Keep Moving Backward

The trick is not to stop, but to keep moving backward, to the next incident, to the next beating, all the bad times you’re heading back in time to prevent. Your father threw your mom up against the hallway wall and threatened to beat her if she stood in the way again of him beating you. You were thirteen. It must have been a weekend, at the beginning of the school year, because, oh right, you had that black eye in your school pictures.

You set the date. You push the button. It works.

You take care of it.

You show up at the door and knock. You do what you need to do. You say what you planned to say. Your mom screamed at you, your father found his gun, little you cried in terror, but your skin-tight modern body armor and your memories were a bubble of protection to keep you, current you, future you to them, black-eye free.

Back in the woods, you wonder if the future has changed. You could return forward and check: did he heed the warning you gave him as he quivered on the floor, did he become nicer, is your father now your dad? Or did your mom leave him and become a single mom? Did you grow up to write comic books instead?

But you won’t find out. You don’t know much about the multiverse, or time travel, or the ramification of cheap devices dropped on an unsuspecting market by anarchists mass-producing access to the dreadful past. You don’t stop to learn. You pick up your time travel device, learn how to enter the desired date, and push the button. Maybe everything will be different now, then, whatever you call the future time you feel from. Or maybe everything stays, stayed, will stay exactly the same. Instead of a ripple of effects racing forward through time, a second universe split off from that pivotal moment, inaccessible container for new consequences you’ll never get to feel in your guts because that wasn’t your past. You remember, so does that mean you are stuck with the old one?

The only way is further back. Your first stop was good practice. Ice breaker. How many times did he hit you? You can narrow some of them down. You have enough time. The one time you went to the hospital for stitches, when you were twelve. The one time when you were ten you told your grandma when you stayed with her during the summer and she talked about the price of war for returning soldiers and their families instead. Christmas when you were nine and received everything you wanted and it made him seething mad. That time he caught you at six with the six-year-old neighbor boy, both of you with your pants down. The first memory you have, from when you were four, and how startling it was to be alive and aware mid-flight between his punch and the wall. You jot down your memories, in wonder of the shining past spidering back into your brain after revisiting just one specific event abruptly provided you with more details about what happened before then.

You remember the bullies, and approximately when they happened to you. You march right onto the campus of the middle school at just the right time to grab Steve’s fist before it pounds out of eleven-year-old you an earlier black eye, an earlier ruined school picture. You visit your father again. And again. And then Nate after soccer practice behind the gym in the fall when you are ten, and again a few hours earlier before he hits your arm with his locker door and you get mad and agree to meet him later, behind the gym. You remember more and more of these events and always there are people around you shouting in fear and you simply brush past them and to you, before you can be abused again.

You feel very Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. You’re glad little John isn’t around to stop you.

Did Steve and Nate respect you more after your shocking interventions? Did you become good friends with reformed Steve and Nate? Did you learn in high school Steve, for example, was gay, and did you have your first relationship then, with him? Is there a different future where a different you heads back in time to stop Steve from outing you to everyone in school, because he was afraid to come out to anyone else, and it was easiest to sacrifice you instead?

You wonder after days of this, after years, if you shouldn’t just prevent your mom from marrying your father. You remember where they said they were and you estimate the year, and then you go back and watch them meet. Instead you follow him home to your grandparents house where he’s been staying after he came back home for overseas. You observe him fall apart, continue to fall apart.

You’re a detective now and you uncover new dates to stalk. You’re a traveler to pasts you know little about. You’re a historian, an expert at finding time and place. You’re a soldier in the jungle, on base, arriving to destroy the events that destroyed him. You’re a philosopher analyst special teams, attempting to prevent battles and wars. You’ve forgotten to be a genealogist. Bad guys unrelated to you are on your list now. You’re a killer. It takes a lot of time. You’re a professor, a historian, a collector of experience and experiences. It’s all forward when you get to your latest past, but you’re creeping back through time, tweaking and changing things as you go. You still exist. You haven’t done anything to remove yourself. Or maybe you are entirely removed now and no longer exist as anything other than a writer of new futures, a muse, a deity.

You don’t plan to stop and you hope no one else stops either.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 27


This is a long one. I wanted this to be prose poem, and it kept getting bigger. Maybe it’s more flash fiction than poetry. It’s very rough. Tense is all over the place, much of it on purpose, but probably in error in a lot of places. In revision, I would make it more surreal, add more poetic language and lyricism, search for stranger associations and bolder, odder descriptions, make sure any given tense makes sense at that moment, unpack the last line, etc.

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.