Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)
Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsau, James Hong, and Jamie Lee Curtis
139 minutes, Rated R
There is an alternate reality that starts in the fall of 1999. In that alternate reality, my girlfriend, Sara, would have had no reason to lie about her whereabouts on a particular summer night. She would have had no reason to be deceitful to the man she had been cheating on me with, and I would have had no reason to be suspicious of why he was in her apartment on an unseasonably warm day in the first week of October.
In this alternate reality, she would have been honest with me about her pregnancy. More importantly, she would have been honest with him, and I would now be the proud father of a 23-year-old man. In my imaginings of this alternate reality, that child, who may not have been the only child, in this imagined reality, that I would have with Sara, would be not at all like the children I actually have in my current timeline. He would have loved baseball and wanted to play and been good at it. He would have loved Star Wars, and we’d have had many conversations over the past decade about the movies of the MCU and how they detracted from (or, in some instances, improved upon) the source material. He would have, likely, also taken after his mother and been blessed with impeccable musicianship. He would have been interested in guitar and, like his dad, worshipped Joe Satriani.
My own children– the real ones, not the hypothetical brethren sired in a fictional, fractured timeline– have no interest in baseball. Much to my chagrin, they are interested in football, a sport that I have never fancied (or understood), but is fanatically followed by my wife’s side of the family. They could not care less about Star Wars. Or Star Trek. Or The Muppet Show. They have an impenetrable lack of interest in my obsessively-large collection of Marvel Comics. They know nothing about AC/DC beyond the knowledge that “Money Talks”, as a song to listen to on car trips, is catchy. They do enjoy camping and fishing, but are not quite yet brave enough to try either if they have to endure colder weather. They like monster trucks and flight simulators and can tell you everything there is to know about tractors. They are, in short, nothing like me, a man who would rather read a book than play video games, but I would change nothing about them. They are frustrating, but they hold my heart in their tiny, little hands.
As a life-long fan of Fantastic Four comics and a staunch devotee of science-fiction writers like Philip K. Dick, I am well-educated in the various tenets of multiverse theory. I have experimented with it in my own writing. I have used it as an escape– sometimes for fun, sometimes for comfort– while pondering what the present might have held for me had I made a different choice in the past. What if I had followed my gut and not married Michelle in 1997? What if I had taken our marriage counseling more seriously when the end of our marriage seemed imminent? What if I had not fallen into the cold, angry grasp of drug addiction and spent that time more wisely on anger management and coping mechanisms for my own depression? What if I had moved to New York in 2007? Well, I wouldn’t have met my wife, for starters. For obvious reasons, without her, I wouldn’t have my precocious, You-Tube-addicted, obsessed-with-football twins. All roads, every decision, if a different choice had been made, would erase her from my present and, sadly, take them with her.
I’ve been thinking about this idea of multiple timelines a lot lately, the notion that I had many opportunities in the past to prevent the debilitating grief I have been saddled with for the last few months. It’s been on my mind because my wife left me. She abandoned our marriage first, but then she abandoned our house. After that, she began to abandon me. I fought it for as long as I could, but once she began to abandon any sense of logic or honesty about what really went down in this house over the last couple of years, I decided that I no longer had the energy for a losing battle.
She blames the demise of our marriage on something I might have said years ago, something that she took to be condescending or belittling, something that gave her the indication that I never valued her opinions. I see it differently: even if I acknowledge that my words– whatever they were– made her feel a certain way, she never brought it to my attention. I was never given a chance to fix it, to atone for it, to explain myself and prove that my intent was never how she took it. She waited years to call me on my supposed infraction and now . . . I can’t defend myself. Her mind is made up. Any attempts to convince her otherwise are seen, viewed, and attacked as further proof that I’m a condescending asshole who doesn’t value her opinion or minimizes her feelings. It’s a tight and ugly juncture she’s cornered me in, and, as unfair as it feels, my only recourse is to take these metaphorical punches on the chin and hope that my sense of self-worth remains in a fixable state when she’s through.
I like to think that there is a fracture from my current timeline where I apologized for whatever I said. In this timeline, she called me on my poor treatment of her and I was able to set it right. Finding that point of road-forking and moving forward from there would certainly save me some of the grief I currently feel, but it would also erase this trauma from my psyche without losing the existence of my children. I’m assuming, since there was a point that she wanted to have children with me and start a family, my damage to her love for me happened after they were born. The problem therein is that she is just as unclear about when I might have said whatever I said as she is about whatever I might have said in the first place. It all ends up amounting to a vague and unsettling accusation that she believes that she has spent many Earth orbits tolerating what could be perceived by some, depending on how she words it when recounting our demolition to others, as abuse. Maybe it did happen before they were born. There’s no way to know, and, until she can articulate it, I am stuck without a fixed point in time to begin the remedy. My only option to feel whole again, without her specificity, is to remove her completely, my love for these two brilliant children we sired be damned.
So . . . There is an alternate reality that starts in 2007. In this reality, I have moved to New York and taken a job as a playwright-in-residence at a fledgling theatre company in Hell’s Kitchen that really loves my work but has difficulty competing with more-established theatre companies because of their location and lack of funds for promoting. I would have met her by then, but I wouldn’t have become transfixed by her pale, green eyes. Depending on how soon before I fell for her this timeline begins, I would no longer be a drug addict, but I might still be frequently intoxicated. I might– let’s face it– also still be flying through life by the seat of my pants, getting by on charisma and talent and floating aloft on the billowy, cloud-like accolades of the work I was producing. I’d be prolific, and possibly acclaimed, but I’d still be a mess. I wouldn’t have bettered myself any further than I had to in order to maintain my creative streak. I would have been content with that alone. The creative streak, I mean. More than likely, my own foibles– imperfections that I only addressed because of my love for her– would have left me right where I started: a gifted and ambitious drunk that maintained a reputation of being difficult to work with due to my own need for complete creative control.
She made me a better person. There’s no denying that. Her love and support for me as I became a work-in-progress for probably the third or fourth time in my life was instrumental to my own re-creation as a human being. One touch, a light hand to the side of my face, a deep look into my eyes, a light kiss on my temple was enough to say “You’re better than this” whenever I reverted into old habits. Seven beers could easily become two instead, just knowing that she adored me more sober. Punching the wall because I was angry became a count to twenty and some long, deep breaths because her arm was around my shoulder and I didn’t like the way my anger frightened her. Semi-frequent trips to the bar to be social became nights at home as I held her hand and watched pre-recorded episodes of our favorite shows on the DVR. A night at home with her, even if we were watching programming that I wasn’t all that interested in, made me feel better in the morning. I wasn’t waking up with a headache, nursing a hangover. I was breathing in fresh air and getting high on that, for the first time in a decade or more. She made me a better person, and the fact that she wanted to marry me and instigated a desire to raise a family is proof enough of that. I am grateful for that, and I am yet to find a point of multiple timeline convergence that lets me keep the work she did on me and allows me to keep my children, but still eradicates the sorrow I feel when she looked me in the eye and said, “I’m not in love with you anymore.” Those words hurt. I doubt I can ever forgive her.
I’m realistic. I know that multiple timelines are the stuff of science-fiction novels, episodes of Star Trek, comic books, and Oscar-winning films that star Michelle Yeoh. I know that it isn’t truly possible to pinpoint a moment where I could have done something different and not woken up tomorrow feeling betrayed, dejected, and alone. I understand that there are no split-second decisions that I can refresh and choose differently. I am not a character in a third-person Choose Your Own Adventure novel, like the ones I collected when I was a much-more-carefree child. I do not have the ability to flip ahead and see where the story takes me, and then flip back to choose a different page because I don’t like where the tale ended up. I am not delusional. But . . . I am heartbroken. I am destroyed, and if I could change that, I could. If I could know what I said and when I said it, I would choose different words, alter my inflection, or just shut my fucking mouth and say nothing at all. The point is: I would fix it. I was never given the chance.
The most important part here, the thing that I really want readers to take from this, is that I’m fine. I have resigned myself to the fact that I can’t change her decision. With that said, I’m not always okay. I’m not sure if that makes sense . . .
I’m fine, but I’m not always okay. I have two beautiful children who need me right now. Two beautiful children that need some semblance of nothing’s-going-to-change in regards to their relationship with their old man. I’m a good father (she said the same in a recent argument, which made me feel good, despite all the other terrible things she was saying about me) and I have no plans to be anything but as their mother and I work out the fine points of this, in my opinion, completely unnecessary debacle. We still have a good number of years for camping trips, fishing excursions, monster truck shows, and arguing about why we’re watching YouTube instead of an actual, you know, television show or movie. There are many repairs and upkeep-type actions that need to be done to my house– things that I’ve let slide as I waited for her to come home and help me. I am newly resigned to spending free time being creative, writing more– blog entries, short stories, work on a screenplay. There are friendships that I have neglected, relationships with people that deserved better than I’ve been able to provide while my entire life crumbled into pieces. I’m fine. I have a trajectory.
But, as I said, I am not always okay. I am unfairly damaged now in ways I can’t quite express. The smallest, dumbest things can make me cry. I go through bouts of depression, sleeping too much, eating too little. Talking to people about what happened becomes an intensive all-systems exercise in keeping my cool, not angrily divulging how much I hate her right now for not giving me the opportunity to make my transgression right. I struggle with the knowledge that, if not for my kids, the last sixteen years of my life have been a monumental waste of my time. She was never going to love me as much as I love her, and that reality is painful beyond the words that I might use to describe it. Most painful: I regret her. Maybe that’s improper, so I feel guilty about it. Guilt leads to a need to make amends, but I can’t fix this, so the cycle begins again. Regret, guilt, pain, regret, guilt, crying for long stretches of time because Blink-182 is on the radio. That’s her favorite band. I only like them because of her.
I want a timeline where I can keep my beautiful children, reignite the maintenance of the friendships that I’ve neglected during my self-loathing crash and burn, and be prolific and creative without the aid of Woodford Reserve. I want a timeline where I can keep those things, but still abolish having my still-beating heart pulled directly out of my chest. There is, however, no such thing. Every choice has dictated a choice that led to an option that brought me face-to-face with something I had forgotten I needed and I know I couldn’t live without. That aside, multiple timelines, fractured histories, and alternate realities are the stuff of science-fiction. If science-fiction were possible, I’d be saving for a jetpack.
This is my reality right now. My reality is keeping it together in front of my children so that they don’t come out the other side as damaged as I am. My reality is a better effort in providing love, respect, and support to those in my life who deserve it for all the things they’ve done for me. My new reality will be full of creativity and beautiful words on paper from pen. My new reality is a focus on the things I’ve lost that I am given an opportunity to fix. Instead of an alternate reality, I will create a new one. I will be my best me, instead of the worst version that has consumed me. The best me, in a new reality, a reality in which I can move forward from this devastating, debilitating, damnation and look back fondly and say, “You made me a better person.”