For once I am the first to wake. I pause, looking at my wife and son asleep, watch them for a moment before getting up and walking toward the bathroom adjoining the home office, which is farther away and won’t wake them up. What a weird dream, I think; it’s odder still that I remember it at all… Then I stop, because I see what is on the screen of my computer.
It wasn’t a dream? I read the lines, feeling a sense of certainty mount as I approach the end of the passage:
Forget the slippages, fine—but not
The cursor has been there, blinking, for I can’t say how many hours now. Waiting for my last word.
I write complete the sentence:
Forget the slippages, fine—but
I feel it again, one of these—I suppose I am calling them slippages, now?—seizing me. I barely have time to press ⌘-S before it hits like a tidal wave, ripping me out of the present. The shock is greater now, as if my having taken a break has made it more difficult to slip out of time again. Or maybe it’s just a rough one, I don’t know.
I can see my life, now, I as I plummet backwards along my worldline: the day our son was born, my wedding, the day we met, and then a series of relationships moving from failure into promise and nonexistence, jobs fluttering past, plane rides back and forth across the Pacific. My movement slows and I see myself shivering on a dark road outside McLeod Ganj, eyes on the trees to where the monkeys swallow their own cries into silence beneath a sky ornamented with countless stars.
Then the movement begins again, everything a riotous blur, and I land suddenly in that wood-paneled bedroom again, the one I’ve seen so recently, where I spent my middle school years. My mac-tacked copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide sits on the blue woolen blanket my mom crocheted for me in elementary school, and under it, my journal.
I can hear my parents upstairs, the voices carrying through the air vent. They’re talking about what to do, about how I exploded at them. It’s only by listening that I know what day it is: the one where they tried to ground me for a month for saying “crap,” only minutes after my sister said it and nobody cared. The grounding that would have included my birthday, and how enraged I got at the unfairness of it.
It’s funny, hearing them talk about that incident. My dad clearly understands they’re being ridiculous. He’s trying to get my Mum to see sense. Mum is… well, she’s Mum. They’re just people muddling through parenthood. She keeps saying I’m stubborn, which makes me laugh so hard I have to clap my hand over my mouth. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
I read for my journal, and grab a pencil and write:
Yeah, it’s ridiculous.
Adults say “you’ll understand when you’re older.” Bullshit! Most adults? Lost and confused! You can’t win arguing against anxiety, worry, and frustration.
They don’t beat us, like they were as kids. That’s important.
Stubborn’s good, but don’t fight every stupid rule. Learn to pick your battles better.
They’re not tracking groundings. Stay home a day, then go!
I can hear my dad now, grumbling at my mother, raising his voice a little in frustration, and her raising her voice in response. Yeah, now I remember that.
I focus on the journal page again, and I’m tempted to add something about how stubborn isn’t good, it’s great, it’s important, and how picking my battles is something my sisters always did well, how younger me could learn from them—the groundings compliance gambit is right out of their playbook—but as I lift the pencil to the page, I’m swept back out of this moment, and tumble away.
Shit, I think, and a new set of memories does ripple through me. I… did take my advice. I stopped fighting every stupid rule. That didn’t mean I didn’t fight, or lost my stubbornness: but I did learn to channel it, and use it to fight the really wrong stuff. That gym teacher who assaulted me, Mr. Boechler? I walked out of class, went to the principal to report it. He never got promoted to principal of a rural school. When Mr McKay scrawled insuting abuse all over the back of one of my exams, because I drew a jokey cartoon on it while waiting for the rest of the class to answer the questions? I demanded an apology in the Principal’s Office, and got one, and he never dared shit on me again.
Even protesting became riskier for me—it was made clear, in Korean, that I’d be deported if I took political action of any kind as a foreigner—I still carried these lessons with me, laughing and doing what I knew was right even when some ignorant man in a cheap suit ordered me to do something stupider and worse instead. Campus administrators? Lost and confused. Government bureaucrats? Same. In-laws? You cannot win an argument with anxiety, worry, and frustration.
I still fought battles—more than I had previously—but picking them more carefully saved me pain and heartache… and saved my energy for the battles that mattered.
As I tumble outside of time, these new memories searing themselves into my brain, I find myself laughing at how simple it was, and how big a chance it actually achieved. Man… if only someone had been around to tell me this stuff the first time around.