Summer 2001. 19 years old.
That was the summer I started to embrace my braininess in new ways. That was the summer I began to fall in love with Pompano Beach. 2001 seems like such a far off place now—but it’s also the time I read VALIS for the first time.
I’m not sure if 2001 is something that I would ever want to do over again. I don’t think I could do it better the second time around, either. I’m too rich and spoiled to ever want to do it over again. My 19-year-old self had a heart and tenacity that I can’t even ponder at this moment.
I’ll never be that young again.
My 19-year-old self was also obsessed with writing a novel. The novel was called “A Strange and Distant Land”. The main character is a working-class sort based partly on myself who meets a British author by accident while he is vacationing in South Florida. I would obsess with the details of the story without asking myself the important questions, like “What happens?”
I read through my journal and wonder if I ever will be able to meet this 19-year-old, whether he is real or just a figment of my imagination.
The more I read, the more I realize other things about myself. At 19, I was still attached to Las Cruces, New Mexico. My mom was still there, my friends were still there. And maybe, just maybe, I was under the illusion that I could return someday. All the badness would have washed away, and only the things I loved about the place would remain. More than anything, I was still under the illusion that I could perpetually be a teenager.
“When did you realize that you couldn’t be a teenager?” my younger self asks me. I run my hands through my receding hair.
“Difficult to say. Though I think it had to be sometime around the point…” I stop myself. I was about to tell my younger self something he shouldn’t know. Doc Brown was right. It’s never a good idea for someone to know too much about their own future.
“Maybe it was when I went back to Las Cruces. Right after turning 28. It was kind of hard to deny it by then…Las Cruces had changed. People had moved away. The town was noticeably bigger. Worst of all, it had gotten larger in a way that made it similar to every other place in the US.”
There are so many things I didn’t want to tell him—my 19-year-old self.
Sure, I could tell him about writing—how the very thing that had saved him when was in high school would turn him into an introverted and boring adult. I could tell him about falling in and out of love. I could tell him about a magical place called Nagasaki.
I could tell him all these things, but that would be beside the point.
Eventually, he asks the obvious question. “Why are you here?”
“Isn’t it obvious? You’re the coolest person I’ve ever known. And though I could spend a lifetime trying to be you, I could never do it. Originally, I thought I came here to ask your advice, but now I realize I came just to hang out. I’ll let you be the way you are and if you end up being me, despite my imperfections, well then, so be it.”
“You don’t seem so bad,” he says.
That made everything seem alright for a moment.
Who was this person? Someone whose tenacity to start big impossible projects (like novels) and to think about big questions was endless.