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we can't live in the present forever

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PAST

This is how he remembers it:

When Marty McFly is eight years old, he sets the living room rug on fire. He'd tell you he didn't mean it, but he kind of did. He filched the lighter from his mother's jacket pocket. He was curious, but he wasn't afraid. He got grounded for two weeks. The scorch mark is still there.

But he also remembers setting the living room rug on fire when he's eight years old, messing around with a chemistry set that he got for Christmas. He didn't mean it, it was an accident, and he helped his brother roll the rug up and put it on the curb for the trash man. “We'll just buy a new one,” his dad had said.

-

And he's pretty sure this is how it happened:

When Marty McFly is 16 years old and sitting in the garage teasing out a pretty sick Van Halen riff on the guitar he just borrowed from Needles' brother, an old guy comes shambling up the driveway and asks him if he wants a job.

“I'll pay cash, just need a lab assistant, someone to help me with my science experiments.” The guy – the Doc – doesn't meet Marty's eyes, but there's something about the way his fingers twitch on the seams of his jacket.

Marty asked him how much cash – he's got a demo tape to make, after all. Marty thinks he wanted the job because doesn't want to take money from his dad, or it maybe it's because his dad doesn't have any money to take.

He's really not sure.

-

He remembers sitting in Johnny's truck, in the Burger King parking lot.

“Aw, man, you serious?” Johnny's voice booms over the loud hum of the truck engine, words only slightly muffled by a fistful of french fries. “The Doc is crazy, you know? I ain't going in there, he'll probably experiment on me.”

“Oh, shut up, Johnny.” Marty shifts uncomfortably in the passenger seat, his hand on the door handle. He eyes Doc's garage. “You don't know what you're talking about.” He doesn't move.

“You're such a chicken, Johnny.” Needles sticks his head through the open window in the back of the truck, smelling of cigarette smoke and grinning like it's Halloween. “How about you, McFly? You chicken?”

But sometimes Needles is a girl named Melanie and she's pleading with him not to go in there, “Doc's crazy, he blew up his house, why can't you just work at Burger King like a normal person--”

Marty goes inside and tries to ignore the furtive phone calls in languages he can't understand, the ridiculous amount of things he's not supposed to touch, and the tremors in Doc's hands.

-

Marty's pretty sure it was the first day of Summer in 1985 when Doc turned to him and said: “People say you should be scared of me, don't they? That I'm crazy, certifiable, that I blew up my own house for the insurance money.”

Working with Doc was better than being at home with his mother following him around smelling like a cross between a perfume counter and a liquor store and the non-stop clacking of his dad's typewriter and his guffawing laugh. So, he went with an old standard: “I ain't scared of anything.”

He was scared of the look on Doc's face, what some people might call a grin.

“Just--” Marty's mouth is dry, his hands stuffed deep in the pockets of his jeans. “Just keep the funny business to yourself. I ain't gonna let you experiment on me, no dead bodies or gross stuff like that.”

The Doc tilted his head, narrowed his eyes, sized him up. “What kind of doctor do you think I am?”

Marty took a breath, puffed his cheeks and let the air whistle through his teeth. “One that blows up his own house?”

They both laughed.

*

PRESENT

*

It's not until a few months after Doc is gone, really gone, and Jennifer finally breaks up with him (“It's just too weird, Marty, I saw how unhappy we were – how unhappy you were, I can't, I just--”) that Marty realizes that he is kind of, sort of, totally screwed up. And pretty damn lonely.

He looks at his mother and sees two people, can't reconcile his father with the man who raised him, and has no frame of reference for a brother and sister who don't hate his guts. He looks at a lamp, and his brain creaks, tries to keep up. (Grandma bought that – no, it was from Uncle Joey.) He lays in his bed and stares up at the ceiling and tries to remember who his best friend was when he was little, comes up with two names and has to look both of them up.

The only person that makes sense to him is Doc, but Doc's not here now, is he?

-

“Doc, come in, Doc.”

“Doc, come in, Doc, please!”

-

Marty waits around for a letter, for a sign, but the Fall turns to Winter and everyone can't understand why he hasn't picked a college yet, or put that demo tape in the mail. He listens to the demo, and doesn't remember recording it, but he picks up his guitar and can play the riffs like he wrote them.

He wrote them.

No, not him. Him.

-

He wonders if Doc has the same problem; histories overlapping, memories colliding in the space of a single, shared moment.

He hopes not.

-

Marty starts seeing Doc everywhere – a dog that looks like Einstein, a flash of silver in the sky that's just one of the local guys taking his Cessna up for a joyride. He thinks about what his future must have looked like through Doc's eyes – seen his wife, his kids, how he completely messed everything up in the blink of an eye, the press of an accelerator, the gun of an engine.

Marty sells the truck and buries the money in the old mine. He's careful with putting the boards back in the right order, Doc's initials underneath his finger tips.

He gets a splinter from the rough wood, sucks it out with his teeth and tongue.

He gets on a bus to San Diego that night.

-

Thirteen weeks later, he's leaving basic training. It's the first time he's ever been on a plane, but it's not the first time he's flown through the air. He doesn't tell his Drill Instructor.

-

He doesn't “see” Doc for about four years, until he's pinned down in an abandoned building on the outskirts of Khafi, trying to explain to his platoon that the guys who were just shooting at them are “on our side, damn it!”

It's not until he goes to check the door for the second time that he sees it – a Y, with small circles at the end of each stroke, carved into the frame. Four numbers underneath: 21:53. Marty flips his wrist, looks at the digital numbers staring at him: 21:47.

There's shouting, a mixture of “We gotta get out of here!” and “What the hell, McFly?” and then it's loud, so loud that the sound lifts him off his feet and shakes the air in his chest.

-

It's not until they're crammed in the back of a transport, heading back to base, that someone asks.

“How did you know, McFly? How did you know the building was gonna blow?”

He wishes he could tell the kid, with his blond hair and freckles and a cut on his cheek that's gonna scar, that he did know, that there was something there, something that made sense.

But Marty's pretty sure he's a terrible liar, so he scratches his neck where his beard's coming in after three days without a shower and just says, “I didn't.”

*

And he's knows this is how it happened:

He's 60 miles from the closest thing that can be called friendly territory, with a mix of wounded and whole, and someone finally answers his calls on the hand-held. The voice crackles, spits, the static hiss of electricity feels loud in his ear. He gets their orders, pauses with his finger off the button.

“You scared, Marine?” the voice on the radio asks him.

He doesn't hesitate. “Yes, sir, I'm damn scared, sir.”

A crackle and buzz. “Call me Doc.”

“I'm damn scared, Doc.”

"If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything."

*

FUTURE

*

This is how he remembers it:

When Marty McFly is 47 years old, he's got a wife, two kids, and a house in a crappy part of town. He doesn't have a job, full use of his left hand, or a friend in the world that wouldn't screw him over for a buck.

But now, right now, he's just shy of 24 and knows his future hasn't been written yet. And that's no accident.