Letter From Self

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Three major things will happen to me over the course of the coming year.  I’ll meet someone.  I’ll think he’s wonderful.  He won’t be.  That’s the first thing.  Second, I’ll break my arm in a cowardly attempt to flee from my own responsibilities.  And third, I’ll serve on the crew of the most extravagant ship to ever sail the nine seas, the Glorious.

How do I know these things will happen?

Because I told myself they would in a letter…a letter that was meant for a future me two years from now, and somehow ended up being delivered to the current me.

***

Let me back up a moment.

See, I have this tradition that I started, oh, I don’t remember when.  The tradition was to write myself a letter every year in January, then seal up the letter, put it away, and not open it until January of the next year.  A kind of miniature time capsule.  The purpose was for me to reflect on all the things I did (and maybe didn’t do) over the previous year, and talk about all the hopes and plans I had for the coming year.  I called it my Letter to Self.  I addressed it to Future Me.  And I always ended the letter by asking the future me to be braver and wiser and just better than the current me.

But for the past few years, my heart hasn’t really been into it.  I haven’t really cared about opening the letter or writing a new one.  I’d already decided that I wouldn’t write one this year.  But I still had one more letter to read.  The one I’d written to myself the previous year.  I’d set it aside, figuring I’d get to reading it soon.  It was almost February by the time I got around to it.

When I unfolded the letter, I immediately noticed what I thought was a typo.  I’d written the year wrong.  The letter was dated in the future, about one year in the future.  Then I started reading.  And then I started frowning.  The details in the letter.  The events that the writer, that I, was relating and musing about…they hadn’t happened in the past year.  They’d never happened.

I spoke about visiting a state I’d never been to before, and attending the wedding of a friend who wasn’t even in a relationship at the present, and then…then there was Marvin.

In that typical story of finding something after you’ve finally given up looking for it, I found love, romantic love, that is, with Marvin.  Or…I will find love…with Marvin.  If I believe this letter is really from the future, that is.  It’s not.  It can’t be.  I don’t know what it is…some writing exercise I did in a fugue state one day?  A practical joke by my roommate (my roommate who has completely different handwriting and never ever touches my stuff)?  Or maybe it’s some kind of offbeat tough love strategy that some mysterious loved one is trying on me?

At this point, I’ve re-read the letter several times.  And certain parts of the letter even more times.  And I’m still trying to figure out what to make of it.  But I’m running out of time.

And the first thing I need to figure out is what to do about Marvin.

***

She…me…future me didn’t go into much detail.  The details, she said, are in her—my—journal.  She only included the outline in the letter.  Their meeting wasn’t—won’t be—cute.  She was racing out of a coffee shop near work with her arms full of a pick-up order when she slipped in a puddle just outside the door.

It was not a puddle of coffee.

Marvin’s dog hadn’t been feeling well that morning.  And he’d puked just outside the coffee shop, while Marvin was inside.

In a heroic effort, future me managed to catch herself and all but one coffee cup, which luckily didn’t spill out.  While she cleverly used the coffee to wash off the bottom of her shoe near a drain, Marvin caught up with her and apologized and offered to pay for her coffees, even though she was already outside.  Future me rushed off, only taking enough time to tell him to take better care of his dog.

Later she would feel bad that she’d maybe been too harsh.  She didn’t know what kind of morning the guy was having.  For all she knew, he’d just gotten word of some terrible tragedy and had managed to drag himself out of the house to try and enjoy something that normally gave him pleasure, a nice cup of coffee.  And then his poor dog got sick, and to top it off, a stranger rubbed salt in the wound about the sick dog when he tried to be nice.

So she went back to the coffee shop around the same time for a few days, hoping to catch him and ease her own conscious by taking him up on his offer to buy her a replacement coffee.

One day, he showed up, and made good on his offer, and that was that.  They—we—they started seeing each other.  At first, she didn’t take it too seriously, didn’t act the way she—we—typically did, that is, putting her all into the potential relationship.  She was busy trying to do what I was now aiming to do.  Work.  Go on more auditions.  Volunteer more with her community theater.  Try and change her mindset at her day job, so instead of feeling like she was wasting away, she would observe and learn and use all of that experience when she performed.  All of that was stressful enough.  And all of that would consume all her time.

I read this next part of the letter over several times, cocking my head, studying myself.  She spoke of all the usual stuff.  That sudden bloom of bliss in her chest, the flush across her face, and the goosebumps on her skin, whenever he shifted closer to her.  The big smile she couldn’t repress even if she wanted to, whenever he came into view.  It sounded pretty dreamy.

But as time passed, her feelings, her attention, her time, all turned toward Marvin, like that one flower that bends toward the light of the sun.  Unable to see or care about much anything or anyone else.  Now that sounded more like me.  Unfortunately.

It started off harmlessly enough.  We went to a Biting Heads concert.  I don’t particularly like that band, so it must have been his choice.  No big deal, except as I kept reading, all of the events that future me talked about us attending seemed to be things that I didn’t care about, and that Marvin did.  I shook my head.  So much for learning and growing.  She seemed to be behaving in the same way I always have, putting her own interests on the backburner, putting on a performance.  And the role she was playing?  Why, whatever she thought her audience-of-one wanted to see.

But future me seemed to think that she had learned and grown.  She claimed to have made time for friends, for family.  She worked.  She thought she was managing to balance it all.

I frowned and wondered why.  She only mentioned seeing everyone on their birthdays and at a summer picnic gathering.  She didn’t mention any dinners or game nights or drinks or coffees or movies.  Maybe she did those things, but just didn’t mention them in the letter.  But I had my doubts.  I could see the empty space in her life that should have been filled with happy hours with colleagues and girls’ nights with girlfriends and movie marathons with her roommate.

There was no break-up.  Marvin slowly vanished from her life.  A few late arrivals for dates eventually turned into no-shows.  A cancelled weekend.  Unanswered messages.  Whenever she asked him if he was all right, if he needed anything, needed any space, if she could help in any way, he insisted he was fine and all was well.  And he slowly, but surely, vanished from her life.

She let go and stopped trying to contact him.

But even as she wrote the letter, months later, she seemed to be pining for him.

I don’t know what I did wrong, she wrote.  And I couldn’t help feeling a little disdain for my future self.

This guy Marvin, he didn’t seem that great, especially compared to others we’d loved and lost.  He didn’t even have a dog after all.  It was a friend’s dog he’d had with him when they first met.

If the letter was real, at least I knew to steer clear of him.

“Better to have loved and lost,” I muttered, shaking my head.  “I beg to differ.”  I waved at the letter.  “Bye Marvin.  Nice to not know you.”

***

As if all of that wasn’t heavy enough, future me went straight into the next big thing that happened in her year, the possibility of becoming a parent if anything were to happen to my best friend and her wife.  Fiona and Janet had no next of kin who were willing to take on the responsibility of raising their daughter if they were unable to.

Future me wanted to be there for Fin.  But she didn’t want kids any more than I do now.  That’s one thing that wouldn’t change in the coming year.  Future me started thinking what present me was thinking, that some tragedy would actually happen, and I would suddenly have a baby to take care of.  This was after Marvin, but not long enough after.  And I definitely sensed some bitterness dripping into the letter from future me at the thought of losing someone she wanted in her life, and gaining someone she didn’t.  And she had the decency to feel guilty and awful about it all.

But not awful enough in my opinion.  Had future me forgotten all the struggles that Fin went through for the privilege of calling herself that little girl’s mom?  How much it meant to both her and Janet to be parents?  All the phone calls I’d fielded, sometimes at work, letting her talk and talk, because that’s all I was good for, was being an ear.  Had I forgotten all of that?

Of course future me had every right to refuse if she knew she wouldn’t be able to provide for a kid or wouldn’t have help in figuring it all out.  But she did have help.  I do now.  I don’t intend to stay at my day job for long.  I’m hoping for my big break, of course.  But it’s as steady a job as they come these days, and I’d stay if I had to.

Future me did sound appropriately ashamed when she wrote about refusing the request.  And at least she had the guts to do it in person by buying the disappointed couple dinner at a decent restaurant.  A decent restaurant that she was able to afford because she earned a decent wage.

So maybe she deserved what happened to her next.  She paid and left them to finish their dinner.  She rushed down the stairs, her heart racing with the fear that she might have ended a friendship.  She fell and blacked out, and when she came to, stunned and sitting up, she was holding her left arm to her chest, and bystanders were rushing to her aid.

As it turned out, Fin and Janet were the ones who drove her to the hospital.  And taking it as a sign, future me changed her mind and begged them to forgive her and let her prove to them that she would take her responsibility seriously.

I was skeptical until I read on.  Future me volunteered to babysit every chance she got.  I’ve never changed a diaper in my life.  But in the coming year, it seems I’d be changing a lot of diapers.  And cleaning spit-up.  And rocking cradles until my arm went numb.  And singing made-up songs just to try and make my niece Lillian laugh.  And being terrified about bathwater temperatures.  And panicking and calling Fin at the sudden appearance of a rash.  For the first couple of months, she did all this with only one good arm.

And she got herself appointed Lillian’s guardian should anything happen to her parents.

***

While her arm was still in a cast, future me went to a casting call for the pilot of a new show that was some kind of workplace situation comedy, with some drama, and some song and dance numbers.  It sounded like a long shot.  It wasn’t even pilot season.  The working title was something like “Nine Seas Ahead.”

She was given a part to read and she read the part.  Then she was asked to improvise a song about sailing on the ocean.  She thought she nailed the first part and blew it with the song.  I’m a decent singer, but I’m no improviser.

Two weeks later, I was shocked to learn that I’d gotten the part.  I was on an ensemble cast on a show that would actually be called “All Aboard the Glorious.”  It was about the crew of the most technologically advanced luxury liner in human history, constructed by an international team of designers and engineers, namesake of a famous battle cruiser, the Glorious.

It hovered over the ocean using some passive technology that pushed against the water itself, so…no sinking.  It combined all the different kinds of cruise experiences: family fun, romantic getaways, science and exploration vacations, and of course, exquisite cuisine, to list a few.

They hadn’t done much filming by the time future me wrote her letter.  But she’d gotten to know the cast and crew a bit, and already loved her new colleagues.  And she’d actually felt bittersweet and very scared about quitting her day job and leaving those colleagues.

My future self would be playing the ship’s “Adventure Experience Coordinator.”  In the first episode, there was a minor running gag about her designing an escape room so challenging that she herself was unable to escape from it.

***

Lot of ups and downs in this letter from the future.  I haven’t shown it to anyone else.  I haven’t even told anyone else about it.  I think I’m simultaneously afraid that the letter will be immediately debunked as a hoax and that the letter will be proven true.

I’ve already passed some of the events mentioned in the letter.  And they’ve come true.  But I’m still not convinced.  Those early-in-the-year events were fairly vague.

But if the letter is real, I’m going to have to make some decisions, and soon.

The day that future me met Marvin was April 21.  It was now April 14, and I was starting to get nervous.  And it was a strange feeling.  I knew it wasn’t going to work out.  I knew I didn’t want it to.  But I was curious.  What did he look like?  Why did I care?  Am I trash for caring about that?

And if I agree to be Lillian’s guardian from the get-go and never went to dinner at that restaurant, would I avoid breaking my arm?  Or would it still happen, but in some other situation?

Would it be cheating if I already knew that my audition for “All Aboard the Glorious” would include an improvised song, even if I didn’t prepared anything?  Or would they be able to tell, and suspect that I did indeed cheat, and reject me from consideration?

Will I change things for the worse in someone else’s life if I make different decisions based on what I know from this letter?  This letter that—whether it’s real or not—has influenced me.

And if the letter is real, was it an accident that I received it?  Future me certainly didn’t write it for her past self.  She addressed the letter to her future self, just as I always do.  So if she didn’t send me the letter, who or what did?  And why?  If it was just an accident…does that mean there is no meaning?

***

I’ve made up my mind about two things in the letter.  I’m going to avoid meeting Marvin, and if I do meet him, or anyone else named Marvin for that matter, I’ll have my guard up.  And if Fiona and Janet ask me to be Lillian’s guardian, I will tell them I definitely want to, but I’ll still ask them to give me a little time to think about it.  Because there are no guarantees.  And I’d want to make sure I was as ready as I could be.

Now, about the Glorious.

As much as I try not to let it happen, every time I read that part, every time my gaze falls on that word, I feel this surge of hope and excitement in my chest.  And I catch myself grinning.  And sighing.

But I’ve got to cut it out.

I haven’t got it yet.  There may be no such thing as that show.  And even if there is, I haven’t got it yet.  I may never get it.

I’ve tried to comfort myself by telling myself that I’ll get something if I keep at my craft, if I truly love it.  But that’s not enough to distract me from that twisting in my gut.  And it’s not enough to stop me from lamenting the loss of something I don’t even have.

So I made a decision about the letter itself.

***

I wouldn’t be doing this if that letter included details on thwarting some terrible tragedy or something.  But it’s just my life.  And the letter was never meant to be a blueprint or a game plan.  It was just…a story.  Her story.  Not mine.  I’m not her yet.

That’s why I’m about to tear it up.  I’ll remember what I remember, but the rest, I have to let go.

I look down at the letter, hesitating for a beat, just before I make the first tear.

I smile at the salutation on the first page, and I say, “See you in a year.”

 

Copyright © 2019  Nila L. Patel

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