Time Will Tell
By: Jim Bates

Have you ever thought about life changing events? Maybe it was your first kiss. Or first job. Or first marriage. Or…well, you get my drift – something significant happened that stuck with you your entire life.

For me it was when my friend Ernie plopped down next to me on the school bus and said, "Hey Joel, guess what machine controls your life?"

I was staring out the window hoping the bus would break down and give me a reprieve from my ninth-grade geometry test. I dragged my brain back to the grim reality of the present and mumbled, "I have no clue."

Ernie was a skinny, geeky kid in black framed glasses, who wore plaid shirts, khaki pants and red high-top tennis shoes. He was also my best friend and the smartest person I knew.

He grinned, giving me an eyeful of teeth along with a drum roll with his hands on the back of the seat in front of us. "And the answer ladies and gentleman, is….a watch."

"A watch?"

He grinned some more. "Yeah. Or a clock," he added to make sure I got it. Believe me, I had never been accused of being the brightest bulb in the pack. "Yep." He clasped me on the shoulder. "We are all controlled by time."

I looked at him, saw those big teeth grinning at me, and something clicked in that challenged brain of mine, like a light switch being flipped. He was right! Because not only was I aware of time, but I was also super aware of it! Keeping track of time was like an addiction. Every day I watched the clock in biology class tick ever so slowly to 3:05 pm when school let out. The bus picked me up for school at 7:16 am and picked me up to go home at 3:13 pm. Church was Sunday at 10:45 am. Next week I had to go to the doctor at 4:45 pm. If I wasn't watching a clock or my watch, I was thinking about doing it. It was obvious – I was hooked on time.

I looked at Ernie. "My, god," I said. "You're right."

"I know," he said. "I read it last night in one of my science books."

I will tell you right now, that day changed my life. I used to think something was wrong with me and my obsession with time, but the knowledge that timepieces ruled the world put everything into focus. I gave into my obsession and didn't fight it. And I always made sure I wore my watch.

A few years later, I came upon a saying by Henry David Thoreau that resonated with me. Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it and eternity remains. At the time, I wasn't completely sure what it meant (and to be honest, I'm still not) it gave me comfort that a famous man was just as aware of time as I was.

Ten years later, by the time I met my future wife, Beth, I had started my own little business, making metal steampunk clocks I sold online. I didn't make a lot of money, but Beth had a good job teaching fourth grade. We married, and life was good. After we started having children, we agreed I would stay home and care for them. I became a house-husband. I was good at it, too, because I was so conscientious of time. And if some people thought I was too rigid with days so well planned for me and the kids, well, that was too bad. I preferred to think that we were organized.

But here's the deal. Last year I had a dream. I remember it clearly, even to this day. I was in a city park with no one around. It was a dark night, and the wind was blowing. I had the feeling a thunderstorm was imminent, so I was hurrying. As I passed a bench hidden in shadows, a light suddenly revealed a hooded figure in a black robe. Somehow, I knew right away it was a Specter of Death waiting for me. Before I could run away, he grabbed me with an icy hand and pulled me close. I tried to escape but couldn't and stood frozen, watching in horror as he pulled back the sleeve of his cloak and pointed. He was wearing a simple watch. Something told me to lean closer, and I gasped when I looked at the illuminated dial. It read 10:30. I looked into his hooded face, and he spoke, a menacing voice cutting deep into the depths my soul. "I will be coming for you."

O. My. God. I had a 10:30 appointment with death!

I fainted and dropped to the ground like a stone.

When I came to, I was in bed. Beth was holding me, rocking me in her arms "There, there, Joel. It's okay. You just had a bad dream."

"No way," I said. "It seemed so real!"

She kissed my forehead. "Why don't you tell me about it?"

So, I did. When I was finished, I asked, "Do you think it's like a vision or something? I've heard of things like that."

Beth smiled and hugged me. "No, sweetheart. Those kinds of things have been pretty much debunked. There's always a rational explanation."

Her gentle words calmed me, and we soon fell asleep.

But I haven't forgotten my dream. In fact, I've had it several times since. Is it a portend of the future? Maybe. Am I going to die at 10:30? Morning or evening? Who knows? All I know is this: Time will tell. It's marching to its own drummer and answers to no one. Not even Death.


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