Ed. note: I've been attending an open mic night, You're Going to Die: Music, Prose and Everything Goes, who's theme is your friend and mine: death...and I wanted to write something to share in December, so I did. And then I was like, yo, why not write something for the January event? So I did again, and here it is:
I hate the future.
I know, that sounds petulant. Like I’m a stubborn Peter Pan of a lady, “don’t-wanna-grow-upping” all over the place. Like I’m chock full of alive privilege because I foresee a future to hate. And maybe I am those things. But that’s not going to stop me from trying to explain this whole future-hating thing with a story:
On this past Christmas Eve’s-Eve, a swell fellow and I went to a biker bar and found ourselves singing karaoke. Break up songs, to be precise. Kelly Clarkson’s Since You Been Gone (me) and Weird Al’s One More Minute (him), to be exact. This fellow and I met on Tinder, and had been going on dates for about three weeks: we’d been roller-skating; we’d loaded a mattress up onto a truck and delivered it; we even had a breakfast picnic at the waste treatment plant — you know, the usual things one does with someone they meet on Tinder. So break up songs almost made sense. It seemed there was nothing we couldn’t enjoy doing together.
This guy - we’ll call him Dan (because that’s his name) - and I proceeded to become those people. You know, the ones who start dancing dirty on a rusty piano in the corner. The ones who canoodle in the photo booth. At one point, he even twirled me into him and air guitared over me, his fingers dancing over my clavicle and hips. Right around that time — well, actually it was probably while I had a moment alone in the bathroom — I realized Dan had given me a serious case of the smittens. He was my kind of magic: with thoughts just unlinear enough I couldn’t guess what he would say next, a willingness to consider planning a picnic-themed sex party with me complete with men dressed up as bumble bees, and oh my god, the man referenced Tom Lehrer before I did. What, you don’t know who Tom Lehrer is? That’s fine, let’s just say singing Be Prepared is a love spell in my book.
We went back to Dan’s that night and found ourselves exploring other universes, rolling around with supernova and stopping time all over the place. We were engaged in some serious fuckery, to be precise. It was epic fucking that ended with my first [redacted for my mom’s sake], to be exact. And when we’re finished, Dan and I fall perpendicular across his pillows, taking no heed for how beds are supposed to work. We’re sweaty, and salty, and within moments he’s asleep, his legs dangling off the mattress’ edge where just minutes before he’d had me in a rather precarious position.
If we were in Never-Neverland right now, I’d tell you that I flicked my eyes across the outline of this wonderful human lying beside me, felt his sweet mutt Gozer curl up on the other side of me, and experienced the hefty lightness of gratitude rest upon my chest.
But that’s not how my brain works, and besides, I don’t see Captain Hook and Tinkerbell chasing each other around right now.
Instead of feeling lucky, or dreaming about the coffee we might sip on the porch together, here’s what really happened: I flicked my eyes across the outline of this man who delights me in a way I frankly forgot a person could, and I imagine Dan dead.
I couldn’t stop myself. I conjured up what it would be like when his lips can’t make that half smile when he’s thinking something a little devious and a little sweet, when he can’t wink at me like it’s a secret language, when his voice can’t drop to call me “Sugar.” How he won’t be able to surprise me by answering my ridiculous questions (true story, one morning I woke up and said, “What if clothes were skin?” and without missing a beat, he replied, “They’d be a-frayed.”). How even though I’ve only known him for a month, my life would be so silent without him. And how when he’s dead, he probably won’t remember me, and when I’m dead, I probably won’t remember him.
So there I was crying next to this man sleeping, blissfully unaware, next to me. Crying about this future loss. Crying about this thing that hadn’t happened yet, but that I couldn’t stop. Instead of just being in this perfect moment, lying in our fucking reside, all I could think about was the impossible sadness of all this being gone. Not just gone, forgotten.
The future isn’t just where you lose things or people. The future is where you forget them. And there’s no way around that.
I’ve recently noticed the longer you live, the more you have to forget. I used to remember everything. My entire life was so short that no matter how many days or months went by, I could recall exact details of Claudia Kishi’s outfits as described in Babysitter’s Club books, right down to the page number they were described on. (This made me a formidable opponent at the Babysitter’s Club trivia game, and also ensured none of my 10-year-old friends wanted to play said game with me).
But now, I’m 34, an age which could be prefaced with either an “only” or an “already,” depending which side you’re on. And I’ve been forgetting things for the better part of a decade. Adolescent conversations are now just an image, a memory of twisting the curled plastic phone cord through my fingers. There’s Angelica’s laughter, but not what we’re laughing about. There’s the fact that I went to marching band practice, but not the specifics of a single rehearsal.
And that’s why I hate the future. It’s less about the dying so much as the understanding that there will come a time — whether dead or even possibly while still alive — that I won’t know this thing called Dan existed, and he won’t remember how I looked at him like he could become anything he was ready to be.
You can only remember the things you’re actually present for. The things you’re here for, right now. But the future is the opposite of right now. Because in the future, we’re already gone.
Ed. here again. A friend gave me (solicited) feedback on this piece, and I thought it was worth reading: If it were me, I might give some more thought into what you do and don't remember. Is it necessary to remember every outfit someone wore in a book until the day you die? Is it, perhaps, more necessary, with our human brains that, like an overstuffed closet, have a max capacity, to remember what you loved and learned from those books? Is it necessary to remember every detail of a current moment, or perhaps more necessary to remember how that moment, that person, that place made you feel?
I would also venture to say that when you love someone and spend time with them, learn from them, they become part of who you are in ways only a serious head trauma could erase. That's why, even with inevitable forgetting, it's so important to choose who you're with carefully, because they do have lasting impact for good or ill. They get into the fiber of who you are in a way that's richer than memory. What is a memory but a home video of the mind? It's the experience behind the memory, the connection between people, that holds substance.
Whether that continues after death is a conversation that requires hard liquor and at least one Philosophy major. But that's besides the point here anyway, because the point is how these thoughts interrupt the precious Now. Especially with an atheistic world view, Now is all we have - and it's even worse to poison it with worry. But we're human. Worrying and forgetting and fretting and letting our minds run us ragged is part of the human condition. Love and loss are also part of the human condition. The challenge, as it's always been, is to figure out how to live under those conditions. And that, I guess, is where I wish this piece went, because I constitutionally need light at the end of any given tunnel.