I adjusted for the wind and everything. The kite veered way too far off the southwest corner of the building anyway. The more I tried to get it out of the flight path, the more adamant it seemed on staying there, a Jolly Roger taunting me from the no-fly zone.
Its black plastic flapping was overtaken by blades chopping air. The sky is quiet from seventeen stories up, and you can hear a helicopter coming from a long way off. No matter, my pirate prey remained in harm’s way.
I cut the line at the last possible second and watched as black blades and black plastic met in a violent twisting tryst. Running for the stairs as the helicopter sat down, I heard yelling as I hit the second landing down. With my hood up, I knew they couldn’t identify me later. I stopped a few floors down, shoved the hoodie in my backpack, put on a hat, and headed for the elevators.
I woke up in the night just enough to see her lying across from me. We had collided into each other avoiding a messenger while crossing at Denny Way. I was running down Olive. I’d just stolen coffee from Coffee Messiah as I do every evening. Mr. Turner and most of his employees hate me, but they’ll never know who I am. On any other night, I would’ve ducked into the alley behind Dino’s to drink my coffee and figure out what to do with the rest of my night. That night I decided to cross the street.
It was November 15, 1997. I know because the clock resets at 11:59pm every night, as it has every day since my 23rd birthday. As far as I know, everyone else moves on through the calendar. When I wake up, it’s November 15, 1997 again, and I am wherever I was at midnight the night before. In the 1,207 November 15ths since 1997, I’ve met other prisoners of the day. One was so obsessed with fixing the problem, she wasted the day over and over again. Another was so bent on revenge that she spent every day getting back at everyone who’d wronged her up to that day. Another just couldn’t take it and killed herself over and over. I couldn’t be around any of them for very long. I was pretty sure this girl was one of us, but I needed more time.
When I crossed Denny, I didn’t see her until she almost knocked me down and nearly fell herself. I caught her and we swung out of the path of the speeding bicycle. I spilled my coffee all over both of us.
On November 15, 1997, the Leonid meteor storm was gathering force. The moon was nearly full, waning from its full phase the night before. Bill Clinton gave his weekly Presidential Radio Address. Crime was way down. It was the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. It was the 319th day of 1997. It was also a Saturday and the first America Recycles Day.
I don’t know what information is relevant, but I know the day well. Call it a time loop, a flat circle, the eternal return, recurrence, or repetition, or just Groundhog’s Day, it had been all the same for 24 hours over 1,200 times. Then she showed up.
I mentally retraced my steps. Had I done something wildly different today? See, the irony of the loop is that though I’m stuck in the same day, the day itself is the same for everyone except me. I can cause changes, but they all reset by midnight. Most things stay the same. All of that to say that I should’ve known she was coming across the street unless I did something earlier in the day to cause her to change her course this time. Where had I been all day?
I got up that morning and got my usual First Church breakfast. I took a 43 bus to downtown and walked to the Vashon Island ferry. I wanted to go to the bookstore and have lunch this burger place on Vashon Highway. I got caught trying to skip the ferry toll and had to sneak on with the cars. Maybe she was in one of them.
I lifted a new hardback copy of Great Apes by Will Self from the bookstore and walked to Perry’s Vashon Burgers. There I ordered a garden burger, a small order of fries, and a vanilla shake. I started the book, which is about a man who wakes up in a world of apes and thinks he’s the only human, but I was distracted by the marquee on the Vashon Theatre across the street. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was playing. One of those brief waves of déjà vu hit me, like several coincidences piling up together in the same moment. I shook it off as my food arrived.
When I got back to downtown Seattle, I walked most of the way back up the Hill and made my coffee run. I was crossing the street to go to Twice Sold Tales. That’s when I ran into her.
“I’m so sorry,” I said as we twirled back onto the sidewalk.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” she asked.
“I was going to trade in this book,” I pulled my copy of Tibor Fischer’s The Collector Collector out of my backpack.
“Oh, that’s a good one! Why are you trading it in?”
“Good question. I thought about this earlier. When I trade this in, I’ll likely get $3. That will cover this evening’s coffee.”
“Right,” she seemed more interested than I’d expected.
“But if I saw this book for sale, for twice that, which is what they’ll put it out for, I’d probably buy it.”
“So, what does that say about my relationship with this book? Shouldn’t I just keep it?”
“Maybe, but it’s like you don’t want to have it, you really just want to buy it again,” she said satisfied.
“Insightful,” I agreed, nodding, “but what does that say about me? That’s the part I’ve been trying to figure out.”
“It seems like you’re stuck. You’re hung up on the beginning, that feeling of newness.”
“I can relate,” she responded quickly, as if trying to hinder an uncomfortable pause. “You can’t get it back though. It’s the entropy of experience. I want to buy the first Bad Flag record every time I see it. I know it will never give me the same feeling again, but I can’t help myself.” She looked at the book again, “Mind if I tag along?”
“So, what stage are you in?” she asked, petting a grey tabby at Twice Sold Tales.
I didn’t look up from the book in my hand, “What do you mean?”
“I know your situation, and I know the stages, so which one are you in?” She insisted. I still didn’t answer. “There are five emotional stages of dealing with time-loops. Which one are you in?”
“What?” I finally acknowledged, looking at her.
“You’re in a funk. Which Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist are you?”
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m Frusciante, for sure.”
“Acceptance,” she said, as if analyzing me and jotting down my answers.
“What are the others? What is Hillel Slovak, for example?”
“Slovak is Depression. Dave Navarro is Anger, obviously.”
“And the others?”
“Well, Jack Sherman, Arik Marshall, DeWayne McKnight, and Jesse Tobias are collectively Denial.”
“If they’re all taken as one, that leaves one more. Who’s the other? Who is Bargaining?”
“Josh Klinghoffer,” she said finally.
“I don’t know that one,” I said.
“Whoa there, hipster lady! I know more about music I hate than you do about music you like.”
“Is that right?” She put her hands on her hips.
“Well, let’s just say I’m ahead of you on this one.” Her expression suddenly turned serious as we got ready to leave, “I saw the kite.”
“What kite?” My immediate reaction.
“Well, I saw the story first. That’s how I know your situation.”
“The Post-Intelligencer story about the guy supposedly stuck in the same day.”
“‘Supposedly’? I guess they didn’t believe me. I never got to see the story, for obvious reasons.”
“Here, I brought it back with me,” she opened her backpack and pulled out a crumpled print-out of the Sunday edition of the Post-Intelligencer from November 16, 1997. “At first we thought it was another false fire, but then we saw the kite.”
“‘His case has baffled and intrigued doctors who examined the 23-year-old’,” I read aloud, “‘who first experienced the sensation, shortly after he started at the University of Washington, because he does not exhibit any of the other neurological conditions usually associated with those who suffer from déjà vu. UW psychology expert Dr. Audra Crutchfield thinks that anxiety is causing the appearance of repetition in his brain – anxiety that may have been exacerbated by the man dropping out of school. ‘The general theory is that there’s a misfiring of neurons in the temporal lobes, which deal with recollection and familiarity. That misfiring during the process of recollection means we interpret a moment in time as something that has already been experienced,’ says Crutchfield’. For over three straight years?”
“They didn’t believe you, but I do. It’s called déjà vécu, ‘already lived through’.”
“I don’t care what you call it! I want out!”
“Shhhh!” the guy behind the counter urged as we reached the door.
“A little too Navarro there,” she added.
“We don’t completely understand it yet,” she started as we walked outside, “but it usually has to do with trauma. It’s a never-ending meal. It ends up on your plate, and you have to eat it, over and over, every day. It’s a loop that won’t close. It doesn’t feel like it had happened. It feels like it’s still happening.”
“So, which is it? I want the same feeling again or I don’t?”
“You’re an extreme case. They seem to be the same thing with you.”
“How is that?”
“You’re both abortively resigned to your day and pregnant with retaliation for it,” she said solemnly. “We’ve never seen such extreme poles in one case.”
“How do I get out?”
“That’s why I’m here.”
When I finally woke up for good the next morning, she was gone, but it really was the next morning. November 16, 1997. I know I’ll never get that feeling again, but not a day goes by that I don’t wake up and wish she were still here.
I checked my watch. There was probably time to spill more coffee on my pants. Maybe even time to drink some.