Please forget you ever wrote this. Please forget that you’re reading this now. Today is September 13, 2003. Saturday night at the cusp of autumn. I want you to find this in a few years when you’re stuck writing something else. You’ve got a couple hundred words but they don’t feel right, don’t seem to be leading anywhere. In a fit of desperation, you start skimming through old stuff lying around on your hard drive, hoping to pick up a trick you’ve forgotten or a starting place. Even just to remember what it feels like to close your eyes and pound out the rest of sentences, to write something genuinely good, something you’re happy with.
I got a letter in June addressed to “The Klimas Family.” It was from a young man in Pennsylvania who had just graduated from high school. He wanted to thank Amy and me for sending him a graduation present — a check for an unspecified amount of money, which he will use for his textbooks in the fall.
There are two weird parts to this. The first is that although the letter was addressed correctly, it’s just me in my apartment, and I’ve never heard of the person who’d written me the letter. The other part is that I don’t know anybody at all named Amy, let alone married to them.
Sure, if you want to be logical, it’s just a case of a kid who couldn’t remember what an aunt and uncle’s street address is and did a five-second search on the Internet. But I like to avoid logic sometimes, to believe things without really believing them.
This letter was misplaced from the future, sent back through time via a wrong move by a mail sorter in the Orbital Postal Service. Someday I will be married to someone named Amy. Someday I’ll get mail that’s addressed to the Klimas family — someday I’ll be the one getting the thank-you notes instead of having to write them all the time.
If this was a short story, that’s how things would be, anyway. And this is the letter I’m writing to the future in return. Because once you put something on the Internet, everyone will remember it forever, right?
So, how’s it going, Chris Klimas? Still as good-looking as ever? Are you still working on Crunchable? Somehow I think the answer will be no, though I couldn’t exactly say why. Maybe it’s just editor’s fear — that you’re fighting an uphill battle, trying to prolong the lifetime of something that people have lost interest in a long time ago.
But that doesn’t really matter. What I wonder about is what your life is like now. Have you found Amy yet? What’s she like? I have some crushes on girls right now, but circumstances won’t even really let me try to do anything about it. So it feels like it’s still going to be a long time before I’m in a serious relationship again. It feels cold to think this way, to gauge your chances, to put these feelings aside — la confiance, mon ami, c’est le chemin au bonheur. Don’t tell anyone the truth and they will believe you to be a superman.
Do you feel confident? Do you have hope? Both of these things are in short supply today. There’s nothing going wrong so far as we can see, but there’s a fear that won’t go away. We were told an asteroid was set to collide with the earth in 2014, but then the astronomers changed their minds. There’s nothing wrong with the economy so far as I can see (but then I can’t see very far, and all the economists who appear on television are blind), no force depressing us beyond the belief that things aren’t good, and that they won’t be getting better anytime soon.
The 90s were full of expectation. Commercials promised us the ability to buy a way into the future itself, an escape capsule from all the humiliation and pain of the 20th century we spent so many years reading about in school. Nowadays commercials promise us the ability to save money, and as such, are totally boring.
We are deflated, in a word. All my friends have finally settled into jobs and apartments, but it’s like all we’ve found is a safe hiding place. We’re grown-up now, but we haven’t figured anything out. Ask anyone whether they plan on staying at their job for more than a few years, and the answer almost always will be no. The exceptions being teachers, who almost by definition are lifers, and me.
So what are you doing for a living now? Have you quit and become a forest ranger, like I sometimes daydream when I haven’t gotten any bills in the mail recently? Did you really have the huevos to go through years of learning about forests just so you could wander through them just like you did when you were a kid? Or are you still sitting in front of a computer, typing stuff that pops into your head? Do you still believe one is better than the other?
Have you been promoted? Did you ask for it because you would soon be a father? Did you get it finally after persevering through the hiring freeze? Has everything suddenly turned on a dime and become what seems to be normal now? Is there an SUV parked in your parking spot? Do you have a 401(k) plan? Have you been to the hospital again? Do you think about death still? Wonder what it’s like right before you stop being you? Do you still think it’ll be sort of like falling asleep?
Or maybe you don’t think about it anymore; plain old just don’t have time to. The days go faster and faster. Barely any time to eat lunch. Barely any time to talk beyond saying hello to friends and asking long-lost acquaintances whether they’re still as good-looking as ever (irony, my friend: it’s hard to get right).
Do you still hang out with Rob a lot? Did you go to a concert with Sarah? Was it cool? Have you talked at all to Kate Wise, or are you still waiting for fate to smack you against her again? What was Stephanie’s wedding like? Do you remember any of this at all? Do you remember what it was like to be me? Would you rather forget?
Maybe you have a disease now. A permanent one, I mean. Does it change your way of looking at things as much as I think it would? Do you still stare out windows? Do you still like drinking Bass when you don’t want to get drunk, and Guinness when you do? Have you figured out yet why you shiver right before you fall asleep? I’ve wanted to know for a long time.
I don’t think I’m getting this right. I don’t think I’m even asking the right questions. Can you write me a letter instead? It doesn’t have to be a long one. You don’t even have to write it in English if they don’t use it in the future.
I just want you to tell me that I don’t need to worry. I want you to tell me that in the future, monkeys will help us remember other people’s birthdays and that people actually will set foot on Mars. I want you to tell me all brand-new fairy tales. I want you to lie but then laugh when I believe you, and then tell me how it all really went. I want you to tell me about when you fell in love, and when you visited New Orleans like you’d always wanted to. I want you to sign your name in a weird new kind of handwriting, and to add a PS at the bottom of the page with a little tiny secret that I can carry with me and never use until I’m not me anymore, and I’m you instead.