Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Death Saved My Life

I was born in 1843. I turned sixteen in 1859. I turned seventeen in 1999. No, I did not mistake the digits in that date.

It begins, I suppose, with my life in the 1800s. Suffice it to say that I was unhappy. I was an intelligent woman, which at the time was considered to be something of an oxymoron. I thirsted for knowledge and freedom I could never have.

The worst came when I was sixteen. I was engaged. My fiancĂ© was a friend of my father’s. He was old, stupid, and cruel. I would not marry him, I insisted, to no avail. Plans for my wedding were made. I was measured for my dress. My fate was anchored in stone.

So it was that I climbed to the highest, steepest cliff I knew. I stood on the edge, taking in the breathtaking view one last time before I allowed it to literally take my breath, permanently. And then I jumped.

I did not expect to survive the fall. I did not intend to survive the fall. So you can imagine my surprise at slowly waking in a plain room, with a woman standing over me. Something was different about her from every other women I’d known, I observed, as I slowly pulled myself to awareness. She had short hair, for one thing, and she wasn’t wearing a dress. She asked softly but firmly, “Are you awake?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m dead, aren’t I? Is this… heaven?” I had not expected to end up in heaven, but this place hardly fit the description of hell.

“No, you’re not dead. You had a bad bump on the head, but you should recover with no more than a concussion.”

“Oh.” I didn’t see how it was possible. The cliff was far too high for the fall to give me only a concussion.

“What’s your name?” the woman asked me.

“Fidelia Williams.”

“How many fingers am I holding up?” She held up three fingers.

“ I believe three is the answer you want, though technically your hand is holding up all five of your fingers.”

She smiled. “And what year is it?”


Her smile faded. “I’m going to have another doctor come in and examine you, okay?” she asked too gently. “Fidelia, it’s 1999.”

I knew that was impossible. But so was being alive, and I could tell by her face that she was not joking. And I did not want to be thought mad.

“I was joking,” I told her, in a tone that implied that should have been obvious.

I eventually persuaded her that I was well enough, both physically and mentally, to be released. I had, apparently, been found unclothed; I was given some new clothes from the hospital’s lost and found so that I would not have to walk around in a hospital gown. It was incredibly strange, wearing the new, unfamiliar clothes I’d been given—trousers, called jeans, and a plain shirt in an unfamiliar style. But the people I observed around me, men and women, were wearing similar clothes, so I knew I had not been tricked into wearing a fool’s costume.

I did not mean to tell them that I had nowhere to go. But they pressed for me to have someone come get me, and I eventually let it slip that I was an orphan. I’d hoped that would be enough to make them let me leave on my own. Instead, they called “the proper authorities.” When I was finally discharged, it was into my new foster home.

I was incredibly lucky there. My foster parents were good people, a couple who desperately wanted children of their own but were unable to have them, and they opened their hearts to me.

Still, those first few weeks were the hardest. I spent most of my time at the library, reading up on the history that had passed between my time and the present. Events had happened, things had been invented, society had changed utterly. Once I had at least a basic grasp of the present world, I began to read popular fiction, to get an idea of how the society I was now a part of worked, how people interacted, what was expected.

I was shocked by what I learned, but not unpleasantly so. Here, in this time, dreams I’d never dared to have could come true.

That was ten years ago. Eventually, I learned to fit into the present world, and if I was considered a bit old fashioned and socially awkward, it was a mild inconvenience at worst. I learned everything I could, both academically and culturally, and when I graduated, I went on to college.

I received a degree in women’s studies. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I’d been given a great gift, and I wanted to repay it. I just wasn’t sure how.

It was then that I first thought of going back.

It’s not that I’d never thought of it before, but until then, it had been a fear rather than an idea. I’d lived in terror of suddenly finding that I’d been pulled back to when I’d come from, or of waking up in 1859, my whole life having been a dream. But this was different. Though I still dreaded the past, I thought about the difference I could make. I knew things that I hadn’t known before I’d left, things that nobody would know for over a hundred years. If I went back, I’d have power. I could make a difference, help others get the same chances I’d had.

I wrestled with the idea. I didn’t know how to get back, but somehow, I knew that if I chose that path, I would find a way. It was not how to go back that worried me, but whether I should. I would be giving up so much. Would people be ready to listen? I knew the history, and I knew they wouldn’t. Could I persuade them anyway?

No. But it didn’t matter. I had to try.

I spent a year of research finding out how to do it. Finally, I knew for certain I would be able to make it back to my own time. It was not time travel as it is popularly thought of, that is, I could not travel at will to any time I wished, but as I had been born in that time, I would be able to return to it.

But not back again.

But could I really make myself do it? I’d tried to kill myself to escape it once; could I just willingly return? It was unlikely that I would do any good by going. But maybe I would. If I helped just one woman who would have been a slave to society get the chance to chose her fate….

But would I get that chance? And if I went back, I would be throwing away the chance I’d been given. I had been freed from that life; how could I throw tt away? Especially if it was for nothing?

I think I made the right choice. I do help women who might not otherwise be able to do so decide their own fates.

Now. In the twenty first century.

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