“Deep breath.” I whispered to myself, running my fingers over the heart shaped locket around my neck. Its multifaceted core contained immense capabilities that I was nervous to explore.
I knew what I needed to do, but the task ahead of me wasn’t an easy one: I was determined to do everything I could to free my girlfriend from death row. She had been imprisoned for no wrongdoing other than loving me. A fact that I could barely swallow.
It wasn’t enough that the country was horribly polluted, making breathing outdoors a nightmare. But on top of that, our government was run by a tyrant of a man who hated anything in defiance of heteronormativity. Which means he hated me too, but I’ve somehow managed to avoid detection so far. He made it hard for people like me to breathe while inside as well. Constantly in hiding for how we felt and moved within the world.
I am still not sure how the government found out about Aurelia, but they wouldn’t give me any information. Just the fact that she had been sentenced to death, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
And that’s what they do. They take anyone that doesn’t fit into their mold, and sentence them to death. To “cleanse our country”, despite the hypocrisy that they are the impure ones in how they treat people.
So far, I’d tried every way I could to get Aurelia out of lock up. I pleaded with the judge. I told them they’d made a mistake. I filed multiple appeals, and offered them every penny I had. I’d even looked into a jail break, but it was impossible. The only idea I had left was probably too insane to work, but I was completely desperate.
I lifted the little locket in front of me, and turned the numbered dials back to 01/20/2063. The day of Philomena Charles’s inauguration and untimely death.
Charles was known to be the greatest advocate for LGBTQIA+ people in all of history. She had paved the way for transgender rights, improved housing programs for teens rejected by their families, and even developed educational programs nation wide to normalize inclusive behaviour from a young age. Most of the country had rallied behind her in an impressive popular vote landslide.
But what started as the happiest day in our history, quickly became the worst.
Shortly after her inauguration speech, Charles was shot in the back and died instantly. And while the country was busy mourning her loss, her vice president stepped unassumingly into her place. He quickly set laws into motion without the notice of Charles’s supporters-which changed the trajectory of our lives forever.
Using foreign powers, he was able to keep his unruly ego upon our nation’s throne for far longer than was traditionally allowed. He went from vice president for less than a day, to president, and turned the title into “Almighty Chancellor” thereafter. A country that had come so far in terms of equality, quickly spiraled into the dystopia that put Aurelia behind bars.
Unfortunately, his tyranny is all I’ve ever known. I was born the year of Philomena Charles’s inauguration. I was actually there the day it happened.
My mom had taken me down to meet Philomena, and it cost her her life. No one could tell me exactly what happened to my mother in all of the chaos. But I know she also died of a gunshot wound, leaving me alone in my baby buggy until the first responders arrived to pronounce her dead.
The trickiest part about what I was about to do, would be avoiding my mother. As much as I wanted to meet her, she was with a baby version of me. And the first rule of time travel: Do not interact with your former self.
I closed my eyes to steady my breath. I’d never been one for adventure-having led most of my life in secret. But I thought of Aurelia facing death, and I pushed the button on my heart shaped locket.
To describe the feeling of being shoved through time and space would take words that I didn’t know to exist. I felt like my body might split in half as I bent and stretched around the folds of the universe. By the time I landed on solid ground again, I felt nauseous as the spinning rainbows settled around me into the bright scenery of multicolored flags and cheering people.
The air was much cleaner smelling than the time I came from, so I took a moment to breathe it in before returning to the task before me. Even the colors seemed brighter there without the film of grey smog upon everything.
I reached into my back pocket for a tattered piece of paper that was near to ripping in half from how many times I had folded it. Although it had been taken on the very day I had landed in, it was thirty years old in my present. Philomena Charles’s face stared up at me, wearing a smile that said she had no idea how the rest of her day would turn out.
I memorized her features, before instinctually hiding her back in my pocket. In my time, owning an image of Charles could send you to exploratory questioning of your orientation. The many hues of clothing on the people nearby reminded me that I was in a very different time. A time I had spent my lifetime dreaming about.
The Presidential stage was empty, but it was later in the day, so Charles must have already delivered her inaugural speech. I scanned the crowd, and eventually saw her on the other side of the square, chatting and shaking hands with her supporters.
“Excuse me.” I gently pushed my way through the crowd. It was a thrilling experience to be around so many open and honest people, so it was hard not to linger amongst them. They were like the out and proud versions of my friends in the future that I could only speak to in hidden corridors.
As I got closer to Charles, my anxiety kicked in. Due to the chaos about to be caused by the amount of people there, the shooter was never caught. So I wasn’t really sure who I was looking for, and started to wonder if I’d be able to intervene at all.
“Ouch!” I winced as I reached for the heart locket. It had become hot to the touch and was smoking. I blew out the tiny spark, but quickly realised why it happened. For right in front of me was Charles, shaking the hand of a happy young woman with a baby carriage.
My baby carriage.
I stared at my mother in awe. I’d never seen a photo of her, but she was more beautiful than I had imagined. She had passed when I was so young, she often appeared in my mind as a faceless woman. Almost cold in that she had no personality. Only because I had no idea how to imagine her. I’d grown up as an orphan, knowing nothing about anyone in my family. I was mesmerized by the sparkling smile across her face.
The locket started vibrating against my chest, and I clutched it, wanting just one more minute with the woman I had only dreamt of.
“Hey, watch it!”
I turned to see a burly man shoving his way toward us. This is it… I thought-my locket now starting to crack as I stood too close to my younger self. But I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t walk away after coming this far.
The tiny piece of metal shook so hard that it looked like a real beating heart, begging me to succumb to the adrenaline and run away. I knew if I stayed, the locket might shatter. And if it did, I’d be lost in time forever. But the safety of every LGBTQIA+ life was depending on me. This was bigger than me. And even bigger than saving my Aurelia.
I watched the man as he reached for his weapon, and at the last moment, I tackled Philomena out of the way.
There were several screams as people ran for their lives, and the secret service took down the gunman before hurrying Charles away from the scene.
I stood up slowly. I was in shock. I actually did it!
As I turned around in triumph, there was a searing pain as both my heart shaped locket, and my real heart shattered. The bullet meant for our President, was now squarely lodged in my mother’s chest. I had only changed one aspect of my past.
I ran to her aid, knowing there was nothing I could do. And nothing I could do for my shattered time travel device. I was trapped in time, and suddenly as alone as the baby in the buggy.
I pulled my mother’s limp body into my lap, and held her in the only hug we would ever share. Her body was new, but somehow familiar to me. Her scent verging on nostalgic as I ran my fingers through her hair to brush it out of her face. I wished I could know her. I wished she could know me.
But when I thought about all of the LGBTQIA+ lives saved, I couldn’t help but think she’d be proud of me. I remembered how her face had lit up as she shook Philomena Charles’s hand. She had been so pleased to meet the woman who made it okay for me to be who I am.
And I suddenly realized, my mom did know me. She might not have known it at the time, but she knew the important parts of my soul. Love, acceptance, freedom.
I grew up in a dark future where finding people that understood and accepted me was near to impossible. I often felt like an outcast even when hiding my orientation, but my mom knew who I was. She knew the part of me that loved someone else. Someone I was told was wrong for me, but I loved anyway. She understood my struggle and stood prideful during our victory. She was the strength I carried with me every day, and she would finally live on in my memories as she truly was: a fierce, supportive, loving mother. Knowing that gave me the strength it took to leave her lying there for the second time in my life. I gently laid her back on the ground next to me, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek goodbye.
Even though I would not be able to return to my own present, I was feeling optimistic. I had accomplished what I set out to do, and I knew that the future of Aurelia behind bars was no longer my future. Or at least, not the future of the baby in the carriage.
I looked down at it, wondering how I could ever have been so small and innocent. The truth was, that baby would never be me. It would never know my struggles or go through what I went through after today. Free to live the life I had wanted all along. I was almost jealous of myself.
I felt an odd sense of ownership over the baby that used to be me. I loved myself enough to want the me in this alternate timeline to live the life I couldn’t have.
I took the baby carriage and wheeled it away, hoping that this baby girl would grow up in a world that accepted her exactly as she was. Maybe she would even get to meet a beautiful woman named Aurelia, and because of my sacrifice, they might live happily ever after.