Time Travel Conversations with my Teenage Self, part 2
“So you believe me?” I ask. I wince, hoping that I won’t have to go through the whole process with him.
“Yeah, I’d recognize that nose anywhere.”
“The nose? Not the eyes and hair?”
“The nose. You know I practiced drawing it several times.” He gestured back toward the desk below the shelf where his much-newer transformer stood. On it was a notebook that my grandmother had given me when I was fifteen or so. I used it to practice drawing anything I could get my hands on. At that time, I had a mirror, and a face. My face. My nose.
“Ah yes,” I agree. “So.”
“We need to talk.”
“Oh, don’t tell me. There’s an evil monster robot in living flesh coming after me.”
“No, kid,” I said. I sat down on a chair just behind me near the second desk in the room, by the computer. “Look. Don’t be a smartass.”
“Did you expect me to be anything else?” He had a point. Besides, that sharp wit was my only defense at the time.
“So how old are you?” he asked. “Fifty?” He was on full attack mode. He wasn’t like this ever, unless he felt safe enough to bite. It could have been a defense mechanism, but it meant that he was much more comfortable with the idea than an outside observer might think. After all, there’s only one person who knows this kid better than himself, and that’s me.
“No. I’m eighteen,” I said in retort. “I’m from the year 1989.” I give him that same half smile he was giving me, and we both chuckled. It was the same in-the-nose chuckle that I always give when laugh at my own jokes. No wonder it annoys everyone around me.
“Seriously, what’s your deal?” he asked. He pulled up his own chair. It was an old Ethan Allen chair that once sat by our dinner table when I was a child.
“I just wanted to talk. Had some things happen recently that I think you might want to prepare yourself for.”
“What, did the world explode?”
“No.” Frankly, he wasn’t far off. My world has been pretty explosive in recent months, and these events haven’t been the most pleasant. But they’ll be things he will have to experience for himself, I surmise. “Nothing quite that drastic, but I had this opportunity and I wanted to make the biggest impact I could by talking to the one person who could change my life for the better, and that’s you.”
“You fucked up, didn’t you?” I forgot how comfortable I was with dropping f-bombs to friends back then. But then, if I couldn’t cuss in a conversation myself, who could I drop my guard around? I smile and laugh silently.
“Oh, I wish it were that simple. Change one event, and I could be a billionaire.”
“So what is it? Because I sure as hell don’t want to end up looking like… that,” he points at me. All of me. The cheeky little bastard.
Something changed in an instant. He didn’t care about the extra weight, and hopefully never noticed my thinning hair. My hearing aid was a little smaller than his, and hopefully he wouldn’t ask about 21st century technology. Maybe he would. After all, I still had my iPhone in my pocket. Suddenly, he started asking questions.
“So, do I get to be a comic book artist?”
“No.” My answer didn’t phase him.
“Do I have a cool job?”
“Well, kind of.”
“I run an ad agency out of my house.”
“What, no office with lots of employees?”
“Tried that. Didn’t work.”
“That sucks. Are you rich?”
“Well, shit. At least you got the hell out of here,” he said, pointing to the room in which we stood. “And away from Dad.” There it is. The opening for the talk I knew we needed to have.
Get Over Yourself
“David, look,” I started. “You really need to get over yourself and this mind war you have with Dad.”
“What? After the divorce? After the things he did?” I had touched a nerve. I forgot how raw it was. It was that very same nerve and raw wound that would control my life for at least another seven or eight years. It was a bitter, deep, ugly stain on my spirit that I should have anticipated. It was like I slapped him.
Any time someone even thought of telling me that I had to stop holding such a grudge against my dad, I threw up an instant, impenetrable wall. And it was about to happen between me and my younger self.
My parents had gotten divorced a couple of years before. It was as if my whole life had been shattered during some of my most critical development years, and everything I knew was suddenly in pieces. I never blamed myself for their split, but I did blame my father. I held him responsible for the destruction of our family, and I held him responsible for forcing me to stay in Clarksville — the very last place I wanted to be.
To make matters worse, Dad had arranged that my younger sister and I would never live with my mom again, and we would only see her on weekends. It was an arrangement that I absolutely loathed. And I held nothing but contempt and resentment for my dad throughout my teens and early twenties.
“Dave, look,” I said. He preferred to be called “Dave,” and it was a way for me to connect. “I remember all of that. And I know what you went through. And you’ll have to come to terms with it on your own.
“I don’t think I ever will,” he said. God, was I really that self-centered? Yeah. I guess I was. This is the one thing that drove me during my teenage years, my rage toward my dad. I even tried the path of forgiving him, an attempt to which he didn’t take too kindly. Eventually, I realized that the only person who was letting the my parents’ divorce disrupt my life — was me.
“You will. One day.” I said with a smile. “And it’ll be the most freeing moment of your life.” I felt like Gandalf at that moment.
“Did you come here to try to fix that?” He asked. It was a pretty good question, and frankly, I should have expected it. Maybe it would be a good thing to start the healing process.
“I think,” I paused a moment, “that in the end, you’re the only one who can do that.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Remember when Andy told you to stop walking around with a chip on your shoulder?” Andy is my older brother. I hated when he told me that. Every. Damned. Time.
“Yeah.” At the time, my brother’s younger counterpart was running a little stereo shop on College Street and was dating the girl who would become his wife and the mother of my niece and nephew.
“Well, that’s the chip. And you’re the only one who can remove it.”
It was an awkward silence, but he sat with his elbows on his knees and he hung his head low. “It still hurts,” he said.
“I know. And it will. For a long time.” He stayed silent for a few more moments. He didn’t lift his head, but he asked the question I was hoping for.
“Why don’t you hate him anymore?” He asked with almost a whisper. He then looked at me with a tear in his eye, just starting to form. “You KNOW what it was like.”
“Look, let’s face it,” I said. “Dad is a self-centered man. He always has been. And yes, he always will be. I stayed seated, and looked him in the eye. “But you’re even more selfish that he’ll ever be.” He winced. But damn it, I was right. I continued.
“Look. He didn’t beat you. He never sexually abused you. He loves you. But you and he are like oil and water. He’s the football player, the soldier, the attorney, and the judge. And let’s face it, Dave. You’re none of those things. And you never will be.”
“Yeah, we’re pretty different.”
“No, Dave. You two are as different as two men could ever be. He doesn’t know how to relate to you. And you don’t know how to relate to him. You have absolutely nothing to talk about. And here’s the thing… That is okay.”
Teen David nodded his head. A lot.
“The one thing Dad knows is action. He wants you to know he’s done things for you. Provided a house, a truck, food, all of that. He did all of these things because that’s what he knows. He’s never been an affectionate man, and here’s the thing. Do you know why you’re always so pissed at him?”
“Because you expect things that will never happen.” I paused. “You expect him to be caring, loving, to be interested in things you do and the things you care about. It won’t happen. Ever.” I take a breath. “And really, he does love you. He just has a hard time showing it.”
“But why can’t he just let me go to live with Mom?” he asked. My answer wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
“Because he loves you.”
I remembered all too well the mantra that the ex-gay cultures spread, that bad relationships with a guy’s father makes them gay. But the reality is that my dad and I are two totally different people. We had a rotten relationship when I was a kid because he had no clue how to relate to me, and I wanted him to be something he wasn’t. It was a recipe for disaster. Daddy issues? Oh, these were the granddaddy of daddy issues. And here I was putting my younger self face-to-face with them. Would that change anything? Probably not. But in this fantasy, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
At the time, I was so wrapped up in my anger toward my dad that everything I did was to get out of the house, and eventually out of town (lot of good that did, since I moved back a few years later).
Teen David stood and walked over to the sliding door to the storage room, which he kept open. He leaned against it and then put his hands on the other side of the door, as if he was bracing it open. He sighed and dropped his head back, knocking it gently on the woodwork.
“I dunno,” he said with a sigh. “I just don’t know.” I was challenging his very existence at that point. It was hard enough for him to think that Dad was just a human being who’s flawed just like anyone else. But to actually think that Dad actually loves him enough to do what he thinks is best, well, that’s a bit of a stretch. I’ll never agree with my father on a lot of issues — a LOT of issues — but I’ll always know that he has in mind what he believes is best for me. He gets frustrated when I don’t achieve what he thinks is my best — like any father does. Frankly, I think I sold myself short on a lot of things in my life, and I’d be pretty frustrated at myself too.
Teen David let out another sigh and looked back toward me.
“So, do I get married?”
“Yeah, aaa… about that…”
DAVID W. SHELTON is a graphic designer, blogger, writer, activist, and author of The Rainbow Kingdom: Christianity & The Homosexual Reconciled. He lives in Clarksville, TN with his better half and their many, many pets.