Friday, June 7

Somebody Must Have Stepped On A Butterfly (Redux).

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(Originally published in July of 2011.)

This essay is about Time Travel. We must first, however, start at the beginning.

I didn’t have many talents as a child, but I did learn to read at an extremely young age. Thanks to the tireless urging of my parents, I remember going into Kindergarten already knowing how to read just about anything. To this day, relatives at family reunions will inevitably remark about how I was reading the local newspaper at age two, or reciting Pro Wrestling magazine articles verbatim before preschool. It’s something I never thought too much about, but I do suppose it’s a nice little achievement. I don’t recall a time where I didn’t know how to read; it was always just one of those things that brought a rotating cavalcade of counselors and ‘gifted class’ invitations to my doorstep back in the 80’s.

One of the first book collections that I ever obsessed over was the Berenstein Bears. Since 1962, over 260 Berenstein Bears books have been published, along with numerous television shows and video games. The Berenstein’s, an anthropomorphic bear family of four, taught me about not talking to strangers, minding my manners, budgeting my allowance and not throwing tantrums in supermarkets. The Berenstein Bears were good people, just trying to raise a family in a hollowed-out tree, just like everyone else.

Now, when I say I obsessed over the Berenstein Bears, I absolutely mean it. I got every book on the day it came out and read every one of them cover-to-cover, sometimes dozens in one night. When insomnia got the best of me, I would stay up all night counting the words in each book, literally disseminating every scrap of literature I could from within the page. The Berenstein Bears became a part of me in a way that not even the authors could have possibly predicted. They were my sanctuary, my confidant, my escape and my anxiety medication. The Berenstein Bears were my second family.

So imagine my brain-melting surprise when I turned on my television last week to see the Berenstain Bears looking back at me.

Berenstain, not Berenstein.

A quick dash to the Internet left me baffled. Apparently, the Berenstain Bears were always the Berenstain Bears; always written that way and always pronounced that way (‘stain,’ not ‘steen’). For the last 25 years, I had been incorrectly attributing a name to what I thought was a family I knew absolutely everything about. After all the books, all the memorization and all the obsessing, how on Earth could I have overlooked the fact that I’ve been reading and saying their name wrong for my entire life?

Surely, this had to be incorrect. I went to the Children’s section of the bookstore. All Berenstain. I traced the lineage of the book series back to 1962. All Berenstain. I even looked at old photographs of me reading the books. All Berenstain. It was like a cognitive blockade. I was wrong, and I had always been wrong, about the true identity of the Berenstain Bears.

I initially felt bad for myself, but only because of my egotism. I was never wrong about these sorts of things. I am always the guy that knows the correct name, pronunciation and spelling of everything. It’s something I take pride in, and a huge pet peeve of mine when I see others lacking it. More than anything, I was left really, really confused. This all seemed...wrong. Like my childhood had changed on me when I briefly had my back turned. Some sort of divine episode of Candid Camera.

Then, something interesting (to only me, perhaps) happened. I started talking to people my age about the Berenstain Bears. I made a point to A) Talk to people that read the books as a kid, but hadn’t really thought about them since, and B) Initially pronounced it ‘Berenstein’ as a way to see if they caught my error right off the bat. I didn’t think it was fair to talk to parents that now saw the books as part of their daily routine and could answer the question with the clear, present logic of an adult. I specifically wanted to see if the collective childhood experience of everyone from my generation was bizarrely shifted for one reason or another.

And you know what? Every single person I talked to was as baffled as I was. They were all certain, so damn certain, that it had always been the Berenstein Bears, even to the point of becoming sort of confused and frightened afterward (they almost always asked for proof). Weirdly, I was not the only one this had happened to.

How does something like this happen? How does a seemingly vivid childhood detail get incorrectly remembered by nearly everyone in the exact same way? Statistically, the odds were astronomical. There had to be some sort of explanation; some way this cosmic hiccup could be explained away.

Time Travel. Hang on tight.

My theory is this. At some point between the years 1986 and 2011, someone traveled back in time and inadvertently altered the timeline of human history so that the Berenstein Bears somehow became the Berenstain Bears. This is why everyone remembers the name incorrectly; it was Berenstein when we were kids, but at some point when we weren’t paying attention, someone went back in time and rippled our life experience ever so slightly. Perhaps other things have changed as well, but this is the only detail we’ve discovered so far.

We all know how the Butterfly Effect works. Someone travels back in time, being mindful to not break anything and alter the future as it’s supposed to play out. However, this person accidentally leaves a toolbox behind in the year 1410. Because of this, 1400’s technology rapidly evolves and advances faster than our known history dictates, so when our time traveler returns to 2011, he finds that the planet is significantly more futuristic than he remembers. Or perhaps when he was in 1410, he sneezed on someone, giving them a virus that no human was immune to in the 15th Century. He then returns to 2011 to find that he’s the last man on Earth, having wiped out the entire species 600 years ago with what we now think of as the common cold.

This is the only explanation I can surmise. At some point in the last 24 years, someone went back in time, spilled some ink on a piece of parchment, and permanently changed the last names of Stan and Jan Berenstain forever. Poof! The books changed, the photographs changed, the very text on every last page changed. The only thing that couldn’t be changed was our memory of how it was before the Incident occurred.

This is the only logical solution. Me being incorrect is unpossible.

The only naysayer to this theory, so far, is the Missus. Every time it comes up (more often when I’m drunk), she gets extremely annoyed, proclaims my memory to be faulty and begs me to just shut up already so we can play Scrabble. She can’t stop the conversation fast enough, and even claims that she ‘always remembered it as Berenstain.’

This leads me to yet another airtight conclusion: My wife was the time traveler in question, futilely covering her tracks as to not be discovered. I have found you out, woman. You may have had a good run working as an intergalactic spy, but you weren’t going to fool me forever, Miss Reptile In Human Skin That Married Me So She Could Suckle My Marrow While I Slept. She thought she could shuttle back and forth through time without anyone noticing, and she did for awhile, but eventually slipped up and depended on the collective apathy of Generation X to doubt their childhood memories and overlook the ole’ Berenstein/Berenstain switcheroo. What she didn’t expect was that her husband, the man closest to her, happened to be a historian of the very book series she forever altered.

The jig is up, Skinwalker. I'm solving this mystery, and I want a divorce.

Comments:
'Anthropomorphic' is my favorite word.
 
Cacophony is another good one.
 
You've totally blown my mind. I just went into my hope chest and pulled out my books and you are right - they are Berenstain Bears on the book...

But I found a drawing I did and I wrote Berenstein.


 
like a morning crow and his unwelcome song or a worn-out broken record that keeps skipping along mountains of instructions you keep piling on me resound like a cacophonous symphony but i don't wanna hear it anymore no, i don't wanna hear it anymore let's go!
 
Bad Religion
 
STEPHANIE - See? This is how everyone reacts; there's no way that we all got it wrong. No way. Something's up.
 
DAVE - Fun Fact: Greg Graffin is from Racine, Wisconsin!
 

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