Alternate Realities

Alternate Realities - Image 460x234
By Pam Mandel

Surely, I’m not the only one who does this.

I will visit some place in the course of my travels, and something, anything, will set it off. The things that cause it are so insignificant, a feeling of familiarity in the corner of a new-to-me café in a new-to-me town. The wares on offer in a shop window — never glamorous, little more than housewares, perhaps a blender and a stack of carefully folded cloth napkins. Alternating light and shadow on the car windshield as I drive through a treelined road that is still wet with the morning’s rain. The sound of a squeaky gate, or a bird that sounds like a squeaky gate, from the other side of a meadow.

I am sucked into another version of my life, a mirror, a revision, a story that could be mine not in an “if-only” way, but in a way that I visualize so completely that there is nothing for it but to concede, with great embarrassment, that those people who swear by past lives might actually be on to something.

No, not that, never that; it could not be true. Perhaps it’s just the burden or gift of a wildly overactive imagination.

A beach house on a rise above the ocean; a slope that goes from the little town of Lawson’s Landing down to Dillon Beach. It is nothing special, a slab of California modernism, similar and common, a rambler. Big windows, a bare porch with a tiki head of weathered wood. There are a lot of beach houses here, more attractive, newer, better maintained, but this one — here I pictured my life. My surfer mate gone in the early morning because, “Surf is up, sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.”

There are a lot of beach houses here, more attractive, newer, better maintained, but this one — here I pictured my life.

I’m not younger in this existence, and neither is my mate, but he hears the ocean, and it’s part of who I am too. So even if it’s not the big waves that call me, any morning when it’s not dripping fog, not too cold — which is often, because it is the Northern California coast — I stand barefoot on the Spartan porch watching for the light to come over the rise behind me and hit the Pacific. There is a cup of coffee in my hands, and my feet are cold. The garden is neglected intentionally, because left alone, it goes to poppies, pink ice plant, wild iris and beach grass, and what could be better?

What do I do in this life? I have no idea. I am not rich. I never imagine myself rich in these scenarios; I am always dressed in the same old T-shirts and worn-out jeans. I always have the same cobbled-together interior where the art on the walls is very good, but the rest of my belongings are from garage and clearance sales. We could probably use some more carpets; we should go to Ikea, but the sand gets everywhere, so maybe not. There are surfboards in the garage, not mine, and rusting bicycles that are mine. I don’t worry about much more than replacing the screens. Oh, we are going to have to drive all the way into town to the real hardware store. Could we put that off until Tuesday, because the weather is supposed to be good over the weekend and the traffic is going to be awful? Let’s just leave it for a few more days, and I’ll schedule some other stuff that has to be done in town too.

My fictions are weirdly specific. I stand slightly to the left of where I stand in my life today, where I cannot see the water but I can walk from my door to the shores of Puget Sound. None of this is a line of “I would be so much happier if …” wishful thinking. No. It is much more a feeling of seeing myself in a complete view in another, marginally different existence.

And while it’s different, while I know that life can’t be mine because I’m living the one I’m in so completely, it still feels so very real. This is just one time it has happened, not the first, and never the last.

Surely, I’m not the only one that does this.


About The Author

Pam is a freelance travel writer and photographer. In 2013, Pam was awarded a prestigious Solas Award, which honors writers whose work inspires others to explore. When she’s not traveling, she calls Seattle, Washington, her home. Keep up with her adventures on her Website