18.12.09

Why You Can't Go Home Again

18 December 2656

Grandmother Julia came by my office today and invited me to lunch. We went to the Prince Albert Restaurant at the Victorian Village north of Cambridge. She knows that's where I feel the most comfortable. The other customers assume I work at the Village.

The Village was decorated for Christmas which is only a week away. By the way Grams looked at the holly and ivy, I knew what the subject of conversation would be.

We had just ordered our meal when Grams leaned forward. “You won’t be spending Christmas with the family, will you? You’re going right back out into the Field, just like you do every year.”

I nodded. “I’m leaving this afternoon.”

“You won’t even be here a full day. You were just going to slip away without contacting anyone.”

“I’m sorry, Grams. It’s just too hard. You know what happened the last time I showed up for Christmas.”

“That was forty-five years ago, Wendell.”

“And if I show up, it would ruin everyone’s holiday again. They don’t want me there.”

“Of course they do, dear.”

“No, they want the old Wendell. They want the 27th century history student, with the hair hanging in his eyes, who listened to pop music and dressed in the latest fashion. Father keeps nagging me to retire and become a professor. I suppose he thinks that if I do that the old Wendell will miraculously return. That Wendell is gone forever.”

“It’s been forty-six years. That Wendell would be gone anyway.”

No, that student would have evolved into a twenty-seventh century history professor--not a stodgy Victorian gentleman.”

“Well, I like the stodgy Victorian gentleman.”

“I must say, you are the only one in the family that does. Would you feel that way if you hadn’t taught Victorian literature? Who am I too you, Grams? Philias Fogg? David Copperfield?”

“You’re Wendell Howe, dear. Yes, I know the Institute changed you, but I still see the old Wendell in your eyes.”

The Institute of Time Travel’s training had transformed me into another person. I had to become Victorian so I could fit into the 19th century perfectly. Now I no longer fit in the 27th or in my own family. It was a necessary sacrifice if one wanted to study the past first hand. I sometimes wondered though if the Institute didn’t go a little overboard in their programming. We couldn’t just be actors; they wanted us to be the “real” thing.

Grams leaned across the table and patted my hand. “Maybe you aren’t the same Wendell, but this Wendell is nice, too. This Wendell pulls out my chair and opens doors for me.”

“And it gets me plenty of stares. No one behaves like that anymore, Grams. I do it without thinking.”

“It's a shame people don't act that way now. I had always read about Victorian etiquette and thought it might be nice. It is. I like it.”

“So, you lost your grandson but gained a Victorian gentleman? I wish the rest of the family felt like you.”

“They still love you.”

“Yes, I know. My family is better than most. They do their best to tolerate me. Most Temporal Anthropologists I’ve talked to, their families disowned them outright and won’t even let them in the house.”

“That’s horrible!”

“Perhaps, but it is understandable. At first the family thinks you’re being a gitt because you won’t drop out of character. When they finally see you can’t, they look upon you as a stranger.”

“So let them get to know the stranger, dear. I’m sure they will learn to love him just like I do.”

I shook my head. “I think after awhile, when the family realized the person they knew and loved was gone, they came to look upon me as some monster who killed their son, and then possessed his body.”

“That’s ridiculous. They know you’re Wendell.”

“Maybe consciously they do, but what about subconsciously? Too often family members either seem to be angry with me for no reason, or look at me like they are mourning my death. I’m both the murderer and the corpse to them. I killed the old Wendell they loved, their only son and grandson. I’m amazed they are as civil as they are to me.”

Grams had no comeback to that. She just looked at me, like she knew it was true.

“That’s why I can’t stay for Christmas, Grams. My presence would spoil it for everyone.”

Grams nodded, then smiled. “Just remember, dear. I love both of you--the new Wendell and the old Wendell. He’s not really dead, you know. He’s in the very core of your being. You saved the best parts of him, I think.”

“I love you, too, Grams. If there’s any good qualities in me, I probably inherited them from you.”

“So, where are you going this time?”

“London, Christmas 1879.”

“Are Victorian Christmases as wonderful as they say?”

“The Victorians ‘invented’ Christmas! I wish you could see it. I would give the world to take you.”

“You can bring me back some video and maybe a Christmas card.”

“I’ll bring you back a Victorian Christmas, Grams. I promise.”

1 comment:

mousewords said...

"I’m both the murderer and the corpse to them."

Oh, my gosh, that's heart-rending. It constantly amazes me how many aspects of life are affected by time travel, in ways I never imagined! :-o