I picked her up in my Prius from in front of the rehab center. She didn’t have anybody else to call, she said. I hadn’t heard from her in over 5 years, since her parents’ funeral, when she called me from Amsterdam to say she wouldn’t be able to make it to the service.
She’d lost so much weight since the last time I’d seen her, I probably wouldn’t have recognized her if it weren’t for the third-eye ruby tattoo on her forehead. She’d gotten that on a trip to Thailand just after her 18th birthday, right around the same time she changed her name from Daisy to Devadip. “It means I’m the lamp, the light and the eye of God”, she told her parents at the time. That didn’t seem to make them any less concerned about her. Nothing she ever did – the tattoo, the name change, the drugs – nothing ever made me love her any less than I did when we were kids.
Yes, her birth name was Daisy, improbably enough, like Gatsby’s unattainable dream girl. But my Daisy wasn’t so unattainable. In fact, she was always around. My mother, Sophie, called her Daisy Dewdrop because of her habit of just dropping in unannounced.
The house I grew up in was right next door to the one Daisy grew up in, with a share backyard. Her parents and my parents were very close, spending many evenings together around one or the other’s kitchen table. In many ways, growing up there was like having two families. Daisy and I knew each other from birth. She was less than 24 hours older than I was, both of us being born in the same hospital, and spending our first few days in neighboring cribs in the nursery while our mothers spent those days sharing a hospital room down the hall. We were almost always together, from that day forward, most of the time at my house or out in our yard, more or less.
Daisy always reminded me how she was older than me, and I always looked up to her, followed her lead. To me, she was the most beautiful creature in the world, next to my mother. I would have gone anywhere, done anything, if she suggested it. At school and on the playground she was protective of me. I was always undersized for my age, and painfully shy. The other kids teased me and excluded me. But Daisy made sure I was never alone, even if it meant sitting with me in the corner of the cafeteria, away from her other friends. We were practically inseparable.
On my 14th birthday I woke up to the sound of my bedroom window opening, and looked up in time to see Daisy climbing in. Like I said, “Daisy Dew Drop”, always dropping in announced. The difference this time was that I was in the middle of a dream about her. It was the first time I’d ever dreamed about sex.
“Hey, what are you doing under that sheet?” she asked, laughing.
And before I knew it, before the evidence had faded, so to speak, she was diving headfirst under the sheet with me. It was both thrilling and horrifying. But when she put her hand on my erect penis, the horror disappeared and only the thrill remained.
Then I actually woke up.
“Hey, what are you doing under that sheet?”
There really was someone in my room, but she wasn’t coming in through the window, and she wasn’t Daisy. She was my mom. 100% horror.
“Sorry, sweety. I brought you birthday breakfast. Want me to leave it?”
“NO! Just leave me alone! I mean, give me a minute, and I’ll come out and eat in the kitchen. Ok?”
“Sure, sure. Sorry!”
She backed out of the room and closed the door. I lay back and tried to breathe. Once I’d calmed down, and my penis was back to normal, I got dressed and headed downstairs. In the kitchen I found my mother and sister giggling, about I could only imagine what.
“Happy Birthday!” they both called out together, still giggling.
“I made pancakes, James Michael. And bacon.”
Mickey said, “And I bought you a present.”
She handed me a package, wrapped in bright red foil with a blue ribbon tied around it. The shape was a dead give-away, a flat twelve inch square couldn’t be anything but a record. I was hoping for the new one by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were all over MTV, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I ripped it open and found Elvis Costello’s “Spike” LP. My older sister was a lot more sophisticated than me.
“Thanks, Mickey. Is this the guy that did that song Alison?”
“Yes, dummy, he’s that guy. You’ll love it, give it a chance. He’s a brilliant writer.”
“Daddy and I got you something, too, sweety, but you’ll have to wait til he gets home from work.”
“Yeah? Is it a car?”
“Haha. No, it’s not a car. You can’t drive for two more years anyway.”
I ate my pancakes and bacon.
It was Saturday, it was summer, and it was my birthday. The world was my oyster. The door opened and Daisy came in.
“Daisy Dew Drop, come on in,” said my mother, with a smile. Mickey, I noticed, didn’t smile.
Daisy was always a teacher, and I was her student. She knew things, magical, mysterious things that amazed me. In the summer we turned 8, there was a flock of black birds that kept landing in our front yards every morning. It seemed to me they were hunting for worms and bugs in the dirt, but Daisy knew better.
“First of all”, she told me, “they’re crows, not blackbirds. So that makes the group of them a murder. A group of crows is called a murder. And when they land in your yard like that, it means someday you’re going to be murdered. Or else you’re going to murder someone.”
“Really? I would never murder anyone.”
“I know. That’s why I know that in this case it means someone’s going to murder you.”
“Well, how do you know it’s me? Maybe you’re the one who’s going to murder someone, or else get murdered.”
“No, James , it’s definitely you, because there’s always an even number of them, so that means the prophesy is about a boy. I read that in the encyclopedia.”
“How can you tell there’s an even number of them? They jump around so much, how can you count them?”
“I have a photographic memory. Plus, I always get 100% on my math tests, you know that.”
Both of those things were true, so who was I to argue with the rest.
“Well”, I asked, “how do we fix it? I don’t want to get murdered, even if it’s a long time from now.”
“Easy”, she answered. “We just have to get one of their feathers and bury it in the graveyard on a full moon night.”
Which we did, of course, and it seems like it worked. At least so far.
On that morning of my 14th birthday, Daisy and I went to our favorite place, a place we’d been going to since we were old enough to walk about on our own, even before the summer of the crows. There was a giant, ancient maple tree just beyond the stockade fence at the back of the yard. The fence had an opening between a couple of boards, just wide enough to slip through. Once on that side, there was nothing before us but the State Forest, and nothing behind us but the fence, which blocked us from the view of anyone in either of the houses or the yard. It was our place, under the Great Tree, as we called it. It was there that she had told me the secrets of the crows. It was also there that she had taught me how to tie my shoes, and where she had explained that the two ends of a worm are the same…no head nor tail. And on my 14th birthday it was where she taught me how to kiss.
It didn’t occur to me at the time to wonder who had taught her. That was just the nature of our relationship: she knew things, and taught them to me.
“Lean in a little closer”, she told me. “Let your mouth open a little…not too much.”
It seemed very technical, more like procedures in an instructional manual than the passionate dance I’d imagined, or that I’d dreamed of earlier that morning. More like an exercise routine than a ballet. Still, it was thrilling. I felt an electric tingling spread from my lips out to the rest of my body. I lost awareness of my surroundings, not even realizing what my hands were doing until she pushed them away.
“Just kissing today, James.”
I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually she pulled back and said, with a smile, “Happy birthday. Do you like your present?”
“I really like it.” And I did.
Daisy always had a problem with authority, and with accepting things that other people just took for granted. She preferred to figure things out on her own. Like the International Date Line, for instance. She couldn’t understand how the entire world would just choose to believe that this artificial, imaginary line could carry such significance. Instead, she worked out her own system, which she explained to me one summer night in the year we both turned 17. As usual, we were sitting under The Great Tree. We’d just had sex, something we’d been doing almost every night for about a month, more as a biology experiment than an act of love or even lust.
“James, it’s 10:00PM here, right now, right?” I checked my watch and it was precisely 10:00. “Yeah, how did you know?”
“I just know. That’s not the point. It’s Wednesday evening, 10:00PM. Now, imagine you start travelling west, and I start travelling east, ok?”
“Ok. How come?”
“Doesn’t matter, just imagine it. Imagine we can both travel at the speed of light. The further you go, to the west, the earlier it gets, right? Because the sun is still up on the west coast, for instance, and it gets earlier and earlier the further you go.”
“Sure”, I agreed. No extra questions, I could see she was working toward a point, and I’d have to be patient and let her get to it.
“And as I go east, it gets later and later, for the same reasons. The sun set in Europe, like, 7 hours ago, or something, so it’s already the early hours of tomorrow morning there.”
“Yeah”, I agreed again.
“So, since we’re both travelling at the same speed, when we meet each other it’ll be exactly half way around the earth from here. I don’t know where that is, China or someplace like that, doesn’t really matter. We’ll arrive there at the same moment, which will be practically no time at all from now, really, since we’re going at the speed of light, like I said before. Exactly on the opposite side of the earth right now, it’s 10:00AM, right?”
“Ummm, yeah, that makes sense.”
“Ok, but what day is it?”
“It’s Wednesday, I think.”
“Yeah, for you. But for me it would be Thursday. Remember, the further I went, the later it was getting. So it has to be 10:00AM tomorrow.”
“But if we’re both there together, at the same time, it can’t be today for me and tomorrow for you. That’s not possible.” I didn’t seem to have a problem with the idea of travelling backward in time, but, whatever.
“Of course not. But there it is. For me it’s Thursday morning, for you it’s Wednesday morning. Except that, since it took us no time at all, we’ll both still feel like it’s right now, Wednesday evening…except the sun will be halfway up the sky.”
“So, it’s Wednesday evening, Wednesday morning, and Thursday morning, all at the same time, depending on how we look at it?”
“Exactly. Now, imagine the same thing, but we travel slower this time. Let’s say it takes us a whole day to make the same trip. 24 hours to travel half way around the earth is still pretty fucking fast, but not as fast as the speed of light.”
“Totally”, I said, still trying to figure out the last thought experiment, and not really ready for another one.
“Ok, so we leave here at 10:00PM on Wednesday, it takes one day to make the trip. When we get there it’s 10:00AM, same time it is there right now, since it’s exactly one day from now. For both of us it’s one day later than when we left, so we’d each feel like it was 10:00PM Thursday, right? 24 hours from now. But the sun will be up, because it’ll be morning there when it’s evening here, just like right now. Now, for me, it’s got to be 36 hours later than it was when we started…24 hours of travelling plus 12 hours of time differential, so that makes it 10:00AM Friday. You’ve got the same 24 hours of travelling, but this time we subtract the 12 hour differential because you were travelling west, so it’s 10:00AM Thursday. So, no matter how fast or slow we go, when we meet up on the other side we’ll be one day apart from each other.”
“But we’ll be both be there, together, at the same time.”
“Right. You understand completely.”
“No, I really don’t. Is it one day after we left, or a day and a half later….or half a day earlier? I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.”
“Only this: it doesn’t make one bit of fucking difference what the clocks or calendars say, all that matters is our experience. If we’re here together, and then we’re apart for 24 hours, and then we meet again someplace else, that’s what matters. We both lived through a day apart before we came back together. No matter what the clocks and calendars say, no matter what Einstein says, no matter what Mr. Doofus taught is in Physics class last year.”
That was pretty much the moment I knew that, no matter how much I loved her, and no matter how close we’d always been, we were just too different from each other to ever have a life together. She’d always be two steps ahead of me, at least, no matter what day it was.
In my Prius, pulling away from the rehab center, I asked, “Where to?”
“Can I stay with you tonight, James? I don’t really have any place else, and I need some time to figure out what’s next.”
“Sure, no problem. You can stay in the guest room.”
“Thanks. You know, I’m a whole week younger than you now.”
“I’ve circled the world 8 times over the last 12 years, always travelling west, backward through time. I started out a day older than you, now I’m 7 days younger.”
“You’ll always be older than me, Daisy. If anything, you’ve lived more than I have, not less.”
“You finally understand”, she said with a smile that actually made her look much younger. Then the smile faded and she looked much, much older. Worn out. Like she’d lived a couple of lifetimes in her 30 years. A couple of lifetimes of trying to travel backward through time.
“What were you trying to get back to, Daisy, with all that time travel?”
“It’s hard to remember what I was thinking then. At first, it was more about just trying to see the world, experience everything there is. And I figured if I could keep gaining days like that, eventually I’d buy more time, time to see everything, go everywhere. Of course, the drugs didn’t help my thought process, I guess. Maybe the acid did, but not the heroin.”
I drove in silence for a while, not knowing what was the right thing to say. Sometimes saying nothing is the best thing. Eventually, I said, “Do you remember my 14th birthday?”
She smiled again. “I do, James. Kissing lesson.”
“Yeah. You were a good teacher. And that was a beautiful present. I never listen to that record my sister got me these days, but I still kiss the way you taught me.”
“Yeah? Who are you kissing lately?”
“Her name is Rose. Another flower, like Daisy. She’s young, mom says she’s too young, but she’s mature.”
“Besides kissing, I hope I also taught you that age is not what we think it is. Time is not what we think it is.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was just thinking about.”
“So, how young is she, anyway?”
“How long have you known her?”
“A couple of months. She just moved here from Chicago.”
“Do you love her?”
“I might. She’s a good person.”
“Are you happy, James?”
“I am. For the first time in a long time.”
“Then that’s worth more than anything.”
We were silent again for a while, until we reached my apartment building. I think she might have slept for a few minutes. When I parked, she jumped a bit, like she was startled, stretched and yawned. I saw the 8 year old Daisy again for a moment.
“Here we are”, I said, “home sweet home. Let me get your bag.”
She followed me up the stairs and into the apartment. “2B”, I said.
“Or not”, she said with a little giggle. Same joke I make to myself every time I open the door, no matter how unfunny or obvious it is.
I led her into the spare room, left her bag on the floor. She crawled into the bed and fell asleep instantly, without a word. The sleep of the innocent, my mother would have said. If, that is, it was anyone other than Daisy. I stood there for I don’t know how long, watching her sleep. She was still my Daisy, my first love, my teacher. But she wasn’t the same person, and neither was I. Whether she’d lived more than I had in our 30 years or not, whether she’d actually lost time when she thought she was gaining it with her westward travels, none of that mattered. We’d spent too many days moving away from each other.
In the morning when I woke up, she was gone. Her bag was still on the floor, and her body was still lying in the bed with a needle hanging from her arm. But Daisy was no longer there. I don’t know if she had scored the heroin before I picked her up, or if she snuck out during the night while I slept. I don’t know if now she’s travelling west around the Earth, trying to go back in time to the days before she shot up the first time. I don’t know anything at all, really.