I understand how the person I used to be shaped the person I am today. I see it now as I look at myself in a distant time. I’m awkward. My hair cut is terrible. I reek of cigarette smoke and other kinds of smoke. My breath stinks from cheap malt liquor. I hear the words coming out of my mouth and cringe at their crudity and sometimes downright idiocy, and I remember self-righteously believing that I was absolutely correct about all that crap and venom spewing off my wagging tongue at the time. Obviously, I was wrong. I know that now that I am looking at myself through the clarifying filter of time.
Is it wisdom that changed me? I would argue this, or would like to, but I know that it would be untrue. I am no wiser. I understand that now. The only truth I’ve learned since then is that I don’t know it all. I can never know it all. There is simply too much to know.
So, I sat down and asked him (myself) questions. He (I) was sullen. I remember this day and know I did not want to talk to a creepy old guy in a stained white polo shirt with long curly hair and a beard full of potato chip crumbs, not when Tansy was there with me, halfway drunk and emotionally vacant.
I had lusted after her then. I could not see the bloated burn-out of an alcoholic she would soon become. I could not know the regrets she would feel daily because of her misspent youth that I myself helped misspend. Could there have been something like love there? I like to think so sometimes, but I know better. My vision was limited then as it still is now. Maybe when I get back I should call her? See how she’s doing. Last I heard, she was three months sober. I clapped for her at that meeting, but it was my last meeting before figuring out time travel. Not that I could go back to the meetings now. I’m not exactly sober these days.
I called him (myself) over again, offered him (me) a pack of cigarettes – I knew his (my) weakness – and finally he (I) came over. I sat down on a fallen log on the stinking exposed bank of the riverside. It was fall and the river was at its lowest point thanks to the hydroelectric dam upriver. The air was full of the scent of falling leaves and rotting fish: a pleasant and nostalgic mix for me, even if the city folk back home would find it offensive. He (I) snatched the cigarettes from my hand and moved a couple feet away from me. He (I) lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and exhaled. He (I) nodded his (my) thanks. I motioned for him (myself) to sit down. We had a lot to talk about.
I asked, “What do you plan on doing for the rest of your life?”
He (I) released a bitter laugh. “What the fuck do you mean? I don’t even know what I’m doing this afternoon, man.”
“Trust me. I know exactly what you mean. I still don’t know what I’m doing myself. We’ll never know, will we? Not unless we find direction.” I sighed. I placed my hands on my knees and pushed myself up to a standing position. I looked down on him (myself). “Remember this moment. It will happen again.”
He (I) shook his (my) head and tossed his (my) cigarette butt into the river. Together, we watched it wash away with the current until we could see it no longer.
I turned and found myself gone. Tansy walked over with a lit joint in her hands. “Who was that guy?”
I shook my head. “I have no idea.”
“What did he want?”
“Directions, I think.”
I thought of the cigarette rolling downriver. It would eventually wash up against a distant shore with the flame long extinguished never to be lit again. There was a sudden burning in my eyes, the threat of tears, and I turned away. I wasn’t sure where I would go, but I knew it was time to leave the riverside.