Synopsis of Time Branches
When life disappoints, start over.
What if you were in a coma and everyone expected you to die at any moment, but you found that you were free to move in time and space? What would you do with your new freedom?
Cailyn Whittaker decides to rewrite her mother’s life. She is displeased with the early results, so she resolves to rewrite her sister’s life as the best way to improve her mother’s boring life. After a few attempts at revising her sister’s childhood, she decides that it is really her own life that needs a reboot. In all the time branches, she has great fun, sometimes as an embodied participant, sometimes as a naughty spirit. She enlists the help of an Indian swami in exploring some of life’s great questions and using the answers to help everyone around her.
Join Cailyn as she explores the purpose of her life by reliving and correcting most of her previous mistakes. This time she finds a rewarding career, her true love and a way to attend Woodstock. Yes, like you and I, she missed it the first time.
Cailyn to myself: This is weird, really weird.
Cailyn to you: I’m dying from cancer. Well, that might not be true; I’m also in a coma. Stupid fall—one second at the top of the stairs, the next at the bottom, in a pile. I don’t really remember any of it.
My first memory is hovering around inside an ambulance, looking down on two medics rapidly working on my body which was strapped to a spine board. Later, in the ER of a Cleveland hospital, excited people were scurrying around my body for a long time, poking, prodding and x-raying. Once things calmed down a bit, other people put the body here, in intensive care. I could say, “… put me here,” but it doesn’t seem like me down there.
Looking down on that dying body reminds me of the times when I was about to walk out of a bad movie, but stood at the door looking back at the screen for a few lines of dialogue because I thought I shouldn’t waste the price of admission. So I look down on that carcass and think, What a waste! All the years of primping, exercising, dieting and what did it get me? The worrying over a job, or a boyfriend, or an income tax form—it all falls into place, a fairly meaningless place, at that.
It’s 2012, probably September. My mother, Lottie Whittaker, seventy-five years old, is sitting by the bed, holding the body’s right hand, the one without any tubes attached, staring blankly across the body at the hardware that is keeping her fifty-five-year-old daughter alive. Mom looks numb. She’s been here for days, looking worse each day.
Jesus! Look at her. I wish I could move a finger to let her know it’s OK. Hell, this is the best I’ve felt for two years. I’d like to tell her a joke; she needs a laugh. I could tell her a story such as the one I overheard last night when two nurses were in here cleaning the body up. They were laughing about a doctor who thinks he’s God’s gift to women. Well, it seems that when one of the nurses experienced the doctor’s gift, she discovered that it was child-sized.
I’m hovering close to the ceiling on the other side of the bed when Amina, my young African-American nurse comes in. She’s a sweetheart. As I usually do when she comes in, I drop down to the level of the body so I can watch her eyes—so kind and peaceful. I love this girl.
After giving Mom a big smile, she wanders around the room touching various knobs and making notes in a folder. She replaces an IV bag, then stands behind Mom rubbing her shoulders.
“They told me today that it’s time to let her go,” Mom says, her voice cracking. “Even if she comes out of the coma, the cancer will take her immediately—or the cancer could take her before she comes out of the coma. I don’t know what to do.”
“You should go get some rest, Mrs. Whittaker. It’s after nine.”
Yes, Mom; go get some sleep. It’s depressing watching you sit here all day.
“I’ll just stay a few more minutes.”
Amina gives Mom’s shoulders a final squeeze and a pat before moving on to the next room.
I drift up to the ceiling and look down.
I don’t know why I hang around the ceiling. … Maybe so I’m not in the way. Isn’t that a laugh?
Mom is looking down at her hand that’s holding my hand—my body’s hand. I move down so I can read the expression in her eyes. I hover a few inches above our hands looking up at her.
Jesus! There’s so much grief in her eyes. It’s like she’s the one dying. … I love you, Mom. Can you feel it? Can you feel how sorry I am that I didn’t do anything worthwhile with my life? I never gave you grandkids. I would give every cell in my body if I could only give you something that would bring you some joy after I die. Oh God! She’s crying again.
I’m inside her thoughts. … I think. … How the hell did that happen? I can feel her grief. I mean, really feel her grief. A moment ago I wasn’t feeling anything … well maybe a little bliss from being free of all the cancer pain … and now, it’s like sadness on top of sadness, like a … I don’t know what. … How can she live this way?
I was wrong; it’s not really her thoughts. It’s … what … her emotions or something?
It’s not just about me dying; she’s feeling Lauren running off with Jeff to California; she’s feeling Dad divorcing her; she’s feeling all the pain that led to his leaving. She’s feeling that her life meant nothing at all.
I had no idea Mom felt this badly about her life. I thought she got over Dad and Lauren years ago. She hasn’t talked about them for years.
I’ve got to do something about this.
I’m trying to focus on her grief. I don’t know if it will do any good. She’s feeling that she’s wasted her life. She’s only got me and I’m about to leave her. She’s feeling emptiness. I’m attempting to hold onto my love for her and her grief as a single thought.
Mom is crying again, not the quiet tears that I’ve seen over the last few weeks since my fall. She’s blubbering. It feels connected to the love that I’m feeling for her. She rests her head on the edge of the bed and seems to be emptying all her grief into her tears.
Mom is feeling my love; I’m pretty sure of it. We are somehow connected in a two-way channel. I’m feeling her grief while she’s feeling my love. The more love I send her, the louder she cries.
Jesus! … How did I do that?
Now I’m feeling all her emotions, not just the grief but also the love that I’m sending through the channel that has opened between us.
I’ll let this flow for a while. … This is nice. … I can feel the love passing to Mom, and I can feel when she feels loved, then I can sense her reaction coming back through the channel. The more I love her, the more comes back.
Amina walks in, then stands at Mom’s right shoulder, looking down on the back of Mom’s head which hasn’t moved. She bends over, putting her right hand on top of Mom’s right, the hand that’s holding mine. She’s rubbing Mom’s shoulders with her left.
I should have been a nurse. These women are incredible. Love you, Amina! … Big hug!
From the ceiling all I can see is the top of Mom’s head. I move down, just above the hands, so I can see Amina’s face.
I wonder if I can wander into Amina’s consciousness if I focus on how grateful I am for what she’s done for Mom and me.
Yikes! … I guess so. That was easy.
Now I’m feeling her emotions. This must be what they mean when they talk about compassion. She’s really touched by Mom’s suffering—actually feeling the pain, not simply understanding it intellectually. Is she able to do this all the time? With all the patients? God, she must be exhausted at the end of a shift.
I can feel her compassion but also the hurts, the residue of daily brushes with racism and sexism, the worries over her little boy left in a daycare facility that isn’t quite as well run as she would have liked.
Am I reading her thoughts? … No … It’s not that. It’s more like her soul or spirit, something under the thoughts. … Wow!
I feel stronger as I absorb her energy. I’m not trying to move anything through the channel in her direction.
What’s going on? … As soon as I had the thought that nothing was going in her direction, something started slipping to her from me. I’m sensing both her emotions and, maybe, my gratitude flowing to her?
Amina is smiling. There’s a tear running down the right side of her nose. She’s wiping it away with her fingers, still smiling.
This is really cool! I made her smile. I wish I could give her that hug.
Amina turns away; I feel the link between us break. She walks over to the cabinets, pulls two tissues from a dispenser. After she blows her nose and dabs her eyes, she walks out. … I can hear her talking to someone at the nurses’ station in the hall.
I’m slipping back into Mom’s consciousness. It gets easier each time. She really feels miserable. I’ve never felt this level of misery, not even during chemotherapy. Tomorrow, I’ll see if I can get her to go home earlier—by three o’clock. She can miss the traffic, have a nice dinner and take a nap in front of the TV.
I’ll have to play around with this psychic stuff. I’m still not sure how I do it. It is something like—I’m feeling the other person’s feelings, then there’s an intention to go beyond the feelings, like the feelings are floating on the surface of a lake, so I exhale, then allow myself to sink below that surface. I’m not aware of time exactly, only a gentle intention. Then suddenly—poof; there I am—I just know that I’m connected to them.
Mom is still crying softly. I want to speak to her, to say, “Mom, go home.” but I know that won’t work. I’m sending her love and appreciation. The channel seems to open. I send her the thought that I will be stable tonight—no way am I dying before she can get back here tomorrow. I send her gratitude wrapped with the idea that she deserves a night off. I love you, Mom.
Damn! Where’d she go? The room’s empty. Where did I go just then? Time is a bit unstable in this … this thing I’m doing—whatever the hell it is. The clock says nine-thirty. It’s dark out. It must have worked. But I must have jumped forward in time, or maybe I dozed off. Can I doze off while in a coma? I don’t know what’s going on.
There are some loud voices in the hall. Amina is getting chewed out by the head nurse right outside my door. She’s saying the old man next door didn’t get his eight o’clock heart medication for some reason. The head nurse is really pissed. This will go on a report, she says; there will be a black mark at the group’s next evaluation, so she’ll see that there’s a black mark in Amina’s file.
Amina comes back in to change the urinary catheter on my body. She pulls down the covers and pushes the gown up. I move down to my crotch. That’s a strange thing to say, isn’t it? From down there I’m looking up her arms to her face. She’s shaken. I can see the worry.
I move into her with all the thankfulness I can muster. I mean—here she is working in my crotch, changing the plastic tubes—not a glamorous job. … It can’t be too pleasant either; I haven’t had a real bath in over a week. She’s focused on what she’s doing; the chewing out by the RN has slipped way down on her list of concerns.
Perhaps I can help her out. A few minutes ago I jumped forward in time—or I think I did—so I might be able to move back in time, so she doesn’t get chewed out. Maybe instead of only being an observer, I can give people some new thoughts.
I’ll use the feelings-as-a-lake trick again. … Some intention. … Some love. … A nudge back in time to seven forty-five. … A thought about Amina giving Mr. Whatever his heart medication …
OK! … I felt something change. … It’s nine-forty. She’s still here, straightening the bed. She arranges my hair, tucks it behind my ear. She puts some cream on my dry lips. Love you! She looks tired but now she’s more relaxed. She checks my monitors once more and leaves. I believe it worked; I don’t think she forgot his meds.
The room is empty. I’m at the ceiling looking down on the inert body in the bed.
It would be cool if I could do this stuff at a distance. I can’t always be looking at someone’s face. I’ll try to check on Mom at her apartment.
I’m focusing on Mom, attempting to connect by feeling love for her, feeling grateful … feeling grateful. … No, it’s not working.
I’m such a dummy! I can be wherever I want. I’ve been moving around the room all day—ceiling to hands, to crotch, to ceiling. What’s keeping me in the hospital?
I wander out to the nurses’ station. There are only two people there, the head nurse and another woman I haven’t seen before. I’m at the head nurse’s keyboard looking up at her. She’s in her early forties, pretty, with dyed blond hair.
That dye job needs to be touched up soon.
She seems nice. It’s easy enough to feel appreciative. Here she is, taking care of us at ten o’clock at night. She wears a wedding ring and a big diamond engagement ring. Her husband and kids are probably at home wondering what it would be like to have a mother with a day job.
I slip inside.
She is doing OK, just stressed about the needs of the dozen patients who are spending the night in the ICU. I don’t feel any worries about missing meds. I give her a spiritual hug and leave her.
I’m wondering how to get to Mom’s apartment. It was simple enough to get from my bed to the nurses’ station. That was really just intention. It seemed slow, but I don’t think it has to be.
I create some intention to be down on the sidewalk in front of the hospital. … I’m there.
I think about Mom’s apartment. … I’m there.
This is fantastic! I should have put myself in a coma years ago! So where’s Mom?
A yellow glow is spilling into the hallway from her bedroom. Now I’m beside her bed. She fell asleep while reading a romance novel with a big beefy guy on the cover. It would be helpful to turn the light out for her, but I can’t do that, I guess. I sit on the side of her bed. That’s not right; I don’t have a butt to sit on. I’m where my head would be if I had a butt to sit on the side of the bed.
I slip inside. It seems even easier when someone’s asleep. She must be dreaming; the emotions are all over the place and changing quickly. I’ll just give her some love and gratitude. …
Was that a reaction? … I believe so. I think I felt a flutter of happiness.
She was, and is, a good mother. As I send her more appreciation, I can sense her heart being a bit lighter.
I probably didn’t tell her I loved her enough. … I told her, but not often. Could I be changing her dreams?
I remember Mom always being angry, not always at Lauren or me, but angry at life. She would be making dinner; something would go wrong, then she’d burst. When I was little, she might yell at me, but later apologize. When I was a teenager—that was after Dad left us—I gave her a lot of grief and we’d both be yelling. No apologies on either side. She didn’t deserve what I put her through. That was my hippie phase; my life was sex, drugs and rock and roll, certainly not about caring for the needs of others.
I break the connection, then wander to the living room. I’m looking at the family pictures to remind me what is important to Mom at this point. She has one picture of her parents, but most of the pictures are of her and me or of me with my last boyfriend.
That’s been a while.
She probably has the pictures of my other boyfriends stuck in a drawer somewhere. Why didn’t I ever marry one of them? … Bill asked me twice. … Too late now.
She has a picture of Lauren, the one taken in 1980 when Lauren was a senior with her hair all piled up. She never wore her hair that way.
I’ve got to find Lauren. I remember how cute she was at five, six, seven. Always cuddling next to me. We adored each other so much then. Later we fought like cats and dogs.
I’ll see if I can find her—wherever she is. All I need is a little intention.
* * *
Jesus! … Don’t ask me how I got here. I thought I’d be like Superman or something, flying across the country, across the plains, over the Rockies, then the Sierras. But that would have required knowing where I was going.
It wasn’t that complicated. I was in Mom’s living room. Some intention. … Poof! … And now I’m in Lauren’s bathroom. Her place is old; knotty pine paneling, stained white porcelain sink; it’s clean, but smells a bit musty.
I am shocked to see her suddenly in front of me, just getting out of the shower. She still looks good—trim, pretty. Her boobs are holding up better than mine. Imagine how shocked she’d be if she could see me. I can picture her screaming while falling backward into the shower curtain, dragging the curtain and the curtain rod down into the tub with her.
Boo! … Hee! Hee!
I’m watching her get ready for bed, brushing her teeth, her hair. God, I love my little sister. She has a tattoo on her butt. What’s that about?—some Chinese character. I can remember once when I was bending over exactly as she is now, brushing my teeth, when eight-year-old Lauren smacked my bare bottom and ran laughing down the hallway. If I had hands this would be a great time for payback.
She was so sweet as a little girl, trying to copy me in everything. She’s five years younger than me. I guess I was a bad influence; as I became a hippy, she became one too. But she was much wilder.
I’ll just wait for her in her bedroom. … Hmm, … seems like it’s a studio, only a single room with a small kitchenette, a couch and a twin bed. Tidy. It smells of incense. I expected a mess, but I’m remembering her room at Mom’s house in 1982 when she left. We all grow up.
Lots of books—some new-age stuff, some good novels, psychology texts, self-help.
Here she comes …
The room is dark after she turns out the bathroom light. In the darkness before she turns on the lamp on the nightstand, I can see out the window, but there’s nothing but pine trees, their silver outlines glistening in the moonlight. She sits on the side of the bed and relights the remainder of a joint that was resting on the edge of a tin ashtray. She takes two deep tokes, then tosses the roach into the ashtray where it burns itself out.
She pulls on a worn-out sleep-shirt. The hem is frayed and the armpits have holes. She gets into bed, then lays back on a pile of pillows. Her bedtime reading tonight is a vampire romance. I could never get into those things. I move next to her book to look up her arm. She seems to stare at me as she reads.
Now would be an even better time to yell “Boo.” If I could just be a floating head with vampire fangs! I wonder if I could get her to piss herself like when we were kids. I’ve got to work on being able to do that. … OK, time to get serious …
I’m enjoying staring at her. It’s intense to be inches away from someone’s eyes, looking deeply into them while they don’t even know you’re in the room. I’m trying to feel thankful for her, to send her love, but it’s not working. She seems a stranger. I can’t quite see her as the sweet little girl in 1967 or the unbelievably slutty teenager ten years later. I know it’s her, but I’m looking at a fifty-year-old woman with wrinkles and leathery skin—and she’s a blond at the moment, which is not her natural hair color.
After she left Cleveland with Jeff in 1982 there was one postcard from some small town in northern California, then nothing. If she’d kept in touch—an occasional photo—it might be easier for me to connect with her.
OK, Lauren, so you’re a stranger. I need to be able to do this with strangers. What’s the trick? … I could become a Buddhist monk; they’re supposed to have love and compassion for everyone. … No, I don’t have time for that. I’ll be dead in a few weeks.
Gratitude. Gratitude. I’m not sending you gratitude; I think I’m sending you resentment, dammit. You left me with Mom, you little brat. … And Dad left us before that. … I was the one on the receiving end of Mom’s bad moods for the last thirty years. … Jesus! I could have used some help, you know?
You’re so pretty. I was jealous of you for the last ten years we were together. You didn’t know that, did you? I think I resented you back then too. Maybe I wanted to be the slut and you could have been the good daughter helping to keep Mom together.
She turns out the light, then turns to face the wall. I drift to the wall so I’m looking at her face, only inches away. She could feel my breath if I had any. She’s even prettier in the soft blue glow that is coming through the window. In this light, I can imagine her at nineteen with smooth skin and light brown hair. She’s falling asleep.
I remember, when she was seven or eight, smoothing her hair while she slept, lightly so it wouldn’t wake her, pulling it back from her face and hooking it behind her ear. I’m thinking about the thirty years that we’ve lost, thirty years that we could have loved each other, and argued, and made holiday dinners together, and cried over romances gone wrong.
I’m still feeling resentment, dammit. I loved you and I’m resenting that I didn’t have you to love after you and Jeff ran off. I’m even resenting that you put me in a position where I would resent you. It should have been love, dammit!
So why didn’t you call?
Never mind; I know the answer to that. If I had showed you any affection at all during our last ten years together, then you might have felt safe calling me. But I didn’t show you any love, did I? I was bitter and pushy and complaining. Why would you call me?
OK, taking responsibility now … I was the big sister; it was my job to help you after Dad left. I failed you, didn’t I? You were only responding to my failure. You were running around with all those boys to get some validation that should have come from me. Yes, I can take responsibility for that.
I’m really sorry, Sweetheart. O God, I’m so sorry.
I’ll focus on when she was eight. I was thirteen. I adored her then. I can see her at that age, especially in this light. I can be grateful that she was in my life, that she’s still in my life. Sending joyful appreciation, appreciation, appreciation …
Finally! It worked; I’m inside her.
So what do I do now? She’s asleep; I could watch her dreams—doesn’t sound very productive. … I could wander through her memories of the last thirty years. Can I do that? I’ll just keep sending her love and see what happens.
I’m only getting feelings, not really memories. I can feel that Jeff left her long ago. She romanced some men and some women—all gone. Loneliness. Unworthiness.
Why did she stay here?
She feels lost, her life wasted. Mom and I have that in common with her. I can feel laughter; she’s had some good times, but those were long ago. The last ten years seem … barren.
Is that the right word for this feeling?
It seems that she’s in a commune, and has been this whole time. Now she works—garden, kitchen, … children? Did she have children? No, I don’t believe so. I think I could feel them if there were children of her own. She might be caring for other people’s children.
I can feel her sex life—lots of sex with men and women. It seems she liked the women better. Hmm. … But all that seems distant. The recent years just feel lonely.
There are scraps of memory about Mom and me. Embarrassment. Disapproval. She wanted to contact us, but she felt that we disapproved of her, of her sluttiness. … Damn! … We did, you know. We pushed her out. We never understood her.
How can I change this? I know I can move in time. I corrected Amina’s medication mistake by backing up a few minutes. Can I back up thirty years? If I do, will I have what I need to make changes or will I be as useless to her as I was the first time?
I’m still inside her. Well, I say I’m inside her, but it’s really somewhere else. I’m where she and I are together in time and space. That’s not very clear is it? It’s like—there’s something below our physical life, something more fundamental—like that psychic lake thing. Our physical bodies and our consciousness grow out of that thing somehow, and seem to be different things, but that’s only seeming.
So I’m floating around in that something, and I can slip in one dimension and move through space, or slip in another dimension to move through time. Once I’m there, in that something, it only takes some intention to go wherever I want in time or space.
Yeah, I know; it still doesn’t make sense. If you were here, maybe you could describe it better. Does it make you feel weird when I talk to you directly? Hope not. You’re here too, you know—in this time-space-lake thing. When I’m moving around in it, I sense your presence.
So I’m using intention to move back in time. I’m using her memories as a rough guide; the years in the commune are floating by, in reverse. The days are mostly the same. Lots of gardening in recent years. She likes it. Further back in time, there’s lots of sex.
Finally, we reach her memories that are part of my memories: the last few years when she was at home, high school dances, homework, a play she was in during her junior year. I don’t want to go back that far; I need to find a time a few months before she met Jeff Richards who drags her off to California—the bastard. … I remember Darren Spenser asked her to the senior prom. That would be a good place to start.
* * *