Somehow I waited things out in the dark; my invisible self even lapsed into sleep for a few moments a time or two, despite the discomfort I suffered, both from the cold and from leaning my back against the trunk of the moribund oak. Finally, the end credits rolled on the lovers’ Blockbuster rental, and they retired into the upstairs bedroom, which provided me with my chance. I attempted to open a window, but found to my dismay that they were all locked from the inside. Then I suddenly recalled something helpful: my wife and I, like many silly people, kept a spare key under a flowerpot on the front porch, “just in case” one of us found him- or herself locked out and in need of obtaining entry.

Creeping around to the front, and witnessing for a moment my “beater” car in the driveway, reminded me of a time when I actually had a car, albeit purchased on the cheap; of course, at the time, I actually envisioned possessing a better, more reliable source of transportation when I got older. If only “young me” could see “old me,” 22 years hence: clambering onto the same piss-scented bus every weekday morning in his ill-fitting suit, in order that he might attend his soul-crushing job which had no savor whatsoever of anything resembling literary glamour. What would “young me” think of the notion that his future mobility was anything but “upward?”

And what was more, that the love of his life, the girl who so adored him now, would in time grow utterly cold to him?

Better for him not to know these things, I concluded. Spare the poor kid such hardship. Let him enjoy his youth. Let him continue to fantasize about the golden future he was anticipating.

The spare key proved to be right where I remembered it to be. I crept up to the hovel’s front door, doing my best to turn the lock silently, then stepped inside. Immediately I was assailed with the scents of the past, so familiar yet so foreign: the molecules generated by a happy couple living in harmony in close quarters. It almost intoxicated me; my knees buckled and tears stung my eyes; still, I had enough wits about me to replace the key before quietly closing and locking the door behind me.

As it turned out, I needn’t have feared detection, as my younger self and his young wife, now upstairs, were, believe it or not, once again carnally preoccupied with one another! I walked into the kitchen, found the tin of caramel corn, poured myself a glass of water, and sat at the tiny kitchen table (it was essentially a card table, which was in line with our budget at the time; her being an elementary school teacher, and me being a grad student, we couldn’t afford much in the way of décor). I luxuriated next to the heater and tried to munch the popcorn quietly, as the couple upstairs finally seemed to have brought their passion to its denouement; the creak of the bedsprings, as well as the vocalizations, had at last ceased; blissful sleep would no doubt follow soon.

I relaxed a bit, and my mind began to wander over the extraordinary series of events which had befallen me since I had committed my rash act…I could have sworn that I had died. That part hadn’t felt in the least like any kind of dream. Yet what followed didn’t seem dreamlike, either (how often does one suffer fatigue in a dream, when one’s body is, after all, at rest?). Still, I couldn’t understand how it could truly be anything other than a dream, given all of the curious things that I had experienced.

The other alternative, which I was forced to entertain, little as I wished to do so, is that I had actually been transported to the past.

Weighed in the balance, given the alternatives, I had to admit that this scenario, absurd though it seemed, appeared to have the better claim than its counterpart. But then, why? To what end would my seemingly successful self-extinguishment result in such a bizarre occurrence: that is, my forcible, bodily transport into the past? And not just any past, but in fact thrust into such proximity to my own past, the past of my once happy marriage? To be forced, in fact, to share the lovers’ hovel where dwelt my much happier young self and his considerably happier young wife?

My reverie was suddenly disturbed by the clump-clump and the accompanying creak-creak on the cheap hovel floorboards, indicating the occurrence of footsteps; someone was coming downstairs! This time, I didn’t lose my cool, however. I simply set the tin of popcorn back on the table, where it had been left, set down my glass of water, and stood up. I was, after all, invisible. (Having gained this power was yet another inexplicable aspect of my current circumstances.) So long as I didn’t make noise and stayed out of the person’s way, I would not be detected. I crept to a spot behind the couch just in time to see my companion switch on the lamp. I beheld my younger self more closely than I had ever been enabled to do so before. I saw myself squint in my T-shirt and pajama pants, looking ridiculously skinny and inexplicably insomniacal, not in the least drowsy, although by now it was the wee hours of the morning.

One would have thought, with all of the copious intercourse in which I had been engaged– first repeatedly pinning my wife against the wall, causing the adjacent bookshelf to strew several of its contents onto the floor (where, I noticed, they still lay), then pinning her to the couch behind which I now crouched, then taking her a further round in the much more customary setting of the upstairs bedroom—that younger me would have been ready to collapse into a thick, dreamless sleep of satiety and fulfillment, but apparently not. How easily an older man forgets the fervent extremities of a younger man’s drives!

I stood there, invisibly facing my younger self and I saw a look of consternation come over his face, as if he were perceiving the intimation of something sharing the room with him, something which oughtn’t be there. I stood stock still, but found myself beginning to sweat a bit. I was an unwanted presence in this happy home; if he managed somehow to see me across the room he likely wouldn’t notice that I was an older version of him, but only that I was an intruder, at which moment he would no doubt attack me with whatever weapon he could get his hands on. (I would have done the same, after all, were I him, which of course I was!)

Then, he seemed to shrug off this intimation, and remembered why he had come downstairs in the first place: namely, to get a midnight snack. He poured myself a bowl of Corn Flakes, sugared them liberally, added a dab of milk, then sat and began to watch a true crime show that he had seemingly videotaped earlier in the day, or perhaps last night.

I silently shuffled to a different position in the room, away from the couch, so that I could be at a greater distance from myself. Suddenly I felt an enormous jolt of pity for the man who was me. In fact, I peculiarly enough found myself dissociating from my younger self, viewing him as an entity which was thoroughly separate from myself. Rather than feeling envy for him, as I had earlier when his wife had regarded him so reverentially after he had stripped her garments from her body so dexterously, I instead perceived the difficulties he would face. His aspirations to be an author and commentator would prove to be only fleetingly successful; he would never attain more than a niche following.

What was worse, his wife, the love of his life, would betray him. Her love would grow cold, and she would leave him, because he never “panned out” the way she thought he would. She had expected that he would hit his groove professionally, in a manner that in fact never happened. She had anticipated that he would provide financially in a way that he never could, try though he might (and he did).

Now tears came to my eyes as I regarded the naïve young student gobbling down breakfast cereal in the dead of night whilst fixated upon a feature about a man who was murdered by his wife. I wanted to shout, “You pitiful fool! Pay closer attention, that man you are watching…is you! You will experience the selfsame sensation, but rather than shooting you in the head and hiding your body in a drainage ditch, she will pull your heart out of your chest and fling it over her shoulder with supreme indifference and only the slightest hint of sadness and the merest pinch of regret!”

But I did not shout those things out to myself. For one thing, I didn’t want to give the kid a heart attack by suddenly emerging from invisibility to harangue him, but also, I figured, why ruin the joy of his youth with the truth of what middle age had in store for him? Let him enjoy his late night post-coital Corn Flakes and his true crime video in peace…


Finally, my younger self finished his cereal and his video, and trooped back upstairs after reaching into the kitchen cabinet and downing a Tylenol PM. I took the couch, just like a houseguest—albeit an unseen and uninvited one—might do. Soon, exhausted as I felt, I found myself dozing off. My dreams were inchoate but undeniably filled with strife and violence. Was this what it felt like to experience “a dream within a dream?”

I woke up to the sound of clattering plates and the humming of a microwave oven. Opening my eyes, I saw that this time it was the “Missus” preparing breakfast, apparently before heading off to work. Immediately an idea entered my head, and I made haste to obey this instinct; rising up, I crept out of the living room without causing any kind of stir. With great delicacy, I turned the doorknob, opened it a crack, then closed it quietly behind me; once outside, I tried the backdoor passenger side of my younger wife’s car, and finding it unlocked, I slipped inside and waited.

Soon she emerged from the lovers’ hovel, carrying her coffee thermos and her bookbag, clambered into the car, turned the key in the ignition, and we were off to her place of work. She switched on NPR, which was always her mainstay station, much to my chagrin, as hearing the smugly cadenced voices of the hosts always made me feel like committing a mass murder. They were talking about President Clinton’s ongoing impeachment hearings, and how it was a waste of time and taxpayers’ money, given that, while the president may indeed have lied under oath (they only grudgingly admitted this), the lie was only about a personal sexual matter, and therefore it didn’t “rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

Though such rhetoric had always irritated me immensely, I now (sitting invisibly in the backseat, my young wife serving as my unwitting chauffeur) merely found the broadcast a wonder to witness, in that it was an indication that I had truly, somehow, leapt into the past. Seeing the young me and my young wife in our old house was, of course, uncanny enough, but understanding that I hadn’t just entered some mere “island” of the past, but rather upon the entire past world, induced a strange feeling of general disassociation.  I knew that I did not occupy a mere dream, and yet, it could not possibly be reality, either; rather, I reckoned, it must be some odd miscegenation of truth and trance. But what was it called? What title could it be given, if any? And most importantly, did one’s behavior in this realm matter, or not? Could one simply do whatever one wanted, as in the case of a dream, with no real-life consequences? Or was such an—admittedly appealing—notion itself a dangerous delusion?

The car pulled into the parking lot of my wife’s school, the place wherein she then taught kindergarten. I watched her gather her thermos and satchel together, then she exited and strode toward the school at a rapid pace. She was always a great teacher, with a real way with children, but punctuality was often an issue, as was organizational acumen. I recalled these faults of hers fondly; I would tease her over them at times, just like she would give me a hard time for being standoffish with most strangers. The truth was, however, that our differing strengths and weaknesses complemented one another well. Her people skills helped me break with my isolative tendencies, while my intellectual inclinations stimulated her mind. We were, in short, the perfect couple (or so it seemed)…until we weren’t.

I suddenly felt an invisible accumulation of grief in my throat, and my totally transparent tear ducts clouded up for a moment, but then I shook myself. There was no point, I decided, in mourning for a future that hadn’t even happened yet. It was instead best to enjoy this gift of revisitation of a happier past for as long as I was able to do so.

I found myself leaving the car, and moving slowly towards the school. When I came to the front door, I pulled it open and crept inside; nobody in the hallway—student, teacher, or administrator—even noticed; it could easily have been the result of a mere wind gust.

As I was rounding one corner, one child, in a hurry to get to class, nearly ran headlong into me; only a dexterous feint on my part kept this catastrophe from happening. However, in spite of my best efforts, the lad still brushed against my side; afterward, he stopped in his tracks, looked momentarily bewildered, gazed in my direction, seemed to look at me, but really looked past me, then hurried on his way. It was the first instance of human contact, accidental though it had been, and it instantly opened my mind to certain possibilities that I hadn’t before considered…

I found my wife’s classroom easily enough; it had her name out front (which I noted, with especial pride, was “Mrs.” followed by my surname). A collage graced the wall: its heading read, “We are happy to BEE with you” and there followed a swarm of smiling paper mache bees, each of which bore the name of a student on its belly. An invisible smile came to my face as I recalled how my wife had stressed out over putting together something sufficiently “craftsy,” that wouldn’t look embarrassing compared to what the rest of the teachers were using to decorate. She always felt unqualified when it came to fashioning “arts and crafts” sorts of things; was never into “scrapbooking” or such similar activities. I found her insecurity on this matter quite adorable, and teased her about it a lot.

Now as I watched her stand in front of the room and lead the children in singing the alphabet song, my heart felt positively ready to burst. She radiated feminine warmth; her generosity of spirit and compassion for her little charges was most becoming. For a moment, I even found myself transported into the mind of Goethe’s Werther, and the way his heart leapt and his soul sang when he first witnessed his vivacious and lively Lotta entertaining her brood of siblings in the cool of the forest dusk.

Gradually I felt myself again growing quite overcome with emotion, and I stepped away from the doorway to compose myself. My mind raced furiously, poring over various patently absurd notions… yet were they truly absurd, given the circumstances in which I found myself?

Patience, patience! I exhorted myself to calm down. I took several deep breaths, knelt. Although I was invisible, I knew that God could still see me. Though alas not much accustomed to prayer, I nevertheless found myself whispering an ardent appeal to the Almighty, asking Him if maybe, just maybe, that which had gone wrong could somehow be made right.


For all installments of “The Man Who Cuckolded Himself,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1