Why Don’t We Live in a Yesterday of Our Own

by Yiu-On Li
Art by Peyton Chiang
Issue: Scintilla (Spring 2019)

2189 was the year we figured out how to live forever.

Pfft. Nah, I’m just pullin’ your leg. Everybody’s gotta die eventually.

Hey, isn’t it comfortin’ to know that, no matter how “advanced” we get, we’re still the same buncha sorry saps we’ve always been? Like, we’d opened freakin’ singularities in our own backyard, an’ what did we use ‘em for? Waste disposal. I mean, come on! Singularities! Waste disposal!

Lemme rephrase that, in case it didn’t quite sink in: The best thing we could come up with for an object with infinite mass confined within an infinitely small space brimmin’ with infinite gravity was the act of getting rid of last Tuesday’s moldy takeout.

Does… does that… does that even make sense?! No! ‘Course not! But nobody gave a fig, an’ look at where we are now. Convenience always smushes sense into senselessness, I suppose.

I’m gettin’ ahead of myself. Name’s April. Worked on a secret project for the government to rain untold death an’ destruction upon our enemies at home an’ abroad, whereupon said government sold the fruits of our labor to public corporations, ‘cause capitalism dies hard. Guess how well that turned out.

Here’s the thing: Time’s a slippery little beast, an’ people don’t like slippery little things. Normally, people find some way to kill what they don’t understand, but seein’ as how time’s not somethin’ that really dies, mortality was just somethin’ we all shut up about an’ went along with. But assumptions only exist for as long as until someone comes along and breaks ‘em, for better or for worse.

Graduation is death, for you do not realize what you have until it is gone. But I suppose that, from this reasoning, graduation is birth as well, for you do not realize what you have until it is gone.

My apologies—I believe a few pleasantries are in order first.

My name is Alannis, emphasis on the second “a” and with one “l” and two “n”‘s. I realize you may find these eccentricities slightly grating, and I apologize if I have caused you any undue irritation. But infants, being infants, are never terribly specific in their everlasting dissatisfaction, and from this you shall see that I was not sufficiently lucid when my parents, for reasons that yet elude me, resolved to stamp upon me this bothersome designation. I thus find that it is easier to “clear the air,” so to speak, within the confines of clumsy introductions rather than have to drag out the whole affair awkwardly through many months or many years.

That will be enough for now. As I had intimated a few moments prior, I find graduation to be quite a peculiar concept, though this term is typically known by other names. Mastery. Matrimony. A change in the status quo. A fresh start.

But I confess that this graduation that I am about to describe to you is… just a graduation. From college, to be precise. In 2036. Where I graduated is irrelevant; simply substitute your own preference for where I went if you feel the need to orient yourself with some sort of physical bearing or hubristic sentiment.

Thus, as you see, we begin at an end.

Hah. “For better or for worse.”

We were “directed” by our good friends in suits to “make moments last longer,” an’ I don’t mean through the usual narcotic avenues. I’m talkin’ about a solid reality-bendin’, warpin’-the-fabric-of-spacetime kind of longer, where you push a magic button on a little box an’ your graduation or your weddin’ or your childhood become as long as you want ‘em to be.

Oh, those singularities I mentioned earlier? You’re probably aware of all sortsa time shenanigans these things are capable of, but turns out rippin’ apart reality ain’t the same thing as controllin’ it. Took us a while to figure out how to get from trash dumpster to localized timestream manipulator, but we got there. Pretty sure there were some Nobel Prizes thrown around.

“Where’s the death an’ destruction?” you ask? Settle down, already! You’d probably need all your fingers an’ all your toes an’ all the hairs on your body to count the number of militaristic applications this little doohickey had. Sabotage? Theft? Chaos? When you’ve got all the time in the world, why, it’s all a cakewalk.

Hey hi hello! Oh my gosh this is so cool.

Umm I’m Ralph. My friends say that’s a really dumb name but I don’t care. My parents got me this thing that lets me take pictures but it’s like a lot of pictures at the same time and there’s sound so it’s like the pictures are moving and talking and it’s awesome! Mom said it was mine as long as I didn’t point it at any strangers because they might get uncomfortable and I might get in trouble. Dad said I shouldn’t drop it and that I should walk around the house and record some stuff “for posterity.” Umm, I’m not sure what that word means but Dad says I’ll know what it means one day.

My friends are gonna be so jealous. All they talk about is “why two kay” and how their parents are gonna stop it and save the world but they never talk about me.

Well… I guess they do talk about me, but… it’s always about my name. “Ralph? What kinda name is that?” They’re the worst. The worst! The worst!

We begin at an end, or do we end at a beginning? I cannot say. All I can say is that I wish I had spent my years in the lecture halls and the dorm rooms of my alma mater with purpose, but alas, wishing something to be true does not make it true.

People quickly find their footing here, I am told; there is a place for everyone in places like these, I am told. I believe that what I am told is a lie. But I too believe that lies are occasionally useful should they manage to effect some sort of self-improvement, and it is to my own detriment that I did not see this sooner.

This is my personal theory: Happiness is built on deception.

Oh, did I say a cakewalk? Well, I suppose there’s always a catch.

You had all the time in the world for about ten minutes, relative to your frame of reference. That was it. Any further an’ you risked “irreparable damage to the fabric of reality.” It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it didn’t make it any less true.

Now, the folks in suits—they weren’t too happy with this. They wanted more, more, more, an’ when they wouldn’t take no for an answer, they sold us an’ the tech out for a quick buck on the side. Well, I’m sure they’re happy now.

Companies pounced on the opportunity. Claimed the specs an’ the smarts as their own, then started marketin’ these boxes as some sorta fountain of youth. It was a big an’ bold-nosed lie, plain an’ simple. People die, an’ that’s that. But people ate up the charade like those flakes I used to give my goldfish, an’ that meant all our whinin’ made no difference in the end.

Deception is a subtle art, and I do admire it. There is something splendid about manipulating reality, and while we perhaps may not have discerned the means by which to do so in the literal, fanciful sense as of yet, creatures of all sizes and intelligences have been deceiving one another ever since they have acquired the capacity to respond to stimuli. You can see, then, that through deception—through merely the whims of a veritable human deity—it is as if one has created an entirely new world with its own presuppositions and absolutes, valid only within said deity’s sphere of influence but valid all the same.

And there is not just one deity in this world, oh no. There are hundreds, thousands, millions of such individuals, all emanating, from their words and their actions insincere, their own pocket reality by which cattle find themselves orbiting, gravitating toward, and—ultimately—colliding with.

Please, do not mistake my admiration for assent. I have no wish to be herded about such as I have described, nor do I have any wish to be the herder. I only mean to point out that I do not believe one may, in full consideration of the facts, be happy. You laugh and another cries. You eat and another starves. You play and another toils. But these sufferings are practically a world away, and may as well exist purely in imagination.

The worst!

Gosh. Our home isn’t really big or anything like that but Mom says Dad said he’s gonna get a new job soon and we’re gonna get a bigger house! So I’m gonna record everything so that future me can see how much better his stuff is and how lucky he is. Future me can’t come soon enough. I really really really wish my life was better. My parents are okay, but wouldn’t it be super cool if they were celebrities or something? Then my friends would talk about me all the time. I wouldn’t even need friends.

Umm, what are friends?

So we do not give the facts our full consideration, if only to preserve our rationality. We tell ourselves that there is only joy, there is only abundance, there is only leisure. Ironic, is it not? We are the ones who manipulate ourselves. We create our own paradises to inhabit. And we are content with that.

An’ whaddya know? Societal collapse. People didn’t wanna let those small moments slip away forever, so they used their boxes with all the restraint of a child in a candy store. ‘Course there were safeguards installed in these devices, but if people want somethin’ bad enough, they’ll find a way to get it, every time. Pushin’ buttons, makin’ their own worlds to live in for minutes, hours, days at a time. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

So then reality just seemed to come undone one day, an’ it hasn’t come un-undone, if you get what I’m sayin’. There was no unrest, no war, no warnin’. I can’t really describe it. Everythin’ just seems out of whack somehow. People dead. Universal constants not really constant anymore. Rubble everywhere. You know, all that good stuff.

But you doubt me. You doubt how I have defined this “human deity.” You wonder whether this makes you, yourself, a godlike being, whether this makes everyone you have ever known a god of their own world, and whether, finally, this makes me the same. You wonder if you are, through my very words, being manipulated at this very instant, and you cannot decide whether you enjoy it or whether you revile it, or whether you ought to prefer one option over another.

After all, if we are all gods, does that not mean we are all human?

Good. Doubt is your friend. Doubt is your escape.

I guess I don’t really know what friends are. Dad says everyone finds someone eventually, but I don’t wanna wait. What’s the point of waiting? Why can’t I have one now?

Maybe… maybe friends aren’t so great. You have to take care of them, and when they cry you have to make them not cry, and when they laugh you have to laugh too or else you’ll be weird. There’s just a lot you have to do, and I’m not sure I wanna.

I don’t know.

But… future me’ll know what to do! Where is he? I can’t wait!

‘Course the government, or what’s left of it at least, needed someone to pin the blame on. So we scientists took the fall. But what’s the government gonna do? It’s not like they’re gonna lock us away an’ spit on our memory. After all, they need all hands rebuildin’ life as we knew it.

But come graduation day, I suppose you could say I had my doubts about doubt. Nothing is perfect. Perhaps, in some instances, it is better to be herded about and drawn into a world, one of personal creation or otherwise. To accept deception as the key to happiness is to accept that absolute control does not and cannot exist. And perhaps the act of letting go is its own mastery.

Because second chances do not exist, and to live in a yesterday of our own is to regret what we have done and what we have not done. Time flies, as they say. So why not do?

My apologies once again. I have been sitting here, writing with abandon for the past twenty minutes, and I do not know why. Yet the future awaits, and I must begrudgingly take my leave to enter into its embrace.

Gee, I can’t wait to grow up! I’m gonna show them all. I’m gonna be so cool and Mom and Dad are gonna be so proud of me. Look out, world, Ralph’s coming for you! I’m leaving this dump behind.

Mom? Dinner? Coming! Oh, I guess I’m a little hungry. I’ll be back for you, world, just as soon as I eat.

But maybe we don’t need to rebuild the world as we knew it. Society’s dead. Why not make somethin’ new? I mean, who’s gonna judge? Who’s gonna care? This is my life, an’ I ain’t gonna be bossed around by thick-headed bureaucrats if an’ when civilization gets back into workin’ order.

Some things come an’ some things go, an’ sometimes they go forever. Sometimes there’s just no way ‘round that. But we’ve just gotta keep goin’ an’ hope things turn out for the best, an’ if we die, we die.

Well, that’s that. I’m not sure what I should call this. A log? A video diary? A compilation? Yeah, let’s call it a compilation. A compilation of experiences an’ hopes an’ mistakes an’ us just tryna get through whatever it is we’re tryna get through. Maybe someone’ll find it useful. Maybe that’ll be enough.

Time to go.

A silhouette grabs onto the edge of a clock while another silhouette grabs onto the first one's leg. A third silhouette attempts to grab onto the second one but falls into the darkness below.