The Present

What happens when you run across the minefield, safely arriving to greener pastures, but see an enormous shadow in front of you? What happens when you look over your shoulder and see that minefield rising up, like an earthy tidal wave, rip curling back at you? Bumped into that motherfucker for the first time in nine years and didn’t even recognize him. I figured if we ever saw each other again, he’d sock me in the head. Instead, he wrote down his number on a receipt and asked me to call him.

We have that shared feeling of being “veterans” of a bunch of bullshit. We’re haunted by all these horrible things that happened, but that ultimately don’t seem to matter much. We regret so many things, but know that nothing could have happened any differently. We share that doubt that comes with realizing you were wrong about so much for so long, yet have to somehow face life confidently. There’s all of this pain that feels overwrought, like it’s just neurotic overthinking, even though it isn’t.

Literally last I’d heard he was smoking crack down by the Gulf of Mexico. At the time, I figured he’d be dead soon enough. Now he’s skinny as a rail and sober. When he lit the cigarette I gave him, he told me it was his first in eight months. We talked about the stupid girls we used to argue about. Presumably, they’re somewhere else talking shit about us. We did that little overview of all the dead people we know and all the people who somehow didn’t die. It’s getting cute, now, that routine. That mid-thirties chitter-chatter about how everything ended horribly and now we’re all just trying to make sure we have healthcare and can maybe find a girlfriend who understands our past or cares about our past or has a similar past or something like that. I’ve been thinking that maybe it all would have sucked less if some of those abortions had turned into unwanted kids. Like maybe that could’ve forced us to all grow up? I ask him about it and he says something about feminism I don’t quite catch, but that surely proves our generation is the least interesting slate of human beings to ever live. If you want everyone to know you’re a feminist, even when it doesn’t matter, get a tattoo of some burlesque bitch inventing the atom bomb or some shit.

Our conversation is both tense and rife with apathy. Our muscles clench when we revisit why it was, exactly, that we fell out. Who fucked whose ex-girlfriend? Whose perception of that whole drunk driving incident was off-base enough to cause a grudge? We’re both terrified of the insane possibility that the other one possibly still gives a fuck about all these distant vague memories. Then there’s the apathy, of course.

It’s like this: if there is a “second coming” of Jesus, the crucifixion still happened, and all the sad feelings of the people who saw it still exist somewhere. The people don’t exist anymore, but their sad feelings hang out on clouds. The same thing applies here. This guy and I, this old pal of mine, this life of the party alcoholic, this man I had a devastating “friendship breakup” with, we are all good now and that’s great. But all that memory, all that remorse, isn’t going anywhere. We can laugh about how dumb we were and hug it out and that’s great. It is. It is for sure great. But God damn, how about instead of patching things up and laughing about how we both, independently of one another, got sober, we instead invent a time machine?

Is there a deity I can make this deal with? Why do none of these religions everyone is always babbling on about ever discuss time travel? I don’t want Heaven and I’ve certainly never cared about Hell. Forget about your angels, prophets, sagas, and parables. Bring me time travel, God. I don’t want to discover that guys from back in the day came to the same conclusions I did and now go to therapy. I don’t want to feel “good” about how after a decade and a half of death and bad decisions, a lot of folks are okay now. I don’t want to be one of those old dudes whose friend group is all the guys from day one of AA. I want time travel. Time travel!

The Future

It had taken years of tinkering, but the day had arrived. The solution was simple, really. Strictly speaking, Dick had “invented” the thing years ago. All the principles were right, and the beast had all the right pieces. The last few years had been dedicated to calibration and friction. Any idiot can build any old thing. But making it work, keeping it from stopping, stuttering, and breaking down requires an artist. For Dick, the final barrier had been finding the right lubricant, and the right lubricant injector, to keep sparks from flying every time you shifted the beast from third to fourth. He figured if the “Butterfly Effect” were real, he might send himself into a holocaust. But with moving parts like these, a splash of Castrol wasn’t going to cut it. For almost half a decade, he’d spent part of each day bringing the beast to life and waiting patiently to prime it, put it into first, then second, then third…then fourth. He would stare and wait, sometimes for hours, seeing revolution after revolution. And then a spark. The next day, he’d flush the thing out and fill her with something new. And then again, he’d bring the beast to life. Patiently crossing possibilities off his list day after day.

Finally, the beast found something that completely agreed with its stomach. It came as a surprise, but Dick took it in stride. He looked at his phone and silently noted the irony that he now knew the date of his venture. Could that even really be said with any logical coherence? he wondered. Can someone factually state, “Dick traveled back in time on April 16?” He was aware, and unhappy, about how his undertaking might disrupt quite a few foundations of human knowledge. He wished it could be another way, but at the same time, he was confident that in the end, much of what surrounded and defined him wasn’t worth saving.

So Dick straddled the beast, pulled back the hammer, and blacked out.

The Past

“What Desperate Housewives needs,” Dick explained, “is porn.” I laugh. Dick is the most open and honest motherfucker I know, and that’s usually a bad thing. But right now, while passing around this bowl, it’s at least funny. Who the fuck tells all his friends that his only real problem with some stupid soap opera our moms watch is that the chicks don’t get their asshole licked open on camera? Only Dick.

“Wait, like lesbian shit or what?” Liam asks, choking like a bitch.

“All of it dude, all of it.” Dick says this with some weird confidence, like he’s a professor telling his students why the Great Depression happened. Except that actually matters, and Dick gets profound, or thinks he does, only when talking about TV or porn.

And it works. I can see Liam thinking about this, getting a boner, being all quiet like he’s got to concentrate over what Dick is telling him. I try to change the subject, because if Dick gets going on porn, he never shuts up. I start to ask him about the rocket strike Miss Schafer had talked about in Social Science, but a guy shows up. He shows up out of nowhere, like we’re all tripping out and hallucinating, but we all see him. I don’t know who he is and I’m scared shitless. He’s looking at us all with this weird expression on his face.

“Dude, are you God?” Liam asks.

Dick is shaking, straight up quivering.

I can’t think of anything to say, but I’ve never wanted to say the right thing more in my whole life.

This guy reaches into his jacket and pulls out a knife.

“Dude!” Liam screams.

He starts stabbing Dick over and over again. It’s a big knife and like a gory flash flood, suddenly there’s blood everywhere. In the movies, the teen always screams as he gets got, but Dick isn’t even whimpering; it’s like he’s already lost so much blood he can’t even move his lips.

“Dick…” I say, weakly. All I know is that I’m dying next, and then Liam. I look over at Liam for just a second, but he’s passed out. Fainted at the sight of all that blood.

The guy pulls back and is staring at Dick. Dick must be dead, but maybe not, because the guy steps forward again and stabs him some more. I shit my pants. I don’t want to die like this. This is beyond fucked up. I don’t even know who this guy is or how he got here.

I’m staring at this guy as he keeps stabbing my dead friend. He finally stops and he looks over at Liam before looking me in the eye. He’s shooting me this completely fucked smile. He says, “Don’t worry. This is a suicide. You’ll get used to it.”