I felt like a kid again swimming under water with my goggles on, cooling off from the day's heat, diving deep enough to feel the layer of cool water underneath the warm surface.
Underwater I approached the raft that's been there for as long as I could remember. Despite my love of swimming, I used to always fear going under it because of the schools of fish hiding in its shadow. Now, as an adult, I knew the fish would flee in an instant by my presence. I figured it would be fun to finally swim under it. I thought about going back up for a fresh lungful of air, but a surge of confidence hit me. Just go for it. So, I pushed forward in a powerful stroke and scared the fish away.
The raft wasn't as wide as I thought, but I was gracious for the air in my lungs when I resurfaced. I caught my breath and pushed up my goggles.
My lungs burned. I suppose I was swimming for a while. I figured exhaustion hit me, and I swam back to the pier where my Bud Light was waiting for me.
Except it was Miller Lite. I could’ve sworn it was Bud Light, I even remember my dad tossing the dark blue can to me. Odd.
Not that it mattered. I took a deep sip of the beer and wrapped myself in a towel. I thought I wore a different swimsuit. The one I had on was blue, but I don’t even own a swimsuit in this color, do I? Maybe I swallowed some lake water and I just needed to catch my breath.
I pulled out my cell phone and opened the home screen. The picture wasn’t of my dog, but instead a photo of some beach. What happened to my picture of Zoey?
I figured this was the wrong phone. But the face ID recognized me and unlocked. I studied it, looking through pictures. This wasn’t right, my pictures had changed! My old ones shared similarities, but this phone almost looked like it belonged to someone else. I was definitely in some of these pictures, but I don’t remember taking them or being at these places.
"Enjoy your swim?" I recognized my mom’s voice. I looked up at her.
"What the hell? What did you do?" I gazed at my mother and her brown hair. She has been blonde my entire life.
"What do you mean?" She asked.
"You’re brunette!?" I exclaimed.
"Yeah" She laughed "So are you!" She mocked my startled tone but noticed my surprised expression.
"You dyed it?" I asked seriously.
"It’s always been this way." She looked down at me with confusion.
This was too much. My image of my mother was always associated with bright, blonde hair. Something was seriously going on.
I pushed past my concerned-looking mother and ran up the stairs into the house. I expected to be tackled by my dog, Zoey, but the house remained quiet.
"Zoey?" I called. No response. "ZOEY! Come here girl!" I whistled. No sign of my dog. In fact, there was no sign of a dog ever being here. There was no leash or water bowl in the house. What is going on?
I looked around the familiar lake house. It was a log cabin style furnished with leather chairs and warm colors. The house remained the same despite some differences in carpet and paintings. My memory seemed to be failing me again.
I strode to the bathroom to wash my face when I saw my reflection, I froze.
It was indeed my face, except more bloated. It looked like I never exercised a day in my life. My arms were puffy without definition, and I had a bit of a muffin top. I spent the last 3 years weightlifting, but it looks like all that was thrown out the window.
I stared at my reflection in disbelief, I started to panic when my thoughts were interrupted by a voice in my head. "I look good." It said.
"What? No I don't. I look like crap," I thought.
“That was weird,” the other voice came through. That voice sounded too much like me...
"Am I thinking these things?" I thought.
"That wasn't me, who said that?" The voice answered.
I remained silent waiting for a response. Then at the same time, I hear my subconscious voice overlap with another, “Hello?" We both said in unison.
"This has to be a dream." My other self said. I decided to call her Megan 2.
"Agreed," I responded
I looked away from the mirror and the overlapping voice in my head stopped. I laid on my bed and closed my eyes.
My brunette mom came in and checked on me right before I drifted off. I couldn’t get used to seeing her like that. But I told her I just needed to nap for a bit, and she left me alone.
I finally drifted asleep. When I woke, about 2 hours had passed, the late afternoon sun trickled orange light through the window. I shook off the exhaustion and grabbed my phone to check the time. I saw the background was still the beach. This couldn't be a dream. I headed to the living room. Sure enough, Mom was sitting there with her brown hair and a glass of wine.
I didn't know what to say or do. Should I act like everything was fine? I knew this was no longer a memory problem, but the idea that I switched into a different reality seemed too crazy to say out loud. I decided to play it cool and discover more details about this world.
"Hey mom," I spoke
"Ah you're up. How are ya feeling?" she glanced over and studied me.
"Better I guess." I remained vague. I needed to figure out what was different here.
I studied the room and noticed the family pictures were different. Mostly just my mom, my brother and me. There was no longer a family picture with my dad in sight. I didn’t need to ask my mom. It was obvious my parents were separated in this world. A pang of sadness struck at the realization. I just saw my dad a few hours ago when he tossed me a beer before my swim. I have no idea where he could be now.
I left the room and sat outside on the patio to study my phone again.
My bank account was in shambles. Hardly any savings and tons of debt, and I could see why. Megan 2’s paycheck was coming from a job I remember getting right out of college. That job paid very little, and I,er we, were treated horribly. I guess she never quit.
I was now convinced I switched places with the version of myself I spoke to in the mirror. The moment when things began to seem strange was after my swim. But not even that, it was when I swam under the raft.
It made so much sense and no sense at the same time. Megan 2 and I must have swapped consciousness's or shifted realities somehow. We needed to switch back. I refused to stay here.
The sun was setting. I grabbed a towel and rushed to the lake. I looked down at the deep water when I locked eyes with my reflection.
The same feeling from before zinged in my mind.
"It’s the raft" I thought. I knew I was speaking to the other version of myself.
"I was thinking the same thing." She responded.
"I’m going back under." I thought as I broke eye contact to look at the raft. The connection to Megan 2 broke with it. When I looked back at my reflection, the bond didn’t re-connect. There was no better time to try then now. I stripped down to my swimsuit, put on my goggles and dove into the water.
I forgot how out of shape this body was, but I managed to make it to the raft without hyperventilating. After a lungful of air, I dove back under. Like before, I spooked the school of fish underneath. The excitement of seeing my parents and dog again gave me goosebumps. When I reemerged, I looked at my smart watch. The background was still the landscape, not Zoey. The disappointment ate at my heart, and I took another deep breath.
"Ok one more time" I told myself before I swam under again, then again, then a third time, each time checking my watch for changes in my reality. The last pass through I nearly didn't make it back up to the surface for air, I was so exhausted. When the sun set, my mom called me over from the pier demanding I come in.
"What the hell are you doing?" She asked when I climbed up.
I still didn't dare to tell her the truth, but I couldn't hide my emotion. My eyes welled up. "I just wanted to swim some more," I lied. I hoped my tears were covered up by the lake water dripping down my face.
My mom saw through it. "What's wrong?" she asked. I couldn’t answer truthfully without her thinking I was insane. I just shook my head.
She grabbed me into a hug. She was still the same mom and I felt safe in her arms.
We walked to the house. When she asked again what was bothering me, I told my her I was just having a weird day and just wanted to go to bed. I walked away and headed back to the bathroom mirror.
I stared into my eyes. I was alone in my own thoughts until a familiar zing occurred.
"It feels like waiting around a phone 'til it rings," I thought.
"Sort of does," she responded.
I didn’t mean to think out loud, but it was hard to hide it.
"The raft didn’t work this time," I thought.
"Yeah..." Megan 2 responded hesitantly. "Try again sometime?" she continued.
I already had a plan figured out. I told her, "Let’s do it tomorrow morning at 7am on the dot! We must have gone under at the same time before; we need to do it again."
"Sounds good to me!" she said quickly, but a strange afterthought permeated our conversation. "She'll go, I won’t."
"What was that? You won’t go tomorrow?" I was shocked. Why wouldn't she go?
"No, I will!" She said too excitedly. She was a terrible liar. I would know since I am too.
"You never went under tonight, did you?" I accused her. I hope the venom in my thought was coming through to her as I continued. "You think you could lie to me? I can read your thoughts!"
"No Megan," She tried to hide it, but she couldn't conceal her intentions.
"Why wouldn’t you want to be home?" I asked, but realization soon hit me. "Oh my god. You want my life!" I continued to accuse her. But the connection severed
I looked at the reflection. They eye of the body I now inhabited stared back at me. My own eyes were no longer there.
The heat of fury welled up in my body. It overtook me and my face flushed red with anger.
"NO! You can't!" I screamed out loud, heat swelled in my throat. I curled my hand into a fist and punched the reflection. Glass shards rained down from the wall accompanied by a layer of crimson red blood.
The tears ran down my face. I never even registered the pain; I could only think about the loss of my own life. My mom ran in frantically asking what happened. I wanted to tell her. I tried to explain. But all that came out between my tears were, "Things were better there. I was better!" And I collapsed in her arms.
My mom didn’t know the context of my sudden outburst, but she hugged me deeply. She pulled back and looked into my eyes. "Honey, I know you wish things were different, but we need to make the best with what we've got" she said.
But things could be better, I lived in a world where everything was better! And it was being stolen from me!
I finally broke away from my mom’s arms and bandaged my hand. I excused myself to my room.
I couldn't believe this. Just a day in this new reality and that version of myself doesn’t want to switch back? She’s stranding me here in a reality where my parents aren’t together, my job sucks, I have no house of my own, I never adopted my dog, and on top of that I look like a puff pastry! This couldn’t be happening. There’s no way this was real.
When I went to bed that night. I thought that Megan 2 would change her mind. I’ll try the raft again. As long as it takes.
The next day at 7am I did just that. I swam under the raft. I swam for hours, checking my watch each time. I tried again in the afternoon. No change.
I tried for two weeks.
Megan 2's connections in my reflection were short. Anytime we connected she would quickly remove herself.
Until one day, she spoke.
"I’m sorry," she said.
"You stole my life!" I tried yelling in my thoughts.
She stayed silent but remained connected.
"Please,” I resorted to begging, “I’ve worked so hard for my accomplishments."
"I know," she thought, but I could tell she wanted to remain silent.
We both stared at our reflections.
I broke the silence "Is Zoey, ok?" I asked.
The connection severed, and I was alone in my thoughts again.
I thought of my former life and my friends who never would have met me. I had some great neighbors where my new house was. The house that now belonged to Megan 2.
I had great coworkers too, in a job that was never mine in this reality.
And poor Zoey. Does she know that a stranger is lying in bed with her? That her mom isn't the same person who picked her up when she was 8 weeks old? Who loved and spoiled her for the past 2 years? Who could she belong to in this reality I wonder? She was the sweetest pup. I prayed someone loved her as much as I did.
I hated Megan 2 for stealing my life. Could I really hate myself so much? How could she do something so selfish? If the tides were turned, would I do the same?
I kept swimming under the raft every day until Labor Day arrived.
The neighbors were taking the raft out of the water, and I wouldn’t see it again until Memorial Day the following year. I took a picture of the placement of the raft, convinced there was some otherworldly portal there. But Megan 2 needed to dive under at the same time. Something I knew she would never do.
I watched my neighbors drag the raft on land. I looked over at my mom. My brother was visiting, and they were chatting while sun-tanning. A sense of normalcy hit, and a pang of anger welled with it. I can’t believe she is going to get away with stealing my life.
But what was I supposed to do about it? I could stay obsessed with the raft, or I could make things better.
So, I made my decision.
In the fall, I made some changes. I stopped swimming and started weightlifting again. My stamina and strength began to improve.
I quit the horrendous job where Megan 2 worked. After dozens of interviews, I finally got a job in a career I was better suited for. I was saving money and paying off her debts.
However, there were things I couldn’t control. I couldn’t get my parents back together despite my efforts. I saw my dad quite a few times during the summer and I grew used to spending time with him and my mom individually, but knowing how things could have been still ate at me.
The worst part was I would never get Zoey back. I called the breeder, but that puppy was adopted a long time ago. If I ever saw her walking on the street, she wouldn’t even recognize me. She would never tackle me with kisses or wiggle her butt so hard that she would fall over. No, she would just sniff my hand and wag her tail politely, like she did with strangers.
I tried not to think about what I lost. The memories resurfaced every so often. When Memorial Day came the next year, I stood on the pier watching my neighbors put the raft back in the water. I sipped my Bud light, put my hand in my sweater pocket, and sat back in my chair.