You can’t go back

I had an awful dream about spiders last night I woke to at around 2am. I was wide awake and, unusual for me, sleep was slow to come. As I lay there, a very random memory came to me of a time in 1998 when I tumbled into a bed in a Munich hotel, overcome with jet lag. I’m not sure if it was the same day or next, but I recalled the dinner I went to with my step-father, who was there on business, and his colleagues, about eight of them. It was a typically German meal, platters of meat and steins of beer and wine, and all were merry, including me.

For the next few weeks, I travelled through Germany and Austria with F, my step-father, before he left for home and I continued my journey.

It’s the nature of memories that they often seem to come unprompted, randomly as such, so that it shouldn’t ever be too much of a surprise. What was unexpected was the reflex thought that came to me as I remembered: if I could, I would go back to that moment to start afresh.

Does anyone else ever speculate on such things? Do you ever pick out a moment and think I’d go back to that point and start again from then? It crosses my mind rarely, but that it comes to me at all is probably indicative of something else.

I pondered it as I lay in bed last night, wide awake. Why that moment, I wondered? I had many good years after that – it’s not as if everything went wrong from that point. It didn’t. Life was good, but that was the earliest I could go back without losing something vital in so doing.

In the dark, I remembered all that led to that trip away. I worked at Shell then, and one of my colleagues through his cricket club had a fundraiser in which you had to nominate the leading vote winner from each team for what must have been the 1997 Brownlow medal. The winner was the person who totalled the most votes from his nominees.

I won. In fact, I got every club right and won $500. A little while later the same guy came up to me and said they wanted the opportunity to get some money back out of me. For $50, I could enter their last man standing raffle. Well, I couldn’t say no, and so I paid up and a few weeks later was standing in the clubrooms with a couple of hundred other guys somewhere around Essendon on a Saturday afternoon as the raffle commenced.

A last man standing raffle is virtually a reverse raffle – rather than the first ticket out of the barrel winning, it’s the last ticket. It makes for a much more exciting experience.

They had sold 300 tickets, and by the time they had got down to the last thirty-odd tickets, I knew I was going to win. The count continued, and with every ticket pulled out, another candidate was knocked out. Down to five, four, three, two tickets, and I’ve still got my ticket in my hand. With two tickets remaining, there was a pause, and the other remaining competitor suggested we should split the difference – $2,250 each. I never even considered it. I’ve always gone for broke. Besides, I knew I would win it – and that’s how it worked out. Next ticket out was his and I went home with a thick envelope full of $50 notes adding up to $3000.

Combined, this was my seed money for a European trip. I did all my planning, figured out what I wanted to see and do, places I would stay. As it happened, my stepfather would be there at the same time, and that was a bonus. I loved him, and it was a great chance for us to bond further travelling around. Plus, he would pick up some of the costs, and had a car there.

It’s all ancient history now. I came back eventually after a great holiday and resumed my life. All my family was alive still, and my dear friends were there. True, my career hadn’t reached the heights it would in years to come, but there’s no reason to think I couldn’t do the same the second time around, and more efficiently. And maybe I’d avoid the pitfalls that ultimately caught me in years to come – though nothing would prevent the premature demise of my mum and step-father.

Is that the time I’d go back to?

And then I thought, perhaps not. When then? My mind went back, trying to pick out the exact moment. Was it 1990? Or 1991? I had an ordinary job, but I was in love. I was handsome and bright and full of life. I had no idea of what might come from this, though I had high hopes – the truth was that though I went well, there was a tragedy in the future also. Tragedy, I’ve thought for years, I could’ve prevented.

I loved B, but our relationship was tumultuous. Eventually it ended, though it took me years to get over it. I learned maybe 9 years later, long after I had last seen her, that she had killed herself some time after.

You can’t help but wonder. We spoke of marriage once. She was happy. Her eyes shone with possibility. She was like a girl in her joys. It could have worked. And if I’d made it work, had I been more patient and less self-absorbed, had I kept trying, then perhaps we might have stayed together, and perhaps she would be alive still today.

She didn’t kill herself because of me (at least, I doubt it), but by going back then I might be able to change the course of history, even if she and I never lived happily ever after. That was not the point. She was dead. She is dead, and all that was in her. If I could change one thing that could change that fact then it would be worthwhile, even if I never saw her again.

That would be enough. If I had the wish granted, that’s when I would go back – how could I choose any other moment?

These are the thoughts that went through my mind as I lay there. You can’t go back. It’s a fantasy. Maybe that’s the lesson we learn: make it count the first time, and make sure of it.

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