This is what Bethany sees in the "What-if Machine" in chapter 17
. I must warn you all, this is pretty bad. So bad that I cried while writing it. I was feeling rather sadistic when I storyboarded it, and it took quite a while to write, as well, due to the subject matter.
You've been warned.4. You Can't Always Get What You Want
I wake up with a start, hitting my head on the lampshade as a result. I check my watch, and it reads 12:33. The calendar says October 3rd, 2006.Wait, October? I was moved into Sam’s place by this time. Why am I still living at home?
I manage to sit up straight, close my neuroscience textbook, and get up to wander around. A light from under the door of the bedroom next to mine makes me curious, and I knock. There’s Jimmy, sitting in his bed watching the first few minutes of Conan.
“James David Edwards, you should be sleeping. You are still in high school, after all. October is way too early to start getting senioritis.”
“Bethany Gilda Edwards, you should be sleeping as well, and not cramming for your neuro test tomorrow,” he retorts.
“Yes, but my test is at noon. You have to be up at seven tomorrow,” I note. He turns off the TV and gets under the covers.
“Good night then, BeeGee,” he says, using his special nickname for me.
“Night Jimmy. See you tomorrow,” I say, closing the door behind me as I leave.So it’s October 2006, and I’m still at home. Jimmy’s still alive. I guess this means that Doomsday never happened. I guess I could deal with that.
I go back to my room, packing up all my things for the next day, including my laptop, and settle into bed with the textbook, studying until I fall asleep again.Wait, I fall asleep studying? No, this doesn’t work. I always fall asleep after talking to Emma for hours-
Oh. No Doomsday means no Emma. I never met her online, we never started talking.
I never met my best friend.
As I realize this, I feel a tear fall down my cheek. Snap out of it, this isn’t real.
I pass the neuro test the next day. I pass all (well, almost all) the tests required of me, and I move on to medical school after spending only three busy years on my undergrad. I decide against going to UMass, instead choosing to enter the Neurology program at Emory in Atlanta.Atlanta! Maybe I meet Emma now!
I decide to stay in Atlanta for a few years after med school, doing my internship, residency, and fellowship in the city. It really is pretty there, but after so long away from home, my heart starts to ache for the New England weather, and I apply for a job in Providence, at Rhode Island Hospital. Okay, no Emma. Maybe I’ll meet her at some other point.
I work in research, studying the brains of patients suffering from various types of mental illness. A major part of this research is imaging, particularly MRIs. One of the radiology nurses catches my eye, and we start talking. Ragni Suresh, her name is. But she prefers to be called “Mel,” because the English translation of her name is Melody. We go out a few times, and end up getting pretty serious. She’s from India, but her father moved her family here when she was fifteen. They moved back to Mumbai, but she stayed behind to go to school. When she came out to them, they disowned her, and now she was stuck in the US, trying to support herself and stay in the country.
We rush into marriage when an issue arises with immigration. I didn’t mind, we had been dating about a year, and I loved her. We bought a house in Dartmouth, just outside Providence, but in Massachusetts, where we could hold a marriage license.
Jimmy gets married just after I do. While at Emerson, he met a girl named Gwen, and they started dating. After school, they both went to work for the same news station in Denver; he is a newscaster and she is a producer. They are married in a church on the side of a mountain. I get to give a toast.
My little Jimmy, all grown up and getting married. I’ll never get to see that. Probably never get to see myself married, either, come to think of it.
My findings on serotonin uptake lead to development of greater, more effective SSRIs, used to help people with varied forms of depression. My articles were published in medical journals worldwide, and I was sought after to speak at all kinds of conferences, for neurology and psychology alike.This is great! I’m successful, world-renowned, and in love. Much better than my life now.
I’m gone a lot, speaking and presenting findings all over the world, and the time away starts to become a problem. My marriage is strained. I start drinking. A lot. So much so that when Mel calls me at a conference somewhere in Ohio, telling me that something important has happened and we need to talk, I’m completely out of it and hang up on her. When I get home, she sits me down and tells me two things: she loves me, and she’s pregnant. I was away so frequently and for so long that I was completely unaware of the fact that my wife was sleeping with one of my colleagues. One of my male colleagues, at that. The divorce goes through without much fuss. She stays in Providence and I go back to Atlanta, after being offered a teaching position at my alma mater.Back in Atlanta. Interesting. Apparently fate wants me to be there.
The first few weeks I’m there, I have to live in a hotel, because my condo isn’t ready yet. This, of course, means there are a lot of restaurant-provided meals. I’m sitting in some run-of-the-mill chain, on my third or fourth helping of whatever alcohol I happened to be inhaling at the time, when a family comes in. Average American family, husband and wife with their two girls, who look to be in their early teens. Something about the woman draws me to her- I’m not attracted to her, not at all, but there’s something that fascinates me. Do I know her? Maybe I met her during my internship or something. No, I’m still in contact with those people.
That’s Emma, you moron! She’s your best friend! Go talk to her! What have you got to lose? Go!
I get up, tossing more than enough money to cover my bill and a tip down on the table. I make my way across the restaurant to their table. I stand there for a bit, opening and closing my mouth, trying to figure out what to say.
“Excuse me,” the woman says, getting my attention. “Do I know you?”
“No,” I say, defeated. “From a distance, I thought you were someone I used to know. Sorry to bother you.”
I walk back to the hotel and drink until I pass out. I’m supposed to be one of the greatest medical minds on the Eastern seaboard, why was it so difficult for me to figure out who that person was? I’m so worthless.I can’t deal with this. Let me out. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to see myself like this. It’s too much.
I continue my research while teaching, passing my methods on to future neurologists. Mel sends me letters and pictures of her baby, Anthony. I throw them away and go to the bar. I never drink at work, I’m too into my job to do that. I always make sure to only drink on nights that I know I won’t be called in, which is easy now that I’m pretty much exclusively teaching. I drink myself into oblivion on those nights. What’s the point in being sober when you have nothing going for you but your mind? It gets lonely in there, all those thoughts bouncing around and very few people to share them with.Seriously, let me the fuck out of here.
After teaching for fifteen years, as retirement approaches, I notice that I’m having trouble concentrating, so I decide to go see one of my coworkers about it. I get some blood work done, only to find I have low liver function, along with high ammonia and nitrogen levels. The diagnosis of hepatic encephalopathy leads to an abdominal ultrasound, where a mass is found. I’m scheduled for a liver biopsy the next day.
Honestly, I’m a paying customer, I think I deserve a say in what’s happening. Give me a break here!
Hepatocellular carcinoma, caused by cirrhosis. Malignant, inoperable, and extremely rare in the United States. The oncologist assigned to my case tells me that I have a few months at best, and to get my affairs in order. That night I call up Jimmy, tell him to tell my two nephews that I love them, and give myself an overdose of morphine.
No one knew that all my research, all my work on patients with mental illness, wasn’t trying to save others. I just wanted to save myself.Seriously, what the fuck, GET ME OUT OF HERE, NOW!
The machine stops, and the contraption is lifted off of my head. The Doctor’s there, holding his screwdriver. He saved me. I see Emma across the room. She gives me a little nod, trying to say that the same thing happened to her. The Doctor hands me a hanky and I take it.
“That was…awful,” I manage to say, wiping the tears from my eyes.
“I know,” Emma reassures me. “I know.”
I run over and give her a hug. Normally I’m not one for unnecessary bodily contact, but I needed this right now. What I saw, my life without her or the Doctor, it was awful. I never want that to happen to me. Soon he joins us, holding us both and letting us cry for a while, offering comfort despite our having both made a huge mistake in choosing to do this. It feels good, the contact. I know that they’re both there to support me, as long as I need them.
“Let’s go somewhere else,” he says after we’ve nearly cried ourselves out. We agree, and he leads us out of the shop, an arm around each of us.