Time Machine

While doing some carpentry for a customer last week I saw a photo of a family on a ski slope. The guy looked a lot like Dave. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d thought about him.

The next day I was on another job near a church that calls itself a “Worship Center.”  It was one of those one-story, functional buildings that says, “Our gospel is so not about appearances.” It looks like the kind of church I used to attend. Back in the 80’s, Dave was a leader in the college group that started this church. 

The other night I dreamed I was back in prison, the default setting for my dreams these days. I was searching for Dave. Next I was in my cell holding a photo of him on a ski slope with his family. I gazed at his familiar smile until it sprouted a mustache and became someone I never knew. It woke me in a panic.

Dave and I met at a parenting seminar twenty years ago and hit it off.  We both had young kids and lots of mutual friends. Dave made me laugh with his quick wit. We shared a love of flower gardening. I was strictly a perennial guy. Dave dabbled in annuals.  I admired the cleome that grew in his yard – six-inch pink and white fireworks on waist-high stems.  

Dave and I volunteered for several church mission trips to Russia, running summer camps for a fledgling congregation there. We were a good team. I had the ideas. Dave had the organizational skills. When we were planning a trip, we'd often meet for breakfast at a local greasy spoon.

One of our camp programs needed a stage prop – a plywood-and-poster-paint “time machine.” We built it in pieces and crated it for the trans-Atlantic flight.  At the airport, a clerk with a Finnish accent asked what was in the box.

“Oh, that’s our time machine,” Dave dead-panned.

 “Is there anything in the box besides the time machine?” she asked.

Dave and I looked at each other. “No, nothing,” he said.

“Good,” she replied and moved the crate to the baggage conveyor.

We laughed about that for weeks. “Is there anything in the box besides the time machine?”

The morning of our last breakfast, Dave picked me up in his minivan. I had been reported to the police the week before. We rode in strange silence.

After a while he asked, “So you screwed her, just like that?”

“No,” I said, “I didn’t have sex with her;” as if denying that detail would make my actions less reprehensible.

I don’t remember what I said after that. It didn’t matter. I had betrayed him. Our friendship was slipping away. No words, no tears would bring it back. I was learning the dimensions of the box I had built for myself.

I saw Dave once more sitting a few rows behind the county attorney in a crowded court room. He never acknowledged me.

I passed his house on the trip from county jail to prison, handcuffed in the back of a cruiser. A few of Dave’s early cleome blossoms nodded goodbye.

Some months later, another church member sat across from me in the prison visiting room during his one-and-only visit. He told me we had never been friends.

“How could you have been my friend when you were hiding so much?”

The question hung in the air as he stood to leave.

It was true. I had worked so hard at appearing to have it all together.

The other day my wife passed through our former town and stopped at Dave’s house to catch up with his wife. They had a friendly chat about life and the kids.

 “Phil would really like to hear from Dave,” my wife said.

“I don’t think that will happen.  Dave has a hard time dealing with what Phil did.”

I wish I had that time machine. I'd go back and erase the pain I caused, relive those lost years, and laugh with friends like old times.

Is there anything in the box besides the time machine?

No, nothing.