Updated: Apr 23, 2022
20/20 hindsight, 20 years hence, with reverse engineering
My mother country is self-destructing. I had no idea how lucky I was in 2000. Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay
“You have a time machine, you can pick one thing in your life to go back to. Where, when do you go, and do you just observe it from afar, or do you change something?”
Well, THAT was easy.
“Piece of cake,” I responded. “I know exactly what I’d go back and change. The worst mistake of my life.”
The question came via my friend’s weekly Friday evening Virtual Cocktail Hour, a tradition she started in April.
After chit-chat, we answer one interesting pre-chosen question of the week.
So, so many times I wished I could return to the spring of 1993 and just be friends with Jerry instead of embarking upon a just-over-seven-years relationship, with a break while he dried out and sobered up.
So much sturm und drang before I realized he had a drinking problem. So much hope and comfort after he got serious and kicked the bottle.
I thought now it was forever. It wasn’t. He waltzed in one night and said, “We have to talk.”
Those ‘Bob is God’ details
I love backward-engineering my life’s turning points, good or bad.
Like the ‘Bob is God’ trash can in college.
Traveling around campus drowning in a cloud of breakup depression and the certainty I would never be noticed by a man again, I often passed a trash can upon which someone had mysteriously etched ‘Bob is God.’
One afternoon the guy behind me in Psych class asked a fellow student, “Who is Bob and why is he God?” I turned around and laughed along with them as we speculated what the hell that was all about.
Jim was my first real love. Through him, I met a new crowd with whom I’m connected to this day. My life pivoted with new friends and an intro to geek/fan culture via a medieval re-creation society. Graduations and life travels created breaks in the friendships B.F. & A.F. (Before & After Facebook) but my life digressed from a more conventional path saving me, as I see it, from a far blander life.
I’d been a weirdo in high school who craved ‘normalcy’ and found it in college; who knew returning to the ‘weirdoes’ was where I’d ultimately find satisfaction?
The wallflower became a belly dancer, i.e. the post-high school equivalent of the Head Cheerleader, via the road taken.
Bob, or Trash Can Vandal, you have no idea how you changed a life!
Blame it on Buffy. Or Jerry. Or Ireland.
For twenty years I’ve dealt with the fallout of Jerry’s ‘We have to talk’ moment. It would be unfair to lay the next fifteen years of misery on him since I’ve struggled with depression on and off my entire life, including a lot of anger issues stemming from my early adolescence I can’t explain. I remember pre-school feelings of self-doubt and quiet inferiority I can’t pin on my family or school bullies.
The last five years have been me finally climbing out of the mental pit I dug. Jerry may have handed me the shovel, but I’m the one who insisted on digging so deep.
We humans possess the most marvelous computers in the Universe between our ears, creations more complex than our most sophisticated technology, and boy oh boy it’s a shame we can’t periodically reboot because brains ‘blue screen’ more than a Windows 98 beta.
Although Jerry is behind me, he hurt me badly enough that, unlike other past lovers or partners, I want nothing to do with him. Ever. When I find we’re sharing a social media platform, I block him in case he gets any dumb ideas about contacting me again as he has in the past — I’m convinced, just to be friends, but it’s still triggering.
The friend-ship sank in the harbor twenty years ago.
It’s occurred to me while watching the Ignited States slouch toward Gomorrah, as a great book title once put it, what a favor Jerry did for me, even if I didn’t see the benefit for two full decades.
He wasn’t like the ‘Bob is God’ trash can, the only catalyst that changed my life. Both were, though, the original catalysts in two key turning points.
Today, I’m in a more stable place rather than what Donald Trump might call a ‘shithole country’, thanks to ol’ Jer.
It’s a longer reverse engineer:
My cyber-friend near Toronto encouraged me to move here because I couldn’t get into Ireland.
I tried to move to Ireland thanks to a news story I’d read around 2002 saying it wanted to become the Silicon Valley of Europe, and I was in I.T.
Moving away for awhile appealed because I was chronically depressed and wanted to escape my nowhere life in Connecticut.
I knew this guy near Toronto because we’d gotten friendly as mutual fans on Usenet’s alt.fan.buffy.the.vampire.slayer back in 1997.
And I began watching Buffy because of Jerry.
The idea of an entire TV series based on a loser 1992 movie the critics hated sounded like a supremely stupid idea. Jerry said, “Oh, we have to watch it! It sounds really good! Joss Whedon, the creator, hated what they did to his movie. The TV show is what the movie was supposed to be.”
“I’m tired of vampires,” I said. And this was well before Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, and the endless succession of boring beautiful bloodsuckers infesting the early decades of the new century.
“Let’s just watch the first few episodes,” he said.
It was way better than I’d guessed, and I fell in love with Giles. Then Spike. Buffy is why I started hanging out on the Usenet group and cyber-met Larry near Toronto, eh. We became good friends off-newsgroup. His mother died, Jerry and I split up, and when Ireland fell through, Larry encouraged me to come to Canada.
Why did I immigrate rather than move temporarily? Canada wants immigrants, not half-assed will-they-stay-or-will-they-go semi-perms. Also, blame it on Bush.
“You had the right idea! You knew what was coming all along!”
Actually, I didn’t.
I look terribly prescient to my American-imprisoned friends with 20/20 hindsight. Okay, I knew the country was ambling down the Highway To Hell under George W. Bush. When I saw the famous Abu Ghraib photo in the newspaper, I thought, “This is not the country I grew up in.”
Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons
We tortured prisoners now. Political prisoners. Republican politicians and reactionary xenophobic mouth-breathers bobbled their slack-jawed heads in terrifying approval.
“I want to get out of here,” I said. My devolving countrymen weren’t the only reason why, but it added urgency.
I never foresaw the state of the States today. I never imagined we’d be dumb enough to elect a moron like Trump. Or that we’d prefer conspiracy theories and fake news over reality, even as a killer virus rips its way through a country whose collective IQ more closely resembles a residential neighborhood speed sign.
Last week, we hit four Vietnams in COVID deaths with double that projected by January 1st.
Words fail to describe how grateful I am not to be living in the COVIDed States anymore. I’m barely on speaking terms with my mother country. I can’t believe how willing it is to fail. Make America Great, indeed. What a joke.
But no one’s laughing.
What would have happened if Jerry and I had stayed together? I’d surely be living in Trump’s AmeriKKKa as my compatriots commit maskless, mass suicide, pitching tantrums over social distancing and a shut-down economy, dragging out their own torturous death throes as the world slams shut its own borders to America. Remember when Americans worried about people trying to get in?
That was, like, January.
The reverse-engineering exercise
Reverse engineering is figuring out how something works by starting with what it does and tracing backward leading to how the thing began.
When you apply it to your life it can reveal hidden insights that can change your perceptions.
I’ve been thinking about Jerry a little differently since I realized I have him to thank for my living here and not there. I’m not going to send him a fruit basket or anything, but I’m experiencing a little psychological relief as a result.
What would have happened if I’d never left the U.S.?
I’d be mired in near-hopeless, perhaps suicidal depression. Maybe unemployed, staring down poverty with no real safety net, and a president who didn’t care about anything that wasn’t him. Surrounded by hateful people whose lives had always sucked and who wanted everyone else’s to suck too. Misery loves company.
I might well feel like those remaining Jews in Nazi Germany, no longer allowed to leave, realizing they’d waited too late to follow the smarter ones out the door.
Stuck in a sea-to-shining-sea prison, goose-stepping toward totalitarianism, mindlessly chanting “Make America Great Again!” instead of “Seig heil!”
What would I do if I could go back in time and change one thing?
Maybe I couldn’t risk messing with my life and staying in America. Maybe I’d have to let that first ill-fated meeting with Jerry take its natural course. Maybe this was the only way my headspace could lead me to a civilized country before it was too late.
The worst thing that ever happened to me was the best thing that ever happened to me.
This first appeared on Medium in August 2020.