of casual dating relationship anyway. This seemed eminently agreeable to me. Everything seemed to be going fine when he suddenly flipped out over something I had written on my personal blog, a very casual play-by-play of what we had been up to in the past few days. Though I thought it was an innocuous description at best, he told me it was extremely personal and that I had broken his trust. Look over it as I might, I could not figure out where he was getting this impression. The whole time we were talking, I thought he would suddenly reveal it as a joke. At first, I was feeling very bad about upsetting him, even if I didn’t understand how I had done it. Then he sent me a message saying we shouldn’t communicate any more because it was clear I was “falling for him”. I wasn’t. I became very furious that he couldn’t see my writing as an exercise in self-reflection, but only a lovesick girl mooning. He told me he knew from the beginning that he shouldn’t have started anything with me, but that he had against his better judgement. I was angry because I hadn’t liked him that much at the beginning and I definitely didn’t then.
You see, from the beginning I had already lived out the possible end of that relationship. I had seen myself at graduation, walking off back to my house and driving off back up north without a tear in my eye. Now, as it turns out, that isn’t how the acquaintance ended, but it is definitely true of how I will feel about him when I leave. If I remember him at all. I think back to my card, back to my concern with trusting something that seemed too easy, and realize that on some level my subconscious was trying to tell me something. When I saw a story of caution and concern in a card that means the opposite, maybe somewhere else in my timeline I had already lived the moment where a boy decided he knew more about my feelings than I did. Maybe when I distrusted the large fairy woman passing out the orbs, I was already feeling the echoes of the pretentious jackass who would make me feel bad about liking what I like. Maybe when I wanted to save that leprechaun from falling for the fairy orbs, it was because I knew I couldn’t. He would accept the orbs and I would waste a week on a patronizing idiot. So it goes.