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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Edited by Andrei Codrescu
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the making and unmaking of person
The Making and Unmaking of Person

Raygun Suicide
by Jeremy Martin

To whom it may concern (and this concerns everybody):
      This is what's so ironic about the whole thing, I'm running out of time to tell this story, and you're running out of time to hear it. I have to keep this short, so I guess I might as well lay it all out up front. About fifteen years from now I will invent, or would have invented anyway, a time machine. I will then use that time machine to initiate a chain of events that will cause the universe to cease existing sometime around ten o'clock tomorrow night. I just want you to know that, for whatever it's worth, I didn't want any of this to happen and I didn't do any of it to be famous or rich or for some abstract scientific thirst for knowledge. I did it for a girl.
      I met Rachael in college. She was my tutor in a quantum mechanics class. I knew the minute I saw her that blah blah blah, and so on. I'm sorry, I really want to tell you all about her, about how we dated for a month before I got up the courage to kiss her, and even then only after she asked me why I hadn't. I want to tell you how we sat out in the bed of my truck at night and looked up at the stars, how her black hair looked silver in the moonlight, how I was so nervous on our wedding night that my legs gave out when I tried to carry her into the hotel room and we both collapsed on the floor, how we tried to have kids for five years, but there's just not enough time for it all, I have to show you our relationship in fast forward.
      So we fast forward about two and a half years when we go to the doctor to figure out why she's never gotten pregnant, and they find the tumors on her ovaries. She has a hysterectomy, but it's too late, the cancer's already spread. Over the next sixth months it eats away at her, hollows her out until she collapses in on her self like a supernova. Oh Rachael, my little physicist, she should've outlived me. I guess in a way she did. I want to tell you all of this and make it beautiful and sad, but there just isn't enough time for beauty.
      So we fast forward again to a day about thirteen years later, when I'm screwing around with my time travel experiment in the basement and literally knock myself into the middle of next week. This brings up a few interesting facts about time travel. First, when you go into the future, you are traveling into a future where you do not exist. When you remove the present version of yourself from the time continuum, you take yourself out of the picture so to speak. There's no future version of you running around doing futuristic stuff. In other words, it's impossible to see your own future. This isn't true of the past however, because the past has already occurred, you can't take yourself out of it. The interesting thing about traveling to the past is the overwhelming sense of déjà vu you get when you alter your own past because you also alter your own memory, and it gets to be impossible to tell what it is you've actually changed. It's also interesting to note that time travel, contrary to popular belief, is not instantaneous. It's comparable to flying across the world in a jet. You get wherever it is you're going much faster than you would have otherwise, but it takes much longer than you'd like it to. But it does give you a good chance to catch up on your reading.
      But now I've gotten off the subject, which is one thing I can't afford to do. The point is that when I ended up in the following week, my house was empty and the milk had gone bad and I'd been reported missing by my neighbors. Someone had forced their way in through the back door and stolen my TV set. The farther I went into the future, the worse my house looked. It was eventually condemned and then torn down and rebuilt and then someone else moved into it.
      I guess I should explain what it was I was going into the future for, if you haven't already got it figured out. Most scientists I guess would go to the past and get some of the extinct species like the blue whale or the panda and bring them to the future. Or they would go back and try to warn everyone about global warming, and when that didn't work maybe go back and try to convince Henry Ford's mother to have an abortion. But not me, I was looking for the cure for ovarian cancer. I would skip forward a few years at a time and go to the bookstore to read the latest medical journal. Any time there was a breakthrough, I would follow it in time until it became a disappointment. I wanted to make sure I had a verifiable cure before I took it back to Rachael. I followed every major breakthrough in the medical magazines until magazines didn't exist anymore, then I went to a coffee shop and used the internet until the internet went bankrupt and telecommunication was almost entirely destroyed by the third nuclear holocaust. I went forward until the United States had fallen and space had been colonized and people began to talk with fear in their voices about the sun burning out, but I never found a cure. Medical technology would have advanced a surprisingly small amount in the next ten thousand years.
      So I made up a new plan. I would go see Rachael before the cancer had taken hold of her and make her go to the doctor. To make sure she listened to me, I would have to tell her that I was a future version of myself who knew what was going to happen if she didn't. There's no way she would ever believe that, of course, so I would wear one of the jumpsuits that would have been so popular about a hundred years from now, and in case I had to kidnap her, I would also carry a phaser. It's surprising how much technology in the future is inspired by old episodes of Star Trek.
      Maybe If I'd planned this all out more carefully none of this would have happened, but when I rang the bell to our old house and Rachael answered the door, I couldn't think of a thing to say. I'd spent the last thirteen years of my life wishing to see this woman again, and there she was more beautiful than I'd remembered just standing there in the door way.
      "Hey, baby," she said, "What are you doing home so early?"
      "I've traveled here from fifteen years in the future to warn you," I said. It sounded so lame even I didn't believe it anymore
      She laughed. "Sure you have, sailor." She look at me for a second. "What's with the Spock gear?" she asked. "I know that's not what you were wearing when you left the house this morning."
      "Theme party," I said. There was no way she would believe any of this. I stood there for a second, not knowing what to do. This wasn't going the way I planned at all. "Um, that's also why I'm home early from work," I added.
      "Must've been one hell of a party," she said. "You look like you aged twenty years in a day. I swear you have more gray hair than you did at breakfast."
      I put my hands up to my head. "Don't worry, baby," she said, "I think it's kinda sexy." She grabbed my collar. "Well since you're home early, we might as well make the best of it." She pulled me up close and kissed me. It wouldn't hurt to wait another hour or two to go to the doctor, I thought.
      She pulled me back to the bedroom by my shirt and turned out the light. If I'd only stopped long enough to lock the door behind me, maybe everything would've worked out differently. I started to unbuckle the belt of my jumpsuit, and she grabbed my wrist. "No so fast, Dr. Spock," she said, "leave the uniform on." She kissed me again and I used my hands for more important things.
      "You know, honey," I said between kisses, "technically speaking, the Spock from Star Trek is Mr. Spock. Dr. Spock is the guy who wrote that book about how to raise kids."
      "Quit being such a nerd," she said, "and maybe we'll make a few kids of our own." She pulled her shirt up over her head, and it was all I could do to keep from crying. I took the jumpsuit off anyway. I know that no one would ever agree with me, but I'd say that everything that happened after this was almost worth it just for these few minutes with her. Somewhere at the very outer edge of my consciousness I'm sure I had to have heard the front door opening.
      "I love you so much, Rachael," I said, cuddling up next to her when we were finished or at least taking a break. "Whatever happens, whatever I do, I want you to know that."
      "I love you too," she said.
      "I don't know why," I said, "I've never understood how that could be."
      "You don't understand? How could I not love you? You're gorgeous, sweet, and funny, and on top of all that you're a genius."
      "Please," I said, "you were always smarter than me. You're the only reason I didn't flunk out of college."
      She laughed again. I could've spent the rest of my life traveling back to that exact moment just to hear that laugh and never gotten tired of it. "That's probably true," she said, "but I just know you're destined to do something great someday. You could cure cancer if you put your mind to it."
      And suddenly, I was overcome with the sense that all of this had happened before. I could see this whole scene in my mind like I was seeing it through the eyes of someone else in some kind of out of body experience. Someone coming in through the front door and watching Rachael and me from around the corner. Someone going into the living room and crying for a long time on the old couch we'd moved out of Rachael's parents den when we first moved in. Someone getting up and walking over to the closet. They stopped there for a second and let out a heavy sigh then opened the door and took the revolver out of the shoebox in the floor. Someone walking toward the bedroom. I could here their footsteps coming down the hall now. I grabbed the phaser off the night stand and held it out at arm's length.
      "What are you doing?" Rachael asked. I put my free hand over her mouth. When the shape appeared in the doorway and I heard the safety clicking off, I pulled the phaser's trigger and vaporized my past self. Vaporized is really the wrong word for it, but I'm not sure of a better way to describe turning the upper half of my past body into a big flaming hole. My legs stood up in their trousers on their own and my head seemed to hang there in midair for a second before it fell to ground. Burning shreds of lab coat fluttered through the room like confetti. The amazing thing about it all was that the universe didn't cease to exist at that exact moment. Continuity errors are okay in movies, but not in real life. If I killed myself in the past I wouldn't be there to have killed myself in the first place, and that's a paradox. The universe doesn't handle paradoxes very well. They tear a kind of black hole in the fabric of time that sucks everything into itself and then disappears into nothing. But maybe I had a small window of opportunity to fix everything.
      Rachael screamed. At first she was incoherent, but she finally managed "What the hell's going on here?" I didn't have the time to explain anything. I jumped up out of bed and ran naked into the front yard where I had my time machine hidden in a bush. This was a major problem and I had to fix it fast. I went back just far enough in time to run into myself arriving for the first time.
      "What are you, I mean what am I, doing here, and why am I naked?" he/I asked.
      "You'll find out soon enough," I said, "I don't have time to explain any of this but, whatever you do, don't use the phaser to vaporize me or any other version of yourself you might come across. In fact, just to be safe, don't vaporize anybody."
      "Wait a minute," he/I said, "We can't both be here at the same time. It's impossible to meet a future version of yourself, remember?"
      "Not in this case," I said, "because we both have a time machine. Really, I'm meeting a past version of myself which is you, and I happen to be from a future in which you who used to be me traveled in time to this location, so we are totally dependent on each other for existence. But whatever, you do, don't kill the version of us who actually exists in this time. In fact, if it ever comes down to it, you are obligated to sacrifice your life to save the life of a past version of yourself."
      "Sure, sure," the past me said, "You're just saying that because you're a past version of me."
      "No," I said, "you don't get it; you're a past version of me."
      "So you want me to kill you?"
      "No, no, no. For the love of God, man, don't kill anybody."
      "How about baby Hitler?" he asked, "If I happen to run into Hitler as a baby, wouldn't killing him be the responsible thing to do?"
      "Okay now you're just screwing with me. I don't have time for this."
      "Don't have time? You have all the time in the world. Why don't you just go back in time to before we had this conversation?"
      "Because then there'd be three of us standing here at the same time and I don't think I could handle it."
      "Fine," he said and walked off towards the house. He stopped and turned around. "So why am I going to be naked, again?"
      "Never mind," I said. "In fact try your best to avoid it. It's really putting us into a jam."
      I took off running down the driveway hoping to catch myself at the lab until I felt my bare feet slapping against the hot concrete and realized that I was running around naked in broad daylight. So I dove into the hedges and waited for myself to come home. About an hour later a police car pulled up in front of the house and two cops got out.
      "Yeah, that's right," the first cop said, "a naked guy. She said he's out here hiding in the bushes."
      I tried to push myself in deeper, but only succeeded in rustling the leaves.
      "There he is," the second cop said. "We got you, you pervert. Come out here with your hands in the air. Just let your dick flap in the breeze."
      I ran off towards the time machine then, hoping that I could get back to it before they decided to shoot me. I would have to go to forward fifteen years and try to convince myself not to come to the past in the first place. That was the only way I could be sure that none of this would happen. But the funniest thing happened when I tried to go into the future. There wasn't any future to go to, I couldn't go ahead any farther than a few hours. I guess that's not "Ha Ha" funny, more like strange funny. I tried to go back to the past and couldn't get any farther than the day before, which is where I am right now. I guess everything is being pulled in towards this one event, closer and closer until it all disappears into nothing.
      This is what I really need to tell you: The universal timeline is now a snake eating its own tail and pretty soon it's going to swallow itself. There is no more past and hardly any future. Whoever said that now is all we have couldn't be any more correct; unfortunately they probably don't even exist anymore. Do what you have to do to get ready for non-existence or whatever. If you can do anything to get ready for something like this. I'm sorry for everything. If it makes you feel any better, the future wouldn't have been all that great anyway.




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new economics of late capitalism gallery zounds the making and unmaking of person
diaries and memoirs translation and her retinue
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the making and unmaking of person the corpse reads classics letters

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