This is an earlier draft of a piece that appears in my collection of essays and other random stuff, Raised by Turtles: A Book in American. Some day, I will take the final version and reformat it and paste it in here, but for now it is only available in print for
$4.95 $6.44 (I guess inflation has hit Amazon too – I can’t make it cheaper as there is already no profit in that price).
The second I looked at my watch, I got mad at Sara yet again. She didn’t deserve it. This wasn’t her fault. We hadn’t even spoken in over a year. But she gave me this ridiculous timepiece. A gaudy bit of wrist jewelry that did only two things: look expensive and tell time. Twelve-hour time. Not a.m. and p.m. time. Not day and date time. The damn thing didn’t even have numbers. And right now what I wanted to know was the date. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the hour, let alone the minute.
I don’t know why they let me keep the watch. I suppose the scan showed just springs and gears and they figured it was useless, which it was. They must have passed me through an EMP chamber, because everything else was fried. I’ll give her that. If Sara had given me a regular watch it would be dead too. So it was childish to focus my anger on her of all people. But the watch represented all the things that went wrong between us.
Sara gave me that watch after it was clear we weren’t going to make it, but before either of us was willing to admit it. It was a last lavish gift intended to show how much she loved me even though she didn’t. In my mind it showed how little she knew me. That was stupid and unfair, but also the reason I was bitter about the damn watch.
If I were to list things to buy with a billion dollars, a status mechanical watch would not be in the top ten thousand. She would have known that if she had known me. But this assignment called for me to play a self-absorbed asshole and I thought I had finally found a purpose for the watch. So here I was, stuck with this stupid bit of men’s jewelry given to me by a woman who didn’t love me, didn’t know me and probably regrets wasting her money on me, which is the one part that actually makes sense.
Nobody answered. Nobody ever answered. The light never varied. Sometimes I woke and found food. My best guess was that I had been here four days. I was pretty sure they were drugging me, because I never once woke up when food came. And sometimes it seemed like I was out for more than twelve hours, which is another reason the damn watch was pissing me off. There were times when my body told me the big hand had gone all the way around while I slept. In fact, I had no idea. Had it been three hours or fifteen? This watch didn’t say.
I had prepared myself for beatings and interrogations interspersed with sleep deprivation, thirst and hunger. None of that came in those first days. Just unrelenting light and silence, my mind spinning out of control. And then a friendly-looking woman with a nice smile opened the door and said “Hello James. How are you doing today?”
“Top of the world,” I said.
“Are you ready to talk now?”
“Anything you want.”
“In that case, I guess not.” She had an annoying air that implied that we had these nice little talks every day. Who knows, maybe we did and every time I said the same thing. Maybe every time I yelled “Hello? Hello?” the nice lady with the annoying smile came and asked me how I was doing today. It was getting confusing, which was the point of course.
“You wouldn’t like to know why you’re here?” she asked? Her face, framed by blond curls, seemed overly round for her thin body. I added that to the long list of things that bothered me, though none quite as much as Sarah’s watch.
“Would it change anything if I knew?”
“It might.” She put her hands together, as if in prayer, and touched her index fingers to her lips. She opened her mouth to speak, stopped, and put her hands back to her lips. We stared at each other in silence.
“If I ask a question, will I get an answer?”
“Which film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1974?”
She thought for a moment. “That’s the one thing you want to know?”
“No, that’s only the first thing I want to know. I have a lot of random things running through my mind in here. I’m pretty sure I remember all the Best Picture winners up to 1974, but I’m not sure on that one. It’s driving me nuts.”
“Midnight Cowboy,” she said.
“Are you sure? One hundred percent sure?”
“Yes, James. And what does that have to do with anything?” she asked.
“I’m a movie lover. I just wanted to know. Also, it helps to know whether or not you’re a movie lover. It gives us shortcuts. I can say ‘It’s like that scene in Repo Man’ and we understand each other. But if you don’t know Repo Man, well then I have to start from the beginning. So do you know Repo Man?”
“Like really know it? Like know it so well that you can tell me what the government agent says when the sheriff is standing there by the smoking boots? The explanation she gives for how the officer died?”
“‘Spontaneous human combustion, it happens all the time,'” she said.
“Bingo! I’d say those questions would be tough for most film students. Just how is it that you know so much about early movies?”
“I read a lot.”
“About movies or about everything?”
“About many things.”
“Are you human?”
“Are you, James?”
“Because you remember your childhood and having a different body and growing up and becoming who you are now? Because you are sure those memories are not part of your firmware, but actually happened? Because when I cut you, you bleed? Because when Sara left you, your heart broke even though you didn’t love her?“
“Yes,” I said bitterly and regretted entering into this conversation.
“Well, then I’m human,” she said.