Memory/Character Essay: Thirteen Examples

How to Survive

Or Gotham

I once met myself fourteen years into the future.

It was a complete accident that I met him, because he was so not my type and I wouldn’t normally have entertained the idea of having a conversation with him. But, as I said: a total fucking accident. The wrinkle in time wrinkled, or time travel was invented and legalized in the not-too-distant future and older Or managed to wander from his continuum and into mine. When he introduced himself to me, I forgot his name literally immediately after he told me. He actually asked me my sign. Clenching my jaw and motioning to the bartender for another drink, I said “Capricorn.”

“Yeah?” he asked excitedly. Apparently, we were born in the same moon cycle, or something. He asked my birthday, and after we swapped our licenses, it was confirmed – we had the same birthday, fourteen years apart.

The more I squinted at him in the unconducive-to-seeing-anything bar lighting, the more I saw my hairline, and my forehead wrinkles and the same sad hooded eyes I see in every mirror. I don’t really remember what my father looked like, but he came pretty close. He also didn’t look bad for 36, in the way that at 22, I still look like I’m 17. Fairly spry, it seemed, with how often he spoke with his hands. Almost spry enough to match the fact that he was dressed like he was nineteen fucking years old. And it was this 36-year-old wearing a college freshman’s outfit that began to reveal that he knew everything about me, which made the previous coincidences that much stranger.

“The thing about us (He kept saying “us” instead of “you”) is we build fortresses around ourselves.” He drank his scotch and soda in between long-winded thoughts, furrowing his brow as he sipped because he knew it made him look cool. I recognized it immediately, because I am no stranger to doing it. I made a mental note that he was drinking scotch. I like scotch, but have always been more of a bourbon man. But, maybe that changes in the next decade and a half. He continued.

“We put up these walls to every single person we meet, not because we’re afraid or wounded. Damaged, maybe. But being damaged can actually be a powerful thing. Because we’re damaged, we know how to survive.” Fuck. He sipped and furrowed. “But it’s a test. It’s how we find out who is good enough to keep around. And we just want someone to call our bullshit. It’s so much easier to be alone than hurt, right?” He spoke softly, which at first was a nuisance, because I had to lean in. He also spoke declaratively, which is daunting when a stranger tells you things about yourself. He spoke like it was unquestionable truth. Because, as I found, it was.

“You want someone to get past those walls and just grab and hold you. Hold you until you push back and tell them to stop, and even then they still won’t.” I could feel myself stop breathing. “You’re smart. And you want someone who can keep up with you. You two will bump heads and argue, but that’ll work for you guys. That will be your foreplay.”

This shit continued on for almost two hours. I barely spoke. For a number of reasons, really. I was speechless with how much he knew about me and with how much he knew about my past without me telling him a single thing. He knew about Adam, down to how long we dated, the color of his eyes and even the day he was born. He knew that I am the way I am because, as he put it, “you didn’t get to have a childhood.” For a second I felt my composure crack. My throat tightened and I had to break eye contact with him. Suddenly, I was a kid again, spitting blood into the bathroom sink.

“You’ve been thirty since you were thirteen. The way you talk, the way you hold yourself, the way you dress. Look at yourself! You’re thirty. Something happened to you and you had to grow up faster than you should have.” He used his hand to cover the fist I didn’t notice I was making, as if to apologize. “But, the great thing is, when you actually are thirty, you get a chance to be a kid again. Why do you think I dress like this?”

As incredulous as I am capable of being, I sat earnestly in front of him. This man who had my hands. This man who closed his eyes when he spoke. This man who had nothing to gain from these things he said. I took a large sip from my drink, catching myself while furrowing my brow, and asked, “What happens to me?”

He had a smirk across his face as he began to map out invisible timelines on the table, or in the air between us. He told me about traveling, domestically of course, because I’ve always felt like I should see the country I live in before I go explore other ones. He somehow made absolutely no mention of my career. Which maybe would be strange to anyone else, but my goal in life has never been to be rich, or well known. I’ve always cared more about starting a family, building a home, and living somewhere off the grid and having a garden with the right guy. He told about a man I meet at 25. A man who I fall in love with and a man that loves me in return. He paused, as if to remember. “He’s good to you.”

I leaned in to hear him recount stories of a his-and=his bed and breakfast in the Appalachians. But, the story ended as quickly as it started. “You are going to be very happy with him,” he declared. I beamed momentarily. He then added, “and it will be devastating when it ends. But, it is the breakup that will shape you into the man you become for the rest of your life.”

That night I walked myself home. I paced slowly to navigate around the patches of ice, occasionally laughing at the idea that I actually entertained the idea of time travel. His name was Hardy. I suddenly remembered that on my beer-drunk walk back to bed. I toyed around with ideas of why he would come up to a stranger in a bar and tell them the things he told me. He didn’t want anything from it. Not my number, or a drink. Nothing. And just before I began to write it off as one of the stories I will tell my kids, I thought about how I found Hardy. Standing alone on a Monday night at a bar. Just like I was. Maybe he wished he could tell twenty-two-year-old Hardy all the things he told me. Maybe he needed to be told that his father leaving had nothing to do with him. His mom would remarry and his new dad will call him “buddy” and take him camping like he always wanted. Maybe he needed to apologize for not standing up to fight when he was thirteen and getting his face kicked into the snow. He was young. He didn’t know how. Maybe he needed to forgive himself for forgetting how to sleep after that breakup. His body didn’t know how to be alone. His head just felt too heavy to even live. Maybe he needed to remember that the guy he fell in love with at twenty-five wasn’t a bad guy. Just human. I could still taste blood in my mouth on my whole walk home.

Discussion Questions

  • Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
  • Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
  • How well does the author support the intention of the piece? Cite specific details that support or take away from the author’s intention.
  • Is there information missing from this piece that would make its intention clearer? What else would you like to know?
  • Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
  • Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
  • How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
  • Are there particular passages with engaging language/description that stood out to you? Describe the appeal of these passages.
  • Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?

 

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How to Survive by Or Gotham is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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