“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable–if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.”
― David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments
Fifty years later, Eugene remembered Professor Viper.
“You have to understand the difference between velocity and acceleration. Velocity is always positive, at least in the direction of motion, but acceleration can be positive or negative. You can be moving in one direction, very fast, but accelerating in the other direction.”
“Imagine you are in a Mustang, with a big supercharged V8, screaming down the road. But you swing the wheel, skid around backwards, and start smoking your tires. You are still moving, your velocity, down the road, but you are facing, and accelerating in the other.”
Eugene remembered perking up at this.
First, what a completely insane analogy. Professor Viper must have been some sort of car freak. Eugene wasn’t – he didn’t even have a driver’s license, let alone a car. It was like listening to an alien speak in English, but an alien way of looking at the world.
Second, well, he had done the same thing the night before. He had gone out for beers with a bunch of people and drank too much, stayed out too late. That was why he was nodding off in the lecture… until Professor Viper made the crazy analogy. Eugene and Martha has staggered out from the bar at closing time with all their friends and they had started piling into the car they had come in.
Eugene was worried because the driver had really been throwing them back. Then he spotted Frank, a quiet guy from the floor below – he barely knew, getting into his own car a couple parking spots down. He looked steadier than the others.
“Martha, let’s ride with Frank instead,” he said to his girlfriend.
“Why? We barely know him.”
“I think he’s sober.”
He was wrong. Frank was totally smashed. It was just that he was quiet and better at standing without swaying. But behind the wheel, he was a terror. His car was that heavy Midwestern hopped-up American hunk of steel and was very fast and very loud.
Eugene remembered sitting and sliding on the front bench seat with Martha between him and Frank as they roared down the street. They swerved through and intersection and skidded around in a three sixty with Frank and Martha screaming in drunken glee as the headlights swung in a wide arc and illuminated the terrified faces of the people in the other cars.
Somehow they avoided hitting anything and made it back in one piece. Eugene swore he would never get in a car with Fran and would always check his driver out and never ride with a drunk again. There was a lifetime of cabs in front of him and he was fine with that.
And now, the very next day, Professor Viper was talking about skidding and velocity and acceleration. It was all too much.
Class ended and Eugene walked up the hill to the dormitory where he and Frank lived. He called Martha and she said she might come over later, she was tired and hung over. There was a knock on his door and Matt, another friend that lived on Frank’s floor, came in.
“Hey Eugene, I wanted to tell you something.”
“It’s Frank. I was talking to him. And he said he was going to steal Martha from you. He met her last night, you both rode back with him and he really likes her. He says he’s going to get her from you.”
“Jeez, what should I do?”
“I don’t know. I just wanted to warn you.”
And that’s what happened. Frank had that car and Eugene didn’t even have a license. He didn’t have a chance.
The two of them were married their Junior year and at graduation, Martha was eight months pregnant.
The three of them stayed in town after graduation, why go anywhere else? Fifty years. Frank and Martha split up in a few years and Frank left the state. Eugene never talked to Martha again, but the town wasn’t that big and he heard about her every now and then. Last year he discovered that she was not only a grandmother, but a great grandmother.
“Let’s see,” Eugene thought to himself, “A mother for twenty years, then a grandmother for twenty more… a grandmother at forty then a great-grandmother at sixty-something…” The math was easy. He was thinking about this, stretched out in his hospital bed, when the machine on the stand to his right gave a chime and made a whirring noise.
The dose moved down the tube into the needle on the crook of his arm and everything went warm and fuzzy and the half century old memories that seemed so crystal clear went away. Eugene shook his head to try and bring them back. He wondered if they ever would return.
“The degree of slowness is directionally proportional to the intensity of memory. The degree of speed is directionally proportional to the intensity of forgetting.”
― Milan Kundera, Slowness