Fiction Friday: 12 Monkeys And The Lives We Could’ve Lived


One of my best friends convinced me to start watching the SyFy show 12 Monkeys a few weeks ago. Based on the movie from 1995 with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, it was on for four seasons and ended in 2018 — which feels forever ago.


The show, while not an exact remake of the movie, takes a lot of the basic premise and expands on it. There is a virus that has killed most of the Earth’s population (I know, that part’s a little too close to home), leaving everything in a dystopian wasteland. James Cole is a prisoner living underneath a desolated Philadelphia. He is chosen to be trained and sent back in time to 1996 where he might be able to stop this plague from happening.


Timey-wimey hijinks ensue.


The show is similar, taking chunks of the movie’s premise and modifying them to suit their own story. The characters are there, although modified. The themes remain the same — time, how your choices change your world.


I’ve been thinking about this a bit as I make my way through the show. The third season was largely about whether one person can change who they are meant to be, even if they grow up knowing exactly who they’re supposed to become. Are we all destined to be good or bad, whether we know it or not? How does knowing change things? Nature versus nurture, what would you make you how you are today?


Everyone has that moment, or maybe a couple moments, where their lives could’ve ended up if something different had happened. If they’d gone to a different school, focused on a different sport, moved cities or countries.


I think about how different my life might’ve been if some things had been different. If other choices had been made, my life had shifted in a different way. There’s a couple instances that I know of, that would’ve made my life radically different to what it is today, and I always wonder what would’ve happened.


There’s a universe where I became a New Yorker. When my parents divorced, my mom moved to New York to start over. Divorce isn’t fun for anyone, no matter how amicable it can seem, but the opportunity to visit a city I’d always wanted to live in at the time was pretty great. When I was in 8th grade my mom told me that she wanted me to move there and live with her, so I could go to high school in New York and if I wanted to go to college there I would’ve qualified for in-state tuition. We could’ve taken the train together and lived that city life. Getting bagels in the morning and a tiny 13 year old me walking those streets on my own. Her and me, while my two sisters were back in Texas.


It’s a romantic thought, because which suburban kid never thought about leaving it all behind to live in the big city? Watched movies and TV shows about characters changing their life that drastically, the fish out of water story?


What would I have been like after living in New York? Would it have made me harder, like Baz Luhrmann always said it would? Would I have stayed through college? Would I have even gone to college? Would I be living there now? Does New Yorker JJ drink coffee like her life depends on it, and speak her mind more freely?


There’s a universe where I moved to California for high school, too. It would’ve been Orange County, as we were going to do it to be closer to our family there. I was so convinced it was going to happen that I told all my friends at the end of that school year that I was moving over the summer. A couple stopped talking to me when it didn’t end up happening, when I showed up at our assigned high school for marching band camp over the summer even though my dad didn’t pay any of the dues because he said “you won’t be going here.”


There’s a universe where I maybe went to the same high school as my parents, as my grandparents. Where I wandered the streets of downtown Fullerton, or maybe Huntington Beach (laughable now), learned to surf on the weekends and got more freckles. Could spend every weekend with my grandmother, babysat my little cousins as they were growing up. Wouldn’t have had to try living here on my own in 2007 after a falling out with my dad, because we would’ve already been here. 6 hour flights to New York instead of 3.


Maybe I would’ve met my boyfriend before 2014, somehow, maybe at a show somewhere in LA. Maybe I would’ve done better at school, with more of a support system behind me. I would’ve gone to UCLA and maybe gotten that screenwriting degree, waiting tables just like every other aspiring film student.


I try not to wallow in what ifs. There’s too many and my anxiety is too sensitive to sit in them. If I stuff with what ifs I would never get anything done and I need to focus on things I can control.


There are these universes that exist, somewhere, I believe. Everyone has alternate timelines, alternate paths their lives would’ve taken. It’s an easy path to heartbreak, though, wandering those paths in the fog. These are things I can’t change, probably wouldn’t even if I had a time machine. I wouldn’t know how, because so much of these situations depend on choices that weren’t even mine. My dad wasn’t able to get a transfer at work, so we never moved to California, and he didn’t want to lose me too in letting me move to New York. Things I couldn’t control.


My experiences made me who I am, though. I spent the time in Texas, the one year at that high school before moving away. Moving to Orange County for 5 months before moving back until I could afford it — until I was old enough to take care of myself, rather than being an obnoxious 18 year old. I learned from those mistakes and sure, those other Jordans would’ve made her own mistakes in her own ways, in different places, but they would’ve been different people.


All I have is who I am now, who I’m trying to be in the future, and the past version of me that got me here. And that’s enough. I'm happy with her.

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