I clench my eyes shut to another failure, steadying my breath.
“I don’t know if I can do what needs to be done.” I say to myself.
I open my eyes and prepare to try again. And I shift.
I push my way through the sweaty, gyrating bodies. Each one adjusting the rhythm of their dance to let me pass. I slide between them, sometimes touching skin to skin. This is normal for this nightclub. No one is uncomfortable. Mixed with all the various smells is the distinct smell of my cologne. Some would say too sweet for a male smell, but you like it. In this reality, I know where and when I am. I am 21 years old, and this is the day we meet. This is the day that the random chance of the universe allows our worlds to collide. I head off the dancefloor, the bass pounding through me, toward the tables, where you will be sitting with friends. I know the part that comes next, and what comes after that. And worst of all, how it all ends. In this reality, I can save you from me.
I walk near your high bar table as you are pushing back the tall chair. I walk by as the chair catches a crack in the floor and you tumble backwards. In this reality, I don’t catch you. I let you fall to the concrete floor, your straightened strawberry hair flowing around your beautiful face in slow motion. I turn when you hit. I cannot watch. The lump in my throat makes it hard to breathe. I push my way toward the door. I turn toward you once more before I leave. Another man is there, helping you pick up the scattered contents of your small purse. It seems the universe has made sure you meet someone on this day.
I walk out the nightclub doors into the street, my anger overtaking me. I don’t even look up as the tires screech. The bumper catches me low on my leg, flipping me onto the roof. Inertia keeps me rolling down the back of the car and onto the street. My head hits hard on the pavement and I finally feel the pain of the impact, but only where my head hit, the rest of my body seems numb. I see the blood pooling next to me, and my vision goes foggy. The last thing I see is you standing on the sidewalk to see what happened. That man is with you. Even this pain cannot overcome this chasm in my heart. There must be another way.
In this reality, I caught you in the nightclub like I was supposed to. I got to stare briefly into your deep blue eyes until you realize what happened. Club techno music throbbed around us. Drinks tinkled. Voices drowned each other. So loud, we couldn’t talk. Not even in whispers, though we tried. We resorted to passing notes on napkins back and forth. Laughing. Connecting. The last napkin of the night had your phone number on it, and I skipped home like the fool that I was. The night that takes you from this world and changes mine forever. But I can change it this time. Now, we just celebrated our ten-year anniversary. Steak dinner and a couple of cocktails rather than late-night clubbing. We are happy, though there are things missing. The spare room is still dormant, painted yellow; the colour of hope. There are still blank spaces on the walls, waiting for pictures of memories yet to be made. With these thoughts in mind, I press a hand against your shoulder, steering you to the right.
“Let’s walk this way,” I say.
“But the car is that way. “
“I know, I don’t think I should drive tonight.”
“You only had two drinks!” You say, stopping and turning towards me.
“I know, I just don’t feel right, I’d rather be safe,” I say, as I reach for your hand.
You huff, pulling your hand away from my attempt.
“Why didn’t you say something earlier? I don’t want to have to wait for a cab now. It’s already late.”
Accidents happen in an instant, and even this quick conversation probably delayed everything enough to prevent what’s supposed to happen, but I’ve seen how the universe adapts. I won’t risk it tonight. This will cause a fight, but better angry than dead.
“I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you. We can have a big breakfast in the morning.”
I know this works. We rarely have breakfast together. I’m always in a hurry to get the day started. I know you miss when life was slower. You let me grab your hand as we walk in silence toward the main road. Sure, It will take a few minutes to find a cab, but the awkwardness of this silence will be worth waking up with you in the morning. In this reality, we have now spent more time together than in any other, and I don’t deserve it.
I wake up in our bed the morning after the accident that should have taken you. The room is the perfect temperature, calm and quiet, dimly lit by the morning light. I wonder why I even considered trying to live without you. This doesn’t feel real. It isn’t real. The blanket suddenly feels like it’s crushing me. In this reality, I should be happy, I should be content. But the reality is that I killed you and you’re never coming back, and I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve to be with you in any reality. I hear you making breakfast in the kitchen, but I don’t deserve you. I do not get to be happy. I am vile. I am the black spot in the brightness you brought to this world.
“No!” I scream out loud.
“NO, NO, NO, NO!‘’ I scream, shaking my head vigorously.
Suddenly, the vision in one eye goes dark. The other flooded with white, blinding light. In this reality, the accident has happened, and you are dead. I cannot move my arms or legs. All I can do is call out hoarsely for the nurse. While drool runs down my handsome face.
The VR headset has fallen off my head, stopping the program automatically. I cannot bear to be here in this reality, the real reality. The reality where you are gone, and I am paralyzed.
Your father bought me this VR as a gift, hoping it would help me be happy. But no one wants me to be happy.
“The other guy was drunk, not you,” He said to me. But he knows. He probably decided letting me live with what I’d done and in this state was worse. And he wouldn’t be wrong. It’s torture.
“It’s fully immersive, it reads your mind,” he’d said.
“It will know your desires and build a life for you. You can do anything you want. You won’t even know you’re here in this bed.”
But the only thing I want is you and I can’t bring you back. Forgiveness is unthinkable. I don’t deserve happiness. I don’t even deserve death. I only deserve this reality.
“Oh, I’m sorry, the headset seems to have fallen off again,” the nurse says, “let me fix this for you.”
The nurse slides the headset back down over my eyes, and I take a deep breath. I want to tell her to wait, because I deserve this reality.
And I shift.
I am pushing my way through sweaty, gyrating bodies…