I sometimes wonder how my younger self might judge me if he could meet the man that I’ve become, usually envisioning a heated discussion between my teenage and current selves. It had never occurred to me to travel further back in time to have a conversation with the boy who fell in love with writing and set his future out before him, until a game my son and I were playing earlier this evening. He was imagining that he was himself, now, in possession of a time machine, and that he’d come back along my timeline to meet me when I was his age. I, of course, played the role of my seven year old self as best I could, substituting obstructionism when my memories could not be accessed. It was a lot of fun, and I have to admit that I might have been on to something with the whole “undivided attention” thing I figured out yesterday.
But having a blast playacting a prior version of myself, and interacting with my time-travelling progeny forced me to come to terms with just how many of my previous temporal incarnations just might take issue with the choices I have made. Explaining to the boy my son met this evening that it would take 28 years until I actually did anything with the ability he’d just discovered and to which he’d already dedicated his life would be a disappointment. At that age, people in their twenties seem so grown up, and anyone over 30 is positively ancient! To tell him that he’d have to live 400% more just to get a shot might have discouraged me from even trying. Or it might have motivated me to get an earlier start. Honestly, it’s really hard to extrapolate my headspace from nearly three decades past. And this is only the first of many highlights as we travel along Tex Batmart through the ages.
Through The Ages
A year later, I would have been crushed to discover that the first girl I ever kissed would not go on to be my wife, and even worse: within a year, she’d be moving out of my life forever! My utopia was coming to an end. No more escorting her to the bus stop in the mornings on the way to school, no more races along the street with her slightly younger brother. No more running off into the woods and teaching one another how to kiss like the grown-ups do. In terms of romance, this would mark the beginning of a particularly long period of loneliness in my life which would go on for another half-dozen years.
I’d met a girl on the way home from school, and asked her parents if she could keep me. Seriously. She was pretty, funny, and she lived down on the beach! For her birthday that year, she invited me to her party at Skateland. I didn’t skate, but was super into her, so went along, and earned some serious Dad Glances from her father on the trip out there. Trying to warn myself any earlier would have been met with boredom and rebellion, so I would need to pull myself aside somewhere near the arcade, strongly urging barely teenage me against accepting the affections of a different girl at the party that night. He would, of course, ask why I cared (not bothering to question the paradox of my appearance, as he would remember from my previous visits six and seven years ago), and proceed to ignore me, as it would be proof he would be kissing a girl again, and even seeing boobs! Never underestimate the power of breasts upon a teenage boy’s mind. He would go on to kiss that girl, and see his first real life boobs since infancy. And then lose that girl, and then another, and then a few more after that. Having seen the uselessness of trying to prevent an adolescent from foolishness in his quest for romantic shenanigans, I would have to wait another couple years until I did something desperately in need of stopping.
Skipping over the most impressively rebellious time in my life (January 1995), a time when only Trent Reznor could have soothed my inner turmoil, I would see my next opportunity for self-redemption in the late Spring of ’96. Again, my present self would be easily disregarded should I attempt to prevent him from doing anything short-sighted. There were things that had to happen (the records of which were expunged upon my 21st birthday), knowledge earned, and the groundwork laid for major events which would transpire six months hence. But I would have told myself that what I was going through: the searing clarity of emotional pain, the bursts of insight and inspiration, the nights of writing when I could almost taste an enduring literary legacy, these were symptoms of something called Bi-Polar Disorder. That although knowing that it was a chemical imbalance in my brain didn’t mean that everything I felt was in my head. And to hang on just a little longer, things were coming that would change it all. I’d give myself a hug, and fade forward to the beginning of June 1997.
If you could go back and change anything in your life, would you? Are you willing to commit suicide, to erase the very person that you are, that you’ve become? This is the moment in my life in which I would be tempted to interfere. It was the beginning of Summer, 1997. Having almost completed my court-mandated punishment, and won over my Probation Officer, things were degenerating at home once more. I was more determined than ever to get out as soon as possible, and was making plans to leave as soon as I wouldn’t be imprisoned for leaving home. Things came to a head, and, through very little fault of my own, I was suddenly free… two weeks early… and in violation of the terms of my probation. I ran the situation by my P.O., and was granted a reprieve, assuming I could find somewhere new to live.
That summer, I fell in love with a woman just one year older than I am now. What began as simple companionship of Mrs. Robinson developed into my first adult relationship. And for a while I had everything I’d wanted. I was free of the tyranny of my Parental Unit, free of The Law, and living a life of domestic tranquility. I even had the good fortune to meet a boy who would grow into a decent young man, who allowed me to practice being a dad. I can honestly say that I didn’t have a lot of success, but I also didn’t manage to screw him up too terribly. I was happy. I was an equal of adults months early. I should have known better.
I’m not going to get into the particulars here: Eventually I’ll write a book about it, and actually do it justice. I will say that no other point in my life has influenced the creation of the man who I became more than the three years which followed. My innocence fell away, and I was forced to reconsider who I was and what kind of man I could and couldn’t tolerate becoming. To spare myself the pain which would define the era, would I give up everything I have now, including the wisdom earned from moments of overcome despair? I doubt I would have listened, for even if I believed myself, I was doing it for true love.
This thought experiment has taken on a rather melancholy aspect, and that was specifically what I was trying to avoid. I figured I’d have a few laughs at the juxtaposition of myselves, and call it a night. Suffice it to say that I would be forced to leave myself alone to face the world and wounds to come. But we’ve got one more stop to make.
It’s now April 2001, and I’ve been out of the mental ward for a couple weeks. My relationship is deteriorating, and even I, Don Quixote, can read the writing on the wall. I don’t know it yet, but I’m about to move out of my apartment and leave the love of my life behind. I’ll only ever see her once more. This is the point where I might actually be able to listen to myself, hear what I would tell myself. More than any other impossible wish, I would sit down with myself over a Big Ass cup of coffee and a cigarette, and tell him this:
“I know you’re hurting right now, and nothing that I tell you will change that. There’s no point in telling you to wait for it to get better. Only time can tell you that with any credibility. But please know that it meant something; that everything you went through was for something. You’ll make plenty of mistakes, and do some things you’d rather not have done, but I can promise you that it does get better. You’re too smart for your own good, and all of your clever attempts at evasion only make the lessons you need to learn come and hit you harder. You will find someone, and barely have the sense to date her. She’ll put up with you for a few years, and then you’ll have to marry her to make her stay. The road ahead is hard, and it will feel like it will never end. But I swear to you, you will be happy! You just haven’t earned it yet. Be true, and step forward into world with your eyes finally open.”
I would watch my future self begin to dissipate, mulling the notion that I’d have to put up with this for who knew how long, when I heard that fat bald bastard say, “Oh, and just watch out for the super-hot Panamanian girl, she’s nothing but trouble!”
And that concludes another trip into The Vaults of Uncle Walt. It was a little darker than I intended, so I’m going to make you all a promise to keep it light tomorrow. Thank you again for joining me on this Great Adventure, and I look forward to seeing you here again!
From all the versions of myself, I wish you a pleasant evening.