Like a huge heap of steaming dog turds, DIA looms over the bleak prairie. Its institutional appearance reminds me of Cold War era Soviet architecture, and I try to avoid this particularly dismal airport like the plague. But my favorite aunt was gravely ill, and I had to see her before she died.
I've always had a talent for making unpleasant things go away. In the fifth grade it was an especially nasty bully who had singled me out for his attentions. In desperation, I wished, wished as hard as I could, that he would just disappear out of my life. The following day he didn't show up at school. The police searched for months, but he was never found.
Aunt Agatha was the only one who ever understood me. My parents were well-meaning, but distant, and I can't recall my mother ever drying my tears or giving me a hug. But Agatha was always there for me, and she let me lay my head on her ample maternal bosom and cry myself out whenever the pain of existence was too much to bear.
In Basic Training, the drill sergeant seemed to have a hardon for me. I was always the one on punishment detail, the one he cussed out and mocked for being a "pussy," the one he used as a scapegoat for anything that wasn't quite shipshape at inspection. Oh, how I wished he would disappear, just go away and never be seen again. Then one morning we had a new drill sergeant, and no one would answer questions about what had happened to the old one.
Landing in the so-called Queen City of the West at five in the morning doesn't necessarily leave one in the best of moods. Lord, how I hate that place! It was bad enough having to grow up in that jumped up cow town, but seeing it transformed into a trendy, pseudo-cosmopolitan hi-tech mecca makes me want to puke.
The car rental counter was already besieged, even at that hour. I had to wait in line for forty minutes in spite of having made a reservation. It was a relief to finally be able to drive out of the place in a late-model Dodge Freon.
For a time, Aggie was the love of my life. We had met at a mutual friend's New Year's party. I noticed the striking redhead with dangerous curves the moment I walked in, but thought, no, I'd never stand a chance with a looker like that. But, she walked right up to me, and as I stood there stammering and staring down at my feet, she put on a silly grin. Then she asked if the pain ever got too much for me to bear.
"The pain of existence. Of living day in and day out in a cruel, indifferent universe."
"Yes, we bear our scars inside, and sometimes our anguish expresses itself in an unintended grimace, or an accidental teardrop."
I don't know what moved me to spout that hokum. But it worked.
"Ah, a kindred soul," she said.
And so it began.
She had tubes coming out of her arms and torso. They didn't expect her to survive the night.
"Auntie Agatha," I said.
Her eyes opened.
I leaned forward as she tried to say something.
"Bennie." It was a barely audible whisper.
"Don't try to talk, Auntie." I reached out to touch her.
"No," she said. "No." She clutched my hand and sighed.
"My child," she said, "my lost treasure."
"Auntie -- "
"No. Listen. This needs to be said. Before I die... must be told."
"Not... not your aunt."
"Auntie -- "
"I'm not your aunt!"
Not my aunt?
"Listen to me. Remember... remember the night we found each other. That night at... at the party. That night... the pain... the pain of existence."
The pain of existence.
She wouldn't let me alone. Bad enough that she'd call me four or five times a day at my workplace. But, she also had this annoying habit of dropping in unannounced at my apartment and more or less demanding sex right then and there. And even when you're not in a particularly lusty mood, it's hard to turn down a needy woman when she's rubbing her nipples against you and grabbing your crotch. It was very inconvenient.
I'd never known a woman as hot to trot as Aggie. She was obsessed with sex. On the nights she slept over, I'd all too often awaken early to find her tightly clutching my morning erection and -- full bladder or not -- be compelled to stick it right into her. In public, she'd pull me over into a semi-concealed spot -- into the bushes or an unoccupied restroom -- and just bend over and flip up her skirt. It was embarrassing. It was exasperating. It was a mad, exciting whirl. And I didn't know how much more of it I could handle.
Maybe she had gotten careless about taking her Pill. Or possibly it was a deliberate ploy to bind me to her. In any case, it happened. She somehow got pregnant.
I stumbled out of that hospital room and barely managed to make it to the parking lot before I puked my guts out. The rest of that day was a blur. I just couldn't face Aunt Agatha, or myself, any more.
That evening I got a phone call. Agatha had died earlier in the day. Just minutes after I had left her.
I'd had my fill of Aggie. More than my fill. Sure, the sex was fine, better than fine even. But, I just couldn't deal with a pregnant woman. A pregnant woman carrying my child. Who absolutely insisted on bearing that child. And who threatened me with dire consequences if I didn't assume my share of the responsibility. If I didn't marry her.
I wished she'd go away, just disappear out of my life. I wished hard. Real hard. And, one morning she didn't call me at work. She didn't show up at my apartment that night. Or the next. A week later, when I finally got around to making inquiries about her, no one could tell me anything. She had just plain disappeared.
I somehow managed to attend the funeral. Afterward, my mother pulled me aside.
"Ben," she said, "Agatha wanted you to have this to remember her by." And she thrust what looked like a leather-bound diary into my hands.
I couldn't bear to look at it. I had a sudden premonition that I'd find my own damnation in its pages. But, curiosity finally forced me to open the book.
May 27, 1969
I'm finally beginning to get over the shock. I still have no idea how it happened, but here I am, thirty years in the past.
Time travel? Well, maybe, but I couldn't begin to say how. All I know is that I was just lifting the phone to call him when... when there was this blinding flash... and I lost consciousness. When I came to, everything had changed.
I was lying in a ditch by the roadside, naked and bruised. My first thought was: my baby!
I must have been staggering around and screaming incoherently. A highway patrolman had me draped in a blanket and was trying to calm me down. Between my sobs, I couldn't make out what he was saying.
The baby was all right. Four months along and all indications normal, they said at the hospital. But, they wouldn't release me just yet, and I could hardly blame them. No ID or money and babbling a story that didn't make sense. Finally, we settled on trauma-induced amnesia. Memory loss.