Watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for the first time, I was mesmerized by the clock that moved backwards. The idea that time might dissolve and reinstall the things and people we’ve lost because of its momentum meant too much. I waited through the many beautiful hours of this film for the ticking clock to return. And return it did.
There is another moment within this film in which Benjamin explains a series of events differently than they really happened, as if hoping that by the slight change in the second hand all might be forgiven — that all might be okay. But soon he realizes life is nothing more than a matter of time.
I sat entranced by the makeup and the story, all the while longing for moments in my own past that had already gone. At the same moment of this potent yearning, I received a call from my mother who explained she’d finally made the appointment to euthanize our beloved family pet.
Now, many of you might not understand the way I wished for a clock to begin running backwards because maybe you don’t have a cat, or maybe you’ve never had one in the family for fifteen years. In fact, maybe you didn’t get that same cat right before your parents’ divorce when you were eight.
Maybe you don’t have something so tangible that represents the idea of childhood for you. Maybe you can’t understand.
I looked at the only clock I had beside me, the oddly thin numbers on my iPhone screen moved forward and forward again. I realized there were only a few hours left for my beloved, sweet boy.
The movie ended with the image of that clock trying its best to erase the heartache of the movie. But the heartache came from life, and the clock couldn’t change those lives because it was just a motif, a figment. It was a symbolic scene that closed the film in much the same way as it opened. And when that clock disappeared, I felt my own time disappearing.
I tried to tell my cat about the clock. I tried to tell him that there was still time even though we had so little. I told him I loved him. I told him that love would outlive time because it was a timeless notion, because it couldn’t die. He just purred and kissed my face.
When we arrived at the vet as a family, my sister carried our cat, keeping him swaddled in the cloud blanket that I tried to associate with something much bigger than the moment. We were at the vet. We held a living creature in our arms, but I understood that when we left, he wouldn’t be the same way.
“Just a matter of time,” the vet said, administering the sedative. Our sweet boy purred the entire time. And then he was gone.
The clock in the room released a soft tick, tick, tick as we said our goodbyes. I didn’t know anything could hurt that much because I’d been lucky enough not to lose anything the same way. I pleaded with the clock to stop and reverse itself, to bring back my cat’s life.
My father left the room. And then my brother. My mother and sister cried, and maybe I did, too. But I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. I knew as soon as I left that he would really be gone.
Since that moment, time has passed. It’s been two days since we said goodbye, and I’m still left thinking about the clock and this confounding matter of time. In fantasy worlds, time is often manipulated. After all this, I think we have a hard way accepting time’s permanence.
The fact that everyone expires might scare you. Sometimes I think everyone should have to wear a watch to tell others when their time is running out because it’s not fair for those who have to keep on living. But I’m not sure a watch or a timepiece or even a sundial would make any difference. I know I still would have held my cat the same, loved him the same. And I know, he’d still be gone.
I meant what I said about love being timeless. I’ve seen the way it transcends death. I’ve seen the way we say goodbye and understand the hurt, so maybe our lives rely on matters of time: seconds and hours and mere minutes we wish would last forever.
Maybe in the act of remembering, we can move our own timepieces backward.