<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> IT'S SAFE TO SAY your relationship is finished if the only way you can imagine solving your problems is by borrowing a time machine. Snow was falling on Avenue B, and for months my thoughts had been growing darker each day. I'd been going back and forth on whether to break up with Taylor, my partner of fifteen years, and that morning had decided to leave him. Blizzards in Manhattan usually cheer me up. They blanket the city with a sedative, allowing everyone to cancel plans and stay home, but on that day in December of 2006, I was glumly thinking about my life when Taylor called me at the store. <p> "Would you make your turkey meatloaf ?" he asked. "And pick up a bottle of Veuve Clicquot." <p> "Meatloaf <i>and</i> champagne?" I asked, thinking the weird combination sounded like we were celebrating being broke. He also knew I didn't drink, and envisioning him tipsy on the one night I needed him sober increased my irritation. "What's the occasion?" <p> "Today I proved time travel is possible." <p> "Really?" <p> "I sent a condom back to 1979." <p> "For <i>real</i>?" <p> "Yes. For real." <p> I knew I'd said the wrong thing. If I could select one superpower, it would be the ability to predict that I was about to say the wrong thing. It's not a power that would save the world, but it might rescue my relationships. <p> "I'm just ... surprised." "Flabbergasted" and "incredulous" were actually more accurate terms. For the past five years, Taylor had been working on this government-sponsored time machine project—which I kept hearing about, even though it's supposed to be top secret. (You'd think the Feds would understand national security is never going to trump the need for two gay men to complain about their jobs.) I'd tried to be supportive, but the truth is I'd always thought building a time machine was more in my line of work. I'm a comic book dealer and spend every day with grown men who inhabit fantasy worlds. It was fine with me that Taylor believed time travel was possible, but I thought the chances of him building a functioning time machine were about as likely as my chances of being bitten by a radioactive spider and being transformed into a wall-climbing, web-shooting hunk. <p> Honestly, I'd thought the charming Taylor had just suckered the government into giving him a well-paying job where he could play around with their billion-dollar toys for the next twenty years. No one expects his boyfriend to call and say, "Hey, I was out walking today and found a ring. It's hallmarked 'Made in Mordor'" or "I hung your sweater in the wardrobe and now it's being dry-cleaned in Narnia." I was still trying to wrap my head around the idea that Taylor had built a time machine, but it was like trying to wrap my head around the Big Bang. I also felt envious that his dream of a lifetime had come true on the same day my dream disappeared into a black hole. His announcement confirmed my belief that I was about to be unhappy for a long period of time. <p> "Jesus Christ, John. Try not to sound so thrilled. You ruin everything." <p> "I'm sorry." <p> "I'm sure on the day Edison came home with his bulb, the missus didn't bemoan all the candles and kerosene she'd recently bought." <p> "You're right. I'm proud of you. It's incredible." <p> My apology was heartfelt, but it was hard to feel happy for Taylor's success while mourning the failure of our relationship. I felt more anxious about telling him "it's over" than when I first said "I love you." He might not even be surprised by my announcement, which would only reinforce my conviction we were finished. I'd had doubts about whether I was making the right decision, until I sadly realized it would be almost like telling a stranger, "I don't love you anymore." <p> It would have been easier to boot Taylor if he'd done something conventionally unforgivable. He wasn't violent or abusive and hadn't cheated on me with another man; a fickle heart or wayward penis might have caused me to give him a second chance, but it was his brain that had strayed. One of the few smart decisions made by our dumb president was putting Taylor Esgard in charge of the Chronos Project. The Department of Defense had been trying to build a time machine ever since President Kennedy started the program in 1962. Their machine never worked. It was tested in 1965, 1977, and 2003, but each time they threw the switch, New York City suffered a major blackout. <p> On 9/11 Taylor had been working at the old laboratory next to the World Trade Center, trying to ascertain whether the dud machine was fixable. He and his crew barely escaped before the towers came down. Once history crashed into the Bush administration, time travel became a priority for them, and Taylor insisted on starting over with his ideas in a new location in SoHo. On that traumatic day, I was thankful that Taylor had escaped physically unharmed, but after the attack, he became a Republican, proving that a national calamity can transform a bona fide genius into an idiot. <p> "I'll be home at seven," he said. "There's still a few phone calls I have to make." <p> At 9:30, he still wasn't home and still hadn't called. I was furious. He was always late and needed a fucking time machine to be punctual for once. The meatloaf had congealed in its pan and the ice in the champagne bucket had melted. There'd be a sincere apology followed by some lame attempt at humor. "Oh," he'd say, playing the absentminded physicist card. "Time is relative everywhere in the universe, except in my office, where it's constant. Constantly late." It was fortunate the MacArthur Foundation never heard any of his science-whiz jokes before they awarded him their so-called genius grant. <p> I sat on our boomerang sofa, drinking a glass of mineral water. I wanted a glass of red wine, but had boarded the AA train in my early thirties and wasn't about to let Taylor derail me. Our apartment was filled with vintage '50s pieces that Taylor began collecting when they were still cheap. Figures a gay Republican would collect furniture from the McCarthy Era, I thought. Our dog, Bartleby, was lying at my feet, and I bent down to pet him. We called him Bart for short—he was a beagle/basset rescue—and Taylor always greeted him each morning with "Hello, delicious!" His delight in talking to our dog always made me feel momentarily charmed even when Taylor and I weren't speaking to each other. <p> After fifteen years together, most of our bickering took place entirely within our own heads. We were a typical long-term couple and had established a comfortable routine where we liked to argue and have sex once a week. The fundamental difference between our temperaments was that Taylor could wake up and become angry with me before he'd had coffee, while I needed two cups to feel bright-eyed and hateful. <p> On our Noguchi coffee table sat an unopened letter from the New York chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans. They were a group of gay men whose political platform advocated big dicks and small-minded government. The previous year Taylor had joined their board. <p> Taylor called himself a libertarian. He claimed to want Americans to be free of the authority of the state, while I retorted that Republican libertarianism meant preserving the right not to care about other people or the planet, being ruled by corporations, in addition to being publicly opposed to the legalization of pot. <p> For a while, I tried to accept Taylor's divergent political views as if he were a family member who was mentally ill; I kept telling myself schizophrenics hear voices, and right-wing conservatives listen to the real crazies on talk radio and cable news. It didn't help. My attempt to tolerate his intolerable beliefs was only driving me insane. <p> I'm sure many people would argue my primary reason for breaking up with Taylor was inconsequential. Plenty of couples have opposing political views and seem to get along fine. Taylor and I had other disagreements, but they never imperiled our relationship. We argued about what color to paint the kitchen—the red/blue-state divide was an Eggshell/Canvas White split in our house—but our political differences revealed a schism in our values that I found unacceptable. <p> My life had also changed after 9/11. Two women I'd been friends with for years, Elena and Sonia, had asked me to be their sperm donor, and we had a two-year-old named Isabella. They lived in Santa Fe, and I visited them three or four times a year, often with Taylor. It enraged me that he supported policies that would make Isabella's world less free, less safe, and less inhabitable. Over time, I began to believe I was sleeping with the enemy of my daughter. I'd discussed this with Taylor, and we had many bitter blowups. His sarcastic response was that if lefty dogooders can only coerce people to do the right thing by incessant nagging, then his side would win every time. We tried couple's counseling, but there were sessions where our therapist seemed like the moderator at an especially vicious presidential debate. Taylor's failure to recognize how important these issues were to me had slowly made me feel I was sleeping with my enemy also. <p> While getting more mineral water, I passed a picture of the two of us taken the previous year on a rafting trip down the Copper River in Alaska. We were standing in front of the snow-capped Wrangell–St. Elias Mountains amid a field of magenta fireweed. I still felt the tug of my attraction to him. Taylor was tall and handsome with thinning brown hair. He looked like a Y chromosome, broad shoulders tapering down to a narrow waist. He'd rolled up his shirtsleeves and I noticed, for the thousandth time, his thick forearms ivied with veins. Powerful forearms always get me; there's something irresistibly attractive about a man who looks as if he could break my heart with his bare hands. <p> My cell rang. It was him. <p> "I'm sorry," he said, before I could speak. "I know I fucked up. There's a car waiting for you. Come down and meet me at my office. I'll show you around and then we'll go out to Chanterelle for dinner." <p> Taylor's "office" was the site of the time machine at the Singer Building at Broadway and Prince. I'd never been allowed inside before. I was curious to see it, but I was also pissed. <p> "It's late and now I'm tired. I'll see you when you get home." It wasn't entirely animosity that made me want to stay home; I had been on my feet all day. <p> "Please just do this for me," Taylor asked. "I know I fucked up dinner. I'm sorry. It was beyond my control and I should've called. But it got crazy here. This has been the biggest day of my life. I think if I was busy that's a reasonable excuse." <p> One of the unheralded benefits of middle age was that it had convinced me that everyone's heartbeat is a distress signal. I didn't want to go, but could hear Taylor's SOS. Ignoring his cry for help would make me feel Republican. <p> "I'll be there in a few minutes." <p> "Thank fucking God," Taylor said before hanging up. <p> Downstairs no town car was waiting. I had to call Taylor and then wait in the blowing, wet snow—each flake was the size of a snot-drenched handkerchief—for him to call me back. By the time the car arrived fifteen minutes later I was as nasty as the weather. As we drove to the Singer Building, I began regretting my decision to go, leading to the inevitable questioning of my own life. For the most part I enjoyed what I did for a living, but since it wasn't exactly what I set out to do, it felt like happiness once removed. I'd once dreamed of drawing and writing comic books, but was afraid to find out if I was talented enough. I'd failed to even try to be a failure, which is the real definition of a loser. I'd always thought that the one choice I'd made that I'd never regret was picking Taylor for a boyfriend. But when he became a Republican he proved to be my biggest blunder. <p> I wanted back the guy I fell in love with—the one who didn't confuse being tough with being mean or charity with weakness. He used to make me laugh, a skill you never fully appreciate until someone makes you cry or yawn. He was extremely intelligent, at least in areas other than politics. He was never cheap except for unpredictable outbursts of frugality that were more comical than distressing: "Will you please close the door on the refrigerator? The bulb's going to burn out." And for my late December birthday, he always celebrated what he called "Johnukkah," eight nights of birthday gifts and treats. <p> The driver stopped in front of the green cast-iron and red terra-cotta building. It was hard to believe a multibillion-dollar project was headquartered inside. From the outside it appeared to be a clothing boutique closed for the night. Taylor was waiting on the sidewalk. <p> "Thanks for coming," he said while hugging me. <p> "You could have called," I grumbled, unable to see that the same impulse that compels boys to burn ants alive with a magnifying glass drives boyfriends to make remarks that do nothing but cause pain. <p> "My boss is here and he asked to meet you. We'll make it quick and then go to dinner." <p> "Why's he want to meet me?" I snarled. "I don't care about meeting some nerd who won first prize in his high school science fair for splitting an atom with a Swiss Army knife." <p> Taylor stopped and turned toward me quickly. "That's it!" he shouted. "I can't take your constant hostility. This should be one of the happiest days of my life. I built a time machine. It's not some science fiction story, but a real working time machine. Something all my physics professors scoffed at, something that might even someday save our species' collective asses. But, no. What will go down in history today is that John Sherkston's fucking meatloaf got cold and his car was late. You know what you should try building? A full-length mirror. So you can see what a self-absorbed fuck you are. I'm really starting to think we're incompatible and should reassess our relationship." <p> During the ten-second stare-down between us, I noted several snowflakes landing and melting on his dark-stubbled cheeks, and ignored that Taylor always discussed "reassessing" our relationship as if he were an anthropologist observing us. It was a linguistic ploy to make him seem like the more rational of the two of us. Breaking the silence, I said, "I've been thinking that for a long time." <p> His dark eyes became colder than the wind as he turned away from me and walked to the entrance of the Singer Building. I was stunned and irritated that he had beaten me to the breach. The happiness advantage in a breakup always goes to the dumper not the dumpee. Now Taylor would always be able to claim he'd initiated our split. It was another example of why I couldn't blame all of my dissatisfaction with my life on Taylor. I'd made up my mind to leave him months ago, but I didn't follow through, since the only surety in my life is my perpetual ambivalence. (That's the perfect relationship that keeps eluding me: having someone in my life whom I can blame for <i>all</i> of my problems.) <p> I followed behind Taylor as he put his palm on a gleaming rectangle of stainless steel next to an intercom and a red laser shot out and scanned his retina. Within seconds, two armed soldiers opened the door. "Good evening, Mr. Esgard," said the taller of the pair. We walked through a women's clothing store and followed Taylor into one of the fitting rooms. He placed his palm against the mirror and a doorway was revealed. <p> "Your secret entrance is in a dressing room?" I asked. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Remembrance of Things I Forgot</b> by <b>Bob Smith</b> Copyright © 2011 by Bob Smith. Excerpted by permission of The University of Wisconsin Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.