|Apr/May 2013 Nonfiction|
Artwork by Clinton McKay
I place this recollection—something that began to nag at me in my 81st year—about the time I was between four and five. It manifested itself recently, since more and more information began to appear in newspapers regarding the latest reaches of the Hubble telescope in space, which offer new glimpses of the earliest hours, or minutes, even seconds of the appearance of our universe from a point... in space? What space?
It begins as I am lying happily in bed very early one Sunday morning (the only day it could have happened) with my mother and father. Why I had climbed in with them I cannot know. But I am there, happy in their warmth as they chat drowsily. I recall looking up at a blank wall and streaks of sunlight on the ceiling as the hour went perhaps towards eight or so. Then they are both gone, and I can hear the clatter of plates in the kitchen and water running in the bathroom down the hall.
I am lying there on my back beneath the quilt, which I have raised above my head to make a tent and shut out light and sound. I begin to imagine myself afloat, not in the bed or on water, but lying suspended in dark space itself. It is a curious, drifting float like neither swimming nor flight. Then I feel myself tiny, a shrunken light thistledown in weight, my head pointing "forward" as though my body were slowly elongating like an arrow. I open my eyes in the dark and see limitless emptiness around me, and stars, points of light scattered everywhere as I move at an indeterminate speed, like a shaft of light, though faster even than light. I marvel at the strangeness as I hurtle on, curious to learn if there is an end to the universe.
Then, before me—all of it an incredible vastness—I see what I take to be the "end" of the universe, like a glowing, pale gray wall that I imagine is like the inside of the tennis ball I once picked up in the street. And as my speed accelerates, accelerates, I wonder what will happen to me if I keep on. I cannot stop or change the arc of flight, so must inevitably smash into that wall. Yet I am calm, detached, simply wondering as I "gaze" at it all, looking forward in the utter darkness. The speed is something almost felt, manifested by the blur of stars rushing past out there. And then—reaching that wall I simply pierce it as though it were merely suspended gray smoke or fog, not at all solid as I had supposed.
Only... to find myself hurtling on, on, and on. What amazes me is to "see" the void I fly through populated by opaque globes hanging separately in that lucid emptiness, each so distant they seem no larger than a tennis ball. I realize a thought unthought: that each of those "balls" is in itself a near or distant universe, judging by their varying size, each a universe like the one I have just abandoned behind me as I move forward on my straight flight, yet because of the immensity seeming to drift floating gently in relation to those globes. That in itself is truly stupendous, poignant, unimaginable, so vast a realm I seem to myself motionless, even though flashing ahead faster than light.
In the instant I realize what is happening I am gripped by fear, a fear turning to terror. Where am I? Where am I going? How can I stop this flight away from the remotest speck I was, which only seems like drift because of the immensity of a void that contains innumerable self-contained universes? How shall I return to my own "tennis ball," that universe I'd just escaped, diminishing, dwindling to the size of a marble, a bead, then a pinhead receding back there far off behind me into... the past?
I have seen too much. I shut tight my eyes and cry out—I am lost! Oh help me! I am lost forever!
And instantly I'm in their bed supine beneath my tent of quilt. I let it fall. I doze, exhausted, exhilarated with relief... until my shoulder is shaken by my father who stands beside the bed.
"Up, up!" he laughs. "Come on! Your pancakes are getting cold."