I did not know her but she knew me.
I passed her going the other way. On three consecutive mornings I passed her, during that trek from parking garage to office, a trek which I undertook daily, morning after morning after morning, interminably.
She smiled at me. Each morning, she smiled at me, and the smile possessed a flash of recognition… or attraction, I thought, only to remember it could not be attraction, given my disastrous cosmetic circumstances. Recognition, then.
And on the morning of the fourth day – a Thursday, as I recall – I found a convenient bench near our passing point on the sidewalk, where I sat, pretending to read. She came to me and she sat near me. She stared.
After some time had passed in this way, she said, “I’m Leija. You do not know me but I know you.”
It was possible, God knows. She may have been a volunteer attorney for all I knew, I thought. Maybe even seen one of my estate planning training videos or attended a landlord/tenant law session. It happens. It was possible.
She said, “And if I know you, then you’re probably listening to the new Roger Waters album right now. If I know you, then you’ve still got your college journals in three-ring black binders stored in that old foot locker of yours.”
Now, needless to say (though I will, for some reason), these were not points I typically shared during training videos. I held up my right hand to her. I said, “How did my middle finger come to look like this?”
She said, “Your brother loosened your bike seat when you were ten, or thereabouts, and when you and Phong were riding very fast, you leaned back in the seat. You fell onto the back tire and wiped out.”
For some reason, I felt a sense of violation, in a way, like my secrets were on display for all, even strangers. I got up to leave her.
She – “Leija,” I suppose – said, “Harry, I lived with you for five years.”
My lungs and well, my entire chest collapsing now, I fled the scene entirely. I spent the day and night wondering if I’d forgotten large tracts of my long life.
It was possible.
“Everett. DeWitt. Wheeler.” Leija came to me and sat near me. She said, “You know physics.”
This was incorrect. I did not know physics. I said, “I have read the first one-third of many physics books,” which was not the same thing as knowing physics. Yet she was undeterred.
She said, “The multiverse. Many worlds theory. If you choose to eat eggs for breakfast tomorrow, that eggs-for-breakfast universe splits off from one in which you choose to eat cereal and milk. Jillions of universes and it’s June 1, 2017 in all of them, each splitting into more and more universes at each juncture of a decision.”
Someone was playing a trick on me, I thought. The Girl in the Red Pants, probably, or Veva Purvious. Elaborate, though. And it was not as though I didn’t deserve it. I said, “Multiverse is a cheat. A guess to explain away some creepy things in quantum mechanics. Nothing more.”
“And yet” – she waved her fingers around in the air – “Ta-Daaaaa!”
I wanted to be away from her. My schedule and mental health already were so precarious at the best of times. I said, “So when did your universe and my universe branch off from each other?”
She said, “Well, before the point in mine at which we met and fell in love, apparently.”
It was again time for me to leave. Over the weekend, I confirmed that a fatter, happier version of Leija was living in the Heights area of town. She didn’t know me but I knew her.
It was a day of rain in Houston. The waters came down upon my thin hair, making it appear as though I were entirely bald, I’m sure of it. Leija came to me and she sat near me. She said, “I did not come all this way to scare you or to stay with you. I came here to say goodbye to you. Where I’m from, I never got a chance to say goodbye.”
A single drop of water splashed upon my phone. At that moment, maybe another universe split off from mine. Maybe one in which the drop of water missed my phone.
I said, “So something happened to the me out on your branch. But why am I the lucky one, here? Jillions of universes – surely this one isn’t the closest to yours.”
Logic. I knew I’d found the flaw in this practical joke.
Leija said, “I tried,” and she might have been crying or it might have been the rain. She said, “I tried other branches. Dozens. Then hundreds. I’ve spent years looking for you.”
She said, “But this is the only universe I’ve found where you haven’t killed yourself.”
I’m no expert on shows of emotion, of course, but I’d say she was definitely crying now. She got to her feet. She said, “Goodbye, Harry. Please take care of yourself, will ya?”
Then she left.
I sat in the rain, staring at my wet phone and I felt more alone in the universe(s) than I ever had before.