I stand in the shadows, still a bit disoriented after my monumental trip through time. I check the chronometer on my wrist. The date and location is correct, even though things look differently than I remember.
We think about our high school years as being traumatic and yet exhilarating, memorable and yet brutal, and they are all of those things. I remember being tortured as an incoming freshman during PE, the seniors taking advantage of my gangly 13-year-old mentality and body. The year was one long hazing for me. I hadn’t been ready for high school, and by the end of my first year, I was ready to ship off elsewhere, anywhere, rather than suffer through another year. But I came back that next year, and survived the three years to follow. And that was not why I had come back.
My intellectual brilliance was only matched by my emotional immaturity. The two factors combined to make me a pariah in my own school. It wasn’t until my senior year that I found that maturity and the courage to ask a girl out. And when I discovered that a brief risk of rejection was often—well, sometimes—rewarded by the attentions of a teenage girl, I began asking more and more girls out.
There was one girl, however, that I had known from my freshman year. While I learned to fight past the lack of self confidence and ask others out on a date, this girl was special. Maybe it was the way she looked; maybe it was the fact that she was a voracious reader like me; maybe it was the fact that she was always accepted, always part of the in-crowd and I was not. I was attracted to her, and yet was intimidated by her. I fantasized having her as my girlfriend, but the closest I ever came to that point was one ill-fated date that I had taken her on.
That is why I am here. My immense wealth of the past two decades, coupled with the intellectual efforts of my whole design team have resulted in a time machine. Yes, you heard me; I have broken through barriers none had thought possible. The one limitation is that the trip is limited to one hour, and the machine could only be used once.
Since that disastrous date my senior year, I have thought and rethought how my life might have been different if I hadn’t acted the way I had. What could I have done differently? How could I have turned her into someone who appreciated what I had to offer? Could I have—hope beyond all hopes—eventually made her into my wife?
I have had 20 years to think about it. Now I stand in the shadows, watching the strange scene. It is October, and if my calculations are correct, this is the day that I had asked her out. My plan was to catch my 17-year-old self alone and give him counsel that would help him have a successful date, starting with the process of asking her out. At least, that is my plan.
I watch as the teenagers walk between classes and see a tall, gangly version of myself coming my way. I step from the shadows and try to catch his eye. The teenager me looks up briefly at the older me, then glances away, apparently shocked and disturbed. He starts to walk by me and I step out in front of him. He looks up.
“May I have a moment of your time?” I say to my teen self. The boy looks up slowly, apparently caught between recognition and incredulity. Then he dismisses the obvious.
“Who are you? Do I know you?” he says.
I narrow my eyes. “Yes, you do. But not as much as you think you do. I am here to help you.”
Skepticism crosses his pimply face. “I’m late for class.”
“You plan on asking Brittany out on a date today. It’s the concert this weekend in San Francisco.”
He hesitates, then looks up. “Where did you hear that?”
I continue, knowing that countless variables could end this discussion at any minute. “I want this date to succeed. Don’t you?”
My teen self blushes, and I see that I have struck a nerve. “Just who are you?” he repeats.
I shake my head. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. What’s most important is what I have to say.”
My teen self looks up at me, and suddenly recognition is in his eyes.
“You’re me,” he says. “But older. You’re an old dude.”
I pause, then nod. “Listen to me….”
“You created some sort of a time machine?”
I nod again, and open my mouth to continue.
“But you’re so old….It must have cost a ton of money and years, and you couldn’t have done it alone.”
“Will you stop and listen to me?” I say. “I will be leaving any minute and I have important information for you.”
My teen self flashes a frown, then nods. “OK, old man, what advice do you have for me?”
I take a deep breath. “Your date is doomed unless you listen to me. Be a gentleman. Listen to her. Try not to scare her off by being too forward. Show interest in her as a person. Take a bath. Spend some money on her.”
“In other words, try to act like an adult.”
“Right,” I say. “Try to act mature.”
I see his eyes glaze over as I talk, and realize that my advice is falling on deaf ears.
“You traveled back in time to deliver this message to me?” he asks. “What a dork! I get that same advice from my mother. You could have saved the trip and a whole lot of effort.
“Listen,” he says. “I’m seventeen, and you’re…you’re…well, you’re not. What makes you think that me acting like you is going to be any more successful when I am dating a 17-year-old girl? Do you think she would go out with you?”
I shrug. “Well, all I know is that you don’t do very well on your own.”
“Well, the fact is, old man, that she’s dating me, not you. If it works out, great. If it doesn’t, then I guess I will move on with my life.”
“But what? I would think I would have learned more in 20 years than just the same stuff my mom tells me. Come on, give me something I can use. Who wins the Super Bowl this year?”
I step back, suddenly speechless. My teen self shakes his head.
“Well, you’re trip did teach me one thing,” he says. “Time travel is possible.”
He shakes his head and turns away, headed in the direction where I know Brittany will meet him. I think about our conversation, startled both by how incredibly young everyone looks and how my teen self was more mature than I remembered being.
Maybe there is hope after all, I think, as the world around me flashes and I fall into the time portal and head for home.