I ran into myself in the park again this morning. Last time, Future Mark got out of a car and shuffled over to a bench. There he sat, smoking a cigar, in contemplation. It was a fatter cigar than I currently like, but tastes change over the years. I intuited that this was a ritual for him/me to get away from some less-than-ideal living situation. Perhaps, Future Mark lives in a small apartment or shares space with a friend. More likely, he lives in a warehouse for the not-yet-dead. In the park, with a good smoke, he reclaims our independence, however briefly.
Back then, I avoided contact with Future Mark out of fear of some time paradox. Since then, apparently, I will learn that’s not a problem, because this morning Future Mark approached me, or, more correctly, Luke. Mark held out his hand for Luke to sniff. Luke looked back and forth between us and managed to reconcile the situation; dogs live in the now. Mark looked me in the eye as if delivering a message just for me: "Our dog lived to be 16." (Good news that has a bitter end.) "I can’t imagine ever replacing him." I tried to comfort him what little I could: "We felt that way about Lucky. Then, when the time was right, Luke came along." Cold comfort, to replace grief with delayed grief, but we have only one other choice: love nothing. Besides, the warehouse probably forbids pets.
A few minutes later, I saw Future Mark bend over stiffly to brush some leaves off a memorial plaque beneath a tree. Then, he passed us, staring straight ahead, his face at once rigid and fluid with grief. I knew his pain. I didn’t dare look at the name on that plaque.