“I’ve come from the future with a grave warning: it’s pretty much like the present.” No. “Time is an infinite tower of tortoises stacked on top of each other." Douchebag. “Did you ever see that movie “The Butterfly Effect?” Stupid. I have minus 12 years to think of something good.
I had been rehearsing this speech over and over again. I can’t define irony exactly, but this here is some O. Henry shit! I suppose we should start at my funeral. Here goes: I was never really good at life. I never cared for it. I could take it or leave it. I was never suicidal- those guys have balls. My ritual was for pussies. I would sit idly and amplify every neurosis and regret in my head. Then turned out the lights and sit for hours staring into darkness and making shapes in my head. Sometimes I strummed the same three chords over and over again and thought that my musical plateau to be a convenient metaphor.
Usually, I would snap out of my catatonic state and force myself to feel renewed. Armed with a flimsy, happy slogan,“Today will be different,” I said aloud to no one with the brief optimism that a full cup of coffee brings. Invariably they were never different and my flirtations with the human race - sending out resumes, calling an old girlfriend or simply bullshitting with a cab driver - were hopeless to tether me to the world at large. It could take months, sometimes years, sometimes weeks but I would always end up sitting in the dark by myself again hearing those same damn three chords that didn’t express anything but my lack of lessons.
That being said, I functioned well enough as a perfectly bland Director of Marketing Initiatives for a dietary supplement company, a suitable career choice for a man afraid or unwilling to empathize with others. Still, I was bouncing continually from two opposing clichés: “no man is an island” and "hell is other people," which always left me paralyzed in the middle. I stopped and started for years, 76 of them, in fact, outliving everyone I knew through my ironic and accidental good health.
As I remember, my funeral was tasteful, generic and surprisingly well lit. No one I knew very well was there; mostly my cousins who I hadn’t seen in years and their kids. No one really wept since I was by then, a burden of the state and If I could spare one less dirty bedpan to be cleaned by that heavy-set woman at the hospital, that is a better gift than scented candles Possibly a nephew’s kid looked at the clock repeatedly, unaware he's being lied to.
You see, sometime around the age of 37, my days grew so monotonous, so impossible to tell apart, I didn’t realize I had been aging backwards for 39 years. I know you’re thinking that I stumbled on every man’s dream, but aging backwards is every bit as isolating and unremarkable as aging frontward. This is not Benjamin Buttons or Dorian Gray story or even Vice Versa- when Judge Rheinhold and Fred Savage switched bodies. This is real life- my life - one bored me so shitless I couldn’t even tell if it were moving frontward or backward in the first place. And since I was no good at it, with my quality of life getting worse every year anyway - smaller apartment, fatter girlfriend, same job- a second chance at tethering myself to humanity was inherently flawed.
I should note that all backwards time up to this point was buried deep in my subconscious, where it should have stayed till as a curious oaf, I triggered it. When I had my bi-monthly depression ritual of staring into blackness with my guitar in hand, I started to see shapes in the black, then entire scenes. I was hoisted out of the dirt at my funeral, defecating in reverse while a nurse watched and saw the doctor’s expression going from pensive to cordial as the test results were sent back to the orderly. My ritual did indeed induce an epiphany, but it was not what I excepted. I was seeing things that already happened in the future. Confusing, huh?
Also when time moves backwards, it moves faster as you go. Before I could even process this absurdity, I was 28 with a poorly tied tie, nodding off in someone’s frightful power point presentation. I didn’t want to sit through it again, so I tried to kill myself by choking on a Cinnabon, which as luck would have it, was suspiciously moist that day.
Years flew by, people walked in and out, hemorrhoids flared and I arrived at the moment I had been practicing my speech for, the one moment I felt like I wasn’t a machine and I wouldn’t be suffocated by my comforter or dissolve in the shower. I was with Hannah in our spacious apartment. Flawed as our relationship was -we were doomed to bicker like my parents and make scenes at Pier One Imports and such - I arrived thinking i could fix this with my future wisdom. But it was even worse the second time around. The knowledge of how events will play out will crush natural human interaction. Here's how:
She was giddy. I was clingy. She thinks the wedding is three months away. I know it never happens. I detached. I wouldn’t be staying long. Any blissful moments left became cruel and ironic. But most of all, we failed to connect because I couldn’t speak! All my words came out fucking backwards! She thought I was possessed! As a last resort, I tried explaining the entire ordeal speaking backward into a my dual cassette tape recorder with high speed dubbing then playing it back forwards. But I couldn't figure it out. The tape snapped off the spool of the maxell XL-II 90 and I couldn't thread it back together. The tape became more tangled the more I tried to fix it. Finally I tried asking her to reverse reverse cowgirl me and send me forwards in time but it was no use. I could feel my pores clogging and braces tightening as I derped back into adolescence.
Now the years were moving indescribably fast. It reminded me of my inability to water ski – being pulled behind a speedboat, trying to slow momentum with your hands. Like with Hannah, moments of childhood were not the same. Your parents and sports idols can only hold up to the scrutiny of a child.
So, you know how this ends. The cord was attached. I will spare you the details of re-entering my Mom’s vagina. But let’s just say, in the next life I assume I will have a crippling fear of tunnels.
I thought surely, I was finally dead. I was incapable of linear thought, just sensations. I had no body, no soul that I was aware of and at that briefest of moments, I had peace and an sense of fulfillment. I was not dead- just a zygote. I was a perfectly insular community of two, a diploid cell attached contently to my female gamete. This proved to be just a telephase that would last but one squat thrust.
As my one cell struggled to come up with another Mitosis pun a centrifugal force ripped me from my female gamete and I was a hapless haploid heading down a dark crowded slimy tube shape corridor.
Time as I knew it, had slowed to about the speed of continental drift when I heard sounds in the distance. The darkness was infinite, so much darker than my ritual, I stared intro the blackness and could not see Hannah’s face or my wet nurse or my funeral - only more darkness then finally, an oval blurred light in the corner that spread.
The first thing to come into focus was a picture of a dog. With a hat. Holding cards. He was at a table with similarly dressed high-rolling gambling, cigar smoking dogs. The Irish setter had a 10 high straight under his paw. The Saint Bernard was bluffing. The rest of the room came into focus, a plaque that said “The 18th hole” was bolted into a bar, there was a record playing. It was the Kingston Trio. I knew the song,I knew the place. I realized that I was still moving backwards I was yanked through my Dad's doo-dad's and I was now a thought trapped in his. I could feel other neurotic thoughts battering me around, until my father had worked himself to a familiar disconnecting paralysis, staring into the darkness or my grandmother's basement making shapes in the dark. The last thing I heard was the garbled backward chorus, “Hang down your head, Tom…Dooley. Hang down your head and cry.”