My Girlfriend is the Creator of the Universe
Katie, my girlfriend, asked me to write this story of our relationship. She wanted me to call it The Gospel of Scott.
Even though I delivered her message like she asked, and even though I suffered so terribly for doing it, I still don't feel like my story should be elevated to the level of a religious text. So I'm just calling it what it is: my girlfriend is literally God.
I met her at The Anchor. I was working my way through the crowd to get to the bar when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around to see who it was. I wish I could say I had an "I see the light" style religious experience when I saw her. But truthfully, my first thoughts were 90% lust and 10% total shock that someone so beautiful had chosen me to talk to.
She was short, athletic, and super-cute. Her dark brown hair framed a beaming face that suggested a complicated mix of genes from Asia, Africa, and South America.
"Get me one of whatever you're having!"
"As long as you're having one too!"
I know this isn't exactly the sort of exchange you'd expect between a mortal and The Lord of the universe. The problem is that our expectations about the cosmos are a bit off. Religion. Physics. Philosophy. Each of these systems of ideas kind-of misses the mark regarding what reality actually is.
Of course, that night in the bar, I had no idea that I had just met the one God, ruler of the universe. I was just giddy over the possibility that my lonely Friday night could include hanging out with this seriously beautiful woman. How could I have known that I would eventually become her prophet? And her martyr.
I managed to push my way to the bar, get two Guinnesses and wind my way back to her. "I'm Katie," she said as she took one of the beers.
"I'm Scott." My social anxiety kicked in at that moment and all words left me. My brain refused to come up with anything to say next. I started to sweat.
She smiled. If there was a religious experience to be had that night, it happened then. Her smile melted away my mental block. Suddenly I felt like I had known her forever and I wanted to tell her about my entire life. About every random thing that ever happened to me. Every stupid thought I've ever had.
I babbled about the time I missed the bus in third grade. My grandma's funeral. The first day of my first job after graduation. Losing my virginity. We moved from the crowded first floor of The Anchor to a quiet corner upstairs and I babbled some more. After a few more drinks, we left the bar and hung out in a coffee shop down the street.
I remember finishing my cappuccino and looking into the cup. The bubbles of the last bits of milk foam were slowly popping. I stopped talking for a moment to watch the little blob of foam at the bottom of the mug shrink into a tiny puddle of milk. It was only then, hours after I bought the first beers in The Anchor, that I realized I'd been talking nonstop.
"I'm so sorry!" I blurted out. "I've just been rambling for hours, you must be so sick of hearing every damn thing that's ever passed through my mind."
"Scott. I could listen to you all night." She smiled then reached across the table and grabbed my hand. "I could do anything with you all night."
Katie is sitting next to my bed as I'm writing this and she just told me that I "should write down everything we did the evening we met. In extreme detail. Every position. Every kink."
"We want people to actually read this,” she told me. “It's important. So why not throw in a bunch of sex? You know, to make sure my message is spread as widely as possible."
She has a point. But I'm too shy to write down literally everything we did. Since this is my story. My gospel, as she calls it, I'm just going to say that we went back to my place and spent the night doing pretty-much everything that a man and a woman can do to please each other.
We stayed in bed together for most of the next day. She came over the next night too. By the end of the week, we were seeing each other every day
Whenever I'm in her presence, even now - in this ICU bed - I feel like I'm drunk on happiness. I babble and blather like a fool. Amazingly, she pays attention to me.
But in all my blathering during those first weeks of our relationship, I hardly ever asked her about herself. Only twice in those early days, before she revealed herself to me, did I probe her for information about herself.
"Katie, if you want, I can drive you home. Uh, wherever that is."
"Ha! I don't need a ride. I kind-of live everywhere, you know?" I didn't know what she meant. But I didn't pull on that thread either. I was just too happy and too afraid to discover something that would make it all end.
A few days later, I asked if I could drop her off at work when I drove to the office.
"I work from home."
"I've never seen you work." Even in my love-struck stupor, I still managed to get to the office and even answer a few work emails from my apartment in the evenings.
"I make my own hours."
Katie insists that she didn't do any mind tricks on me to make me overlook these things that normally would be fairly obvious red flags. No home that she would tell me about or show me. No obvious job. I was drunk on love, and rational thought wasn't exactly in my skill-set. My state of euphoria ended the weekend I drove us to the lake.
The lake is about a three-hour drive out-of-town. Up in the mountains there’s a beautiful lake with a state park that’s got a beach, a boat rental, a nice restaurant, and some cabins you can rent. I splurged and rented one of the cabins by the beach. Yes - it was super-romantic, in case you’re wondering.
Our first night there, we were cuddling on the bed.
"Let's go canoeing," she whispered.
"It's midnight. The boat rental desk is closed."
"Let's steal a boat!"
She leapt out of bed and quickly threw on her shorts and one of my T-shirts. "Let's go! We’ll pull-off a heist!"
By the time I got dressed and tiptoed out the door of our mini-cottage, Katie was already on the beach, crouching next to the lock securing the ends of the steel cable that secured the small fleet of rental boats to a tree.
"Got it!" she whisper-shouted to me. "Grab two paddles."
I grabbed a pair of paddles and we quietly moved one of the rental canoes to the water. She got in the bow, I pushed the boat into the water and scrambled into the stern.
We paddled stealthily to the center of the lake. There was no wind, and the water was glassy smooth. Tree-covered hills rose sharply from the shoreline, illuminated by the full moon. We stopped paddling and drifted together in silence.
She finally spoke.
"There's something I need to tell you."
I closed my eyes. Something bad was coming. She was going to dump me.
My eyes shot open. It wasn't the bad news I was expecting her to give me. But it wasn't good, either. "You're ... what?"
"God. I created the universe. It was me."
"You mean metaphorically. Like a woman's womb creates life so you're a goddess, or something like that."
"No. I mean it literally. I'm God. The one and only God. Don’t worry - It's not that big a deal. It's not like I'm dumping you."
I stared at her for a minute. She was grinning with the weird mixture of mischief and hilarity that made me love her so much. Maybe, I thought, the reason I found her energy and her radiant personality so unique and captivating was because she was suffering badly from a mental illness. Bipolar disorder, maybe. I had met her in a period of mania. I closed my eyes again.
Whatever was wrong with her, I decided, I didn't care. In that moment in the stolen canoe, I imagined the rest of my life with her. Whatever struggles with her illness lay in front of us. Whatever terrible moments we would share, I was up for it. I was ready to be with her forever no matter what.
She cut me off. "Touch the top of that hill." She pointed. "The tall one on the west side of the lake. Just reach out and touch it."
"It's two miles away."
"Come on. Just do it! Humor me."
I extended my arm in the direction of the far-away hilltop. My hand grew as I moved it away from my body. Or maybe the hill shrank. Whatever it was, space and distance changed. Reaching towards the thousand foot hill two miles from the canoe was no different than reaching towards a miniature model in a model train set. You know those dumb tourist photographs, the kind where someone near the camera poses to make it look like they're touching something far away - like they're holding up the leaning tower of Pisa or something or touching the top of the pyramids at Giza. As long as the foreground and background are in focus, the illusion works.
My hand and the hilltop looked like one of those tricks with perspective. Except, I actually touched the top of the hill. My fingers, now somehow made gigantic compared to the trees on the hill, felt the branches and limbs like bristles on a broom.
I snatched my hand back. It shrank back to its normal size as I pulled back from the hilltop. My heart was pounding. Over the course of about fifteen seconds, I went from thinking I was being dumped by the love of my life, to thinking she was suffering from a serious mental illness, to thinking I was the one with the mental health issue.
"What did you do?" I didn't mean to sound like I was accusing her, but I was wound up, and starting to get scared. "How did you make me ... reach that far?"
She carefully slipped off her seat in the front of the canoe and crawled towards me. I backed away from her, fell backwards off the stern seat and collapsed into the awkward space between the seat and the rear of the boat. The canoe rocked dangerously.
She rose and walked the last few steps to the stern seat. Somehow, the boat remained stable despite my falling and her walking. "It's okay." She offered me her hand and helped me stand up. "Turn around," she said.
I turned around and she wrapped her arms around my chest. "Look at the moon," she said.
I looked at the moon. A full moon in a perfectly cloudless sky painted the lake and the hills with silver light. "Now reach out and touch it."
I started shaking. She gave me squeeze and I calmed down a little. I raised my right arm. The moon looked like a glowing golf ball next to my outstretched hand. I moved my hand in front of the moon and slowly closed my fingers. I grasped ... something. There was a small, cold, round object in my palm!
I relaxed my grip and stroked it with my fingertips. It was rough, like sandpaper. There were a few irregular dimples. Craters and mountains? Was I really touching the moon? If so, that meant my hand was somehow - I don’t know - thousands of miles across. I didn’t like the idea of being so massive.
"Is this safe?" I asked. "What if I, like, shift its orbit? Couldn't that unleash huge tsunamis or earthquakes?"
"It's safe because I'm here with you."
"I'm not going to mess it up, am I? I can't accidentally flatten mountains or put my fingerprints on huge parts of the surface?"
I continued to stroke the moon. The friggin’ moon! "What is this? How are you doing this?" My voice was loud and shaky again.
"Well. It's a little complicated. But, since I'm literally God, it's not that hard to pull off. I just arranged some highly improbable quantum tunneling events, and some unlikely positional modalities."
"Why do you keep saying you're God?" It was a dumb question. But fear and confusion kept me deep in low-IQ territory.
"Because I am. And I'm going to keep saying it until you wrap your brain around it. Let go of the moon. I want you to feel something else."
I brought my hand back to Earth. I stared at it - now it was just a normal hand.
"Reach out past the moon. Deep into space."
I stretched upwards again, sending my hand past the moon, into the darkness of the night sky. It was cold. Colder than the moon. But I felt small pinpricks of heat on my wrist and forearm.
"You're feeling the stars," Katie said. "Reach even farther into space"
I did as I was told. At first I felt nothing but more cold. Then there was a tingling warmth in my fingertips. Like I stuck my hand into a warm shower.
"You are feeling the farthest galaxies from us. The very edge of the universe. Use your left hand to feel the other side."
I pushed my left hand into the sky, feeling the coldness of space, the heat of the stars, and eventually, the tingling glow of the clouds of countless galaxies.
"Your reach is spanning the universe. You've got the entirety of existence in your arms. Do you know what that means?"
I nodded no.
"It means this is the first time you've hugged me. Not this little human form of me in the boat, but the true me. We are embracing each other for the first time."
She was quiet for a long time. I imagined everything that was between my hands. The impossible number of stars, and planets. It was all her.
"Now, I want you to do one more thing. Stretch even further out. Push your fingertips just a little further away. Past the warmth of the cloud of galaxies."
I straightened my arms completely. I pushed my fingers through the warmth into whatever was beyond the universe.
My fingertips burned. And froze. They lit up with pain, but also seemed to disappear from my awareness at the same time.
“What is this? What is happening?”
The non-existence beyond the edge of the universe grabbed me. I felt it pulling my arms in both directions. The sensations shooting down the nerves in my arm made no sense. Pain, colors, sound, hate, beauty, mindlessnes. I was touching pure chaos. A disorder so profound that time and logic evaporated.
I reflexively tried to yank my hands back into the universe. The chaos beyond held them firm. I could feel my fingers merging with the chaos. Pulses of disordered energy, effects with no cause and events outside of time oozed up my arms. Chaos and disorder greedily invading the universe through my body.
"Help me!" I screamed.
Katie squeezed me tight. "Try to pull away again again."
I pulled hard and the terrible madness spreading into my body slowly reversed its flow. My wrists emerged from the cloud of disorder, then my palms, then my fingertips. I collapsed backwards and Katie helped me sit back on the canoe seat.
"Now you know what I do for my day job," she said. "I create reality from the void."
“The void,” I said absently. My mind was no longer hooked up to my mouth.
“There’s no experience in the void - no mind can exist there. No love can exist there.”
She stepped backwards to the center of the canoe. I turned around to face her. The boat was unusually stable, given that we were standing in it.
My mind was racing. This is God. She's God. I'm with God. I'm dating God. I had sex with God.
"Katie, I'm not religious. I mean, I wasn't until just now. Um. Am I supposed to kneel? Or pray? Or cross myself? Or something like that?"
"Not exactly." She pulled off her T-shirt and dropped it into the boat. "I want you to make love to me." She slipped her shorts off. "Not in the boat though. On the lake."
She stepped out of the boat and stood next to it. For her, the surface of the water was solid. "Come on," she said, holding out her hand.
I stripped, took her hand and stepped out of the canoe. The boat didn't rock at all. I stood on the surface of the lake. The water gave a little as I put my weight on it, like I was walking on a trampoline. She led me away from the boat. I followed, walking with careful, bouncy steps. My heart was pounding.I started gasping for breath.
“Katie - or My Lord. Or -”
“Just Katie. I’m still me.”
“I don’t know if I can, you know -” I looked down at myself. Terror and romance don’t exactly mix well for me.
“Sure you can.” She grinned slyly. “Your lord commands it!” she said in a tone of mock authority. Then she started laughing hysterically. I eventually started laughing too. Then we lay down on the surface of the lake, and took the idea of walking on water to a whole new, adult-rated level.
I was awakened before dawn by a bird landing on my ankle. I was still lying on the surface of the lake. Katie was asleep next to me. At, least, she looked like she was asleep. But she’s God, so who knows. The bird regarded me for a moment, then flew off. I woke up Katie and we walked back across the surface of the lake to the canoe. We got dressed, climbed into the boat and paddled back to the beach.
Katie ran the security cable through the boat’s handle and locked it back in place. “I hope we don’t get in trouble for stealing the boat.”
“What do you care? You’re friggin God.” The panic and extreme disorientation of the night before was coming back to me.
“You don’t know how this works, do you?”
“How what works?”
“The cosmos. Buy me breakfast and I’ll tell you all about it.”
We walked back to our rented mini-cabin, showered, dressed and made our way to the restaurant in the main lodge.
“Okay,” Katie said. “These eggs are pretty good.”
“But the universe. How it all works. The void. Why the hell you’re dating me?”
She put down her fork and smiled at me. "Subatomic particles. They wiggle, you know. Jump around. Take your average electron or quark. At each instant it's in a new place. And you can't really predict where it'll be next. It could be here, it could be over there. Now here’s the thing though. Are you going to eat your toast?"
I put my toast onto her plate. “What’s the thing?”
She took three huge bits of toast. Slowly chewed and swallowed. “This is great toast.”
“The thing? About subatomic particles?”
“Right. Each time a particle moves, the universe branches. It branches big time. There’s a whole new parallel universe created for each possible place that particle could be. There’s zillions of new parallel universes created every instant.”
“That seems like an unreasonable number of universes,” I said. “There must be billions created every nanosecond just from the matter in your fork.”
“Trillions. And multiply that by all the matter and energy everywhere. Trillions of trillions of trillions of new worlds branching off this one each instant. And the same number again branching off of each of those.”
“I don't want to throw shade on your creation, but that seems like an awful lot of universes.”
“Yeah. Well, I guess I just like universes. Most of them end up getting recycled by the void. All but one, actually, are gobbled up by the randomness.”
“Just one universe out of all the possible ones survives?”
“Yes, the universe that I choose to experience is the one that sticks around. I choose which universe I want to experience. Which branch of the tree of branching realities to call home. That's what reality is. The particular branch of the hyper-expanding tree of universes that I choose to experience.”
She finished the toast. Then ordered more eggs and two servings of hash browns.
We stayed at the lake for another two days. Katie said I acted pretty weird towards her during that time. She’s totally right. I tried to worship her for a few hours (“stop,” she said. “It’s really annoying when you do that”). I tried to get her to do more cool God-tricks - turn the toilet into gold or make me twelve feet tall. Stuff like that. (“Scott, I’m pretty sure you’d hate it if you were twelve feet tall.”) I asked her about the dinosaurs (“Yeah, they were pretty cool.”) and the big bang (“it was neato, you know.”).
“Look,” she finally told me. “I make reality, right. Like, I’m making it right now. And the reality I want is the one where we’re just a normal couple. For now. In fact, I want to move in with you.”
“Of course. I can help you move your stuff in.”
“I don’t have any stuff. I don’t even have my own place.”
“You’re homeless? You’re God! Why not make a mansion? Or a palace?”
“The universe is my house. I’m comfortably at home wherever I am.”
Katie didn’t see the point in somehow magic-ing up a bunch of money either. After she moved in, I still went to work every day. Still paid rent and bills. Still filled my car with gas. I even bought her new clothes - a few pairs of jeans and some T-shirts.
She was God, so she got what she wanted. A basically normal romantic relationship.
A few weeks after she moved in, Katie came with me to an after-work happy hour. Watching her make casual small-talk with my oblivious co-workers was both hilarious and frustrating. She chatted with Ken, my devout Christian boss, about craft beer. What would he do if he learned that Katie was the deity who he had devoted his life to worshiping?
I was still thinking about Ken on the way home, "You met my boss, Ken. You talked about craft beer, remember. He’s a super-devout Christian."
"So, you're who he worships, right? Like the bible. And that stuff?"
"That stuff.” She laughed, “You mean Christianity?"
"Okay, yes. Ken is, how do I say this, directing his energy to the right deity?"
"So, like, Jesus. Ten commandments. Noah-"
"Let's just say that I chose a path through all possible universes to one where the Bible exists."
Two weeks after the happy hour, I came home from work to find Katie waiting for me in a black business suit. I had never seen that outfit before. It certainly wasn't one that I bought her.
"Scott," she said in an atypically serious tone. "I love you. Which is why I chose you for this. I have to ask you to do me a favor. It's kind-of a biggie.”
“Anything.” I meant it.
“I'm going on a business trip soon. Before I go, I want you to communicate a message to everyone.”
“I thought you were the universe. You are everything everywhere. Where are you going?”
“I have urgent business outside of anything that you can comprehend. Don’t worry, I’ll be back”
“A couple trillion years.”
I collapsed onto the sofa. Tears filled my eyes.
She sat down next to me. “You don’t have to wait that long, though. You’ll be with me soon. After you deliver my message.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. I’ll be with her soon, outside of anything that I can comprehend. But I love her. And also, she’s the boss, you know. “What is the message?”
She stood and walked to the kitchen counter. She picked up a sharpie and a piece of cardboard that appeared to be a ripped-off side of a large cardboard box. She uncapped the marker and wrote these words on the cardboard:
GOD IS NOT COMING TO HELP US
WE HAVE TO HELP EACH OTHER
“This message is going to piss a lot of people off,” she said. “But everyone needs to know this. And this message has to come from you.”
“Why does it have to come from me? I mean, you could paint it in the sky with hundred-mile-high flaming letters. An unambiguous message from God!”
“Well, maybe. But the point is that I’m not going to be around. So proving that I am around as part of saying I’m not will be pretty confusing for folks. I need a prophet. And that’s you.”
“So, I … what?” I was still crying a little and I wiped my nose on my sleeve. “I walk around with this sign?”
“No. I want you to stand around with this sign. At major intersections downtown. Do it 16 hours a day until you can’t do it anymore.”
So I did.
The next morning I called in sick to work and walked to the end of the off-ramp where the interstate dumps traffic downtown. Tens of thousands of cars pour through that intersection every day.
Drivers began honking at me almost as soon as I arrived at the pedestrian island in the middle of the intersection. I studied their faces as they drove by to try to figure out if they were honking in support or anger. I soon learned the “language” of car honking. Two or three quick toots of the horn is a sign of support. Some of these “toot-toot” drivers gave me thumbs-up signs as they passed me. A long, single blast of the horn signifies anger. Rage, even. The longer the driver lays on the horn, the more likely I was to also get a middle finger or even a shouted curse as they drove by. The angry horn blasts outnumbered the friendly toot-toots by at least nine to one.
What were they so mad at? The second sentence on my sign just said that we have to help each other. That seemed benign. I guess it was the first sentence that was the problem: God is not coming to help us. Even though the message was directly from God herself, and completely true, most of the people who passed through the intersection that day were not ready to hear it.
Standing in the intersection, getting stared at, honked at, and yelled at was stressful and embarrassing. When would someone I knew drive through the intersection and recognize me?
After lunch, I experienced a new and much worse type of humiliation. At around 1:30 pm, seven hours into my “shift,” someone in a pickup screamed “burn in hell, atheist” and threw a paper soda cup at me. The supersized cup of coke hit me in the chest. It was half-full of ice and it hurt when it hit me. The soda splashed into my eyes and soaked my shirt.
The paper cup resting at my feet must have been a subliminal clue to the rest of the drivers that day. Ten more people threw drinks at me. I managed to dodge a few of them, but most of them hit me - more icy soda, a hot coffee, and an empty Sprite can.
When I returned to my apartment around midnight, I was thoroughly soaked, cold, and bruised. My apartment was dark and empty. Katie was not home. I peeled my wet clothes off and took a shower. The hot water warmed my skin, but inside, I felt colder than ever. Had Katie left for her “business trip” already? The trip that would last a few trillion years? I missed her already, just a few hours after I saw her last. How could I go on for the rest of my life without her? I wept.
There was a galaxy in my bedroom when I finally got out of the shower.
A beautiful, purplish-blueish spiral galaxy floated above my bed, slowly rotating around its center point. I approached and examined it closely. Clouds of stars looked like glowing wisps of smoke. I bent in even closer and saw beautifully colored nebula floating throughout like tiny blobs of watercolor. There was a post-it note on the bed.
Great job at the intersection today. Keep going out there every day until you can’t anymore. I’m running an errand before my business trip. I’ll be back to see you one more time before I leave. I didn’t have cash to buy flowers, so here’s a galaxy instead.
I slept under the galaxy and woke early the next morning. I put on a raincoat to protect myself from thrown drinks, grabbed the cardboard sign and headed back to the intersection.
The community of drivers in the city learns quickly. On only my second day at the intersection, I received my first thrown soda-cup at 9:30am. It seemed like everyone who saw me getting drenched as they drove through the intersection yesterday decided it would be fun to participate themselves today. The raincoat helped a little, but the volume of liquid thrown at me was much greater than yesterday, and I was soon soaked with diverse fluids.
The second day ended with me stumbling through the door of my dark, lonely apartment, showering, then falling asleep under the floating galaxy. I woke up early again and repeated the process. Again. And again. And again.
I became some kind of perverse institution in the downtown business district. Every few minutes someone would throw garbage or liquid on me as they drove by. Pedestrians shoved me as they walked across the road. I was spit on daily. Screamed at every few hours. “God helps those with faith!” “Godless atheist!” That sort of thing.
Six weeks after I started holding Katie’s sign, someone in the back seat of black pickup casually lobbed a brick at me. The light had been green for a while, and the truck was moving through the intersection at about 45 miles per hour. I only saw the brick for a moment. It was just a dark shape flying towards me. I had no time to react - the brick smashed into my face. The bridge of my nose was basically liquified. The bone of my eye-sockets shattered and my eyes were simultaneously smashed by the brick and sliced by the displaced shards of my skull.
I didn’t lose consciousness. Instead, I lay on the ground and screamed for help. I started choking on the blood pouring into my throat from my mutilated sinuses. I stopped screaming and just focused on breathing. Help did not come. I heard nothing but the traffic zipping past me for five or ten minutes. I must have looked just like a drunk passed out on the sidewalk - something nobody trying to get to work is going to want to deal with. I sat up and waved my arms for help - hoping somebody would notice my smashed face. This finally got someone’s attention. A car’s emergency brake engaged. Door opening. “Oh shit, pal. I got you. I just called 911. Hang in there. I got you.”
“My sign!” I choked on blood and was completely unintelligible. I tried again. “My sign! I need my sign. God gave it to me!” My samaritan put the piece of cardboard into my hands. “Brother, I don’t think that sign is doing you much good today.”
I was in the hospital for twenty days. Three surgeries. Nothing but bad news from the doctors. My eyes were irretrievably gone. My skull and sinuses would require a series of elaborate reconstructive surgeries just to restore normal breathing function.
The police visited once. They were profoundly uninterested in my case. “You were out there every day, all day, holding a deliberately provocative sign. What did you expect?”
I checked myself out against doctors’ orders. The hospital was only a few blocks from “my” intersection. Now blind, finding my way, even just over three blocks, was a terrifying challenge.
I somehow made it back to the pedestrian island without getting run over. I stood, wobbly but upright, and held the sign, now crusty from dried blood and whatever other thrown liquids it absorbed. I stayed there. It was my job. Katie told me to do it, so that’s what I did.
I didn’t try to return to my apartment - the idea of trying to get myself across town while blind was too much for me to contemplate. I slept on the pedestrian island. I begged for food when I heard pedestrians walk past. Sometimes someone would give me something - half a granola bar. The unfinished portion of a sandwich. A bottle of water.
I lost count of the days. It may have been three weeks or a month. The weather grew colder, and it rained a few times. One night, late, I finally managed to doze off. I was startled awake by something splashing on me. Not just a cup of soda or old coffee. Someone dumped a whole bucketful of liquid on me.
My sense of smell was gone - another one of my senses completely destroyed by the brick. But even with no sense of smell, I could taste the fumes from the liquid - gasoline.
A man’s voice said. “We don’t want to wait to see you burn in Hell, atheist. So we’re gonna burn you now!” I heard laughing, not just from the speaker but at least two other people with him.
Then I burned. The gasoline had soaked into every piece of clothing I wore. Into the dirty bandages that covered my eyes. Into Katie’s sign. Engulfed. That’s the word people use to describe something that is completely on fire. We throw it around casually. How often does a local news anchor use that word during a broadcast? Weekly? “Engulfed in flames.” It just rolls off the tongue.
Now it was my turn to be engulfed. I rolled desperately, and futility, to extinguish myself. There was too much fuel. Too much heat. Nothing helped. I heard nothing but the rush of air and hot gasses combining around me. I inhaled to scream and the flames entered my lungs. Panic. Pain. Terror. Sorrow that my life was ending. Pain. I rolled again, and fell off the curb into the street. The fuel was eventually consumed, and the roar of my own pyre diminished. I heard laughing. Then running away.
A car stopped next to me. A woman screamed. Someone beat me with a piece of clothing or a blanket - I must have still been on fire. There was a woosh from a fire extinguisher. Yelling. Crying. Sirens. Then, finally, unconsciousness.
"Scott, I'm here." Katie whispered in my ear. I reached for her and she took what was left of my hand. “You did what I asked. What I needed you to do. Nobody knows it yet, but you did what humankind needed you to do. You. You are a savior in the most literal sense.”
"The doctors think I'm dying. They don’t actually say it, but I know it’s what they mean. I lost six fingers." I would have cried, if I still had tear ducts left. “My foot. Katie, they had to take it off last night. I’m probably going to lose the other one too.”
“You will be rewarded.”
“Do you mean - in, like heaven?”
“Did you ever make yourself a shopping list?”
“What? Like, for milk and eggs and stuff?”
“Yes. Think about it. Why do you write down a list of what you need before you go shopping?”
“Well, it’s because I can’t remember more than just a few things. So it’s to remind me what to buy at the store.”
“That list on the little piece of paper. It helps you remember what to get. It is literally a little bit of your memory that exists outside of your head. It’s still your thoughts, right, about what to buy? It’s just not inside your skull. It leaves your skull when you write it down, then it goes back in when you look at it again.”
“Yes Katie, I know how lists work.”
“Well, suppose someone else gets the list. Maybe you gave it to them, or you dropped it and they picked it up and read it, it means that some tiny part of your mind briefly exists in another person. It’s not your whole self, obviously, far from it. But it’s not nothing.”
“Instead of the shopping list, think of everything you put into the world over a lifetime. All the things you’ve ever said to everyone, the pictures you’ve put on the Internet, and your tax returns and so on. When people see these and think about you, they’re not just thinking about you. They are, in some small way, using their minds to think for you. Your self is spread out over everyone who has ever been affected by your life in some way.”
“That’s a nice idea.”
“It’s not just a nice idea Scott. It’s physics. The physics I created, by-the-way. I made the universe this way for a reason. “What you did for me - holding that sign at the intersection - put a profound idea into a few people’s minds. A part of you is now alive in them. And as I look out into the future I see the near-infinity of time in which humans will exist in some form. I can see them, Scott, countless quintillions of individuals who will come after you. And I see that little piece of you in all of them. The message is already spreading. There’s a guy standing in an intersection in Detroit with the same sign. Next week someone new will stand at your intersection.”
“I’m going to live on with my mind smeared across the future of humanity?”
“Yes. It won’t feel the same as being alive, like you are now. But it’s not oblivion either. And it will feel wonderful. And I will be there with you.”
The next day, Katie came back to the ICU with a laptop. “Tell me your story. Tell it the way you want it told. I’ll write it down for you and put it into the world.”
So I did. I narrated all of this to Katie, from my bed. It took days. Interrupted by surgeries, and long spells of incoherence from the painkillers. But Katie stayed with me the whole time.
“I’ll be here with you until the end of this phase of your existence. Then you’ll be part of the universe.”
“Then you’ll go on your business trip.”
“I will leave humanity for a long time. They’ll be okay though, because of you.”
[Scott died at 9:56 yesterday morning. I’m posting his story here. I hope you will read it and encourage others to do so. I am leaving you now. I will not be here to help you, so you have to help each other. - Katie]