December 24th, 1998
Vancouver General Hospital
Raymond Kroll was damned if he was going to die in bed. His wasted claw-hand swept the sheet off and he sat up, a significant effort. Raymond hadn’t stood on his own power nor been this lucid in weeks. His roommate, another AIDS patient, was asleep and took her breaths in sharp snorts. Painfully Ray stood and made his way to the window.
He could see the moonlit snow-covered mountains to the north. But he really wanted to look east, toward Ontario, where he had been born. Since he had discovered he was HIV positive (six years earlier) he’d been looking for a way out. A way back. Raymond always suspected it was a matter of how you looked at it. And when. With great effort he cracked the window open far to squeeze his gaunt face out into the cool air. A massive coughing spasm started, but he forced his eyes open, looked east and imagined his mind was floating back.
In an hour, the nurse made a round of the ward and found Raymond’s body suspended by its chin from the window sill. It was 12:15 AM.
Merry Christmas, thought the nurse.
December 24th, 1964 – 11:30 PM
Wellesley Hospital, Toronto
“Oww. The little bugger’s early.”
Sandra was being wheeled toward the maternity ward.
Her husband Todd had returned to the house to manage the chaos of three other children on a disrupted Christmas Eve. He hoped his wife would not deliver until his sister could be brought in to look after the children.
No such luck. At 12:15 AM on December 25th, 1964 Sandra Taggart had a five and a half pound baby boy. When smacked by the doctor, the infant made an “urk” sound. For a second the doctor was worried, but the child was breathing normally. The baby had wide staring eyes and, when finally cradled in Sandra’s arms, seemed to just glower at her. Sandra had always been sensitive to others’ thoughts and could have sworn the child was thinking: “who are you and where the hell am I?”
“His name is Raymond.”
“But Sandra, that’s not any of the names we discussed.”
“Look Todd. He’s a Raymond. Just look at him. He’s got Raymond written all over him.”
Todd observed the child in the bassinet. He held a rattle and wasn’t really playing with it, Todd thought, more like analyzing it. Todd could see no indication the child was more like a Raymond than say, a Nicholas or Thomas. Todd looked back at his wife. Her jaw was set and pulsing. He looked at the child. Worth a fight? Was the name objectionable? He picked the baby up and held him high. “Hello Ray. What’s new?”
John Ross Robertson Public School
“Ray is bored, Mrs Taggart. Simple as that.”
“Is this why he’s ‘disruptive’ as you put it?”
“You bet,” said the teacher cheerfully. “It’s like everything’s review for the poor guy.”
“What do we do?”
“Accelerate him to Grade Six.”
“And put him into the higher level classes.”
“Is he that smart?”
“Mrs Taggart, he’ll be a failure if we don’t challenge him.”
Christmas Eve, 1976
89 GlenCastle Street, Toronto
Ray was watching A Christmas Carol with the rest of the family. The four kids were tangled in an amorphous mass on the floor, covered by a huge green blanket. It was the special Christmas blanket with its holes and faded images of Santa Claus. They were getting to the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Future.
Shortly Ray heard Alistair Sim say: “Before I draw nearer to that stone, answer me one question: are these the shadows of things that must be or are they only shadows of things that might be?”
Ray’s brain started to function oddly. Where was he? What’s going on? When the film ended he abruptly stood. His eyes were glazed.
“We’ve got to watch the news.”
“His older bother said: “You’re eleven. No one watches news when they’re eleven.”
“We’ve got to watch the news. I’ve got to know what’s going on in Berlin.”
“Change the channel.”
This is not my little boy, thought Sandra.
“Dad, change the channel and humour him.”
The news had nothing on Berlin.
“Where’s the Wall? They’re supposed to be showing pictures. What’s going on?” There was the hint of hysteria in Ray’s voice.
“Raymond, come here,” said Sandra.
“No! Where is it?”
“Mom, he’s losing it again.”
Soon Ray was an incoherent mass of tears in Sandra’s arms.
University of Toronto Medical Services
“I can’t sleep.”
“Any cause you’re aware of?”
“I have this recurring nightmare.”
“For how long?”
“I think since I was eleven.”
The very newly graduated psychologist made a note on his sheet of paper. “Can you describe it?”
“Well, I’m on a train. And it’s very crowded. And hot. It’s sort of like a party; there’s this girl — with wonderful blue eyes — and we get along.”
“Sounds like an OK dream.”
“In the end we’re both dead.”
“I’m not sure. It’s just the certainty we’re dead that I remember when I wake up.”
“How often do you have this dream?”
“Couple times a night.”
“Every night? Since you were eleven?”
“How many years is that?”
“In your position I’d be … well, less stable.”
“My family is unconvinced of my stability.”
The psychologist laughed. “Sounds like you’ve got something stuck in your mind that’s bugging you. Why didn’t you seek help earlier?”
“Well, I have always been short on sleep. But now that my studies are actually challenging, I find not getting enough sleep a real pain.”
“What are you taking?”
“I want to specialize in paranormal psychology.”
“Well, good luck with it. I guess we better find a way to get you more and better sleep.”
“That’d be nice.”
“Have you ever undergone hypnosis?”
“I’d like to try, if it’s OK with you, to put you under and see what we can find.”
In a little while, Ray was in a trance and thinking about his dream.
“I want you to stay completely relaxed and tell me what you see.”
“I’m on a train in Germany.”
“Where are you headed?”
“Are you alone?”
“The train is packed, but I’m travelling alone.”
“Why is it so crowded?”
“We’re all going to celebrate Christmas at The Wall.”
“The Berlin Wall?”
There was a pause. “They’d been knocking it down since November and I wanted to experience it first hand.”
The psychologist was confused. In 1982 the Berlin Wall was considered stable. “People were knocking down the Berlin Wall?”
“Yes. Didn’t you see the news?”
“No. What is the full date when you are on the train?”
“December 23, 1989.”
Dr. Shannon had the sudden irrational feeling he was being bullshitted.
“How old are you on that date?”
Shannon had heard and read about past lives being uncovered via hypnosis, but future lives? In ’89 Ray would be twenty-four. Hardly the arithmetic for reincarnation.
“What is the date today, Ray?”
“November 12, 1982.”
“And how old are you now?”
Dr. Shannon was glad he was recording the interview. He still wanted to find out more about the trauma, regardless of problems with dates.
“Well, Ray, back to the train. I understand you met a girl.”
“What was she like?”
“Lovely. Another backpacker. Bright blue eyes.”
“Were you taken with her?”
“I thought I was in love.”
“You met her on the train. What happened next?”
“We joined forces to try to find accommodation. Not a chance. It’d been a miracle that we got a seat on the train. We gave up looking and went to where the various knock-down-The-Wall-parties were held. It was amazing — people took turns bashing sections to a pulp. Later that night we realized we had to sleep. We found a spot in the woods to put down our sleeping bags — not too far from the Brandenburg Gates. We were scared shitless the police would arrest us, but they were busy. The next day was Christmas Eve. It was a magical day as we roamed the city. We were scared that we’d freeze that night — the temperature had really dropped. In what was still East Berlin we encountered a family who were thrilled by the prospect of taking us in for Christmas. We were a charming couple and had hard currency.
“We made love for the first time in a dingy room on a small bed after everyone (we hoped) had gone to sleep.”
Ray started to cry; his face was twisted in anger and frustration.
“Distance yourself, Ray. Just observe.”
Ray calmed down: “We travelled together for a couple of months after that. When it came time to go to our respective homes, we broke up but stayed friends. Berlin had been one of my fondest memories until 1992.”
“She sent me a letter saying she was HIV positive.”
Dr. Shannon paused. “AIDS?”
“She developed it soon after I got the letter.”
Dr. Shannon knew little of the disease in ’82. He dimly recalled it being a problem in the gay community of San Francisco.
“I died of AIDS in 1998.”
Dr. Shannon brought Ray out of the trance. They looked at each other.
“That was odd,” said Ray.
Convocation Hall, University of Toronto
Ray was graduating with distinction in psychology. He was happy; the day was beautiful and sunny. As he and his classmates trooped into Convocation Hall, he looked for his mother, Sandra. He spotted her and saw the smile that belongs only to a mother who has put her last child through school.
Also in Ray’s line of sight was a very familiar face. But it was déjà-vu. Ray was certain he and the other young man had never met. Perhaps he’d seen him around campus. The ceremonies were tedious as per tradition. Norman Jewison, the Victoria College alumnus and film maker, gave the guest speech. Although he was interested, the presence of the familiar yet unknown figure across the auditorium had triggered déjà-vu with respect to the whole graduation.
At the end, as people were filing out, Ray kept an eye on the familiar face. Sandra greeted him. He hugged her hard, took her by the arm and pulled her out onto the lawn of King’s College Circle.
“Where are we going?”
“In pursuit of an adventure.”
“Life has been an adventure since the moment you were born.”
“Well, at least I’m consistent.”
They hurried across the lawn. Ray was certain of where déjà-vu-face would be. He was being photographed by an equally familiar, if rather heavy, father. Ray barged in.
“You’re Raymond Kroll, aren’t you?” he said, shaking his hand.
“Er, uh, yeah. Have we met?”
“Not as such. I’m Ray Taggart. I’m testing my psych work. You just graduated in Comp Sci with an 83 and you’re off to continue your summer work with IBM, right?”
“This is a joke right?” asked Kroll.
Sandra looked at Kroll’s eyes and suddenly recalled the first time she had set eyes on her son’s face. She shivered.
“Nope. I’m just a little odd. Have a great day.” Ray Taggart took his mother’s arm and ambled away.
“What was that all about?”
“You know. I know you know. Tell me what you’re feeling.”
“You and the other Raymond have the same eyes.”
“Yes. He will become me, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Explain this … reincarnation?”
“Sort of. Pre-incarnation may be more accurate. In 1998 he will die of AIDS and be born as me.”
“In the past.”
“You are weird Raymond. What makes you think this?”
“Do you remember that hypnosis session I went through in First Year where I talked about a relationship with a woman in 1989?”
“Well that was him. Raymond Kroll. He’s going to go see the Berlin Wall and meet her.”
“And get AIDS, if I remember the story correctly,” said Sandra.
“You do indeed. And now I have a moral dilemma.”
“What is it? Let me take your picture. Hold still.”
“Well,” said Ray as he posed, “do I take advantage of my knowledge and save Raymond Kroll?”
She snapped the photo and let her arms drop. “Wow. If he doesn’t die of AIDS, that implies you won’t be you. And I would be a different person too.”
She took another photo.
“But,” he continued, “there is risk in saving someone from, say, a car crash. However, if you knew there was a chance to save them, what would you do?”
“I’d risk it,” she said.
Ray decided to see if he could collect enough information to make a rescue plan. The obvious solution was to call up Raymond Kroll and teach him about safe sex. Boys, Ray believed, were notoriously dense about the whole subject. How many friends did he have who worried about contraception after having sex? Many. Plus they were all trained in health class in the 70s to wear a condom in order to prevent babies. STDs were secondary. At that time, VD wouldn’t kill you.
Ray didn’t have much faith in the idea of confronting Raymond Kroll in Berlin, stuffing condoms in his hand and telling him to wear them during the months in which he would be dating his girlfriend.
The plan evolved to delivering the safe sex message to both of them. The problem with this plan was information. Despite knowing a lot about Kroll, Ray did not recall the woman’s name. Nor was he sure Kroll would have known when she picked up the virus.
“OK, Ray, I’m ready to hypnotise you and try to find out these facts you’re after.”
“The tape’s running?”
Raymond knew self-hypnosis and it was easy for his colleague to put him under.
“I want you to think back to the time you went to Berlin.”
“You are relaxed and will remember all the facts pertaining to the situation.”
“What was the young lady’s name — the lady on the train who you met?”
“Where was she from?”
“I understand that she wrote you a letter — after your relationship — telling you she was HIV positive.”
“Did she tell you at anytime how she contracted it?”
“She told me she suspected she picked it up after a party in London.”
“I’m not sure. It was a party celebrating Australia’s Bicentenary.”
Ray listened to the tape over and over. Not much to go on. The Australian Bicentenary was to be in January 1988. London was a big place; the party could be anywhere. At a family dinner, Ray asked: “anyone know if there’s an Australian neighbourhood in London? Or where Aussies would hang out?”
“Earl’s Court,” said his sister.
“It’s a district of London,” added his brother.
“Why do you ask?” said Sandra.
“A friend of mine went to a great party in London and said it was in an Aussie neighbourhood. I couldn’t imagine there could be such a thing.”
Sandra heard the partial lie in his voice.
After dinner, in private, she asked him: “Ray, what are you plotting?”
“Well Mom, my research into Kroll has led me to a woman named Sylvia who, apparently, picks up the virus at a party in London. The only lead I had was the Australian holiday. Now I’ve narrowed it down a bit.”
“So you’re going to try to save both of them.”
“Try is the key word.”
Earl’s Court, London
Ray had saved up his money. He’d travelled to the UK and toured around England before heading to Earl’s Court. He had been unable to locate Sylvia in the phone directory. There were too many Johnsons and too many variations on the spelling. Another complication was the date-line. It was possible to celebrate the Australian Bicentenary on two nights. From what he could gather the Aussies planned to do so on both nights. Finding Sylvia would be tricky but he hoped his déjà-vu circuit would help in recognising her.
The Prince of Teck was the Aussie Pub with the largest crowd. He started there and wondered what he was going to do when and if he found her. Telling the truth seemed a little impractical.
In the pub he bought a Victoria Bitter, found a piece of wall to lean against and watched the door. Gradually the pub became so full he could barely move. The din of celebrations drowned out the CD jukebox. A man noticed Ray’s Ontario lapel pin and said: “How are you liking Aussie madness?”
“Not bad, you?”
“They’re teaching me to drink beer.”
“How’s that going?”
“A bit too well. You look really familiar. Did you go to school in Toronto?”
“Yes, Victoria College.”
“Shit. Me too. It’s amazing — here we are in London getting pissed with Aussies after spending years at the same school. I’m Robert Ford.”
“Ray Taggart.” They shook hands.
“You here on your own?”
“I’m, er, waiting for someone.”
“Christ it’d be hard to find anyone here — what does she look like?”
“How did you know she’s a she?”
“It was an inspired guess.”
“Blonde with blue eyes.”
“I’ll help you look as long as she’s not my ex-wife.”
“Her name’s Sylvia.”
“Phew. Good. I couldn’t deal with a co-incidence like that.”
“‘Allo Rob, you bastard. Who’s this?”
“Ray, meet Ernie, an Aussie rugby player with an attitude and a 150 proof liver.”
“G’day. Rob mate, there’s a party at this sheila’s flat — you know that Kiwi?”
“After they kick us out of here, we’re invited.”
“Care to join us, Ray?”
“Uh, sure.” He hadn’t found Sylvia yet and was beginning to think it unlikely he would.
The flat was up a long narrow flight of stairs. Ray, Robert and Ernie ducked to avoid hitting their heads as they ascended.
Once the door opened they were hit by a blast of music, smoke and chatter. There were shouts of greeting by people they didn’t know. Robert and Ernie made their way to the refrigerator to store the beer they had purchased on the way over.
Ray looked around the crowded living room and found Sylvia in conversation with two others. There was no doubt who she was. Ray found himself a drink and walked past her listening intently for a cue to join in the conversation.
“When I was in America last year, people were so rude.”
“Are you including Canada in ‘America’?”
Within seconds, Ray was embroiled in a discussion regarding the usage of the word ‘America’.
He stuck with Sylvia throughout the party.
Robert homed in on them and asked Ray: “Is this Sylvia?”
“Er, yes, Sylvia meet Robert. He graduated with me from University and we’ve never met until tonight.”
“Hello,” she said, “how do you know my name?”
Robert, although drunk, had the wherewithal to notice Ray was biting his lower lip. “It was an inspired guess; you look like a Sylvia.”
“How does one look like any name?”
“It’s a matter of being called a name long enough to take on the characteristics society associates with that name. I know of a fellow who’s idiot father nicknamed him Thor. The poor bastard had to live up to the impossible and eventually was shot by police in a hostage-taking incident.”
“So you’re saying that naming him Thor caused his violence.”
“There naturally had to be other factors, but I’m sure it didn’t help.”
Sylvia and Robert continued to debate while Ray relaxed.
Ray later escorted Sylvia home and they kissed warmly.
“How long are you in London?”
“Another day or two.”
“Can I give you the insider’s tour of London?”
“Sure,” said Ray, “as long as we can visit the British Museum.”
“I haven’t been there in years; certainly we can go.”
The next day was spent poking around the non-tourist parts of London. Ray enjoyed every moment. They spent the afternoon in the British Museum until it closed. In the room with the many clocks from every era, they sat, admired the collection and kissed passionately.
After closing time, they had a romantic dinner and Ray wondered where this was headed. It seemed like he was stealing Raymond Kroll’s girlfriend months before he would meet her. So what? Ray thought. He had already changed history by intercepting Sylvia at the party. His hypnosis-induced memories may no longer be accurate.
Back at her flat, they made out on the settee. In a while they were in the bedroom, helping each other out of their clothes. Before things became too advanced, Ray produced a condom from his day-pack.
“I’m on the Pill,” she said.
“What’s your point?” said Ray, smiling.
“Well. Condoms are so …”
“Too bad. We don’t know where we’ve been.”
“This is new — most men I’ve known just don’t talk about contraception. Did you buy those specifically for tonight?”
“No, they’re a standard part of my shaving-medical kit. I take it you don’t carry condoms in your purse.”
Ray went over to her purse, which was on the night table, and put three condoms into it. “Now you do. You can buy little cloth carrying pouches that look much more pleasant that these plastic wrappers.”
“You’re a fashion consultant and a safe-sex advocate.”
“Losing the mood, Sylvia?”
“A little, yes.”
“Put it this way. Consider that all of what I’m doing is a moment of lucidity before my intense desire for you utterly shuts down my brain.”
“Get over here.”
The next day, Ray left London. He had promised to call Sylvia from his next destination and to send postcards. Ray did neither; Raymond Kroll deserved a chance in Berlin.
89 GlenCastle Street, Toronto
Ray had worked in Toronto for the last few months to earn money to go to West Germany for Oktoberfest, the knocking down of The Wall, a toy festival in Nuremberg and Raymond Kroll’s encounter with Sylvia.
As he prepared his backpack, his mother sat on a chair and stared at him.
“Yes mother, this is it. By Christmas it’ll be all over.”
“How will you know it worked?”
“Then why go?”
“A sense of completion and I love travelling.”
Ray watched The Wall come down; it was glorious. The one thing he owed to his hypnosis sessions was the foreknowledge of the collapse of East Germany. It was a party he’d have regretted missing.
December 23, 1989
Ray sat on the floor of the West Berlin train station. Every time a young couple emerged from a train he twitched a little. Had he already altered history? What if his fling with Sylvia had put her off travel? He frowned at the thought. What if he’d affected Raymond Kroll somehow?
The two left the train — together. Sylvia and Raymond Kroll stood in the midst of the crowd, trying to determine where to go. Ray Taggart stood and shouldered his pack. He strode toward them, head down. As Sylvia neared, and almost passed him, he adjusted his pack and clipped her with it.
“Watch it,” said Kroll.
“You,” said Sylvia.
“Sylvia?” said Taggart.
“Raymond Taggart?” said Kroll.
“You know him?” Sylvia frowned.
“We went to the same school. Where did you two meet?”
“Over a year ago,” Taggart said. “In London — drinking with Australians on the Bicentenary.”
“This is most odd,” she said.
“How is your shoulder?”
“It’s fine. What are you doing in Germany?”
“Bit of Wall bashing.”
She moved closer to Kroll and took his arm. “Raymond and I are here because we just didn’t believe it was happening. So we just had to come.”
“I felt pretty compelled to come here myself.”
The three headed toward the exit. Sylvia held Raymond Kroll’s arm tightly. Once in the ticket area, Sylvia announced with certainty that she was visiting the WC.
Ray grabbed Kroll. “Listen. There’s not much time.”
“What is going on?”
“Don’t think. Listen.” Ray Taggart stuffed a piece of paper in Kroll’s hand. “I have booked you both a room — I know neither of you have accommodation. Go there and have a great time and consider it a Christmas present from me.”
“Why? You don’t know me.”
“Yes I do. Better than you think. And, as crass as this may seem, take these.” Kroll found he now held condoms.
“Trust me, Raymond. She was not a safe sex practitioner when I met her and few in our age group are. You wouldn’t want to ruin your Christmas would you?”
“No, but, really.”
“Trust me. And for God’s sake put those rubbers in your pocket and don’t tell her I gave them to you. Got it?”
Ray Taggart left.
On Christmas Eve, Ray Taggart was lying in bed watching A Christmas Carol on Sky TV. He was pleasantly drunk. When the time was right, he rolled over to the phone and called home.
“Ray!” said Sandra. “Are you OK? How did it go?”
“Well … … I’m not sure really.”
“Are you drunk?”
“Like the proverbial skunk.”
“I intercepted them and gave Raymond a ‘safe’ Christmas present and that was it.”
“Did it make a difference?”
“Let’s just say the future didn’t turn out quite the way I remembered it.”