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Years ago I read a story with a character who experiences their life in segments different than the normal time line, e.g. his first memories might be flailing around like a baby in an adult body and being committed to an insane asylum, maybe that lasts a few years. Next segment he is a ten year old and so on. He eventually meets someone else like himself, they realize it because they both know each other from a later time segment than the one they are in. They get together romantically thus changing previous 'fate', story ends.

I'm thinking about writing a longer piece based on a similar premise - but can't find the original story to give credit.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F! When was "years ago?" 2010s? 1950s? Did you read this in an anthology, a magazine, an e-book, or online? Do you recall any cover art?
    – DavidW
    May 5 at 17:53
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    This story might be "If This is Winetka, Then You Must be Judy." I read it first in a Pulphouse chapbook.
    – NomadMaker
    May 5 at 18:34
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    @NomadMaker I bet "If This Is Winnetka, You Must Be Judy" by F. M. Busby is the right answer. You should post it as an answer.
    – user14111
    May 5 at 22:49

2 Answers 2

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"If This Is Winnetka, You Must Be Judy", a novelette by F. M. Busby; first published in the 1974 anthology Universe 5 (Terry Carr, ed.), which can be borrowed (free but registration required) from the Internet Archive. You may have read it in one of these compilations.

. . . his first memories might be flailing around like a baby in an adult body . . .

In his early time-years the skips were small, a day or two, and his young consciousness took them for bad dreams—to wake with unfamiliar sensations, body changed and everything out of size. Much later, waking in a hospital, he learned they were real.

"Do you use drugs, Mr. Garth?"

"No, I don't." A little grass now and then wasn't "drugs." "I'd like to know why I'm here."

"So would we. You were found lying helpless, unable to talk or coordinate your movements. Like a baby, Mr. Garth. Do you have any explanation, any pertinent medical history?"

So this is where I was, he thought. "No. I've been under a lot of pressure." That was probably safe to say, though he didn't know his body-age or circumstances. But in some thirty consciousness-years he'd learned to keep cover while he got his bearings in a new time. And eventually, as he hoped and expected, they told him most of what he needed to know about himself, and let him go. As sometimes happened, his research into the parameters of now was largely wasted; the time lasted only a dozen or so days. But the waste was not total, for when the following time came to him, he would still remember.

Once as a four-year-old he woke to middle age and panicked, screaming for his mother. He remembered being taken to the hospital that time, and did not look forward with pleasure to waking in it. But what had been would be. And he was certain there was at least one more infancy skip to be lived down someday.

He eventually meets someone else like himself, they realize it because they both know each other from a later time segment than the one they are in.

The black-haired girl walked by as he came out to the sidewalk, and before he could think, he called to her. "Elaine!"

She turned; frantically, he tried to think of a non-incriminating excuse. But her eyes went wide, and her arms; she ran to him and he could not resist her embrace. "Larry! Oh, Larry!"

"Uh—I guess I made a mistake," he said. His mind churned uselessly. "Perfectly natural. I guess I do look like a lot of other people."

She shook her head, scattering the tears that leaked onto her lashes. "No mistake, Larry." Her hands gripped his upper arms; he could feel the nails digging in. "Oh, think of it! You too, Larry! You too!"

His mind literally reeled; he felt dizzy. He breathed deeply, and again, and a third time. "Yes," he said. "Look, Elaine—let's go someplace quiet and have coffee or a drink or something. We've got to talk."

"Oh, yes! We have to talk—more than any other two people in the world."

They get together romantically thus changing previous 'fate', story ends.

"I've never tried to change anything before, Elaine. I guess I thought it couldn't be done. Or I was too busy keeping cover to think of making waves. I don't mean I followed any script; I didn't have one. But I went with how things were, and it all seemed to fit. Not now, though." He gripped her shoulder and turned her to face him. "I don't want you to die as you did."

[. . . .]

He had to say it fast. "I'm new here, Elaine. Straight from 1970. Nothing in between."

"Nothing? Oh, Larry, there's so much. And I've had only a little of it myself. Back and forth—and it's all so different."

"From . . . before, you mean?" His fingers ruffled her hair, then smoothed it.

"Yes." Her eyes widened. "Why, you don't know yet, do you? Of course not; you can't."

"Know what, Elaine?"

"How much have you had after 1970? How many years?"

"How much have I used up? I don't know—twelve years? Fifteen, maybe. Why?"

"Because it's not used up; it's all new!" Her hand gripped his wrist tightly, to the edge of pain. "Larry, I came here from '75—from a time I'd had before, married to Joe. But this time I was with you. This time we're together all the way."

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This may be "The Weed of Time" by Norman Spinrad (nope - see the other answer for the correct response)

Years ago I read a story with a character who experiences their life in segments different than the normal time line, e.g. his first memories might be flailing around like a baby in an adult body and being committed to an insane asylum, maybe that lasts a few years.

I, me, the spark of mind that is my consciousness, dwells in a locus that is neither place nor time. The objective duration of my life-span is one hundred and ten years, but from my own locus of consciousness, I am immortal – my awareness of my own awareness can never cease to be. I am an infant am a child am a youth am an old, old man dying on clean white sheets. I am all these have always been all these mes will always be all mes in the place where my mind dwells in an eternal moment divorced from time.

September 8, 2050. I am ten years old. I am in office of Dr. Phipps, who is the director of the mental hospital in which I have been for the past eight years. June 12, 2053, they will finally understand that I am not insane. It is all they will understand, but it will be enough for them to release me. But on September 8, 2050, I am in a mental hospital.

However there's no romantic subplot and no escape from the loop.

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  • Thank you for that.
    – Andrew
    May 5 at 22:40
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    F. M. Busby's novelette "If This Is Winnetka, You Must Be Judy" (suggested in a comment) does have a romance (Larry and Elaine, buth experiencing time non-sequentially) and the loop is broken (in the sense that they make big changes), so maybe that's the story we're looking for?
    – user14111
    May 5 at 22:41
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    Yeah, that does seem like a better fit. Since I can't find a good story description to quote from or the text of the story itself, I'll leave my current answer alone for the moment.
    – Andrew
    May 5 at 23:15
  • It's an awesome story, one of his finest, but yes, there's no romantic sub-plot, and definitely no escape.
    – PM 2Ring
    May 8 at 7:09

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