I have lived two lives.
In my first life, when I was old, I wandered through a shop of antiques looking for a lampstand. My cat had finally knocked over my wife’s light; it was a gift for her from years before, given by one of my sons, and while I couldn’t repair or replace it, its loss left an empty space in my heart.
My wife was dead.
She had passed away years before; some defect had lain in her body like a time bomb, undetected and malign. She passed away silently, and I hope comfortably and peacefully. The back-and-forth we shared wasn’t always pleasant but it was always beneficial; she was the rudder for my life. I missed her and will always love her.
The cat she’d named and that we shared had been playing – a vision of his youth, I’d guess, as he was at the same point in his life as I was. Running across a coffee table, he’d miscalculated and collided with the lamp – and down it went, into thirty pieces of porcelain.
It was just an ordinary lamp, but it was associated with my wife and therefore it held value for me, too.
Therefore, I found myself wandering, looking for something that resonated with me, that reminded me of my wife – hopefully something she would have liked. I could have bought a new lamp, but I wanted something with its own memories to imagine, something that would have interested my wife.
I found it in Britt’s Olde Shoppe of Ye Antiquities, amused by the name. It was not a large store – like many such places, I imagine, it was packed with oddities and knick-knacks, full of brass and dust. However, one desk had a vase with a light affixed to it – and that, I thought, was a worthy candidate. It was old, it was unique, it looked easy enough on the eyes, the colors matched my furniture – this was my lamp.
I took it home. It was overpriced, but I had the money for it; I was replacing memories, not just a source of light. The proprietor told me some story of the lamp, in an attempt to inflate its value; that was all right, because I would have assigned it a narrative in any event, and it was a way to pass the time.
I put it on the table and then went on about my life.
A week later, I finally had occasion to use it – I was sitting down to read, and, well, I needed light. Turning it on, nothing happened – the bulb had worked in the store, but here, nothing. I replaced the bulb with an old-style incandescent bulb, not because it had better light – it didn’t – but because I liked the feel of the older, dimmer bulbs.
The first moment after I turned the lamp on was strange – a vibration ran through the air. I heard a sound like a hundred voices in ecstasy in the distance… and then he appeared.
I could not believe it – such things don’t happen. Perhaps I was having a stroke, ready to join my wife in the World to Come.
Smiling, he said, Thou art not ready to pass away. No, O Man, thou hast instead come upon great fortune. Thou hast freed me from my long imprisonment through thy echoing of the past.
“Are you… a djinn or something?” I asked, trying to reconcile this apparition with anything I could relate to.
A djinn, he said, his eyes locked onto mine. Yes… a djinn is a worthwhile name for such as I. I am Asmedi, and as a djinn, I am prepared to grant thee three wishes, such as are within my power. Three thou may ask, no more; further, they are thy wishes, none others’, and I cannot and will not change the course of the world for such as thou art. Lastly, one day’s passing only dost thou have to make thy requests.
My heart leapt. I might be rich; I might be powerful; I might have my wife back. Would those things change the world? I didn’t know.
But first, I needed to revisit a great wrong I’d done in my youth, something that had colored everything afterward. Repairing that wound would have made the course of my life easier; it was a pain that had lingered, even as a relatively small thing compared to the course of human events.
When I was young, I didn’t know how to be myself. I had been suppressed because of personal illness as a child, disempowered as part of the process for my treatment, and as I matured and was put into new circumstances, I acted the part of someone used to personal power and charisma. I played the part of a better, more confident, stronger version of myself whenever in the presence of anyone else; I was combative, secretive, irascible. It was my way of seizing control over my own life, by owning and manipulating the relationships I formed with others.
It was not a positive aspect of my personality. It was motivated by fear, but it was the only coping mechanism I’d had.
Through it all, though, stood one woman: Anna. Somehow we attracted each other; that I was attracted to her was unsurprising, as she was beautiful and intelligent and kind, but I would never have expected her to be attracted to me.
But she was.
We only had a year together, in varying degrees. We were good friends, and gradually progressed beyond Platonic friendship while not breaking the bounds of true propriety: we were casually, gently falling in love.
And one fine summer day, I looked at who I was in my relationships, and who she was, and thought: “This is a woman with whom I could spend the rest of my life.” But I was projecting a callow image of who I was; I was not actually the same person that she thought she knew. She saw my desperation, but not my fear. She saw my love for her, but didn’t understand its true nature; she was becoming an anchor to a reality in which I did not have to wear a mask.
And I was lying to her about who I was, without even truly realizing it.
So I did what any young fool would have done: I broke up with her. “I don’t think we need to be seeing each other…” ten simple words, and I broke the two of us apart. I shattered us, and shattered myself for years.
I had had a plan, of course. My goal was to examine myself, to peel back the layers of my own masks, to figure out who I was. I would then move heaven and earth to show her who I was, to win her heart as myself and not a projection.
I was not successful.
We lost communication after that; her father was killed in an automobile accident, and her mother was crippled; when I went to the hospital to try to offer my condolences and any support I could provide, she interacted formally, more coldly than simple grief would explain.
I do not remember my last words to her. I had not had the time to figure out who I really was, and her trust for me had been broken.
I carried around the pain of losing her, and her loss of her family, for years, even though we lived completely separate lives. I no longer knew anything of her life, and I felt that she never actually knew me at all.
It was a regret that colored everything.
And there I was, an old lamp burning and a figure telling me that I could have three wishes…
I knew what my wishes would be. One would be to have my beloved wife back. Another would be for personal comfort.
But first… I told Asmedi that I wanted to change what I had done to Anna, to go back to the week before I destroyed our relationship, knowing what I do. I wanted to relive it, and give her what I always wished I’d offered her, and avoid the pain for both of us.
Asmedi smiled, coldly, cruelly, knowingly. I understand thy wishes, O Man. Now let the first be granted… and he opened his mouth with his hands impossibly wide, and smoke and light poured out.
I blinked, and immediately sweat appeared on my forehead – the temperature had gone up by twenty degrees. I was suddenly wearing jeans and a baseball shirt – and my hair was thicker than it had been. I found myself in my father’s house as it appeared before it was consumed by fire, from decades earlier.
I was home.
I had a hard time reconciling myself with myself. My body was younger; I was easily thirty pounds lighter. I felt displaced, and as if I were two people – and in a sense, I was. I remembered my life as I’d lived it – and I remembered my life as it was when I was young. I knew phone numbers. I knew addresses. I remembered my class materials… and I remembered Anna more clearly than I had in decades.
Oh, how I remembered Anna.
Without the intervening years to provide distance, my heart ached for her. I had not remembered how passionate I was – and being young, she pervaded everything I felt.
How had I not told her this? How had I not shown her this? How could I have lived, hiding how much of a totem she was for me, how much of a lodestone she had become for me, even then?
I did not know. The part of me still stuck in my youth couldn’t comprehend the majesty of thought that the older version of myself had brought. I found myself schizophrenically asking myself, “Who is this who feels? What is this? Why is everything so different?”
My younger aspect was having trouble reconciling my mindset. Younger me had woken up with a vague sense of needing to change, to become, to be… and older me had integrated with a full sense of what the changes actually had needed to be, with more perspective on the chain of events that formed my life.
It was overwhelming, but simple: I went upstairs to find a phone, hoping my parents were out – and they were – and called long distance. It was odd having her phone number on hand; the older aspect of who I was couldn’t quite remember even the area code.
She picked up. At her greeting, I couldn’t quite answer – my emotions were too strong, my relief too great. In my older life, I’d not heard her voice for over forty years; in my younger life, it’d not even been a day.
I finally choked out that I wanted to see her, wanted to be with her, not to do anything special, but just to be with her.
It startled Anna. For one thing, we’d been hanging out the day before, and for another, something was off in my voice. I’d always been slightly nonchalant with her; when we were together, I loved the time with her but I was still essentially self-centered; I was with her because it pleased me. But as an older personality, I was more willing to serve – something in my voice communicated that I wanted to be with her for her sake and not mine, I think. To my everlasting gratitude, she accepted and said she’d be on her way.
I was young; I didn’t even have my driver’s license yet.
After that, I lived in a dream, a haze of memory and emotion. I dodged my family, for the most part (which wasn’t difficult, as we lived in the same house but had our own lives), and spent as much time as I was able trying to reconcile who I was, emotionally, intellectually, and physically… when I wasn’t thinking about Anna.
She wasn’t sure what to make of me. From her perspective, I’d gone from a faintly controlling, internally-focused young man to someone who’d discovered empathy overnight. I learned more about her than I ever had known, and I was ashamed of that: I learned that she was a somewhat-faithful Methodist, her family came from the south of Spain, that she wanted to be a scientist. She loved country music – and I learned which singers. I learned her favorite colors, her favorite sports, and that she felt pressured to be a cheerleader while not actually caring that much about it. I learned that she thrived with touch – as did I – and that she saw herself as a little bit unworthy of praise.
I discovered that my younger self was a bit of a jerk for not having known all this before.
Thank God for Asmedi.
Our lives progressed; our relationship was still somewhat Platonic (she wanted to wait until marriage before going “all the way,” and I was fine with that). She was accepted at the local university, about which I was inordinately proud for her. I was watching her blossom into a lovely woman, and I was thankful that I was with her.
Thank God for Asmedi.
I still remembered my old existence: my wife, my sons, my life. I wasn’t sure how to resolve my old and new existences; I figured that my time with Anna would find a peaceful resolution, one without the recurrent pain I remembered, and both of us would find a new equilibrium.
But at the time, I was ferociously happy. No more was I as selfish as I was; my grades had improved, my commitments had improved, and I still had Anna.
Thank God for Asmedi.
One day, I was riding with her father to buy her a Christmas present. I was pensive; I was thinking of my new life and how permanent it seemed. I felt like it was time for he and I to talk as men.
I mentioned to him that I truly loved and respected his daughter – and I did.
I said that I knew it might be a little much, but that I was considering spending the rest of my life with Anna.
I remember his next words distinctly.
He said: “You’re still a little young for th-”
That’s when the truck hit us.
They said that the driver simply ran a stop sign. The impact indicated that he’d been going anywhere from forty to fifty miles per hour. I don’t know. All I know is that I woke up while being pulled from the car, unharmed… while Anna’s father was dead, killed in the initial impact.
Anna’s relationship with me changed after that. I did not attend her father’s funeral, at her request.
Shortly after New Year’s, she stopped answering the phone for me, stopped returning my calls. I was grieving, and trying to respect her grief, and I was unable to cross the bridge of loss. She associated me with the death of her father, and I could not blame her.
We lost touch, just as we had decades before in my real life. But without my own agonizing realization of who and what I was and what I should become, I wasn’t in the right place to meet the woman who became my wife. She’d been a very casual acquaintance for me before we truly met each other – my grandparents knew her family – and when I casually inquired about her, I was informed that she’d married a high school sweetheart.
I was alone.
I called for Asmedi. I called upon God. I called upon a cold universe. There was no answer.
Anna moved on. She met someone while she was at the university. They got married, had kids, and were happy as far as I could see from afar.
I never found anyone to replace either one of them: neither Anna nor my wife. I was able to form casual acquaintances, but no relationships were able to form such that I was truly able to attach myself to anyone else.
I had friends, certainly; I even had the occasional date. But of them, nothing really grew. Nothing could. Even my cats were gone. My heart became a stone, and I waited and watched for Britt’s Olde Shoppe of Ye Antiquities, painfully contorting my life to recreate the circumstances under which I’d found the lamp.
And one day, long after the point in my old life where I’d found the lamp, I came across a man dressed in shadow, who looked like Asmedi had. He greeted me, and said, laughing: Has your first wish met your expectations, O Man? But now, thou hast not rescued me; thou hast no wishes. And it is time for me to go…