Disclaimer: The characters here belong to Audrey Niffenegger. I'm just borrowing them for a bit of fun. Scattered poems and song lyrics appear throughout and belong to their respective owners/copyright holders: "Premonition", Rainer Maria Rilke; "God Save the Queen", Sex Pistols; "Not So Sure", Joe Pug; "I'll Be Your Mirror", The Velvet Underground. Title is taken from "Crutch and Cane" by Peter Wolf Crier.
Prompt: 3486. The Time Traveler's Wife, Henry/Henry, It's common, the two of them relieving one another. As time goes on, older!Henry starts to wonder what his sexuality counts as - because he's not denying that he enjoys it very much. [Either younger Henry jumps to see older, or older jumps back, but on a consistent basis.]
I am like a flag surrounded by vast, open space.
I already know the storms, and I'm as restless as the sea.
-- "Premonition", Rainer Maria Rilke
Wednesday, December 24, 1969
(Henry is 32)
Wreckage is strewn across the highway. I am not surprised to see it, because I lived it, but it is a shock nonetheless every time. A snapshot of the scene of the accident on this icy strip of the Kennedy will reveal me to be everywhere.
At ten, I am stumbling through the snow, throwing up on the shoulder of the road, disoriented by my abrupt time-travel and horrified by the realization that I'd just witnessed my mother's rather gruesome death.
At eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, I am desperately trying to stop the accident from happening, still not having fully grasped the concept that it can't be stopped, that it had already happened, that everything has already happened.
At twenty-two, I am speaking softly and reassuringly, wrapping a blanket around the shoulders of my six-year old self, who couldn't comprehend what was going on, who wouldn't comprehend it for years and years and years.
From my current position behind a snowbank, I see several of my other selves – young and old, drunk and sober and stoned and everything in between, white-haired and depressed and teenaged and invincible – exchange glances, glances which mean nothing to anyone else but which are full of unspoken words to me, now.
I see all of this – my mother's car slamming into the truck in front of us, all of the blood splattering the car and the bed of the truck and the road and everything everywhere, the aftermath – and I see all of my other selves in that instant, watching the same tragedy unfold over and over again, and I know instinctively that this, all of this, will never be finished with me.
Sunday, May 20, 1979
(Henry is 15, and 16)
This isn't how it starts, or even when it starts, but it's close enough. It usually goes like this:
I'm asleep, or reading and pretending to be asleep, or – as is common for teenage boys who are too busy dealing with the fact that they are time-traveling freaks of nature to keep a girlfriend – engaging in some under-the-covers self-gratification in the middle of the night. There's a thump somewhere in the house: a chair toppling in the kitchen, or a pile of books being knocked off of an end table in the living room, or – as occurs tonight – a soft oof coming from the floor of my bedroom, just beyond my reach.
It is, of course, my other self, usually from a few weeks in my future, maybe a few months from now. Occasionally, he's old, and then things are awkward and, aside from that, I can't help but wonder how the hell I got so fucked up, based on this older me who always shows up looking like his life is in ruins.
On second thought, I don't want to know, and even if I did, he wouldn't tell me, anyway.
Tonight is not really that different from any other time. My other self is here from December, and is pretty irritated to be sprawled naked on my bedroom floor when he could be elsewhere. I'm pretty irritated that he's chosen now to be sprawled naked on my bedroom floor, too, to be honest. I'm kind of in the middle of something here.
I tug the covers up a little higher under my chin, just to prevent any accidental slippage of the blanket. It's nothing he hasn't seen before, and nothing he doesn't have displayed right now, given that he's still too groggy from being ripped through the time-space continuum to think to grab something to throw over his lap. But still. It's a matter of pride.
He's staring at me, but in that weird way where it feels like he's really staring through me. "Do you mind?" I ask, having given up for the time being on what I'd been keeping myself occupied with. I prop myself up on one elbow instead and glare down at my other self.
He grumbles something unintelligible and reaches for a shirt poking out from underneath the bed. "Whatever," I say, rolling onto my side, back turned towards Henry. He can do whatever he wants down there, I don't care. I'm busy.
But what happens next is exactly what I expect, exactly what happens all of the time, even after we've both agreed that we would stop. I don't want to put a name to it – can't, really, because there isn't a convenient word to describe two teenagers who routinely fool around with each other, when both of those teenagers happen to be the same person. It's a peculiar form of mutual masturbation, I guess, if I have to call it anything.
I hear the rustle of sheets and then the bed dips behind me; Henry slides in, curling against me. I start at the coldness of his body, but he distracts me soon enough. "You're fucking freezing," I grumble.
"It was December ten minutes ago, asshole," my other self retorts as he casually rests one hand on my hip.
I've tried to make this stop – to get all of my selves to knock this off – but, well, I am hard to resist. Yeah, it's weird, but if everything has already happened, like my older selves keep reminding me, then there's no point in trying to do anything about it.
Somewhere out there in space and time, the best and worst have already happened. Somewhere, I am being born, or maybe I am dead; my mother is dying and I am surviving; my father is drunk and hating me for her death. Somewhere, I am happy and I am fucking a girlfriend who doesn't know about my little problem. Somewhere, I'm getting jacked off by my other self who was just walking home from the 'L' in December before something in his brain snapped and yanked him back to his past.
Somewhere, none of this matters because it's all already happened.
Friday, June 20, 1980
(Henry is 17, and 21)
People wonder why I can't ever manage to keep a girlfriend. It's because little scenes like this one keep playing out, over and over again.
Dad's out of the house for a while; he's playing on some tour over in Europe. He didn't tell me much, and I didn't really ask. We generally try to keep away from each other if we can help it. Kimy's been looking in on me, but she mostly leaves me to my own devices, which is actually a terrible idea, and Kimy and I both know it.
Cynthia, better known as my girlfriend of the month, is supposed to come over soon, but I'm a little distracted right now. My other self is here from a couple of years down the road, and he's all pissed off about something. Won't even say what, really, and anyway, there's only one way I know to keep him from going off the deep end, which is why he's perched on the edge of my bed, hands clenched tight in the sheets, and why I'm currently on my knees in front of him, doing my best to take his mind off of whatever it is that has him so worked up.
What? It works. He's about forty-five seconds away from not being able to think about anything. Much better than the attitude he fell in here with.
But because life hates me, and because Henry keeps failing to warn me about these things, which really pisses me off, given that he already knows they're going to happen, the door to my bedroom swings open, and there's Cynthia, who's arrived early and thought she'd surprise me, but, ha ha, joke's on her.
I pull away from my other self abruptly, but he clamps one hand down hard on my shoulder, keeping me from turning to face Cynthia. "What the fuck, Henry?" she shouts when she realizes that yes, her boyfriend is, in fact, getting off with someone who is definitely not her, and who is definitely not a girl, either. Fortunately, she hasn't realized the extent of the situation, that it's not just any guy on his knees, and she slams the bedroom door shut before she can take much more of a look at the scene.
After the door slams, I stand up, stepping a few paces back from my other self. I'm glaring at him, and I feel my cheeks flush, in embarrassment or anger or I don't even know what. He opens his mouth as if to speak, which is the last thing I want. I hold up one hand to silence him. "Don't say a word." I don't want to hear it, especially not from someone who knew that this was going to happen. We've had that argument time and again, and it always ends with me getting a lecture on free will. Immer wieder. Always again, always the same.
Getting caught has always been the most likely conclusion to a lot of our little experiments, and each time we get caught, we stop for a while, but something always ends up pulling us back together. We should both know better, but somehow, we don't.
I am lost in my own anger and largely ignoring my other self, even though I can tell that he would like my attention. "Henry—" he says finally, urgently, voice coming out as a gasp. I look up, just in time to see him disappear.
Henry's gone, Cynthia's going to dump me, and once again, I am all alone.
Sunday, November 8, 1981
(Henry is 23, and 18)
I materialize in a hallway which initially seems unfamiliar. The floor is cold linoleum, the walls a sterile line of white concrete blocks. My head is pounding, and I'm think that I'm seconds away from being sick. It would be a shame to throw up all over this clean floor, but things aren't looking good for the linoleum.
I press my forehead against the cold floor and am busy trying to keep my insides under control, all while figuring out where I am and when I am, when there's a shout from behind me: "DeTamble, put your fucking clothes back on!"
I turn around and see this guy who was once my RA storming down the hallway. He's a big, burly guy, a frat house reject, pretty much, and, if I remember correctly, he spent a very long time making me very miserable.
"Uh," I blurt ineloquently as I struggle to get to my feet, one hand shielding my privates from his view. I stumble back a few paces, looking over my shoulder, trying to find somewhere to hide until this all blows over and I get whisked back to my present. I feel pretty solidly here by now, though, so I don't think I'm going to get that lucky.
"I told you last week, no more chances. I'm going to have to go to the Dean and tell him you've got a thing for airing your dick out in public." The guy looks pretty pissed off. I can't remember his name – college was a couple of years ago by now, and most of it was a big blur, anyway.
"I can explain," I say as I reach with my free hand to test the first door I reach. Damn, locked.
"You said that at the beginning of the year," he points out. "Either you've got a serious alcohol problem, or you're a real pervert."
He's right on both accounts, really, but I'm not going to give this guy any satisfaction. Cliff? Biff? Fuck me, I have no idea what this asshole's name is. I've almost placed myself in time – if I'm remembering correctly, I'm in my dorm from my freshman year of college. That's when Biff here made it his own personal mission to find a reason to get me kicked out for being some sort of alcoholic, exhibitionist freak. He never succeeded, though, so I'm guessing that things will end up okay, although I'm not interested in taking chances. There's a first time for everything, after all.
If there's anything I've got confidence in, it's my ability to outrun Biff, so as he's lumbering down the hall after me, I'm busy calculating where, exactly, my room was, and praying that I'm actually there, in this present. When I'm pretty sure that I remember, I spare one more glance at Biff, who is yelling about calling the cops, then turn and sprint down the length of the hall, slamming through the door that leads to the stairwell.
I hear Biff swearing at me, but quickly I hear nothing but the pounding of my own feet as I bound up the stairs, two at a time, until I reach my room. If I hadn't guessed right, I would have been able to find my room, anyway: it's the only one on the floor blaring the Sex Pistols. I'm pounding on my own door, shouting, trying to be heard over Johnny Rotten. Don't be told what you want, don't be told what you need. There's no future, no future, no future for you.
"Open up, it's me," I shout, fists slamming against the heavy wood door. "I don't care what you're doing in there." My recollection of this little escapade is pretty much nonexistent, but my other self has got to be in there. I think I'd know if this had all ended badly in my past.
It feels like my other self takes forever to turn off the music and open the door, but it's really just a few seconds. I don't think Biff cares enough to follow me to the fourth floor, but that doesn't stop me from being paranoid about getting caught. I'm making plenty of noise out here, and it would be just fantastic if the other guys in my hall started looking out to see what all the shouting was about.
My other self barely cracks open the door when I shove my way in, slamming the door shut behind me. "Jesus, Henry, took you long enough," I say, flipping the locks before reaching into the closet, pulling out a pair of gym shorts to throw on.
Henry shrugs, then sits down on his bed, watching me as I root through his closet for a shirt. "When are you from?"
I pull a t-shirt on over my head as I answer. "July, 1986. In my apartment one second, being chased by your big angry RA the next. By the way, you might need a new excuse for why you keep roaming the halls naked, if he comes up here tonight." Somewhat properly attired, I sit down next to my other self. "And this is...?"
"November, '81." He shifts, stretching out on the bed. "What's going on in '86?"
"Same shit as always." Dad's a drunk, and I'm doing my best to follow in his alcoholic footsteps. Otherwise, I am drifting about aimlessly with an English lit degree which has done nothing for me, not even gotten me laid. Girls aren't impressed by poetry recitations, I guess. Or, at least, not the kinds of girls I hang out with. I sigh heavily, then stretch out next to him. "Let's not talk about it. It's depressing."
"You're not giving me much to look forward to," my other self says sarcastically.
"I've heard it gets better." And by 'gets better', I mean that I've heard that the future for me involves a lot of drugs and women. My older selves don't ever want to tell me very much, but I can put two and two together.
My other self rolls towards me, his head just barely resting on my shoulder, fingers falling to rest lightly at my wrist. I tense up; I thought we'd kicked this particular habit, but maybe that hasn't happened yet. Everything is eerily quiet, and I feel like he's expecting me to say something, or know something. It's a little hard to keep track of what it is that I'm supposed to know, when time is just an endless loop. I'll wait for him to bring it up. He always does.
Soon enough, Henry speaks. "Last time I saw you--"
"Which me?" I interject.
"I don't know," he says, then sits up a bit, looking me over. "Not you, then. You looked older, I guess." Another pause. "Also, I think you were stoned."
Henry's waiting for me to protest, which I usually do when he tries to hold me to something that I technically haven't said yet, especially something that I may have said while in an altered state, but I'm too tired right now. "Whatever. Last time you saw me...?"
I can tell by the way he hesitates that he doesn't really want to talk to me. He wants to talk to the me who has clearly given him what he wants. "You said we could still--" He waves his free hand in the air. "You know. That we-- didn't. Didn't stop."
I'm quiet, deliberately not looking at my other self. "This is news to me, Henry," I say, keeping my voice even and trying not to think about how nice his cool fingers feel at my wrist. For all I know, he could be making this up. I'm not sure what the end game is for him here, other than to get laid by himself. "How much older is 'older', anyway?" It would be nice to be able to place all of this in time somewhere, and I would also like to delay what is surely an inevitable argument.
Of course, this also makes Henry even more irritable. "I don't know. 28? 30? Not all gray and old old yet." He scowls at me. "You just told me to let things happen, that everything will end up working out."
Sage advice from a stoned guy, I guess. "You're not doing much for my ego, here," I point out. I certainly hope I'm not 'all gray and old' at just 30, after all.
"I dunno," he says, a playful note creeping into his voice, even though I can tell he's still kind of pissed at my lack of future knowledge. "Fucking yourself is kind of the height of ego-stroking, isn't it?" He lifts a quizzical eyebrow, and I can't help but laugh.
"Oh, fuck off," I say through my laughter, even as I shift a bit closer to Henry, and before I know it, he is on top of me, teeth grazing against my neck, hips grinding down against mine, and we are both so desperate for a connection with someone who gets it that we're content to let it keep happening.
There was a time when I heard you calling out my name
Saturday, September 15, 2007
(Henry is 26)
I'm in the future, stumbling around under the Belmont 'L'. I haven't quite placed myself in time yet, but it's definitely not 1989 any more, I can tell that much. Things feel very different; my head is swimming and my ears are ringing. My grip on now, whenever now is, is tenuous at best. I don't know how long I'm going to be here, so I might as well make the best of it. Whenever I am, this isn't the Lake View of my present, that's for sure.
I've appropriated some clothes – liberated them, really, from the godawful stainless steel mess that's currently passing for the Belmont Army Surplus (I mean, since when did an Army Surplus sell trendy one-hundred-fifty-dollar shirts?) – and am checking out the new and ostensibly improved neighborhood. I had thought to try and hunt down my present self, but that's probably a terrible idea. Instead, I'm exploring another avenue which is also likely a terrible idea, but I'm going to preemptively blame any consequences on my older selves, who surely had to know that I'd try something stupid like this and should have talked me out of it when they had the chance.
'Something stupid like this', of course, has turned out to involve wandering north on Halsted, relieving a drunk girl of her wallet, and then proceeding to get blindingly drunk at a bar slinging a cheap but potent-as-hell pitcher of pink lemonade, which tastes mostly like sugar but is apparently practically straight vodka, based on how quickly I've gone from zero to smashed.
And, of course, now that I've acquired a vodka-induced mindfuck, I've decided to try to find out the answer to a question I've been pondering on and off since high school, which is why I've used my stolen money to pay the cover to a dance club in the heart of what the locals are aptly calling Boystown.
This club is a terrible idea for many reasons other than the fact that I've immediately found myself being ogled by several guys. The strobe lights and the pounding music don't make that underwater feeling that I've got feel any better, but I throw myself onto the dance floor nonetheless, confident in the knowledge that if I get displaced in time again, that none of these tweakers here will think it's even remotely out of the normal.
As I join the writhing mass of bodies, I'm determined to figure out just what the hell my deal is. I've been carrying on with myself for years now, and I've devoted a lot of time and energy to convincing my various other selves that it's not, you know, a gay thing. I mean, I like women. I like women a lot. I've never seen a guy that did the same thing to me that seeing a hot girl does. Guys just don't do it for me. I think. (Those drunken semi-hookups in college do not count.)
There are hands on me as I dance, and occasionally a guy leans in close, trying to strike up conversation. I just close my eyes and keep moving to the beat of this (wretched awful pop) music. I'm not interested in talking; talking leads to people asking questions, and I don't have answers for any of these guys.
But I am drunk, very much so, and feeling slightly giddy about the prospect of being left to my own devices in the future, and before I know it, I'm grinding up against this guy who is frankly pretty gorgeous, if that's your thing. I didn't catch his name, but he's one of those guys who turns heads everywhere he goes, and who also won't take no for an answer. It feels different dancing with him, and I'm not sure how I feel about it, honestly. His hands seem to be everywhere all at once, sliding up underneath my shirt, running just under the waist of my stolen jeans, tangling in my hair. I close my eyes and move with the music, trying to shut off the part of my brain that's hell-bent on over-thinking this.
I guess there isn't really a way to over-think something like this, really, but I'm just trying to keep from talking myself out of it. Experimenting doesn't work that well when you keep it all hypothetical.
Before I know it, the guy's got one hand curled at the back of my neck and he's kissing me. I don't think I've ever kissed another guy before this, other than my other self, and that hardly counts. This is different than kissing girls, and different than kissing Henry, but not by much. He's leaned in close, teeth nipping at my neck, biting sharply at my earlobe. I can't help but to groan a little and press up against him. What he's doing feels too good for me to even think about whether or not I should feel conflicted about any of this.
"I don't live too far from here," he says, his breath hot against my neck. I know exactly what he's implying, and all I can do is nod dumbly. He steps back from me, takes my hand, and leads me through the crowded bar, out to the street. For once, I think as I follow him back to his apartment, I can only hope that I stay fixed in this time for just a bit longer.
Just, you know, for curiosity's sake.
Monday, November 4, 1991
(Henry is 28, and 38)
Clare and I have been inseparable for the most part, although this is largely due to the fact that she is so elated to finally have met me in the present that she is reluctant to let me out of her sight. She does, however, still have obligations that do not involve me, and so I have been left alone in my apartment to contemplate the fact that the woman I am eventually supposed to marry has known me since she was six, and yet I still know next to nothing about her.
Being alone has afforded me the opportunity to think about all of this, and said thoughts have run the gamut from 'wow, this is fucked up' to 'but she's really good in bed' to 'oh, god, I hope I wasn't some kind of creepy pedophile in her past and/or my future', back over to 'no, seriously, this is very fucked up', and then straight over to 'oh, shit, Ingrid is not going to take this well at all'.
It's actually this last thought that I'm stuck on. This is mostly because while I can't claim to really understand her, I do know Ingrid and I am pretty convinced that she's going to try to kill herself, again, when I break things off for good and that this time it will in some sense be my fault. I don't think I want that particular black mark on my soul, even if any reasonable person would say that I can't possibly control Ingrid's actions. But Ingrid is not a reasonable person, and, to some extent, neither am I.
But Clare is clearly wonderful and, unlike Ingrid, isn't completely out of her fucking mind. I've just been hanging on with Ingrid because, well, better the devil you know than the devil you don't, I suppose. We're perfectly miserable together, only slightly less miserable when we're dancing or fucking or getting high. Ingrid isn't my future, largely because my future has already been determined, and the future is Clare.
I am ever so rudely brought out of this line of thought, which has presently devolved into thoughts of fucking Clare (understandable, as I am admittedly easily distracted), by the insistent buzzing of the doorbell. Unsurprisingly, it is myself, sounding pretty irritated to be here instead of wherever he belongs in time. (I'm my own most frequent visitor, actually. This really just indicates how pathetic my social life is.)
I open the door to the apartment and shortly, my other self hurries in. He looks tired and anxious, like he'd rather be anywhere else but here. "Hey," I say, handing him a set of clothes that may not actually be clean, but it's better than nothing. "It's November 4, 1991. Monday." He grunts in response, then awkwardly dresses himself. "Don't have much to say?" I ask, stepping away from him to sit on the edge of the bed currently taking up most of the room in the small studio.
"No," he answers, then shoves dirty clothes and some books and other debris off of the bed so that he can curl up on it.
"When are you from?" I ask. I'm in no mood to deal with his bad mood. I don't really care what drama he's going through in his present.
"August 2001," he says, voice muffled by my pillow. He's silent for a few moments. "Where's Clare?"
At least he can still do basic math. "Class." I'm dying to say something crude, but I hold myself back. For the first time in a while, I actually think that I need this other self right now. "Is everything that she says true?"
"I've never known her to be a liar," he says.
I reach over and poke him in the ribs. He groans and moves further away. "That's not what I mean. I mean, all this stuff about marrying her, about me meeting her when she was a girl. This list of hers."
"She has no motive to make anything up," Henry points out. He's rolled over now to face me. I guess he's given up on getting any sleep. "You're not exactly a real winner at the moment, you know."
"I know, but--"
He interrupts me, and I scowl at him. "Your life's a mess, you still haven't broken things off with Ingrid, and I think you're still sleeping with yourself. I'm not sure why Clare bothers to stick around."
"Ouch." I hate it when he wields that over me. It's not like he's so innocent in this. "You know exactly why I'm still-- why we're-- why he--" I'm fumbling for words here; the pronouns are tripping me up. It's not this Henry I've been with, but it's still Henry.
"Yeah, Henry, but Clare--" He presses his hands to his eyes, then sits up. "Clare gets it, Henry. She understands you better than you do. All you're looking for is someone who gets you? Well, that someone just walked into your life, buddy."
I don't know why he's being so firm about this all of a sudden. I thought he wanted to sleep, and instead he's lecturing me. "I didn't ask you to weigh in on any of this," I say bitterly. "I just wanted to know if she was the real thing or not."
"More real than you know." There's a hint of sadness in his voice that I can't place, but, then again, it appears that I'm always sad when I'm coming from the future, and no matter how many times I ask, he'll never tell me anything. "Just trust me on this one, will you?"
Thursday, December 14, 1989/Thursday, March 28, 1996
(Henry is 32, and 26)
I am currently in 1989, and against my better judgment, I am stretched out on the bed in my old apartment with my younger self. He has one arm flopped lazily across my chest, fingers curling and uncurling in my shirt. This is against my better judgment because I am old enough to know better, because I have a beautiful wife at home in 1996, a beautiful wife who is patient with my habit of spontaneously disappearing, but who may be less than understanding about my habit of having little lost-in-time rendezvous with other versions of myself.
I am conflicted, certainly, over this habit of mine, but given that it's gone on for so long now, I think I've given up all hopes of ever ending it completely. My other half, however, hasn't quite come to this same stage of détente as I.
"I mean, what are we doing here?" he asks me. "What is this?"
It's a stupid question, but I know why he's asking. I don't bother answering him, and just skip right to the heart of what his problem is. "You just hooked up with that guy from Hydrate in the future, didn't you?" He doesn't answer. "It's not like you could have kept me from finding out, you know." He does this a lot, tries to keep me from knowing things that I've already done.
Henry rolls his eyes. "I know," he says petulantly, and I wonder not for the first time why in the world I insist on being such an idiot sometimes.
"So, tell me about it."
"Even though you already know about it."
"Yes, even though I already know. Pretend you're talking to someone who isn't also yourself." I don't think he buys it, but I know he will, because I know we've already had this conversation. "Who the hell else are you going to talk to about it? Ingrid?"
My other self looks away, up at the ceiling. He's going to cave in and talk, in another minute or two, so I will just wait. I'm not going anywhere.
He is quiet for a while, and then, as if on cue, an explanation: "So, I went home with that guy and we... we, well, you know." For someone who is notoriously blunt, he seems to be having a hard time coming out and talking about this.
"It's okay," I remind him gently, "it's not like I'm going to judge you for it." I distinctly remember feeling like I needed to be absolved of my numerous sins before actually talking about it. "You can skip all of the details, if it makes you feel better about it."
He scrubs his hands against his face, mostly to avoid looking at me, I think. "We didn't go as far as I have with--" He gestures vaguely between us, but mostly at himself. "I kind of freaked out, I guess. It was too much."
This conversation is sort of like cheating, because I already know how it's going to end. "In what way?"
"Too confusing. I started out trying to answer one question and ended up with a dozen more."
"Like?" He shoots a glare at me, but I'm not letting him off the hook. "I've already been through this, Henry, you can't surprise me."
He looks away from me, and down at his knees instead. "It wasn't bad," he says quietly. "The opposite of bad, really. I mean, I liked it, I guess. Until I freaked out, at least." He twists his hands together in his lap. "And I just … I went in there wanting to figure out once and for all what exactly..." His voice trails off. I wait, again. I already know what he's going to ask, but he needs to live through actually having to say it. "Does this... I mean, does it make me … gay?"
I remember being really pissed off by how flippantly my older self answers, and I can't stop myself from replying just the way I remember doing it. "Technically, it makes you bisexual."
"Fuck you, you know what I'm asking." Yeah, there's all that self-righteous anger.
"Do I need to explain to you the whole concept of sexuality as a spectrum?" A pause. "Again?"
"No, no, I know. Kinsey, it's a giant scale of one-to-queer, all that. Most people aren't completely one way or the other, I know that."
I choose to ignore his less-than-eloquent summation of the issue. "Then what are you asking me?"
He gets up, beginning to pace around in the too-small apartment. "I don't even know."
I guess I can just go ahead and make this easy for myself. I hate telling myself anything about what awaits in the future, but maybe he can avoid this existential crisis if I give him a few hints. "Henry. In my present, you are very happy in an overwhelmingly heteronormative relationship. All because you occasionally dabble with, well, yourself, and all because you've had a few other experiences that have apparently thrown you into this sexuality-related quarter-life crisis, doesn't mean you have to run out and label yourself as anything, if the label's going to make you even more goddamn neurotic than you already are." Strange, I seem to remember this conversation being a lot more reassuring.
My other self thinks this over for a moment. Maybe the reassuring part was all in me head. I can't quite remember any more. "In that case," he starts, but doesn't finish the thought, as he curls one hand in my borrowed shirt, tugging me close to him.
Despite my free-to-be-you-and-me pep talk, this is still a phenomenally bad idea, although for different reasons for the both of us. For me, I have a wife who I will be returning to at some point in time, which means that I should probably not do anything that will find me in a compromising position. But that's just what I'm doing, as I push my other self down on the bed, holding my weight up with one hand while pushing his shirt up with the other. This is just as surreal as it's always been, like a bona fide out-of-body experience.
Henry leans up and kisses me eagerly; there is nothing delicate or hesitant in his movements. All of his earlier confusion has melted away as he unbuttons my shirt. I remember this moment very clearly from my past, thinking that if nothing really mattered, if I could be whatever and whoever I wanted by my older and apparently more well-adjusted self, then there was no plausible reason why I couldn't just do whatever the hell I wanted.
It sure was nice, being so naïve back then.
He's worked his hand into my pants, fingers curling around my cock, and I am pressing down against him, when the room abruptly begins to spin, and not in a good way. It's spinning in a way which signals that I am being rudely yanked back to my present, despite the rather pressing issues at hand. My vision blurs, and before I can give my other self much warning, I am deposited face-down back onto my own kitchen floor, relatively safe and sound in 1996.
Clare is there waiting, and for once, I almost wish she wasn't. This jump back has been particularly jarring, and my body hasn't exactly realized that it is no longer in 1986 and no longer has cause for excitement.
"Henry?" Clare calls my name softly, and I realize that I've been sprawled out on the floor for longer than is necessary.
"Mmph," I respond, which loosely translates as I really don't want to talk right now but which she interprets as lets keep talking to our favorite pet time-traveler.
"Are you okay?" she asks, and from the edge of my field of vision, I see her crouch down next to me. Clare rests one hand on my back, which is warm and slick with sweat, and I can only hope that she comes up with an acceptable solution to this riddle that isn't necessarily the truth. I don't want to lie to her. I hate doing it, in fact; it makes me feel like the young and selfish version of myself that I just left, rather than the man who I've grown to be, but I've always felt the need to protect Clare from some of the grittier aspects of my time-traveling, and this is one of them.
"Did you hear me?" The note of concern grows stronger in Clare's voice, and I guess I could give her something to work with, to help ratchet her worry back down to a more acceptable level.
"Yeah," I say, pressing my palms flat against the floor as I prepare to get up. "I'm fine. That was just – a pretty unexpected return." Slowly, I work my way into a sitting position, feeling more self-conscious than usual about my post-time-travel state of disarray. In reality, there is not much different about me, but I am having my own personal Hester Prynne moment, and I can't help but assume that something will eventually signal my indiscretions to Clare and the world at large, showing off the undeniable proof of my own bizarre sexual proclivities.
"Where were you?" she asks, reaching forward to run her fingers through my hair. I close my eyes and think that I do not deserve her, not at all. "You look..." She pauses. "Further away than usual."
"1989, I say. I was with my other self, back in the apartment on Dearborn. It was..." I hesitate, trying to decide how to label it without incriminating myself. "Weird. Different." I open my eyes and draw back from Clare's touch. If I stay here any longer, I am going to start answering questions that dear, sweet Clare has not asked and most likely doesn't want to have answered. "I'm going to go take a nap." When all else fails, sleeping and pretending that everything is okay is a fairly safe plan.
"Henry—" Clare starts as she hands me a shirt which she had dutifully kept at hand for my return to our present. We both pause, fingertips just brushing as I take the shirt, and in that instant, I am positive that she knows everything, right down to this last secret which I have worked so hard to keep from her. "Never mind," she says, words coming out as a weary sigh. She releases the shirt to me, and I long to say something, anything, but there just aren't enough words in any language that I know with which to explain myself. Instead, I dress myself in the clothes that my ever-patient wife has provided for me, and go back to the bedroom, intent on forgetting everything so that I can keep going on with my life in the present.
I'll be your mirror
Friday, July 7, 2000
(Henry is 41, and 24)
I am sitting on a bench in the Lincoln Park Zoo with my 24-year old self. After separately finding ourselves in the same place, we've decided to make the best of it. Or, at least, I have decided to make the best of it. My other self doesn't appear to know how to make the best out of anything at the moment.
We are watching the lions roam about their habitat. They look bored, irritated, like they would rather be anywhere else than this free public zoo. Maybe they've heard that the Brookfield Zoo is much better suited for their feline needs, but the lions can't quite figure out how to ride the Metra to get there. Lions, after all, can't take the train.
My other self reminds me of the lions. Not in respect to the train, of course, but in the boredom, the irritation. We may have both wound up in stolen clothes at the zoo, but he is not too happy about it.
We are two sides of the same coin, or maybe a demented yin-yang. He is young and bitter and angry at the world, but he is also passionate about everything. I remember, with some level of fondness, being that young man, this long-haired, hotheaded anarchist, bent on either destroying the world or himself, whichever comes first. And I remember quite clearly being 24 and wondering how the hell I got to be so damn old and boring.
What he doesn't know – or isn't self-aware enough to realize yet – is that he's hiding a shocking amount of vulnerability behind that pissed-off punk facade. He doesn't know, because I am him but he is not yet me.
We don't talk about much, mostly because he's at that age where he doesn't want much to do with his older, allegedly wiser, self. He's past the age where he felt that he needed me, and I'm old enough today that he sees me as a father figure. He didn't have much of a father figure in the form of our actual father, and he certainly doesn't want one in me.
Henry clutches a cup of water in his hands, looking down at the quickly melting ice cubes. At this point, I think we're both just waiting for one of us to disappear, back to wherever it was that we came from. I know already that he will go first, back to 1987, where he was busy trying to figure out ways to avoid becoming me.
I long to tell him something, anything, which will make his life easier. 'Cheer up, it will get better,' or 'I promise, you'll figure yourself out eventually.' Something that will tell him that he needs to stop beating himself up over everything he perceives to be wrong in his life.
But I won't. Not today, at least. Instead, I just watch him, remembering all the rage and confusion I was dealing with at that time of my life, feelings that I drowned with drugs and alcohol and lots of meaningless sex. Things are different now, but I wonder sometimes just how far I've come from being the young man next to me on the worn bench.
There are days where I'm convinced that we still are exactly the same person.
When everything has already been decided, when your future is your past is your future, it's easy to find yourself realizing that nothing ever really changes.