Memories of the future
I opened my rainbow-colored umbrella and stepped out of the car into the gray late September afternoon. The rain felt like a fine, cool mist spraying over my skin. I strolled to the coffee shop, skipping over puddles, while balancing on my peep-toe, black stiletto heels. I prayed the rain wouldn’t shrink my favorite purple flower, silk skirt, or mess up the hair I’d just finished doing. Minutes earlier, in my office, I’d carefully flat-ironed every lock of hair, and applied makeup on every inch of my face, aiming to erase my tears.
The day before I’d had the last of several dates with Blue-eyed Surfer (AKA Cheesecake Man). He wasn’t ready to date seriously; I wasn’t ready to sleep with him—or anybody—so we’d agreed to not see each other again. I was in peace about it and today the bittersweet tears had caught me off guard. But I shouldn’t have been surprised; days ago it had been the first year anniversary of my father’s death and my soul was still sensitive.
And now I’d decided to take a break from dating. I still had three online dates lined up for that week, but after that I planned to take down my profile and retreat to process the lessons learned.
I had pushed myself to sign up for online dating after my divorce in an attempt to erase the stigma of being “the woman who had never dated.” Over the past months, each coffee date had been a lukewarm-hearted job interview, with the purpose of practicing interview skills. Or maybe it was one more whip in a self-imposed penitence for having made such wrong choice in the past—marrying too young.
I had no expectations for that Thursday coffee date. His name was David Johansson, Professor of English and retired novelist. The title of “novelist” was what pushed me to reply to him among the sea of messages I received daily. Yes, he looked handsome in his pictures (though in online dating, you never knew). However, his unusually eloquent emails, sprinkled with fancy words I had to Google, had intimidated me. He seemed proud of having been in Cambridge and Oxford doing something I didn’t get that sounded like serious bragging material. When I had read that, I imagined him standing on a marble pedestal, his hand on his chest, wearing a Shakespearean outfit—puffy pants, tights, Tudor ruff collar and all. I pictured him looking down at me, wrinkling his nose in disdain every time my heavy accent came through and I mispronounced a word. “He is a real English professor,” I thought. “He breathes English for living—and I can barely speak the language without disgracing it.”
Maybe because his mastery of English intimidated me, I walked into that date unusually unprepared. In any other date I would’ve already done my homework—me, the eternal good student—and would’ve interviewed “the subject” via email on every topic, from his hobbies to his philosophy of life, prior to accepting an invitation for coffee. Not this time; instead I’d let him tell me whatever he felt like sharing. Now, as I stopped under the entrance awning to shake my wet umbrella, I refreshed my memory of what else I knew about him. He was from somewhere snowy in New York State; like me, he had lost his father in the past couple of years; he had several younger siblings; he lived beachside. What else? Oh yes! That other interesting detail: he was a Buddhist. That was worth exploring. Lately I’d been fascinated by the subject of spirituality. Maybe I’d ask him some questions about that religion I knew so little about. Or maybe not. I had dinner plans with Rosa in less than two hours. “This will be quick,” I had told her. My plans were just to meet and greet, get some tips on how to get started marketing a book, and get out of there.
My eyes wandered around the few men in the outdoor seating area. None of them seemed to be waiting for someone. I gave my umbrella one last shake and stepped inside.
And there he was, paying for his coffee at the register.
He was taller than I expected, masculine, in good shape. From the door, my eyes caught a sideways glimpse of his profile against the shop’s ochre walls as he smiled at the cashier, and I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows. With a full head of gray-sprinkled, dark hair he looked somewhat different from the pictures I’d seen in his online profile—but I definitely liked what I saw.
As if he could feel my gaze on him, he stiffened, turned his head toward me, and his eyes met mine for the first time.
As if in slow motion, his eyes enlarged, his eyebrows rose slightly in approval and, in an instant, a spark of electricity fired from his pupils, flew across the room to mine, entered my body and gave my heart a micro-shock.
And for a second, I had gray hair and a face full of wrinkles. I sat on a rocking chair while three young children sat at my feet on the floor, and I was saying, “And that, sweethearts, is how I met your grandpa David—the love of my life.”
Have you ever had a memory of the future? I’ve had them unpredictably most of my life. Wait! Don’t throw the phone, or Ipad, or device across the room, thinking I went crazy (especially if you’re reading this on a desktop!). I don’t mean I’m a psychic—if I were, I would’ve bought the winning lottery ticket long ago.
What I mean is: all of us have had those flashes of awareness at least once in our lives. The moment when you tell yourself, “I know this is a mistake and if I do this I’ll regret it later,” and then proceed to do it anyway and prove yourself right. Or the moment when you meet someone so likable you think, “It feels like we met before,” and later on that person becomes a long-term friend. It’s almost as if the first time you met them you had remembered the future good times with them.
And it’s not déjà vú, because the feeling is not “I’ve lived this before,” but “I recall standing somewhere else on a future date remembering this present moment with nostalgia.” The seed of this memoir was planted by a memory of the future. I sat with my sister in a restaurant, both of us facing personal crises at the time—mine was my upcoming divorce—while the restaurant’s TV played the finals of the soccer world cup 2010. At that moment I had a clear memory of typing these lines.
The first time I identified those flashes as “memories of the future” was the day when I toured properties in Florida, hoping to buy my overdue first house. The last house of the tour was more modest than the previous ones, and the Realtor commented on how outdated the kitchen was—so much smaller and less glamorous than the kitchen we’d seen in her favorite choice. Yet, standing in that kitchen, I caught a glimpse of the family room and I remembered. “This is home!” For a second I could see my children sitting in that family room, watching TV, while I prepared them a snack, feeling joyful. Yes, I had a memory of living happily in that house; I had to buy it.
The memory was right. That was the house I lived in when I left my ex for the first time, and also the house I moved back to after the divorce. Some of the happiest times I shared with my children happened there.
Trained as a skeptical scientist, my first instinct is to resist those “flash-forwards” and try to explain them logically. I’ve gotten more than a headache trying to tackle Einstein’s theory of relativity, but the one thing I got from those attempts is the humility to know that time (or “time-space”) is not what our senses think it is. If I’m feeling ambitious (or masochistic) and try to contrast Einstein with Quantum Theory or Strings Theory, I get something worthy of New Age philosophy. “Everything has already happened, and sometimes you feel ‘an echo’ from another dimension, giving you a sneak peak of what’s yet to come in this one.”
I’ve had freaky moments of “perceiving an echo” from the future. Most of the time it’s useless, because it consists on guessing the news someone is about to tell me— too late to prevent whatever happened. For example, the phone call that awakened me at 1:00 am one night, letting me know that my little girl—at that time with my aunt in the hospital—had just had her first seizure. Or the day my sister called to let me know our father had been shot in the head.
Sometimes the memories are so blurry, I don’t understand them until much later. Like the moment years ago at my mother’s burial when I had a flash of the future and saw myself crying at a different grave. In the mental image I was crying for my ex-husband—back then my boyfriend. I interpreted that flash as a sign that the two of us must’ve been destined to be together until death did us apart—but I was proven wrong. Twelve years later, I relived that same scene crying at my father’s burial in that same cemetery. And yes, I was crying for my ex—back then the husband I’d been separated from for ten months. I cried because I’d surprised myself saying no when he asked me if he should join the rest of the family in the funeral services. It had been the ultimate confirmation of what I already knew: we were done. The separation wasn’t temporary. I was not going back to him—ever again.
But there was another memory of the future haunting me. I’d confessed it to my sister Nathalie once, not knowing what to make out of it. It was the memory of caressing the hair of a man. His hair was softer than any other hair I’d touched before, even softer than the hair of my children—very different from my ex’s hair. And I had a memory of his whole-hearted and unrestrained laughter. I had a future memory of feeling complete bliss, lying in the arms of a man who could infuse me with peace by his simple touch. Something I’d never lived before, so I couldn’t explain how I could imagine it so vividly.
And that afternoon in that first date, I was having memories of the future again.
The “flash-forward” had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. My brain had promptly disregarded it with the same condescending attitude one offers a stranger on the street who claimed to have been abducted by aliens.
So we went on with our coffee date. The friendly and attentive man who greeted me cheerfully and rushed to offer me coffee and a pastry was nothing like what I expected.
We sat at our cozy table, him with his espresso, and me with my cappuccino. After he’d blown my mind away talking about the stardust in my blood, he soon proved to belong to my favorite category of people: the stereotype breakers. Smart as hell, and an avid reader with an insatiable hunger for learning, chatting with him was like talking to a walking encyclopedia; he knew a little about everything, and a lot about quite a few topics. He could’ve been classified as an “intellectual”, but never like me, as a nerd—he was too cool and good-looking for the label. He had a radiant, self-confident personality and a great sense of humor. He also seemed to have had an interesting life, with plenty of fascinating stories to tell about his extensive traveling: from camping in woods and mountains all over the country, to hitchhiking through Europe.
Before I knew it, I’d completely forgotten about the book marketing questions and was engrossed in an exhilarating, humorous conversation that covered from European cathedrals to Buddhism; from guitar playing to parallel realities. Our enjoyment was so obvious we were soon attracting curious and envious looks from other couples in the place.
And then I made some joke and he laughed. His beautiful, clear, unrestrained laughter entered my ears, and the image of his laughing face entered my eyes—and it happened again. It was another memory of the future; I was certain I’d seen that laughing face somewhere many times before—or maybe it was many times after.
Two hours flew by and it was time to part; I had my dinner plans with Rosa and he had dinner plans with his mother and stepfather. Reluctantly, we said goodbye leaving the open-ended possibility of, maybe, getting together again.
And I left the coffee shop feeling in my brain the same pleasant soreness muscles feel when resuming working out after a long period of inactivity. And also with the mild aching I get on my temples when I have laughed too loud for too long.
“He’s not going to call me back,” I said to myself matter-of-factly. “With those good looks and all that personality, he probably has a different woman lined up for every day this month.”
I was wrong
But that’s another story.
On September 22 it was the seventh year anniversary of the date described in this chapter. No memory of the future every prepared me for how wonderful it is to be married to my best friend in the world.