Chapter 1: Greetings
October 20, 2017
I woke up last Tuesday and was sure I was still dreaming. Because there was this old dude sitting quietly at the foot of my bed. Sheila had already gotten up and left for work, and Zen was barking, and I was about to lose my shit seeing this strange man chilling there, except for a moment, I thought that it could be my dad. I think I was dreaming about my dad right before I woke up, so I was pretty hazy regarding what was real, and what wasn’t. I’m still not quite sure, to be honest, but I sat up and said, “hey, Ba?” like how I do with my dad. I was still wiping away tears of sleep when he said straight up, “Look, I don’t have much time. I’m from your future. I’m you.”
He kind of sat there with his back turned to me, hunched over and looking over his right shoulder, possibly waiting for me to absorb some things. He looked old and not so great. Like frail and sick, not so great, though he was actually dressed pretty slick in this grey suit. But he did look the part. I mean, the lighting was dim, and I wasn’t at my sharpest, which I know is my baseline for every morning, but he gave off this strange air of familiarity, which kept me from calling 911. I don’t know that I’ve ever had emotions crowd the doorway of my thoughts so hard that everything jammed up and nothing could gain entrance into my actual feelings. It was like I was simultaneously ready to fight him, help him, ask if he was homeless and how he got in, ask again if he was my dad or somehow related, and anxious about the fact that I wasn’t wearing any underwear beneath the covers. To be fair, it was my first time waking up to an old-ass Asian guy saying psychotic things to me, so really, I had no frame of reference.
I think I managed to mumble “who are you?” but he didn’t answer. He just told me to listen—that life doesn’t work out the way I’m hoping, the way he had hoped. Then he suggested I try not fucking it up completely like he did, and handed me this black orb from inside his coat pocket. It was unsettling how calm yet definitive he was about these claims.
“You’re thirty-one, right?” he asked while already nodding. “It’ll take you back to twenty-one like how I came to you.” I saw him massaging something in his left hand. “We do some good things, ya know—but we just tell ourselves that to make it feel better. Really, we fuck it up entirely. Can barely live with myself.” He paused. “So you’ve probably noticed me playing out our little meaningless coda… and, well, I can’t do anything about all the shit you reap on your way to becoming me, but you—you might still be able to figure out something. You need to talk to Twenty-one. Honest to god, it might not make a difference, but fuck, believe me…” He trailed off for a moment.
“Just go talk to Twenty-one. You remember we were insufferable at that age.” And then he smiled. “That’s why you’re going.”
Maybe seeing that oddly familiar smile is what made me start questioning everything. Or stop questioning, depending on how you look at it. I think the last thing he said was “So I’ll see you when I see you, Thirty-one.” And literally, I blinked, and I was alone in the room, except for Zen.
Zen jumped on the bed and started licking my face, forcing me to climb out of bed, which caused this black marble to roll off the sheets and hit the floor. The sight and sound of this mystery marble gliding across wood seemed to cause a damn to break in my mind, leaving me with a flood of questions. I keep thinking it was all a dream, like Biggie, but I’ve been rolling this orb around in my palm, now, for the last week. Wondering if it’s really possible. Wondering if I should.
October 20, 2007
TWENTY-ONE (lying shirtless in bed, even though it is noon): Hey—WHAT THE HELL?! WHO ARE Y… oh, my god.
Me: Yeah, I know. Calm down, it’s just me… which is to say you, but older.
[Silence as we stare at each other from inside a moderately filthy Central Campus Apartment at Duke University]
TWENTY-ONE: Dude, no, this is crazy. Sam?! SAM!
Me: Hey, I know it’s crazy. Also, Sam’s out. I scoped the apartment since I wasn’t sure, but unlike you, he actually goes to class. Or he’s “studying” with that freshman girl he’s dating. [Pause] Wait—has that happened yet?
TWENTY-ONE [in the throes of disbelief]: What… are you doing here?
Me: Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s kind of a long and weird-ass story, and I’ve worked up some hypotheses… but, uh, short answer is I have no fucking clue. [Starts grabbing clothes strewn across the floor and throwing items in the laundry basket] Unfortunately, I’m probably gonna need you to put on some pants [tosses Twenty-one a shirt] so we can figure this one out together. You’re gonna have a lot of questions—I did when it happened to me—except lucky you, I might actually stick around to answer some of them.