Mom was a quiet person. She was different, though, than any of the other married people I had ever met. The difference was that her mate clock did not read: 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes, 0 seconds. Dad didn’t know that though. She kept it covered. The only reason I ever saw was because I walked in on her changing one day. I don’t think she saw me, but I saw that she still had numbers on her wrist.
“Momma, tell me about when you met Daddy,” I asked that night before she put me to bed. For a moment, I could read the terror in her eyes, but she suppressed it as quickly as she could.
“Oh, why don’t I save that for another time? You’ve still got plenty of time to wait until you find your mate, honey.” Glancing down at my own wrist I read six thousand, nine hundred and thirty-seven days, seven hours, twenty-four minutes, twelve seconds. Six thousand, nine hundred and thirty-seven days, seven hours, twenty-four minutes, eleven seconds. Ten seconds, nine, eight, seven, six, waiting.
As a child, my very best friend Maura and I would always dream about our moment. The moment when our clocks reached zero and we met our soul mate. We would act it out and draw what we thought it would look like. We’d watch movies and see actors meeting their mates, and ask everyone we knew about how they found theirs.
“I bet it’ll be in the hallway at school. Maybe in the lunch room he’ll offer to buy me a soda.” I was always jealous of Maura, her clock had much less time on it than mine. We did the math and found out that she would be only sixteen when she found her soul mate. She would find him on February nineteenth at twenty past eleven in the morning. I had to wait until well into my twenties until my clock ran out.
In the fifth grade, we grew to know a new fear. Fear that our clocks would never reach zero. Fear that we could die alone. To us, a life without that zero on our wrist meant a life that was hardly worth living.
In the middle of class one day, during math, a boy who I didn’t know very well started convulsing and fell out of his chair onto the floor. I saw his face, and it looked so pained, like every bit of him was being ground up with a cheese grater. The teachers thought he was having a seizure until they saw his wrist.
The numbers that had always been a fun game, or to some of us, even a security blanket, were blinking. Numbers, and then nothing, numbers, and then nothing, numbers, and then nothing. He screamed out in pain and his wrist blinked one last time, and then went blank. His numbers never reached zero. He was supposed to meet his soul mate on his twenty-first birthday, but then there was nothing.
He took some time to regain control of himself, and the teacher helped him get to his feet. Instead of taking him to the nurse, she took him to the school psychologist.
When the teacher returned, she told us that sometimes a person’s soul mate dies before they get the chance to meet. That was what we had just witnessed. It looked so painful physically, but none of us could imagine the emotional toll it would take.
By high school, couples were starting to form out of the matched pairs. There was one couple that everyone was quite interested in. They both had dead soul mates, and bonded together through that pain. Those two boys were the cuties of the school. Everyone knew their stories and pitied them, but also looked up to them as they were able to overcome such emotional troubles.
Maura, the stereotypical cheerleader, ended up with not the football player she had hoped for, but a soccer player, a close second. He was a senior and she was a sophomore when he walked in from a rainy practice to buy something from the cheerleader’s bake sale.
Maura made it sound all romantic. She claimed that he handed her a dollar and she handed him a cookie and their hands touched and they looked into his eyes and it was love at first sight. Honestly, I think she loved the thought of a soul mate more than she ever loved him, but they were happy.
On the other hand, I still had years until I was going to find my partner, which meant I needed to plan for the future. Many of the other girls who had found their soul mates didn’t want to go to college, but I had no other choice. I had to get a job and start my adult life before I found someone to complete me.
By the time I graduated college to become a museum curator, I had mostly forgotten about my childhood dreams of finding the perfect man. I had more important things to do.I was passionate, energetic, and ready for work. I loved what I did and did what I loved. I felt free and independent.
It was a typical Monday morning, and I was running late. I didn’t normally check my wrist count down, but that morning I didn’t even have time to glance at it. After dodging in and out of traffic on my bike to get to work on time, I was fixing my hair as I walked in to see the new trainee. There was only one, which I thought was strange, as they normally came in packs of three or four, but I shrugged it off.
We went through all the ropes and it wasn’t until lunch that I realized my wrist read 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes, 0 seconds. Slightly embarrassed, I walked up to the shy girl and held my wrist up to hers. We matched.