Potentially triggering material ahead. The following is a work of fiction — or not.
Just A Boy
I stepped into the titanium chamber, glowing lightly purple from the inside. A bare metal seat was firmly bolted to the floor with two control panels, one on either arm. The seat was its only occupant. The walls glowed faintly as the mercury pumps worked their strange magic. I sat. The door closed automatically, latched shut and hissed with the sound of a vacuum seal made perfect.
On the right control panel, I entered a date. February 18, 1986. On the left, my hand flew as I swiped a series of commands. In my excitement, I forgot to fasten my seatbelt. With that now tight across my chest, I pulled the red lever on the far left. My vision blurred.
G-forces assaulted my body but I had no difficulty in breathing. I saw stars, the kind like when you fall and hit your head. I heard voices but they were melded together and the words indistinguishable. White noise but identifiably human. Then I heard music. A guitar strummed. A triangle tinkled.
I was close.
The taste of hot chocolate, but overly sweet and unappealing.
The sensation of cold and damp. Feels like February. I must be there.
For I am just a boy,
Too young to be sailing.
I am just a boy,
And my future is unveiling,
And I’m so frightened of failing.
My eyes opened — I didn’t realize they had been closed. The chamber door was open ahead of me and I could see white snow, and dark green trees. I heard the sound of children. But I could not be seen. I could not be heard. In fact I was not really there at all. A part of me was, but not physically. I could see, hear, smell and feel my surroundings but not affect them. The process of travelling back through time had a strange effect on the senses. To a limited degree, I could also feel what my younger self was experiencing. The cold, wet feet. The taste of that awful hot chocolate. I was in the right place.
This was Mount Mary 1986.
Every year, the Catholic school sent its graduating grade to a week long retreat at Mount Mary. A few students declined to attend, but only over the loud objections of the Grade 8 teacher.
“Any student I had that didn’t go to Mount Mary either died or went on the drugs!”
For an entire week, I was stuck with those awful kids and the oblivious teachers. It was a lonely time. That’s why I had to come back here.
We weren’t allowed to bring anything with us to Mount Mary except our clothes. No Walkmans, no music. The night before we left, I absorbed as much Kiss as I could. Times like this called for my favourite band, and only my favourite band. I memorised Double Platinum and The Elder the best I could.
That music that I was hearing when I arrived back here? The songs in my younger self’s head.
I surveyed the landscape. It felt like I was floating. I could see my legs, and they hovered inches above the fresh dusting of pure white. I could move in any direction at any speed I liked. I just had to think it. I couldn’t be seen or detected in any way. Nothing more than a ghost in their world. A world that disappeared, and transformed over the decades into the one we live in today.
I followed the sound of the children. Their footsteps were deep in the snow. The larger prints were from the teachers. The adults who enabled the bullying. The people who allowed this trauma to happen under their watch.
“Here we are! Agony Hill!” said one of the supervisors. I remember this hike. The teachers hyped up the forest to us beforehand. “You’ve never seen trees so dense in your life!” they boasted. It wasn’t true. It was the same as the cottage. Agony Hill was a steep incline that we had to traverse. This time, I flew.
There! Just below. I saw him. Me. In the blue coat, blue mittens, and blue jeans. Why did I always wear blue?
A couple larger kids pushed. I felt the shove in my back. I felt the surge of anger and the welling of tears. I remembered.
I stopped. I had no idea that time travel would be this intense. I wasn’t prepared. The wounds are fresh. Other memories are flooding back. An assault of snowballs was still to come, followed by the laughter.
It was time to do this.
I willed my presence ahead and caught up to my younger self. My face was red. I was burying as much of it as I could into my coat. I could see the glistening in my own eyes. I was utterly alone. I had a few friends but they were walking in groups with other kids that didn’t like me. But I wasn’t really alone this time.
It felt weird talking to myself. I put the strangeness aside and spoke.
“Kid,” I started and stumbled.
“I know you can’t hear me. I can’t hear me. This is weird. Let me start over. Kid, I know what you are going through now feels like an unending series of hellish bad dreams. I know it because I lived it. I survived it. Those kids that have power over you today — power over your fear — won’t be around forever. You only have to hold out a little longer. Just a few more months. And there are good things to look forward to in those months too. It’s not all doom and gloom.”
“Trust me on this. You are just at the horizon of experiences that will change your life. When that happens these kids will be in the past, forever. They will have no power over you anymore. They will have no more influence on your life than a bent and creased photograph. I didn’t realize it before, but seeing you now, you are already on your way.”
“You climbed Agony Hill. You were breathless by the time you were over the top but you made it. And guess what? Your legs and lungs will be stronger tomorrow because of it.”
“This whole time, with all these kids, you’ve been preparing yourself for the better years. And you are going to cherish and savour every last moment of them. You are going to use all of this, the good and the bad, to light a fire. Everything about this time and this place is going to drive you to be an individual. And that individual is the guy next to you right now.”
I paused my monologue and observed something peculiar. I saw something flicker on my younger self’s face. It was like he could hear me. He shouldn’t be able to. It turns out, nature is always two steps of humanity. There is no such thing as a time travel paradox. Nature wouldn’t allow it. All I could do was see and feel the past, but I couldn’t interact with it. The laws of reality are quite firm on this matter. Yet I could swear I saw my past self react to my own words. Impossible.
Yet the younger me appeared more relaxed in posture. I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word “confident”, but there was a visible shift in that direction.
Impossible! Carry on.
I continued. “Stay you. You are going discover some amazing new music, meet people that inspire you to create, and these…” I trailed off. No need to encourage my younger self to swear more. “These little jerks are going to be nothing more than ghosts in your past real soon. But what they have done by mocking you and belittling your individuality is that they have made you more determined. Instead of trying to be more like them, you are going to keep pushing to be more like you.”
I had to pause again. After all, I don’t want to lie to myself.
“It’s not all a bed of roses. I don’t want to mislead you. What these kids did to you is going to last and it’s going to take work and time to process it. Sometimes memories will sneak up on you. But I’m OK. I can honestly say that I am OK. Being an individual makes me happy. It means people really like me, for being me, not for someone I’m pretending to be. And guess what? Tables always turn. One day, the things you have always loved your whole life are going to be considered cool. And you are going to be the expert.”
Suddenly my younger self smiled. I could not believe it. Coincidence? I immediately felt the need to cut my visit shorter than I planned. What if the science had an unseen loophole? Science always has a way of surprising us. I didn’t want to change the past, or even take the risk. Let the theorists argue about it. I had to go.
“See you round, kid.” I gently kissed myself on the forehead. It didn’t seem a weird thing to do. But I had to go now or I’d never leave.
In a blink I was back in my chair. I felt the warmth of my tears on my cheeks. I had to wipe my eyes to set the date back to the present. Seatbelt on, I pulled the lever. I saw the stars, and again I heard the music. Drums now, stuttering through time.
I was so frightened,
I almost ran away.
I didn’t know that I could do,
Anything I needed to.
They said I didn’t stand a chance,
I wouldn’t win no way.
But I’ve got news for you,
There’s nothing I can’t do.
I believe in me.
They say that time travel can be a bit unnerving. That’s why most people don’t do it. They try it once, and most folks leave it at that. Me, I need to recover after this trip. Home again, my tired eyes closed as I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
February 18, 1986. Mount Mary, Ontario Canada.
I can’t sleep. All I can think about it is that voice I heard today on Agony Hill. This place is weird. The shadows on the walls are strange and creepy and these beds feel like army beds. But what’s keeping me up is that voice. I’ve never heard a voice like that before. Was it a ghost? Is this place haunted?
I’m drifting off, but I hear music: the music in my head that I memorized before they bussed us off to this awful place. The beat is still fresh in my head and the words echo into my sleep. I feel OK. I feel like I’m going to be OK.
I believe in me.
I believe in rock and roll.
Yes I believe in me.