There’s an image I post on my Instagram story on the first day of every college semester I’ve attended so far. It’s a screenshot from Season 2, Episode 2 “Disco Inferno” of “Quantum Leap” with Sam Beckett (intrepid time traveler, Hoosier icon, identity crisis extraordinaire, etc.) saying “Al, this is worse than anything imaginable.”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly four years since I first blessed my eyeballs with “Quantum Leap.” The show has defined my life for years now. I can’t help but compare any predicament I face –– even in my college days –– with my nearly photographic memory of the series. I wish I could watch it again for the first time.
If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s a time travel series from the 1990s about Sam Beckett, a time traveler who replaces people in the past to help solve their mistakes. He leaps from life to life, from teenagers to elderly women to Lee Harvey Oswald –– yeah, that one. There are also holographic best friends (hi Al), plenty of drag and, eventually, God himself. It’s a deeply moving and deeply silly show.
Back to that picture. Do I believe that every college semester I’ve attended so far is worse than anything imaginable? No, of course not. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.
But each new semester holds the promise of anything happening – the same sickening feeling I can imagine one Sam Beckett feeling at the beginning of each new leap. Will this be one where I have to help save a charming small-town radio station? Or will I have to shoot the president?
Yeah, that’s pretty comparable to an average semester at IU.
I recently rewatched the pilot of the show with two close friends, and I was shocked how much it hit after all these years. I could still remember most of the opening narration. I still teared up a bit when Sam called his dad. My friends and I groaned when a particularly exciting segment was cut short by a Roku ad break – even though I knew how the episode would end.
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And really, after almost four years, I’ve yet to find a character I relate to more than Sam. He’s a rural Hoosier – though he’s from the fictional Elkridge, Indiana, and I’m from the less-fictional New Palestine. He’s socially awkward. And he’s always a different person, depending on the day.
He’s a tragic character, too. Even though he’s altruistic, kind (to a fault) and utterly unenviable in his mission from God to fix the past, his only wish is to go home – as he says in the final episode of the series, a line which made me burst into tears when I first saw it.
But he doesn’t get that wish. Despite all of his hard work and pain and suffering, he doesn’t go home.
No matter how much he tries, he can never go back again. Even when he does go back, it’s not the same. He knows too much about the future. He tries to save the people he loves most. To stop his father’s heart attack. To keep his sister from marrying an abusive man. To prevent his brother’s death in Vietnam.
And he fails.
The past is a fleeting thing. I’ve found myself lately wishing endlessly for a past that never existed. A rose-colored celluloid version of my life that I will never be able to go back to – because even if I did, it wouldn’t even be what I remembered.
Take my sophomore year of high school, when I first watched “Quantum Leap.” I remember it fondly. I was obsessed with one of my favorite shows. I was able to do whatever I wanted all day.
In reality, however, I was suffering. I was smack-dab in the middle of the pandemic. I was home from school, isolated from my friends and suffering a full-on identity crisis. It wasn’t pretty.
I love going home. I do it often. But there’s something different about it. The place itself hasn’t changed. The sprawling corn fields and huge fall skies haven’t budged an inch.
But I’m different. I’ve been a million different people since I left. And though I may long to return to a time I deem “simpler,” the reality of the matter is I never will go back to that time. I never can, no matter what I do. I have to grieve for it, and then move past it.
So, I guess I’ll just keep leaping – and maybe the next one will be the leap home.
But let’s not bet on it, huh?
Danny William (they/them) is a sophomore studying media.