01 Feb The world isn’t flat, but it isn’t round either
Ten years ago, I pulled my wife’s scorched, lifeless body out of a Florida swimming pool.
We had only been married for three days. You read that right. Three days.
I wish the story didn’t start there, but it does.
Avery Jones was my soulmate—she was funny, spunky, and cute as hell. I was so deeply, ridiculously in love with her and for good reason. She was way out of my league, but somehow, she liked me enough to marry me.
After six months of dating and another six months of engagement, we got married in a humble chapel in the Wasatch Mountains just outside of Salt Lake City. The next day, we flew out for a ten-day honeymoon at a beachfront resort in Fort Lauderdale—a wedding gift from my parents.
On our second day there, while laying out on the beach, gnarly clouds blew in, accompanied by the heaviest rain I had ever seen. We laughed at our luck, packed up quickly, and ran with the rest of the beach-and-pool-goers towards the hotel.
“Come this way,” Avery said, pulling me down a narrow stone path through the landscape to a secluded cave installation under a bridge.
Laughing hysterically with the help of our rain-diluted Mai Tais, we shed our dripping wet clothes and towels and sat down on the pool chairs in the cave.
“You know we could swim right here,” Avery said, pointing to the portion of the pool covered by the faux rock.
I pretended to think it was a bad idea, then tackled her into the water. We splashed and wrestled around for a few minutes by ourselves, the heavy rain clapping outside the cave.
After a few minutes, I hopped out and grabbed a couple dry towels from a nearby chair. I kicked my feet up and sat back, sipping my drink.
Avery began an interpretive, synchronized swimming routine in her bright blue bikini. She whipped her auburn hair back and forth and swung her hands above her head with effortless grace. Even though she was joking, I was mesmerized. She was mine. I was hers. It was surreal.
But then I got a feeling. A horrible feeling. One that said disaster was imminent.
I didn’t say anything to Avery though. Since I prided myself on being rigidly pragmatic, giving credence to feelingson only our third day of marriage seemed like a bad idea.
Whether it was a premonition or not, lightning struck the pool with a deafening crack.
A deadly shockwave surged through the pool, killing Avery instantly and shooting me back against the rock wall.
Once my hearing and sight returned, I saw Avery floating face down in the pool, twenty feet away from the cave. I yelled for help and jumped in. Hotel staff ran over and together we got her out of the pool. Medical staff arrived shortly thereafter and then an ambulance. She was pronounced dead on site. The next day, we flew home, one of us seated in coach, the other in a body bag stashed below deck.
I fell into a funk after the funeral and never recovered.
I was convinced Avery was my soulmate, so when she died, the world fell out of working order. Nothing made sense anymore. I never dated again nor had any interest in women. Or people, for that matter. I took a job in Texas, bought a townhome, and quickly got into a routine. I talked to my parents occasionally but only returned home maybe three times over the last ten years.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. Hell, not even an hour.
As our tenth anniversary approached, the data analytics firm I worked for was bought by another company and I was let go. Though I was initially pissed, my tune shifted once the generous severance check came in the mail. The night the check came, I drank a lot and stumbled through Avery and my wedding album. Sometime around one in the morning, I made a decision. I decided that a decade of mourning was long enough. I decided that the next ten years of my life weren’t going to be steeped in self-pity. I would make something of myself. I’d read books again, I’d make videos again, I’d make friends, I’d pick up the guitar.
The next night, with a drink in hand and money in the bank, I sat down at my desk and developed a plan with a vague goal of getting out of the country for a little bit. Somewhere around two in the morning, I fell into the rabbit hole called the Flat Earth Theory. I spent the next three hours reading and watching YouTube videos. For some reason, it all got funnier and funnier as the night went on. I didn’t accomplish much that night, but by the next night, I had a solid plan.
Over the next couple months, I sold my townhome, bought a camera, and booked an around-the-world trip in five flights. My objective was to document my travels and prove, once and for all, that the world was round.
For the three weeks before my trip began, I moved back to Salt Lake City with my parents, who were surprisingly supportive of the endeavor.
In my first video, I explained the rules: I would travel east until I made it back home. I would have a compass on me at all times. I would be awake and alert at all times of travel. Anyone who was staunch in their belief that the world is flat would likely think I’m faking the whole thing, but that wasn’t really the point of the trip. I was trying to become a new man, remember.
The day before I left, I was feeling nervous and oddly existential—more so than normal. This was big. Traveling around the world by myself. I never dreamed I could have done something like this, especially since Avery died. Part of me was proud of myself, the other part of me was questioning what the hell I was doing. Whatever it was, I decided to leave something behind to commemorate my existence.
I stayed up late scrolling through thousands of pictures, and ultimately choosing four for print: Avery and me on our wedding day, my cousin and me on skateboards, my parents and me last Christmas, and a horribly awkward picture of me standing by myself outside my Texas townhome.
I rolled the pictures up tight, stuffed them in a dry Guinness bottle, then took the bottle and a shovel up the mountain behind my parent’s house. About a quarter mile up the hill, I found a nice clearing amongst the scrub oak and dug a hole two feet deep. With my headlamp, I could see Avery’s eyes peering at me through the thick brown bottle. I cried for a good five minutes then tossed it into the hole. I covered it the best I could and returned home to get a couple hours of shut eye before flying out.
My dad drove me to the airport the next morning.
I flew from Salt Lake to New York, New York to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Shanghai, Shanghai to Los Angeles, then Los Angeles to Salt Lake. I’m intentionally not getting into too much detail about the trip itself, because that’s not really the point of me writing this. Okay, okay, I’ll indulge a little bit.
How long did the trip take? A little over a month. I spent about a week in each place and three days in LA.
Did I have fun? Hell yes. I had the time of my life. I realized that being away from the drudgery of my routine allowed some of my old self to reemerge, my pre-lightning-strike days. I made friends, I was funny, I was charming. It was a little weird honestly.
Was it good for me? Other than what I’m about to tell you, yes, it was fantastic. I truly feel like a changed man.
Did I gain a following? I actually did. I mean, I didn’t go viral or anything, but as of this writing, I have about 50,000 subscribers. Most think the Flat Earth Theory is BS, but some are believers. I don’t know if any of them will ever read this.
How do you feel about that lame time capsule now? I know you probably didn’t have this question specifically, but this is important to me. The longer the trip went on, the more embarrassed I felt about the time capsule I left in the ground behind my parent’s house. The life I conveyed in that bottle was tinged with regret, loss, sorrow. Particularly my apathetic face standing in front of my stupid townhome or with my parents on Christmas. I decided, on my trip, that I wouldn’t replace any of the pictures in the time capsule, but I would add some—change the ending of my story, if you will. Okay, enough of that.
Is the world round?
That’s where things get complicated. I successfully stayed awake during all hours of travel, which was very difficult. Especially that Amsterdam to Shanghai leg. Good god. But I can confidently say that I traveled east the whole time and successfully made it back to Salt Lake, which would rule out the whole flat earth thing, but I can’t confidently say the Earth is round either.
Here’s what happened.
When I got home, both the front, back, and side doors were locked. I tried the garage keypad, but it didn’t work. When I texted my mom, it failed to go through. Then I tried my dad. Same thing.
I brushed it off, telling myself that a month is a long time—my parents could have switched cell carriers and could have changed the garage code.
With no way into the house and nothing to do, I decided to make the planned modifications to my time capsule right then, even though it was dark out. I trekked up the mountain with a shovel from the back porch and found the spot twenty minutes later. I dug cautiously and successfully extracted the bottle. I saw Avery’s eyes again peering at me through the brown bottle, this time a little foggy from sitting underground for a month.
As I pulled the rolled-up pictures out, I decided that merely adding new pictures wasn’t going to solve my problems. I needed a ritual, a way to symbolize my rebirth. I thought about ripping up the old pictures or burning them. I thought about collecting everything I still owned of Avery’s and throwing it into a bonfire. Perhaps I wouldn’t be able to move on until I could erase Avery—the personification of my old, deceased self—from my life. Like I said before, I was a new man.
Then I saw something at my feet.
With the flashlight on my phone, I saw that I had dropped one of the old photos.
It was the picture of me and my parents at dinner last Christmas at the Grand America Hotel. Only in this picture, there was a fourth person. A beautiful woman about my age with fair skin and long auburn hair. It was Avery.
I was confused at first. Perhaps I had put a different picture in the bottle than I had thought. God knows Avery and I had gone to plenty of dinners with my parents when she was alive. But I wouldn’t have done that. I already had a picture of Avery and me on our wedding day. That was enough. I remember distinctly thinking one picture of Avery was enough.
Then I looked closer at myself in that picture. It was definitely from last Christmas. It was 33-year-old me, not 23-year-old me. I had a beard last Christmas, a feat I could not have managed when I was 23. Since I printed the pictures only a month before, I pulled up the original on my phone with numb, shaky fingers, and held them side by side. It was the same picture.
I had before me two distinct realities—one in which Avery was alive and one in which Avery was dead. Everything else was the same.
How the hell is this possible, I thought.
The picture of our wedding day was the same. So was the picture of my cousin and me skateboarding. The picture of me standing in front of my Texas townhome was different though. Instead of a townhome, it was a small red house, apparently still in Texas. And, of course, Avery was standing next to me wearing a green plaid button-up shirt.
Avery would have pursued her degree in Nursing had she lived, I’m sure. The dual income would have allowed us to buy a house instead of a townhome, I figured. But still, what the fuck is happening?
My knees grew weak and I sat down, looking back and forth between the two pictures with Avery now in them. She truly was stunning, more beautiful than I remembered.
I stumbled into a new reality. I don’t know how or when, but here I am, in a world where Avery lives. I’m sure that isn’t the only difference, but it’s the only one I’m aware of as of this writing.
If I truly am in a new reality, what happened to the old one? Am I missing? Did I get duplicated? Did that old reality disappear?
I laid on my back in the crunchy snow and closed my eyes. Where do I go from here?
A pair of headlights flashed through the Aspen trees and I sat up abruptly. A car was pulling up the driveway. I shuffled my way down the snowy banks close to the house. I remained perched there for about five minutes before the kitchen lights clicked on and I saw four people emerge.
Two of them were my parents—looking the exact same as they did in the other reality.
Then in walked Avery.
Then, in a moment even more unsettling than seeing Avery alive, I saw myself enter the room.
My heart was pounding.
Other-me was wearing the same outfit I’m wearing today, even sporting the same scruff. The only difference was the little bit of gray hair above his ears.
I slid further down the hill to get a closer look. For a moment—a long moment—I forgot about my replica and watched Avery. She was gorgeous in person, more gorgeous than in pictures. She had always been that way.
This is what my life would look like if I hadn’t been such a coward, I thought, feeling a tear trickle down my cheek.
The four of them talked and laughed excitedly, eventually shedding their coats and moving to the front living room. I climbed down the rock wall and ran around to the front of the house, hiding behind a group of pine trees near the front stairs. My dad left for a couple minutes and returned with a bottle of wine and four glasses.
I fell deeper into a daze watching them—mostly Avery. They had a great time chatting for at least a couple hours while I sat like a fool between the pines, my toes and hands freezing. She was so effortlessly charismatic, so charming. The way she talked with her eyes, the way her teeth flashed when she smiled, the way she leaned in when she was engaged. Everything about her was perfect. What I wouldn’t do to steal this man’s reality…
I watched other-me and Avery say their goodbyes and exit through the kitchen. Their car doors slammed shut and I realized that I was going to lose them. In my reality, I was living at home while I did my around-the-world trip. Where would I have lived if I was still married to Avery? We had always talked about returning to the Salt Lake area eventually. Maybe they did it.
As they rolled down the driveway in their 2019 Honda Accord (nice choice), I ran to the side of the house and found an old bike from my childhood rusted against the wall. Both tires were flat, and the front brakes didn’t work, but since my parents lived way up in the mountains, wherever other-me and Avery were going was downhill.
Even though I went as fast as I could, they were long gone. Obviously. My twenty-five-year-old junkyard bike didn’t stand a chance. But I kept going, rolling past the church, the junior high, then through the Oak Hills neighborhood all the while wracking my brain: If Avery and I were still married, where would we have lived?
It wasn’t a fair question to ask myself. After all, we had known each other for a little over a year and had only been married three days when she died. In this other reality, other-me and Avery had been married ten years. That’s a lot of time to know someone. People change, opinions change, circumstances change. I can’t read other-me’s mind, so all I could do was hope for a miracle.
As I was about to turn the corner onto Orchard Drive, I saw a pair of taillights in a driveway off a side street—Fair Oaks Drive. Of course, I thought. Avery and I talked about renovating an old home on Fair Oaks one day. But man, that was one conversation when we were engaged. Impressive that they (we?) pulled it off.
My vision was blurry from biking almost a mile downhill in freezing temperature, but as I got closer to the house, I recognized the car to be theirs. I snuck around the back of the house where I had a view of the living room and kitchen. I smiled looking at the renovated—well, mostly renovated—home. Pictures of Avery and other-me lined the walls. There was even an old stand up piano in the corner. Just like the one Avery had always talked about. I found a little slice of heaven. This is everything my life would have been had I acted on that inner voice to pull Avery out of the water ten years ago. Instead, I’m a depressed bum living with my parents.
They made their way into the kitchen and took off their coats. Other-me started on the dishes and Avery sat on the couch, eyes glued to her phone. I figured they were exhausted. It was midnight after all.
After a minute, Avery stood up and walked down the hall. I ran to the other side of the house to try and get a view of her, but as I turned the corner, an outdoor security light came on and I ducked down in some bushes. Other-me put the dishes down and walked to the back window to inspect. Then I heard a crash from inside—where Avery was. Other-me jerked around then stopped in his tracks.
Go help her, I thought. You cowardly bastard.
I returned to my original post in time to see Avery stomping down the hallway and into the kitchen. She was red hot furious. She walked right up to other-me with a piece of paper in her hand. I couldn’t hear exactly what she said, but she screamed something and threw the paper at his face. Other-me put his hands up as a weak defense.
What did you do to Avery this time?
As other-me tried to explain away whatever was on that paper, Avery grew more furious. She paced to the kitchen and barked something else then picked up a glass other-me had been in the middle of washing and threw it across the room, shattering on impact. Who the hell is this woman?
Other-me continued to speak calmly in defense, but there was no slowing Avery down. She grabbed a picture off the wall and threw it hard on the ground, the wooden frame crunching. Other-me backed away slowly, moving to the other side of the kitchen island.
Then Avery pounced.
She ran at him with unrestrained vengeance and shoved him hard against the kitchen cabinets. He held his hands out again, pleading for her to calm down. She grabbed a plate from the sink and swung it at him, but he moved out of the way and it shattered violently against the cabinets behind him. This only made her madder. She shoved him again, then clawed at his face. Other-me got tangled in his feet and stumbled against the fridge. She slapped him hard against the side of the head and he yelped in disbelief.
Again, he begged for her to stop, but she didn’t. She hit him three more times in the face while he slumped to the ground. After the third hit, one of his eyes was already swollen shut and blood was streaming down his face.
Avery walked to the other side of the kitchen island and I breathed an audible sigh of relief.
Avery, the girl of my dreams. The girl that made all my friends jealous. The girl I had on a pedestal for the last decade. A monster.
I know that we tend to forget peoples’ negative attributes after they’ve passed, but there was not a violent bone in Avery’s body when I knew her. Not even an aggressive one. She was sweet, kind, loving. Not like this. Not at all.
What happened to her?
As I watched the other bruised and bloodied version of myself weep on the kitchen floor, my world crumbled.
All this time I had hated myself for not listening to that voice, for not pulling her out of the pool and saving her life. If only I had done that, we could have gone on to create a beautiful life together—finish school, build careers, buy a house, get a dog. We’d do it laughing and playing the whole time, like two kids in love. I’d be complete forever. But with that one lapse in judgment, Avery died along with the entire vision for my perfect future.
That’s not how life would have been. This is how life would have been, with me crying on the kitchen floor with blood running down my face and shattered dishes all around me.
Is it possible that my reality—the one I came from—was the better life?
There was another crash and a scream from the bedroom.
Avery round two.
She stomped back into the kitchen and other-me stumbled to his feet. Again, he tried to calmly plead, but again, she wasn’t having it. She yelled at him for another minute then threw a coffee mug at him, shattering against his shoulder. He backed away from her, moving to the backdoor close to where I was hiding. I ducked down further.
The door burst open and other-me went sprawling past me, tripping and falling into the snow.
Avery stopped in the doorway and scoffed. “You think you’re better off without me, don’t you? That’s what all this is about,” she said.
“Avery, please. Think about what you’re doing. Look what you’ve done to me just now. We cannot keep living like this. I cannot keep living like this. I’ve put up with it for far too long,” other-me said and stood up.
Avery began sobbing quietly, her arms folded tight.
Other-me took a step toward her.
Don’t get any closer to that thing, I thought.
“You’re right. You’re so right,” Avery said, tears running down her cheeks. “God, I’m so horrible to you. You don’t deserve this. You deserve someone better. Far better. Someone who will love you no matter what. No matter—”
Other-me stayed composed while she cried.
“Will you ever forgive me?” she said.
There was a minute of silence. I tried to steady my breathing despite feeling like I was going to explode.
Other-me swallowed hard and widened his stance. “No. Avery, this is it. I’m doing this. It doesn’t mean we’re over; it just means—it just means I need some time. Away.” He turned his back to her and walked to the front of the house where the car was parked.
Avery huffed and slammed the back door, returning to the kitchen. I peered my head up and saw her going to the knives next to the stove.
I thought about intervening but didn’t know how.
She carried a knife to the front door. I ran around the side of the house, past the security light to the front.
Other-me had just turned on the car and was starting to back out of the driveway when Avery appeared with the knife.
“STOP!” she screamed at him, trying to block his path.
Other-me continued backing out, his eyes growing wide when he saw the massive knife in her hand.
“STOP THIS FUCKING CAR RIGHT NOW!” she screamed and tried stabbing one of his tires, but its rotation kicked the knife of her hand. She quickly picked it up off the driveway.
He pulled into the street and sped away, leaving Avery standing in the driveway in her pajama shorts with a giant knife dangling by her side. When the headlights were gone, she dropped the knife and began crying again.
My first instinct was to comfort her, an instinct that I quickly overruled. I only watched her in pure bewilderment.
Never should have left fucking Texas.
After a few minutes, she returned inside and I could hear her cleaning up the mess.
That’s when something dawned on me. I made a time capsule because I was about to do something big—something life-changing. For me, I was about to embark on an around-the-world trip. But why would other-me make a time capsule? Was he also planning something big?
Before I could follow that train any further, I realized that the paper that set Avery off a few minutes before was now sitting in the middle of the driveway. I stood up carefully, making sure I was out of sight and grabbed it. With my phone as a flashlight, I read the paper:
SLC to JFK – 12/28
JFK to AMS – 1/4
AMS to PVG – 1/12
PVG to LAX – 1/19
LAX to SLC – 1/23
I let the crumpled paper fall to the ground. He was planning the same trip I just came from.
Which meant he was going to experience what I just experienced. Probably.
If he makes it around the world and returns to Salt Lake, he would be stepping into a new reality. If anyone deserves a new reality, it’s that guy, so I didn’t try to stop him.
Lightning struck a tree nearby, knocking me to the ground, and killing the power to the rest of Fair Oaks. It began to rain.
I walked to Orchard Drive and followed it to Dee’s—the only 24-hour diner on this side of town. I’m writing this on a borrowed laptop in a booth that Avery and I had occupied many times when we were younger.
I don’t know what happened to the reality I came from—if I’m now missing or dead or what. I don’t know what will happen to other-me if and when he makes his trip around the world. I don’t know if there are other other-me’s planning around-the-world trips too—thereby disrupting who knows how many more realities. How many other realities are there, infinite?
Frankly, I don’t even know what will happen to this post once I publish it. I assume it will be trapped in this reality forever, but who knows how this works. Just a few hours earlier I smugly thought I had figured out the answer to the embarrassingly juvenile question: Is the world round?
My cab just got here, so this is the end of the line for me. There are plenty of unanswered questions here, questions I hope I’ll eventually find answers to. All I know now is that I don’t like the reality I came from and I don’t like the reality I’m in now, so there’s only one way to go. See you in New York, other-me.