I’m not from here.
You couldn’t tell by looking at me, but I’m just a visitor here. And I don’t mean Austin, or Texas, or the United States. I don’t even mean Earth or the Sol system. I mean your entire goddamn universe. Your reality. Isn’t it amusing that it's simultaneously difficult to imagine the full scale of the universe and that it is, in reality, finite? Well, that’s not true, using our definition of the word finite.
Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. Your universe is infinite and God exists and we’re all going to Heaven someday.
If that’s good enough for you, put the book down and go find something else to do. For the rest of you, my story begins where most stories begin: in virtual reality.
The first public demonstration of the HTC Vive virtual reality headset was in 2014. A year later, a game-distribution platform called Steam threw its considerable weight behind the Vive (which at the time was competing with the Oculus Rift, itself backed by a large social media enterprise), leading to its mass-adoption, even though the price was nearly $1,000 American for a new system. Pre-orders started in 2016, but I didn’t get mine until much later in the year when “ships in 3-4 weeks” finally turned to “ships immediately.”
I have a thing about instant gratification. You’ll learn this.
Maisie (m’wife), had no interest in VR, so I spent my first weekend with the system alone in my home office, just exploring a handful of VR games. I traveled to mountain tops. I shot explosive balls at stacks of boxes. I even fought off wave after wave of alien invaders with every firearm known to man.
The games were impressive, but the porn was insane.
Okay, that might have made some of you uneasy. I imagine there are a few of you out there who don’t like to admit that masturbation is common and awesome. Add in virtual reality and you’ve got a whole new level of single player activity.
I should mention that VR in my universe was nothing but a headset and a pair of headphones. We put tiny low-resolution screens up close next to our eyeballs and ogled grainy images of Eastern European women performing in front of what I can only imagine was the weirdest anthropomorph ever. It’s light years behind what you’re accustomed to, but it’s what we had so it’s what we used.
The point about the VR is that it highlights the kind of dynamic Maisie and I had. Make no mistake; she and I were in love. We met later in our lives, were set in our ways, but for each other, we broke out of our molds and became better people for each other. She was, is, and will always be the turning point in my life, the one person most responsible for the man I am today.
That said, there were some interests we just didn’t share. I was more into technology; she loved photography. I liked Heavy Metal and Insane Clown Posse. That you don’t have ICP here is, by the way, one of the greatest shortcomings of your universe. So the VR didn’t really blow Maisie’s skirt up, which was fine. There were other people I could share that interest with.
One of those people was Elena. She and Maisie had been friends since high school, and both moved from Houston to Austin to attend UT in the late nineties. And while Elena and her husband Angel had spent their post-college years in Houston, they’d recently moved back to the Austin area after Angel took a new job at some social media startup that I forget the name of. Angel was a good guy. Sales guy, though. You know the type.
Elena and her husband came over for dinner one night and Maisie made a big deal about me dropping a grand on a VR system. I came to the defense of the greatest technological wonder since cell phones and eventually convinced Elena to try it. To no one’s surprise, she loved it, and I was happy to see someone besides myself enjoy my new toy. I didn’t know Elena well enough at the time to show her the porn. Probably better I didn't.
A little about Elena. She’s tallish, about five-nine, I would guess. Thin, with breasts that look good with the right push-up bra and a tight shirt. She has an intoxicating smile (much like Maisie) and a joyful, bubbly laugh. She oozes positivity from every pore, and yet under the surface, she’s as pragmatic a person as I’ve ever met. Down to earth, I guess, is a good way to put it. Her interests run the gamut from arts and crafts to poetry. She likes vacations in the wilderness as much as nights as the club.
From the first moment I met her, I was smitten with Elena. As I got to know her better, I realized she wouldn’t be a good match for me. We shared the same anxieties about the world, viewpoints that Maisie had helped me overcome. All things considered, there was no such thing as a competition between the two of them. And it didn’t have anything to do with Maisie and I being married or that we were trying to have a child.
I loved Maisie, and she was my girl, and I was her man. Nothing in the world was ever going to change that. Not money, not fame... not the surprise arrival of a naked Natalie Portman knocking at my door on a rainy Saturday night.
Elena was a nice fantasy, something to occupy my mind while we sat around the dinner table talking about how horrible that last episode of The Walking Dead was. That you don’t have TWD here is, by the way, one of the greatest shortcomings of your universe. And I’ll stop saying that when it stops being true.
A little bit about Maisie, since you’re probably starting to think I only have eyes for other women. Maisie is gorgeous, both inside and out. She has her own set of issues, but at the core of who she is, there is love and empathy. Long dark hair; eyes like chocolate diamonds; full lips and bright teeth. And while she and I have both let our diet and exercise fall by the wayside in our years together, I’ve encountered no sensation in this world like having her body pressed against mine. When she stares into my eyes, I see her soul and she sees mine.
I love her, I guess, is what I’m trying to express to you.
Over the years, I’d fantasized about Elena whenever she and Angel came to visit, or when we visited them in Houston. It was never anything more than mild infatuation brought on by years of being with just Maisie. And it wasn’t that I necessarily thought Elena would be any better in the short or long term.
Elena was just different. New.
It worried me when she moved back to Austin because it meant we would see more of her. More dinners. More double-dates. Just more. And though I’m not a trained psychologist, I had a fair idea of how the world worked. Elena at the house more often meant familiarity. Familiarity would engender intimacy. Intimacy would be misinterpreted, and then two marriages would be in jeopardy.
That line of thinking consumed me for months, and I kept going back and forth between fantasy and knowing I was committed to Maisie. The one thing I’d been hoping to avoid started happening: I began to resent my marriage.
It took me a long time to understand what was happening in my head and in my heart, and eventually I came to the conclusion that it was unreasonable to resent Maisie. It wasn’t as if she were the one keeping me from being with Elena. A lot of things were keeping me from being with Elena, so let’s extend this to all women. Maisie wasn’t holding me back from finding another woman. It’s not like she had some supernatural hold on me.
I loved her, yes, but at the most basic level, staying with her was a choice. That choice meant I couldn’t openly flirt with Elena, invite her to lunch in the middle of the week, and then sneak into the bathroom with her at Maudie’s.
Everything in life became binary for me. One or zero. This or that. Maisie or Elena. It couldn’t be both.
At least, that’s what I believed then.
A little about me. I’m thirty-six years old. Six feet tall (there are no five eleven men in the world). Not overly handsome, but nothing you would run in fear from. Athletic in spirit but Hagen Daas in body. A generally nice guy, but sarcastic in nature and somewhat of a poor storyteller. I work (or worked, I guess now) at Applied Harmonics in Northwest Austin doing theoretical research on string theory and trans-dimensional reverberation.
That sounds like a real thing, right?
Honestly, I don’t have much to do with the research part of it. My buddy Monroe and I were just developers; we translated crazy brainiac ideas into code. We worked closely with mechanical engineers who build the systems on which our code runs. We were like a triumvirate of cutting-edge technological innovation, which is exactly the same phrasing I used on my LinkedIn profile.
Applied Harmonics was founded on the idea that every atom in our universe has a resonance, a vibration that not only can be measured but altered. The how of it is much too big a topic to cover here, but suffice to say it’s not just a theory, or else I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.
In some distant universe, that’s exactly the case. Actually, there are infinite universes in which none of this is taking place.
If you accept that as truth (and honestly, why wouldn’t you, unless you hate science), then the inverse has to be true as well.
There are infinite universes in which everything that is happening here is happening there. There are even universes that seem nearly identical with just a few minor changes.
In one universe, I look away when Elena bends forward to put her drink on the coffee table. I don’t see the black lace of her bra or the milky skin of her breasts. I don't fantasize about reaching out a hand and slipping it into her shirt.
But in another universe, I do.
This is how it all started, with a committed husband having an idle thought about ravaging his wife’s best friend. In his universe, the very idea strikes him with glee and disgust. It’s not possible. It’s wrong. And more than anything, he chooses not to do anything.
How it ended... how we got from there to here, is a story that spans lifetimes and universes. It reaches into the furthest depths of love and depravity. Worlds will be destroyed. Lives forever altered.
I’m not a bad person. Everything I did, I did to protect Maisie, our marriage, and our future family.
Your skepticism doesn’t change the veracity of my story, nor does it have any bearing on my motives. You may think the idea of universal infinity to be nonsense. And I get that. It’s hard to imagine other yous. Out there living their lives. Making better choices. Making worse choices. There’s a universe where you got the girl, got that promotion, and made millions of dollars. There’s another where you lost it all, ended up on the streets, and died cold and alone.
If you don’t like to imagine the latter scenario, then go ahead and keep thinking you’re the only you. There is only one finite universe, destiny is a sham, and you’ve been in control your entire life.
If that’s good enough for you, put the book down and go find something else to do. For the rest of you, my name is Luis Rogelio Bernandino Ortega, and I’m not from here.