Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Age Is Just a Number

This idea was presented to me as a challenge by my esteemed accomplice, whose refrigerator runs but only in place on its treadmill, and who now owes me twenty five cents and a bowl of ice cream.

I don’t remember being born, so I don’t really know how it happened. My parents died when I was ninety-eight, you see, so they couldn’t tell me. I don’t think it could have been in the way children are normally born. I was not, after all, a child.

I was raised, if you can call it that, by my uncle and aunt. That must have been from when I was ninety-eight, to oh, I believe I moved out when I was eighty or so. At that point in my life, I had the physical and mental capabilities of any person my age. The problem was, I had only the experience and knowledge of the world I had actually gained. That, combined with the infirmities of age, were why I had to be taken care of.

So I lived on the farm with my uncle and aunt and my two cousins, who were what might be considered the inverse of my age. We were good friends, when I was very old and they were very young, but eventually—when they started school, I suppose—they realized I wasn’t normal, and began to avoid me.

I couldn’t go to school, of course. I was too old for an elementary or secondary school, and too uneducated for college or university. My aunt and uncle homeschooled me as best they could. They taught me reading and writing, and mathematics, and a little geography, and how to take care of sick pigs. As I grew younger, my body and memory improved. And yet, I always felt there was something important I didn’t remember.

When I was eighty, I moved away from my relatives. My parents had left me a little money. I got an apartment, and I got a dog. What I didn’t get was a job. I called it ageism. They called it suspicious that after eighty years, I had no education and no career experience. So I went to college. There was an article in the human interest section of the local paper about how I went back to school. I wasn’t actually going back as I’d never went to school in the first place, but that’s not important.

One of my greatest enjoyments in life was observing people. They’re like an alien species, a fascinating one. It’s not that other people were so different than me, but I somehow was not one of them. But I loved to watch people and learn about them, find out what they believed and how they thought and why.

I decided to major in philosophy, because I thought it would be interesting. It was interesting. However, a degree in philosophy from a community college does not provide many career opportunities. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I continued my education at a better school, and then, still unsure what I wanted to do, went on to graduate school. I was in my late sixties by the time I finished my PhD. I was offered a teaching job, but I didn’t accept. I’d spent the last ten or so years of my life observing the people in a university; I wanted to see something else of the world.

I spent a few years traveling. Not around the world; I couldn’t afford it. But around the country, driving a beat up car and staying in cheap motels. I enjoyed it. I talked to people. I watched people. I talked to more people. I went to different places and met different people, and eventually realized that they weren’t really different at all. Only I was.

And then I went to the Time Traveler’s Convention.

Naturally enough, I’d always been fascinated by time travel. You see, despite the hype and supposed impossibility of time travel, technically everyone travels forwards through time, at a fixed rate. But what about me? Which way was I going? I aged backwards, but I didn’t live backwards. I was born at a very old age in a certain year, and twenty years later I was twenty years younger, and so on, but I remembered the past, the events I had actually lived, not the future. But wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to go into the past, or the future? So when I saw the sign that said, Time Traveler’s Convention, of course I went in.

It was rather overwhelming. There were hundreds of booths, some simply selling books about time travel, or mementos from other times. Others had information about how YOU could learn ASTRAL time travel, whatever that meant. And then there were the people working on time machines, and hobbyists, physicists and ex-philosophy students interested in the theory behind it all.

These were the people I talked to most, because they were, if not necessarily the most interesting, at least the sanest. I discussed my question with them, keeping it hypothetical. Most of them agreed it was an interesting question. Some had interesting answers, but none really knew. Until I met Dr. Uschelia Green.

I almost didn’t go to that booth. Its sign read, in large letters, UNICORNS. Um, this is a convention on time travel, I thought. Only specific crazy people are supposed to be here. And yet, the guy I’d talked to a few booths over pointed me there and said, “She mentioned something like that.” So, I went.

Most people seemed to have the same feeling about unicorns in a time traveling convention as I did, and no one else was at the boot except the woman behind it. She seemed about the same age as I; I was 64 at the time. Her graying hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she wore a shirt with a picture of a unicorn and a timeline. “Are you interested in the research explorations through time that are taken by unicorns?”

“Um,” I said.

She handed me a pamphlet, which I took out of politeness and put in my purse. “Someone said you were talking about people who live forwards but age backwards, if that makes sense.” I didn’t add, It better make sense; you’re trying to tell me about time traveling unicorns.

“Yes, I understand completely. That’s what the unicorns do, you see. They’re immortal, normally, but they’re both very curious and very private. So they go on expeditions where they take a human form and live a human life. But they age backwards.”

“Why?” I still didn’t believe her, really. But I was curious.

“Well, partly because they’re immortal, and if they aged forwards they’d be too much at risk of dying in a mortal life. It wouldn’t kill them, of course, but they’d forget everything they learned. I believe it’s also in part because they’re not human and they’re not going to act like humans, even when they are.”

“Oh. And have you ever met one of these unicorns?”

“Oh, yes. I’m not one myself, but the man who was running the booth earlier is. They take human forms, you see; they don’t have horns or anything like that. They even believe they’re humans, for large parts of their lives. Until they find out otherwise.”

It was then that I knew. It wasn’t just what she was saying, because up until that moment I hadn’t really believed her. She hadn’t somehow convinced me; it wasn’t even the only logical explanation. But her last sentence awoke in me the unmistakable, positive knowledge that I am a unicorn.

It was like a catharsis, but it wasn’t. It was just knowledge, complete self-knowledge, which I’d always had but never remembered. The rediscovery was so powerful that I blurted, “I’m a unicorn.”

Had I been anywhere else, talking to anyone else, it would have been different. But Uschelia simply introduced herself, handed me another pamphlet, and asked whether I would be interested in joining their group. “We don’t have many unicorns here, at this time, you see,” she told me.

I needed to go home and think about it. I stayed awake all night, thinking. I turned over every bit of my life, seeing it with new sight, everything that had never made sense finally falling into place. I read both pamphlets. The Unicorn Time Travel Institute was a group that helped time traveling unicorns in their research. It provided funds for travel, support, ideas… and was eventually paid back when the unicorns returned to their own shape and existence, seemingly outside of time except when they felt like stepping in.

I called Uschelia back and told her I would love to be part of it. She was overjoyed. And since then, I’ve spent my life traveling and studying these strange, interesting beings known as humans, and preparing myself to report on them to my own people when I eventually am called home into my true form.

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