This month’s guest post on Fictional Lessons for an All Too Real Life is artist and author Matthew Curry. Matthew describes himself this way: “I live in a small town in Northwest Georgia with a black cat named Frances. When I’m not at the mill, I’m at home, writing and drawing. I recently self-published a Southern gothic novel called Citizens of Purgatory. You can find it on Kindle. I’ve also written Under the Electric Sun, a young adult science fiction novel.”
I’ve been a devoted fan of Doctor Who since I was about 10. I used to watch it on Georgia Public Television every Saturday night. It was one of the highlights of my childhood. I was heartbroken when the BBC pulled the plug on the series in 1989, but I never forgot about the ancient, mysterious Time Lord. When the show came back in 2005 with brilliant cinematography and crackling dialogue, I thought I was dreaming. It’s surreal to see it become more and more mainstream. This afternoon, when I was wandering through the grocery store, I saw the Doctor on the cover of TV Guide.
One of my favorite new episodes is called The Girl in the Fireplace, written by Steven Moffat. (I use the word “new,” but it aired in 2006.) The Doctor travels to the 51st century and lands on a spaceship that appears to be empty and forgotten. As he wanders through the ship with Rose and Mickey, he finds an old-fashioned fireplace with a fire burning inside it. When the Doctor squats down and peers inside, he discovers something even more bizarre: there’s not a wall in the back of the fireplace. Instead, the back is open … and there’s a room on the other side. A young girl is sitting on the floor, warming herself and looking back at the Doctor. The fireplace is actually a portal through time. The girl lives in 18th century France. Her name is Madame de Pompadour.
After having a brief conversation with her, the Doctor explores the rest of the ship and finds other portals. Each one takes the Doctor to a different point in Madame de Pompadour’s life. He encounters her during her childhood and later in her adult life. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but I will tell you this: after popping in and out of the portals for just a few minutes, the Doctor accidentally weaves himself through Madame de Pompadour’s entire life.
In one scene, the Doctor says, “It’s lovely catching up, but I’d better be off. You wouldn’t want your mother running into you with a strange man.”
Madame de Pompadour replies: “Strange? How could you be a stranger to me? I’ve known you since I was seven years old!”
Startled, the Doctor says, “Yeah, I suppose you have. I came the quick route.”
The older I get, the more I think about this episode. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think The Girl in the Fireplace says a lot about the way people in different age groups relate to each other.
When you’re ten, for example, ten years feels like a huge span of time. It’s infinite. It’s your whole life. But when you’re thirty, ten years doesn’t seem so vast anymore.
I’ve been pondering this concept a lot, especially since I turned thirty a few years ago.
Now here’s another layer of mind-boggling weirdness to all this: I’m thirty-four years old and I’ve lived in the same apartment since I was 21. Even though I’ve lived here a long time, it doesn’t feel like a long time to me. Somehow, this apartment still seems like a new addition in my life. Meanwhile, my neighbor, a lady named Kim, moved into the upstairs apartment about nine years ago. When she first arrived here, she had two young children — toddlers, more or less. One of those toddlers is now a teenager. The other is rapidly approaching adolescence. I feel a strange flutter of wonder and sadness when I realize how my life looks from their point of view. I’ve been living here as far back as they can remember. When they were wearing diapers and singing along with Barney the dinosaur, I was living in the downstairs apartment. From their perspective, I’ve lived in this building since the dawn of time. They have no memory of a time when I didn’t live downstairs.
When I was a kid, I remember hearing adults say, “They grow up so fast, don’t they?” It always puzzled me, because I felt like my childhood was dragging by in slow motion.