My obsession with stories of time travel is not rooted in physics but in grief. When my mother died when I was 14, it was almost as if I’d jumped tracks to an alternate plane, one where I was an orphan. In a life that no longer felt like my own, I spent hours on my belly watching movies like Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve and Peggy Sue Got Married on HBO. This was the closest I got to grief counseling. I didn’t have the language for it then, but now I know they helped me to imagine a way back to my mother, to safely engage the fantasy of seeing her again, alive and healthy, in my lifetime.
When Stephen Hawking died earlier this year, I’d been spending the last of the long late-winter’s nights watching the first season of Dark, a German sci-fi series currently streaming on Netflix. When I heard of the physicist’s death, I went in search of my copy of A Brief History of Time, hoping to find a reference to the Bootstrap Paradox, in which an object or person that ping-pongs through time has no discernable origin, a chicken or the egg dilemma that’s at the heart of Dark. But after flipping through Hawking’s book again I realized I was really looking for something else: I was looking, again, for my mother.