The dozens of possible lives I could have lived, each on their own trajectory in an alternate timeline. I imagine them like the lines in my hands, crisscrossed options and parallels and divergences. Some lives running obscenely parallel to the life I'm on, basically the same life over and over worn almost into a solid groove with tiny variations, the year where I planted mint instead of basil and every morning that summer felt fresh and awake and every night I had bourbon and sugar instead of a bowl of pasta salad. Some alternate life lines that meander too far off and end abruptly. That one there is the one where I become a cross-country truck driver and get addicted to amphetamines and dazzle the bosses with my boundless energy but I'm trying to get clean and one day I fall asleep at the wheel and that's the end of that line. Sometimes in dreams I wander into a house that feels like my house but isn't, an apartment building in a town where I don't live, a warmer place where I might have wound up if Brno hadn't caught my heart and held it in its crumbling fin de siècle hands.
Sometimes I think about all the tiny tiny steps we take for no clear reason, driven by the desire to be on a line we don't quite see, and we look back and call it coincidence or luck and discount the roles of self preservation and instinct. I used to think about the possible better lives I might have been living if I'd done something a little differently: If only I had chosen another thing, everything would have been saved. But now I think: I did not do that different thing because I did not want to save everything. Or I knew there was nothing to save. Or: I saved myself.
From time to time I am overwhelmed by a nameless grief, a certainty that I should not be here, don't deserve to be here, belong somewhere much worse. I feel the terror of being caught living the life I don't deserve, and this is nothing compared to the absolute abject sorrow that I feel at knowing I have to let it go. This feeling comes and demands my attention for periods of time and it is dead unpleasant. I have thought that perhaps it is my own way of reminding myself to be grateful and I do really try to be aware of the forces of luck and coincidence and wonder that have landed me here, in this life. And I try to acknowledge also the work I have put into getting here, to this life. But I know that hard work is not always the same as getting what you deserve. Two years ago the grief caught me on an airplane, tin can in the air, fist at my mouth, sobbing uncontrollably. Last week again, unbearable even while familiar.
I am thinking about it a lot. I think maybe it's okay that I am here in this life. Maybe what I am feeling is one of those alternate lives, one much sadder than this one, coming close to me for just a moment, and I feel the grief to be mine as real as I know the house in my dream. It isn't mine. But it could easily be. And it is important to recognize it, walk in its rooms, touch the furniture. To experience the pain of it whole. Let it happen. And then, one hopes, wake up.