Clueless Time Traveler

February 27, 2009

A writing professor I know often uses time travel as a plot device. His novel about Abraham Lincoln involuntarily appearing in Chicago in the 1950s bring him to life in a unique way. More intriguing is the professor’s unpublished story imagining himself as an adult occupying his boyhood body and mind.

That’s a journey I would gladly take. I already go back in dreams. Why not make it real and less overwrought?

His story pops into my head while replaying my forty-year high school reunion. My greatest hope before the event last September in Florida was that I’d have meaningful conversations with people I care about as much now as I did forty years ago.  (Actually I care about them more because I hadn’t seen them for many years, and the older I get the more I appreciate friendships of youth.)

By meaningful conversations I mean those that high school kids are incapable of because they lack maturity and experience. I was successful, mainly because we had much time together outside the scheduled reunion events. With one person it didn’t work out (I blame my penchant for easy distraction but will still make it happen).

From one conversation I continue to marvel at the self-perception a classmate had all those years ago at Winter Park High. Her disclosure of significant insecurities shocked me. She described a view of herself utterly different than mine. Back then she saw herself in a starkly negative light. But she had indisputable attributes: bright and beautiful and alluring, someone of intrigue and depth. Then again, do boys have any inkling of who girls really are?

Of course her intimate candor only bolstered my teenage assessment of her: I was right all along. Yet I was clueless.

And from a very close guy friend, I heard richly detailed accounts of his childhood before we met in junior high and of his adult life after we lost contact. The picture of him that I’d kept in my head for decades was fragmentary. Now it seems complete.

One disclosure about his love life makes me ache as I write, ache because I understand the emotional hell he went through and because I could have been available to commiserate. Others make me laugh, such as his attempt as a toddler to run away via Greyhound bus, a harbinger of the adventurous life he’s led. At odd times I wonder how he’ll make old age and wanderlust compatible.

What does all this add up to? That I missed a lot along the way.