Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When I was twenty one, it was a lousy year

I stepped off the elevator and into the cool, semi-darkness of the SUB study lounge. I was wearing jeans and an ISU sweatshirt I had picked up on line. I hoped no one would notice that it was one not available in the bookstore in this decade. In my hand was the Starbuck’s chai latte I meant to throw out before coming here. Starbucks existed in this time but only in Seattle. I hoped no one noticed.
     As I expected, my younger self was sitting in the large leather chair in the corner. She was dressed in bell-bottom jeans and a peasant shirt she had embroidered herself. Around her hair she wore a blue bandana and a thin necklace of love beads adorned her neck. A battered book bag stood beside her and a bright pink pop can sat on the side table. She was reading a textbook with a yellow marker in her hand. Every now and then she would look up and gaze out the windows across the way.
     I strolled across the room experiencing déjà vu. This place held so many memories. The good and the bad. I took the seat next to her. “Hi, Debi. My name is Dr. Dorothy Tate,” I whispered.
     “Hi,” she said. She looked around the room for an explanation. “Do I know you?” She must have mistaken me for a faculty member.
      “Debi, this is going to sound strange, but I am your future self.”
     “Right.” she said sarcastically. “And this is Candid Camera. Listen I am really busy and …”
     I raised my hand to interrupt her. “I know it sounds strange but I have come to share with you some wisdom I have learned along with way.”
     “Okay, joke’s over.” She turned her back to me and opened her book.
     “I know what you carved on the top of your dresser.” Her head swiveled around. “I know about Donnie. And Cynthia.” Her mouth fell open. “And I know what is going to happen to you in the future.”
     She picked up her Tab cola, took a sip and gazed at me suspiciously. “If you really are my future self, how did you get here? I mean isn’t there some rule on Star Trek about not changing the past. And what about the space-time continuum? I mean, this is cool and all, but I don’t think you ought to be here.”
     I set my Starbucks cup on the mahogany end table between us. Her blue grey eyes took in the unfamiliar logo. “I think in the latest Star Trek movie Spock proved you can meet past versions of yourself without causing a universal cataclysm,” I said. “I came here to share with you some universal truths I have learned over the years.”
     Debi began scribbling flowers and mandalas on her yellow spiral notebook. We always did this when we were bored in lectures. “Before you start, I want to ask you a question,” she said. “How old are you?”
     “Man! I always thought I would be dead before the end of the century. Am I really going to look like you? I mean, your hair isn’t even grey.”
     “And I am probably a lot fatter than you thought you would ever be,” I said smiling at her bluntness. Debi blushed and started a new drawing. I changed the subject. “I know you are struggling and you feel lost about your future. I am here to let you know that you survived.”
     “How do you know what I think?” she asked, her face a mask of defiance.
     “Because 35 years ago I sat alone in this study lounge wondering if any of it was worth it. I wondered why I was stuck taking rinky dink classes in a major I didn’t want. I wondered what happened to my dreams. I was directionless and thinking I should just kill myself and get it over with. I have come to give you some advice and some hope.”
     “Why do you care? No one gives a shit about me,” Debi said, her eyes filling with tears. “Mom doesn’t care about anything I want. Dad just doesn’t care. And Tom…I don’t know about Tom. I mean the Tates are a great old family and they have all the culture and stuff I want, but I haven’t heard from him in weeks.” Debi rubbed her reddened watery eyes. “Damn contacts. They keep floating off.”
     I want to hug her and tell her everything would turn out alright, but that is a lie. “So, first piece of advice. Listen to your gut. If something inside you is screaming, no, listen to that voice. It is the genuine you telling you the right thing to do.”
     “But If I do that people might get mad. I don’t want to make anyone mad.” Tears continued to flow. I handed her one of the tissues I had packed in my overstuffed pockets.
     “Second piece of advice. As the song says, ‘You know you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.’”
     “You know that song?” Debi gave me a watery smile. “Garden Party, right?”
     I nodded my head. “Ricky Nelson. 1972. It might sound trite but it is true. If you go around trying to make everyone else happy you will end up miserable because you are putting their needs before your own.” I watched her write Garden Party in the margin of her notebook.
     “How am I supposed to get the things I want if I have no one to help me?” she asked.
     “That is my third piece of advice. Life isn’t easy.”
     “Well no shit!” she said loudly. She picked up the crumpled ball of tissue and threw it at me. Other students gave us a dirty look for disturbing their concentration.
     “I know you are feeling frustrated and angry. You have every right to feel that way. You don’t know yet that it is life’s adversities that make us who we are. They are the furnace which tempers us and makes us stronger and more resilient.”
    Debi leaned back in her chair crossing her arms and ankles. “Now you are talking in riddles. You sound like just like Gandalf talking to Frodo. I just want to know what is going to happen to me.”
     I smiled at her. “Thanks for the compliment. Wait until you see the Peter Jackson version of Lord of the Rings. You are going to be blown away.” I took another sip of my latte, and wiped the foam from my upper lip. “I suppose wisdom does speak in riddles. I can’t give you specifics about the future. That would disturb the space-time continuum.” The corner of Debi’s mouth turned up, but she continued to sulk, so I leaned forward to catch her eye. “You need to know that you aren’t going to die from loneliness. Your life will eventually be what you want it to be even though the path is going to be difficult. You are a smart, talented, caring person. Surround yourself with people who support you. Those are the people who truly love you.”
     Debi looked down at the battered watch she wore on a thick leather strap. “Is that all? I have cell bio lab to get to.” She rolled her eyes heavenward. “God, I hate that class.”
     "I know. You get an incomplete and have to take it again.”
     Debi’s grew wide with horror. “Really! I have never done anything like that in my whole life!”
     “See you are a bit of a rebel.”
     “Far out!” she said, smiling broadly. Another student shushed us from a corner. Debi gave him a dirty look. I was amazed at how her feelings showed so fully on her face and in her body language. I thought about my own carefully controlled emotions. I too had things to learn.
     “Well,” I said, clearing the lump in my throat. “That brings us to my next bit of advice. It comes from a book which is not yet written but I think you need to hear it anyway. Have you got your pen? The author says, “Never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.” She gave me a blank look. “It means you will never fill the hole in your soul with someone else. Mom taught us to depend on other people for our happiness and, Debi,” I gently touched her hand noting the calluses on her fingertips and the chewed fingernails. “You can only find that happiness within yourself. Play your guitar. Read good books. Listen to great music. Find the things which truly make you happy and hold tight to them. Oh, and take ornithology next semester. You will fall in love with bird watching.”
     She wrote BIRDS in capital letters in the corner of the notebook page and followed it with a question mark. She peeked at her watch again. “I really have to go.”
     “Okay. Last piece of advice. This one comes from another wizard you are going to love. He said, ‘It does no good to dwell on dreams and forget to live’.” I stood up to take my leave remembering to take my Starbucks cup with me. “I am leaving you for now but remember to follow your gut, take care of yourself, don’t depend on others for your happiness, dream but do not get lost in those dreams, and most importantly, life isn’t fair. Now, off to class with you.” I walked back toward the elevator.
     Debi grabbed her books and bag and chased after me. “But you didn’t tell me what I should do about school or Tom or anything.”
     “That would disturb the space-time continuum, wouldn’t it? Terrible things have happened to wizards who mess around with time. Good luck!”
     I gave Debi a wink and a wave and stepped into the elevator.
     “Hey,” she called after me as the doors slid shut. “What did you say your name was?”