Ask me what I’m thinking about at any random time of the day, and I’ll probably tell you something along the lines of what if I go back in time and retain all of my memories like Jeff Winston in Replay? As a carbon-based lifeform irrevocably trapped into the unidirectional flow of time, I’m almost always thinking about what life would be like with foreknowledge of the future. Since I can’t see into the future from here, I often imagine myself going back and trying again. Sometimes I think about what I could do differently, and sometimes I imagine what it would be like to try to do it all the same, but sooner. I’ll explain.
Sarcastically speaking, Dom loves when I try to talk to her while she’s making dinner.
Me: Are you busy?
Her: I’m making dinner, but what’s up?
Me: If I went back in time and became my 18-year-old self again with all my knowledge of the future and used that future to woo you into dating me in 1998 versus 2011 would you want or expect me to ever tell you that I was from the future?
Her: *gritting her teeth* Dammit, Daniel…
Jeff Winston didn’t have kids in his original life in Replay, so when he decided to meet his wife again, it was in the hopes he finally could have children. Dom and I have two children, and it occurred to me about 15 minutes before bothering her that if I went back, the odds of recreating my life such that my children are born exactly the way they are now would be astronomically huge. It’s just not possible.
So, were this to happen, I’d have to have a moment of silence for my lost children and just hope they’re continuing on in their own timeline with another version of me.
Catastrophic emotional and mental damage aside, it would be time to find and court Dom. Despite not meeting until we were in our early thirties, we both attended the University of Texas at the same time, lived in the dorms at the same time, etc. So I could have walked around and eventually found her. And after using my intimate knowledge of her likes and dislikes, there would come a moment where I would want to tell her the truth.
Me: Okay, let’s say I decided to tell you I’m from the future. Would you believe me?
Me: But I would know everything about you.
Dom: And you used that info to date me? I’d think you were a stalker.
Me: But you would be in love with me.
Dom: Would I? Look, I’m trying to make dinner here.
She had a point. Could I ever really convince her I was from the future? And if so, what would be the fallout of such an admission? What would be the dynamics of a relationship where one person has knowledge of the future? What responsibilities would that person have?
We went back and forth for a while about this scenario, with me playing up the benefits of getting together sooner in life and doing more and having a bigger family and all that good stuff. If we settled on a go-forward plan (to borrow some eyeroll-inducing corp-speak from LinkedIn), it was that were I to travel back in time, I should keep that to myself. Never tell her.
But would that be ethically wrong? To manipulate someone like that? I pleaded my case that honesty was the best policy, but the more we went around, the less it appeared that finding Dom in the past would be a viable endeavor. No matter what I do, it all eventually falls apart.
There was only one path forward that I could see. And it’s dark…
Me: Okay, so let’s say I woo you.
Dom: You woo me.
Me: And I tell you I’m from the future.
Dom: And I believe you?
Me: You believe me. And you’re into it. You’ve bought into the idea that something amazing is happening here, and you fantasize about going through life with someone who knows the future. And then in late 2000, I sit you down and say, okay, now we need to start thinking about how we’re going to stop 9/11.
Dom: You know, when you asked if I was busy, I thought you meant you had a question about the calendar or whether we’re sitting at the table or the bar, not this… *waves hands and spoon uncertainly* …whatever this is.
My wife is often surprised at the things I spend my time thinking about and vice versa. And though I appreciate the beauty of being two different and separate people, I sometimes wish she would indulge me in these scenarios. For decades, the literary world has been full of stories about stopping JFK from getting shot–hell, Umbrella Academy season 2 is all about it. My generation may well write about stopping 9/11, and the next about stopping Trump, and so forth.
Do most people not think about these kinds of things? Are writers just outliers like that?
My final question from the conversation, the one that gestates and eventually turns into a 2,000 free-writing exercise, was this:
Whether JFK or 9/11 or Trump, if you traveled back in time, do you think you have a moral obligation to stop these disasters before they strike? You see, if Dom buys in on me being from the future, she joins her morality to the situation. What if I didn’t act to stop 9/11 and she realizes I knew but did nothing?! Like I said, it all falls apart.
Anyway, what do you think? Do we have a moral obligation?
Let me know in the comments. Or better yet, ask this question to your spouse while they’re trying to make dinner and report back with the answer.