Mickey wasn’t his real name, but that was what he’d always been called. He didn’t know his real name. At some point, it didn’t really matter anymore, right? Who knew what his biological mother had called him? And honestly, who cared? Names were arbitrary designations useful for distinguishing one person from the next. A personal title, something to write on a nametag. Mickey was past caring that he didn’t have an official paper to document his birth name, but what did bother him was his lack of birthday. With his name, he had just been given another, but with his birthday, despite his foster mom’s best intentions, the new one didn’t quite stick. For the first few years since the adoption, Mickey enjoyed the attention thrown his way, sang along with “Happy Birthday to you”, blew out four, five, six candles on the cake, and made wishes for silly things. But something rang false at these parties, the cake tasted just too sweet… Even as a kid Mickey knew it was all pretend.
The orphanage had not known his real age, and the number of candles each year was the result of a guess. When he realized that March 17th was actually the date his foster mother had miscarried, the game was up. On what everyone pretended was his eighth birthday, Mickey looked into her eyes and said stonily, “I’m not your dead son.” He spent the rest of the day in his room crying, though not as hard as his foster mom did. After that, there were no more parties, even when she cautiously brought it up: “What day would you like to celebrate as your day, Mickey?” He didn’t have a good answer for that. He was being given a choice of any birthday in the year, and for a moment, January 1st was tempting—a clean slate, his ignorance corresponding to a new beginning. But it wouldn’t solve the problem. Birthdays anchor a person to the world within the objective, impersonal sea of time. Picking a day would not solve anything; he would still be adrift. Instead, Mickey did away with birthdays altogether, surrendering to the greater concept of time itself. There was no day for him to feel special, no anniversary of his first moment; of being, briefly, the youngest human, the newest arrival; nobody paid him attention that he hadn’t deserved by his own merit.
A consequence of this was that Mickey gradually lost track of what age he was supposed to be, which wasn’t difficult because he’d never been sure. He had little patience for his foster parents trying to do the math by comparing him to kids in his grade. “Let’s see, if Joey McCormack just turned fifteen; that means you have to be at least as old. I mean, you’re taller than him already… Your jeans are too short on you; we’ll need to buy some new ones…”
But Mickey tuned out these attempts. He was past his own age. He had moved onto bigger things: Time itself. It became an obsession. The only novels he read were exclusively in the genre of time-travel science fiction, and soon enough he started pursuing the philosophy of time, from Relativity to String Theory, devouring everything he could. His questions were ponderous: Why was an hour sixty minutes? Why not one hundred? And he spent many hours thinking of the answer. He grew sensitive to the changing seasons, and he spent hours out in the woods with his eyes closed, counting seconds and measuring his breath, until guessing the time was a habit he developed with increasing accuracy.
Despite the tenuous relationship they had with him, his foster parents found they had an easy task of selecting gifts for Mickey. Any book on time was appreciated, as well as little knick-knacks: sundials, hourglasses, and lately: watches. Mickey had three watches for each day of the week (which he changed every eight hours, naturally), unless there was a special occasion, for which he had a special watch. For example, when he took his SATs he wore a brand new Seiko for good luck. He had classic watches with analog faces, modern digital watches encrusted with buttons and indicators, smart watches whose faces would change based on his mood, and hybrids that were combinations of all of those. Some watch faces were quite cluttered, others were bare but for their minute and hour hands, and all boasted of some level of water resistance.
There was even an attempt at humor with a gift watch from his foster dad. It had the face of Disney’s most famous mouse; Mickey wasn’t amused. He didn’t throw it out though… he took time more seriously than that. In college he enrolled in some yoga and meditation classes, though his official major was History. He didn’t drink—his ID being an object of deep personal shame, documenting the lie of his fake birthday that his foster mother had decided upon when she’d adopted him. Besides, he wasn’t a partier. He cared deeply for meditation and living in the moment, managing to graduate a full year early despite his grueling schedule. His degree was useless, however, for his goal was loftier than materiel success: he wanted to become one with time itself, not bound by its rules; he wanted to transcend it.
He said goodbye to his foster parents and moved to Nepal to study from the monks there. He left his watches behind. He didn’t need them anymore. It was in Nepal that Mickey shed his name, brushing it like dandruff from his shoulder: an unwanted burden. From the monks he learned patience. Time slowed. The river of his life flowed on, but in his mind, he who was once Mickey could not often discern his individual existence from the Whole.
He lived for many years, but he didn’t count them, and they did not count him. When his final day came he was as still as a statue, unmoving, not even a ripple in the wind. His life’s river met the sea, and it swallowed him with its great embrace.