The original hot tub time machine

Girl Looking at reflection

Dear Uncle Andy,

Do you remember the time machine?

I wish I knew how to work it. I’d go get you if I did, but you were the captain and I never learned the controls.

I painted a picture of you. Actually, I painted three. One for my mom and one for your mom. I sent the last one to your wife and your golden headed newborn that she took with her to her mother’s after it happened. The acrylic layers have a lot of you in them and a bit of where I hope you went. It was only supposed to be about you, you and whoever got the painting. It was an accident on my part, a careless fingerprint, but I mixed a part of me in with blue hues of you. It was still easier than writing this, I didn’t have to backspace every time I dropped an ugly “I miss you” on the canvas.

Grams told me that you had a picture of me on your desk. I read and reread her email. I scanned each line looking for what you might have seen in the girl in the picture, why you were proud of her. Maybe it wasn’t the picture; it could have been the frame. I imagine it would have been clean and wooden, the kind of wood you frame a diploma with, a picture of a wedding, a snapshot of a newborn. A frame that holds memories. If there had been a mirror where my picture had been, I think you could have been proud of the face in the reflection. Proud enough of yourself to stay.

I still can’t imagine it because the last time I saw you I was 18 and you were smiling and holding your baby and your wife was holding your hand. I lost the pictures from that trip that I had wanted to frame.

Sometimes a framed bit of past just isn’t enough of a reminder. My picture on your desk couldn’t bring you back to the time machine, to the laughter, to me. You avoided your reflection just long enough to forget you were the one I was proud of.

I don’t know how old Megan and I were when we traveled in time with you. Looking back I can’t see what shoes I wore. I don’t remember waking up. I think it was sunny outside but it could have been raining. Time travel is funny like that – your memory gets fuzzy. Grams had a black jacuzzi bathtub downstairs, she still does actually. Back then I had to climb into it using both arms to hoist me over the edge.

“You see that over there? That’s a time machine,” you told us in strict confidentiality.

It was a top-secret time machine. The government didn’t know about it. They’d been trying for years to figure out how to make one of their own. This one was discretely hidden in that little Oregon neighborhood. Miles of evergreen forest, wild blackberry bushes, a cul-de-sac; it was perfect. I remember now that you were closing the blinds as you swore us to secrecy. It was easy for you to latch the shutter on the high window because you were so tall.

You said that if we used the machine we would go to the other side of the bathroom mirror. That was really exciting because I had friends who lived through there. I saw a movie once where a girl put her arm through a mirror and then walked through it into another world. Everything on the other side was different and backwards. I used the round towel holders in the bathroom as knockers. I’d climb up on the counter and rap them against the wall, summoning my fantasy world to come out and play.

Agreeing to an oath of silence, Megan and I squealed with joy.

After we clamored in, you captained the ship and we followed orders. I remember not knowing what I was doing, but feeling completely confident in my confusion. Megan sat on her knees in front of me, one hand rotating a silver jet nozzle and the other wildly slapping the wall. I frantically rotated two nozzles in the back and you warned us not to press the green or blue buttons on the control panel, because they were for emergency use only. Before we left you became worried about how prepared we were for the voyage so you jumped out to check the supplies and we guarded the ship.

“Uncle Andy!” Megan screamed after you’d been gone a little while. “The ship is about to take off!”

Appearing from around the corner you hopped in and gave us more orders as you entered in the coordinates. I stopped turning the nozzles and pushed my pointer finger into the middle of the one on my left because I wasn’t sure turning them was making a difference. Watching you jerk forward, I collapsed to my knees and held onto the side. We were moving fast and the curtain was shaking from the speed. It was the first time I realized how long time travel actually takes. It wasn’t immediate like looking at a picture. I guess that’s moving to a different place in time, backwards, not forward.

I didn’t realize we had landed when you jumped out of the ship. I shrieked at you to get back in. I didn’t want some unknown time to take you away and leave us stranded. We moved through the house and Megan the skeptic wanted to know where we had “really” gone because everything looked the same. You jumped up and down and I followed close behind your darting steps. There was a knocked over chair and a couch cushion out of place.

“I didn’t have time to move stuff around. None of this has happened yet.” You convinced me.

Upstairs Grams was writing on her typewriter. Following the sound of typing, we leapt up the stairs to find her. We couldn’t ask her if we really went through the mirror, after so many conversations with my mirror friends I knew that the people of mirror world weren’t happen when strangers showed up. Megan tried some Nancy Drew interrogation. We needed to know if we really traveled in time. Looking up from a page, Grams slid her reading classes halfway down her nose. She pursed her lips and looked at us with what I remember as a really mirror-like expression.

“Your mom is going to be here soon, you girls better get ready.”  There was something weird about how she said it. The glasses weren’t right, brown instead of black, and her hair curled down instead of up. Everything was all backwards; Grams’ voice was definitely the voice of a mirror person. I compared her to the friends from my mirror and knew that you told us the truth.

Megan and I grabbed hands and turned around, hollering for you. We weren’t ready to go home, especially with a mirror mom. Panic-stricken and still squealing with nervous laughter, we hurried back to the machine and set our destination to an hour ago. When we returned the chair was upright, the cushion in place and Grams was pouring us juice.

I forget a lot of things but I could never forget that day. I suppose it means you’re not gone. You’re there, traveling back and forth between an hour. It’s the memory I frame and keep on my desk. The glass is shiny, and I can see my face too, it’s enough for me. That hour is where I go to know you still exist.


First Mate

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  1. mplanck on February 21, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    Oh Kristance, thank you for sharing your time travel experience with your uncle Andy, my son. He had such a special imagination and maybe more than that, a secret way to travel to times and realms unknown to the folk of our daily lives. Now you have waved your own magic wand and brought him back through the mists of time. Thank you. Love, Grams

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