A week after my fiftieth birthday, I went to sleep and woke up back in eighth grade.
Even worse, I didn’t come to in my old house, but snapped wide awake at the end of Mr. Lucas’ eighth-period history class. My first thought was that my alarm clock sounded really funny, then bolted I upright to the harsh burr of the class-change bell at Downey Junior High. I was sitting in the industrial metal desk at the back of Room 105, and I was terrified.
“What the fuck?!!” I exclaimed. The entire class turned and tittered. I looked around at the sea of adolescent faces, some horrified, some amused.
“Well, Mr. Gray,” said Mr. Lucas drily. “The answer to your question is that President Roosevelt’s New Deal was met with a great deal of opposition, as you have so succinctly insinuated.” This elicited more giggles from the class. “Oh, and you just bought yourself three hours’ detention for sleeping in my class and vulgar language.”
“What the fuck?!!” I repeated. I had no idea what was happening to me. What could possibly be going on? “What the Christ is going on here?”
Mr. Lucas’ face darkened. He was one of my favorite teachers, but he had a reputation for his temper. “I’ll tell you what’s going on,” he said. “You’ve got six hours detention. Any questions about that, Mr. Gray?”
I shook my head. I was quite speechless.
“Good,” said Mr. Lucas. “It’s too late in the day to get a note down to the office. You’ll start on Monday. Now everyone get out of here and enjoy your weekend.”
I stared down at the desk, trying to figure out what had happened. I was in a classroom in my junior high school, no doubt. Was it some sort of psychedelic flashback? I certainly had taken my share of hallucinogenic drugs in my time, but this didn’t feel one bit like a psychedelic trip. It just seemed too real.
I kept my head down, trying to work out what the hell was happening. Kids filed by on either side of me, whispering and giggling. I heard a girl’s voice say “I think he’s lost it.”
Perhaps she was right – maybe I’d had some sort of psychotic break. It really didn’t seem plausible. Like anyone with a modicum of intelligence, I’d had issues with depression for most of my adult life. That didn’t make me an expert on mental health, but I’d done some casual research. I’d never heard of anything like this. If this was a delusion, then it was a world-beater.
As an experiment, I let my head thump to the desk. It impacted with a thud, eliciting another round of comments from the departing students. Also, it hurt. It couldn’t be a delusion, could it?
I looked down. Mine was not a fifty-year-old’s going-to-seed body, but the body of a slightly chubby thirteen-year-old. I was wearing a pair of Toughskins jeans and a green Izod t-shirt.
Mr. Lucas was stuffing papers into his briefcase. “Class is over, Scott. Go on, now. I’m tired of looking at you.”
I swept my books off the desk, got up and headed to the door. It was an effort not to goggle. It all seemed so real, but it couldn’t be. I walked towards the door, trying out my new/old thirteen-year-old body. It felt a little funny, but worked just fine.
Outside the classroom, kids were rushing down the hallway, slamming locker doors, talking smack and making for the exits. Judging from Mr. Lucas’ comment, it was Friday, and everyone was in a hurry to get out of school and begin their weekend.
As I came out the door, I saw Paul Egbert and Lee Swift hanging out across the hall. They were my best friends; I had known Paul since pre-school and Lee since his family moved to Weaverville when we were in third grade.
I had a a weird sense of deja-vu. My mental image of both Paul and Lee were as seniors in high school. It was weird seeing them much younger. I’d better get used to it, though. I was going to have to take a good look at myself sooner or later, and that was bound to be a shock. Still, it was good to see a couple of friendly faces right now.
“Hey, Gray,” said Paul. “Smooth move in class back there. You’re lucky Lucas didn’t body-slam you.”
“Did you really tell Mr. Lucas to fuck off?” asked Lee. Paul must be spreading rumors all ready. He had always been a bullshit artist. It probably served him well in his subsequent career as a lawyer.
“No,” I said. I winced at the adolescent squeak of my voice. “I don’t know what I said, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that.”
Paul squinted at me. “What’s up with you, dude? You sound funny.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know,” I said. “Something sure is funny.”
“Not half as funny as your face, man,” said Lee.
“Ooh, excellent burn!” said Paul. He and Lee high-fived.
“You guys gotta help me,” I said.
“Ain’t no help for someone like you,” said Lee. He started to laugh, then cut it short when he saw the look on my face.
“No, seriously,” said Paul. “Are you all right, man?”
“No,” I said. “No, not at all. I don’t know what’s going on. I feel really weird.”
“I know what will make you feel better,” said Lee. “Getting the hell out of this damn school. C’mon, man – it’s the weekend.”
“Yeah,” said Paul. “Ditch those books and let’s book, huh?”
I looked down at the load of books in my arm: two textbooks with heavy brown paper covers and a vinyl three-ring binder. As with everything else, they were simultaneously very familiar and very distant. “Uh, guys,” I said. “Where’s my locker?”
Paul and Lee exchanged a look. “Dude, it’s right around the corner.” They led me to a bank of lockers around the corner from the history room. Paul slapped the locker with the number 473. “This one’s yours, remember?”
Oddly enough, I did, sort of. That stifling sense of déjà vu washed over me again.
“You remember the combination?” asked Lee.
Fortunately, I had that covered. I’d always had trouble remembering stuff like that, and kept all of that information close at hand. I flipped open the binder. Taped to the inside cover was my class schedule with the locker combination written in the margin with blue ball-point.
After two false tries, I was able to open the locker, tossed the books in and slammed the door shut. I turned to Paul and Lee, who were in the process of exchanging another worried look.
“Hey, no problem,” I said, trying to sound casual. “Just a little…”
Something slammed into the middle of my back, and I went sprawling.
“Watch where I’m going, fatass!” said a voice. I knew that voice – it belonged to Brock Crutcher, one of the biggest assholes in school
. He was huge, had been held back two or three times and was several years older than the other students.
I picked myself up from the floor. “Hey, you fucking asshole!” I spat. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
A look of amazement crossed Crutcher’s Cro-Magnon face; nobody ever talked to him like that. At least nobody who wanted to live. A hush descended on the students in the area; everyone knew that something big was about to go down. A circle started to form around us, and a sotto voce chant of “Fight! Fight! Fight!” started at the periphery.
My reaction had been immediate – if there was one thing I couldn’t stand, it was a bully. I had taken enough crap from enough bullies over the years, and I wasn’t going to grovel in front of an ape like Crutcher.
There was something else in my favor: I knew judo. I moved to Seattle when I was in my mid-twenties, and lived in the South Park area. It was a crummy neighborhood, but the only one I could afford. To protect myself, I had taken judo classes at the local community center. It was enjoyable exercise, and I was pleased to discover I was pretty good at it. Fortunately, I had never had to use it in a real-life situation, but I had kept up with it for several years, even after I had been able to escape South Park for a nicer area.
I wondered if I still had those skills; one that I wasn’t going to acquire for another ten years or so. Either way, it looked like I was going to find out. Crutcher put his head down and charged. I side-stepped him and grabbed his wrist, and rolled him over my hip. He went down with a thud that shook the lockers.
The crowd went silent. Crutcher bounced to his feet. He looked around, confused. This was not how things were supposed to go – Brock Crutcher didn’t take shit from the other kids in school, and he sure didn’t get tossed on his ass by someone who was four inches shorter and forty pounds lighter. He ran his hand down the front of his face in confusion.
He looked so much like Curly from the Three Stooges that I laughed. He roared and charged at me again. Once again, I sidestepped and tossed him over my hip.
He bounced back to his feet again – this guy was too stupid to stay down or walk away. I was going to have to try something a little more direct. He lowered his head and charged again. This time, instead of sidestepping, I took a step towards him and brought my knee sharply up into his groin.
He stopped dead in his tracks, toppled over sideways, and rolled on the ground clutching his crotch and whimpering. A scattering of applause came from the crowd. I looked around – Paul and Lee were staring at me wide-eyed. Lee grabbed my shoulder. “Dude, you better get out of here!” he said “Crutcher’s gonna be pissed!”
I looked at the bully rolling on the floor. He turned about six shades of green, and was trying to whuff out some sort of threat. “Huh..huh..gonna get…huh…you…huh…fatboy…dead…meat…huh…” Then he puked.
I decided that it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. In the last ten minutes, I had apparently rocketed across 3,000 miles of space, thirty-seven years of time, and had pissed off a number of people in the process. I needed time to think.
“I think I better get out of here,” I said.
Paul looked at his Armitron wristwatch. “Dude! You’d better get a move on if you want to catch your bus!” he said.
The bus! Good God, what could be more horrible than the junior high school bus? I was barely holding it together as it was. There was no way I was going near the bus. “I’ll walk home,” I said. “It’s a nice day. Hey, what day is it?”
“It’s Friday, dweeb,” said Paul.
“No, what’s the date?”
He consulted his watch again. “April thirtieth.”
Lee and Paul exchanged another look. “Uh, nineteen eighty-two,” said Lee. “Are you sure you can, y’know, walk home?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Don’t be a sped.” Actually, I wasn’t sure at all. I just wanted to get away from the school and hope that my mental autopilot would kick in.
“Yeah, well, you better get going’,” said Paul. He looked over his shoulder. There was a knot of kids standing around the helpless Brock, who was holding his crotch with both hands and making kitten noises. Behind them, Mr. Lucas and Mr. Thane, the gym teacher, were pushing through the crowd to investigate the commotion.
“Yeah, let’s go,” I said. I hustled towards what I thought were the side doors that opened up on the athletic fields. We pushed through the doors and looked around. It was mostly empty on this side of the school.
“Look, I gotta get goin’,” said Lee. “I don’t wanna miss my bus. Hey, we still on for some D and D tomorrow?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” I said. At that point, I’d have said anything just to get on the road. I could feel the edge of my control starting to slip. “See ya tomorrow.” I took off at a half jog across the empty soccer fields.
“Hey!” Paul yelled from behind me. “Hey, dummy!”
“Your house is that way!” he pointed the other way across the soccer field.
“I know where I live, dumbass!” I hollered. “See ya tomorrow!” I cut in the direction that he was pointing and broke into a full-blown sprint.
I had gone over three blocks before I realized that I was hardly fatigued. The 50-year-old Scott Gray would have been wheezing and possibly puking after the first hundred yards of a hard sprint. The body would rebel, responding to decades of abuse: cigarettes, booze, fast food and whatever drugs I could get my paws on.
I felt none of that now, though. No rasping breathing, no aching back, no sore feet or any of the dozen other minor ailments that starting creeping in around age thirty or thirty-five. Hell, I felt better than I had…well, in years. I broke into a jog again, enjoying the feel of a human body in perfect working order. Just feeling the arms, the legs, the lungs, the heart – all the parts working in unison with nary a complaint from any of them.
A jacked-up GTO roared past. A voice called from the passenger’s window, “Slow down, lardass! Don’t wanna cause an earthquake!” This was followed by hoots of derisive laughter. An empty beer bottle came arcing from the driver’s window and broke in the middle of the street.
I stopped dead on the sidewalk. It brought me back to the reality that I was back in Weaverville, Pennsylvania, and it was 1982. Somehow.
I started walking again, peering down the street to see if the assholes in the GTO might circle back for more trouble. Probably not, but in this town you never knew. There were plenty of assholes here, and they were all mean assholes. I had lost no time in getting out of bumfuck central Pennsylvania as soon as I got out of high school.
A shiny new Plymouth Aries K sedan puttered by, its plastic wood paneling gleaming in the afternoon sun. It looked like it had fallen off an amusement park ride; a truly ugly vehicle. That, if nothing else, was what really drove it home for me: I was living in 1982…again. I gawped after the car as it climbed the hill, then started walking after it.
Now that I had some time to recover from my initial shock, I was starting to get my bearings. I didn’t remember the street names that well, but figured I could still navigate my way through the tangle of suburban streets without too much difficulty.
I walked to the end of the street, and came to a main drag – I had to check the street sign to see that it was Deere Street, one of the main east-west routes through town. Traffic was busy here, and it got especially hairy where it crossed the interstate. On the other side of the highway, the land rose steeply. The official geographic name was Rose Hill, but everyone in town called it Bitch Hill. Driving on it in the wintertime was always treacherous, and more than one jogger had dropped dead of a coronary while attempting to conquer it. The side facing the highway was given over to a huge cemetery – again, officially called Rose Rest Cemetery, but generally known as Bitch Hill Cemetery.
However, bypassing the cemetery meant going more than a half-mile out of my way, so I decided to risk it, and hope that I could avoid the cemetery caretaker. His name was Balthazar Magillicuddy, but he was known to the local kids as “Ballbreaker.” Certainly, Ballbreaker would be out and about tonight, on the lookout for teenagers kicking off the weekend with a graveyard party. I hopped the fence in the corner by the overpass and began carefully making my way through the grave markers, keeping an eye out for Ballbreaker’s tall, lanky frame.
A thought suddenly struck me: what if I was dead? That might explain what had happened to me. I had certainly been drinking pretty heavily last night – maybe I had puked in my sleep, choked on it, and died.
And then came back here.
It has a certain ecclesiastical sense to it. I had led a pretty selfish life – just ask my ex-wife. If I had died, and was to be punished, what would be more fitting than to be sent back to junior high school? It was a fate worthy of both traditional Christian vengeance and Hindu ideas of reincarnation.
What had I done to merit reincarnation in such a unique hell? I certainly hadn’t led a blameless life. I was pretty self-centered, and had certainly been a crummy husband. Still, I hadn’t killed anyone or raped anyone or ripped off anything bigger than a candy bar. Maybe the afterlife was apropos to the life that was led. Maybe the true bastards went someplace really bad, like a Civil War field hospital or an Air Supply concert. The marginally negligent jerks like me got something less awful – like reliving junior high school.
I was jerked out of this reverie by crashing my knee into the headstone of Jasper H. Knyphausen (1791 – 1822). I started to cry out, then slapped my hand over my mouth. Didn’t want to alert Ballbreaker. I could feel a warm trickle of blood down the front of my shin. Afterlife or not, that sure felt real.
I limped faster, wanting to get clear of the boneyard and see what weirdness awaited me at home. A quick scan of the area indicated that it was clear. There were very few people in the cemetery. A few rows over, a smiling Asian man wearing a plaid porkpie hat was staring at me. I put my head down and limped faster. I took a quick glance over my shoulder, but Plaid Porkpie had turned and was walking down the hill.
I made it through the rest of the cemetery and was soon out on the streets of my old neighborhood, Johnson Heights. The nostalgia really started flooding in now. I hadn’t been back in the old neighborhood in years. My mom moved to Sarasota right after I finished college, and my Dad and brother both lived in Dallas. I’d really had no reason to visit Weaverville in nearly two decades.
The neighborhood had gone downhill fast during the reign of Bush the Elder, when the local Fruehauf truck trailer factory had closed for good. Now, however, there was none of the decay the place had exhibited during my last few Christmas visits. All of the houses were painted and in good repair, the lawns neatly manicured.
I walked down Springhill Lane, the limp starting to ease up now. I took a right at the Dortmunds’ house on the corner of Willow Brook Road, then a right on Hillcrest Avenue – my old street.
Two blocks down was my house at number 239 Hillcrest. It was a brick duplex we shared with an elderly couple named Argento. Before my parents’ divorce, we’d lived in a larger house in a neighborhood on the other side of the junior high school – that’s the direction I’d started heading once I’d gotten out of the school building. At this point in my life, I hadn’t lived there for nearly two years.
I slowly approached the front door, unsure of what to feel. The notion of dealing with my family made me really nervous. I could fob off the kids at school pretty easily, but my brother and my mother were another story. What would it be like to see and interact with them now? Well, I was about to find out.
I fished in the pocket of my Toughskins and came up with a key ring. It had two keys: the front door and a bike lock. I stood before the front door with the house key in my hand. A chill went through me. I thought of a saying I had heard during a brief court-ordered stint in AA: “fear” stands for “Fuck Everything and Run.” I fought the urge to just turn around and run – but I had no place to run to. Instead, I inserted the key and opened the door.
My brother David was sitting cross-legged in front of the TV, playing Atari. He glanced up at me warily. I couldn’t blame him. I had really treated him poorly when we were growing up. He was three years younger than me, and a lot smaller. I had taken out a lot of my adolescent frustrations on him – especially after the divorce. We had patched things up when we were in our twenties, but until then our relationship was strained.
Right now, however, I was happy as hell to see him. He looked unbelievably small and vulnerable. I felt a warm affection for him that I’d certainly never felt when I was growing up. He was my only brother, and right now that meant a lot to me.
“Davey!” I said. “Good to see you! How the hell are ya, kiddo?”
He shot me a suspicious look. “I’m telling mom you sweared,” he said.
Immediately, I felt a flush of the exasperation that had driven most of my relationship with David in our youth. I tamped it down, since it was my abusive attitude towards him that had been responsible for his wariness in the first place.
“OK, sorry,” I said. “I just got carried away. I’m just really glad to see you, little brother.”
“Why?” he said. “You’re acting way weird. Have you been smoking the pot? We saw a filmstrip in class yesterday, and it said that people act funny when they’ve been smoking the pot. Or ‘reefer,’ as the hippies call it.”
Starting in my junior year, I had become very familiar with “the pot,” but at thirteen, I was still a babe in the woods. “No, man, I haven’t been smoking anything.” At least not yet. The thought made me laugh.
David just scowled more. “You are on the pot!” he said. “The filmstrip also said that people on the pot laugh at things that aren’t funny.”
“How ‘bout I come over there and give you an atomic wedgie?” I growled. “That’ll be plenty funny. I’ll yank your drawers so high, you’ll be tasting cotton for a week!”
This was a classic threat, and it seemed to put David at ease. It was the sort of thing he expected to hear from me.
“Hey, look Davey, I swear I’m not on the pot,” I said. “It’s just been a…weird day. Junior high is pretty screwy.”
“Don’t call me ‘Davey,’” he said. “It’s a baby name.”
“Okay, sorry, sorry – David. Is that better?”
“Yeah, okay,” he said. “Just quit bein’ so weird.”
“You wanna play Laser Blast?”
“Okay,” he said. “You just gotta promise not to shut the power off again.” I still remembered that ugly incident. Normally, I dominated David at video games, or anything else – I was three years older than him, after all. Once, when we had been playing Laser Blast, he had nailed me – just beat me all to hell. In a fit of pique, I had yanked the plug from the wall. This precipitated a major fight between us that resulted in Mom confiscating the Atari console for three weeks.
“Yeah, I promise,” I said. “I’m sorry I did that. It was a jerk thing for me to do.”
David gave me another suspicious look, then shrugged and swapped out the game cartridge. “It’s okay, I guess,” he said.
I plopped down next to him, and we started playing Laser Blast. I have been a video game addict all my life. By the standards of 2019, Laser Blast was incredibly crude. Still, there was something hypnotically relaxing about the simplicity and repetition of the game. For the first time since waking up in history class, I began to relax a little.
“So, how’s school?” I asked.
“Okay, I guess,” said David.
“What grade are you in again?” I immediately regretted the question; it sounded like something my grandfather would ask.
David shot me another suspicious look. “Whaddaya mean ‘what grade’? You know I’m in fifth grade. What grade are you in – Dumbth Grade?”
“Ha,” I said, trying to play it off. “I was just channeling Grandpa.”
“Are you sure you’re not on the pot? You’ve been acting really weird and nice.”
I punched him on the bicep, but not hard. “There. Is that better?”
“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “Shut up, now – this is the hard part.”
I shut up and focused on the game. My hand was starting to hurt from the blocky Atari controller. Amazingly, I was still pretty good at the game, even though I hadn’t played it in nearly four decades.
That made me stop and consider – I didn’t think that my nervous system was good enough to retain my reflexes over forty years. It seemed that, along with my pudgy early-teenage body and cracking voice, I had also reclaimed my thirteen-year-old muscle memory. Yet I also still had my adult skills and experiences, as evidenced by my takedown of Brock in the hallway.
This merited further consideration, but right now I was too overloaded to do so. It was much easier to lose myself in the simple video game, than think about what had happened to me.
I must have lost track of time, too. The next time I looked up, it was almost full dark outside. There was a rattling of keys in the front door, and it swung open and my mom came in, hauling a huge denim tote bag.
I stared at her, amazed. She looked so damn young. The last time I had seen her had been about two years ago in Florida. She had been pretty spry for a 75-year-old, but time had not been kind to her. Now, here she was looking young and fresh. I did the math in my head – she was 41 – nine years younger than I was, or will be, or whatever. Seeing my mom younger than I was (at least the last time I fell asleep) was the weirdest part of an already epically weird day.
She looked exhausted. She worked as a data analyst at the Kerian County administration office. Ever since the divorce, she’d been busting heavies at her job, trying to get a better position and provide for me and my brother. Back in 1982, women in the professional workplace were novelties. I couldn’t imagine the crap she had to put with there.
“Are you okay, Scottie?” she asked. “You’re just sitting there with your mouth hanging open.”
“Uh, I guess you could say I’ve had a long day, Mom.”
“Me too,” she said. “It’s nice to see you two playing together.”
“Scottie’s actin’ weird,” said David. “I think he’s on the pot.”
“I’ll show you who’s on the pot,” I said. I drew my arm back to sock him on the arm again.
“Jesus, don’t start, you two,” said Mom. “I’ve had a heckuva week. It looks like I’ll have to go in tomorrow, too.”
“Awww, do we hafta go, too?” whined David. Usually, when Mom had to work on the weekend, she would drag David and me with her. She’d prop us up in front of a cardpunch machine and let us play Star Trek while she got her work done.
“Well, when I came in and saw how well you were getting along, I didn’t think I’d have to,” she said. “Now, well, I guess it depends on how well you behave…”
David sat up straight, folded his hands and put on an expression of comical saintliness. “We’ll be good, right, Scott?”
I bit my tongue to keep from laughing at his choirboy routine. “Oh, yeah,” I said. “We’ll be good.”
“Okay, great,” she said. “Your mom’s had a long week. You guys getting hungry?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I said. Actually, my stomach was still a little bit knotted, but I didn’t want to say anything to arouse suspicion.
Mom hustled into the kitchen and rummaged around in the cupboards. “Looks like the Chef will be cooking for us tonight, boys!” she announced.
“Yay!” cried David. The “Chef” was Chef Boy-Ar-Dee; David loved it. I thought it was OK when I was a kid, and had continued to eat it through college. Now, however, the thought of the processed pasta with its distress-signal-orange sauce made my stomach clench tighter.
I heard the tinkling of a wine glass and a thud as Mom pulled out a gallon jug of burgundy and poured herself an after-work drink. It was Scuzzio Brothers, by volume the cheapest booze available at the local liquor store. Like Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, I had given up on the stuff after I left college and got a job that paid more than minimum wage.
“Soup’s on!” Mom said. She served up two bowls of steaming industrial-grade ravioli and a small plate with a splat of applesauce. We always ate at the swaybacked table in the tiny dining area between the kitchen and the living room. David jumped up from the floor and rushed to the table, where he began wolfing down the Chef’s finest. I reluctantly followed. To my surprise, my stomach began growling as soon as I got a whiff of the sickly-sweet aroma. A small part of my mind rebelled, but it was overridden by a ravenous kid-hunger. Soon, I was wolfing it down with the same gusto as my brother.
“Aren’t you going to eat anything, Mom?” I asked.
“No, I’m okay,” she said. “I’ll have a salad later, maybe.” She finished her wine and went back to the kitchen for a refill.
I eyed her with concern. I had never noticed before, but more often than not, the “salad later, maybe” usually ended up being another glass or three of Scuzzio Brothers. Mom had always enjoyed her wine, but after the divorce her consumption went up markedly. She was usually able to keep from acting too goofy, but it had ended up affecting her health later on. I debated whether to mention this possibility to her, but decided against it.
To be honest, I was worried about interacting with my Mom. It seemed obvious to everyone I had met that something was off with me. Mom actually had the means to do something about it – maybe even take me to a child shrink or something.
Besides, she had enough to worry about already. As I watched her sip the wine, I realized how tough things were for her. The divorce had been pretty ugly, and Dad was really hit-or-miss with the child support payments. She really had to work her ass off to make ends meet.
Mom looked at David steam-shoveling his ravioli. “Slow down, Davey,” she said. “I’d hate for you to choke!”
“But ‘Incredible Hulk’ is almost on!” he said. He slurped up the last ravioli and inhaled the remainder of the applesauce.
“Oh, certainly!” Mom laughed. “We couldn’t miss the Hulk!”
“Or the Dukes of Hazzard!” said David.
Oh, the Hulk and the Dukes – the classic Friday night TV lineup of my youth. Mom cleared away the dishes and David ran to the TV.
“Will you be joining us tonight?” asked Mom. “Or do you have something better to do?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” I said. “Wouldn’t want to miss the big green guy.”
“Good. You’ve been spending so much time alone in your room. I worry about it, sometimes.”
“Nothing to worry about, Mom.” I said, eyeing her freshly-filled wine glass. “We’ll just have a fun-filled family Friday night with the Hulk and Bo and Luke.”
“And David Banner!” piped David. “Don’t forget him! He’s the best!”
We settled on the couch, Mom between David and me, her arms around us both. This was all right. The first time around, I would have absented myself quickly after dinner. I had been very angry after Dad took off, and deep down I think I blamed my mom. I usually spent such weekend evening holed up in my room reading comic books, and wishing I could be anywhere besides Weaverville, Pennsylvania. Now, I had enough perspective to appreciate a quiet night at home with Mom and David.
I knew that I was going to have to do some serious reckoning about my situation very soon. For now, I was content to sit here with my Mom and little brother, belly full of food, watching cheesy network TV. If this was some sort of psychotic break, or hallucination, at least it seemed comfortable and familiar.
“Everything good, hon?” Mom asked me.
“Yeah. For now.”
“That’s good,” she said. “I’m not so old that I don’t remember how hard junior high school can be. Don’t worry, Scottie, it gets better.”
“I know, Mom,” I said. “This is pretty okay right now, though.” I leaned over and kissed her cheek.
She flushed and giggled a little bit at this unaccustomed display of affection. “Aww, Scottie, that’s sweet of you…”
“Will you two hush up?” demanded David. “The Hulk’s about to smash up the bad guys!” On the screen, Lou Ferrigno, slathered in lime-green body paint, threw papier-mâché oil drums at a truckload of bank robbers.
“I don’t know about this show,” said Mom. “It’s so violent. I wish they’d bring back ‘Donny and Marie.’”
“Aw, that show was dumb,” said David.
“I dunno,” I said. “Marie was pretty hot.”
Mom gave me a concerned look. “I forget how fast you’re growing up,” said Mom. “Pretty soon, you’ll be dating.”
Not really. As memory served, I wouldn’t have a girlfriend until my sophomore year. That relationship would end up being a total train wreck that would turn me into an emotional basket-case for months. “I’m in no hurry to get a girlfriend.”
“That’s good,” said Mom. “There’s no rush to grow up. You two can be my boys for a little while longer, okay?”
“Girls are stupid,” opined David.
“I’m a girl,” said Mom. “Do you think I’m stupid?”
“You’re not a girl,” David said. “You’re a mom!”
We laughed, and settled back to watch the Dukes thwart Boss Hog’s plan to frame Daisy for running moonshine. As soon as the show was over, Mom stood up and shut off the television. “That’s enough TV. It’s bedtime. Growing boys need their sleep!”
Bedtime! Ten o’clock on a Friday night! Back in Seattle, I’d have been at least two and a half sheets to the wind down at Wu’s, the neighborhood dive. I’d usually keep pounding G&T’s until well after midnight, then stumble home and crash out.
David put up his usual bedtime fuss, but I said nothing. In fact, I was looking forward to bed. Despite the pleasant re-run of a childhood Friday night, I was fervently hoping that I would go to sleep and wake up in my futon in Seattle. Probably with a puddle of juniper-smelling puke by the side of the bed. Wu’s house gin was the absolute bottom of bottom-shelf.
I climbed up the narrow stairs to my room. My room seemed tiny compared to my memory of it. Going into it was like going into a strange personal museum. It was a cross-section of my entire youth.
The walls were covered with wallpaper that depicted airplanes and helicopters in bright primary colors. There were a number of posters of athletes: Rod Carew, Earl Campbell, Cal Ripken Jr. In a few years, they’d be replaced by pictures of rock stars and bikini-clad women.
A fifth-hand bookcase dominated one end of the room. It was currently painted a robin-egg blue – clearly the latest layer of lumpy paint in a series of many. The shelves held my carefully curated collection of Star Wars toys, Peanuts paperbacks and Mad magazines. The bookcase also contained my burgeoning music collection and sound system: a cardboard box of second-hand cassettes and a mono tape recorder held together with duct tape.
I kicked off my shoes and flopped onto the single twin bed. I held a fervent hope that I would go to sleep in my sweaty 1982 nest and wake up where I had started in my overpriced 2019 condo in Seattle. Then I could just write the whole thing off as a fevered dream, perhaps brought on by too much cheap liquor at Wu’s or a long-delayed aftereffect of psychedelic comestibles.
I pulled the Yoda blanket over me, afraid that slumber would be long in coming. However, in a matter of minutes, I was sound asleep.
The first thing I noticed when I woke up was the smell. It was kind of like the Primate House at the Woodland Park Zoo. I shook my head, trying to get oriented. I’d had a seriously weird dream, thinking that I had somehow re-inhabited my 13-year-old self and was back in junior high school. It had been especially vivid, and really disturbing. I thought I’d get cleaned up and head down to Peet’s for a strong espresso to clear my head. But what the hell was that smell?
Then I realized that it was me.
I rubbed my eyes and looked around. Yoda grinned impishly up at me from the blanket, while Cal Ripken Jr. cast his steely gaze over the bedroom. My adolescent bedroom, suffused with the monkey-funk of a teenage male.
I was still here.
I immediately fell into the deepest depression I had ever felt. My God, what had happened to me? The events of yesterday still seemed like a bad dream. Perhaps in the back of my mind I had hoped that it was a dream, and that I would wake up to my dysfunctional, hum-drum life in Seattle.
No such luck. Now, I had to face the distinct possibility that I was stuck here forever. I had no idea how I had gotten here, or why, and certainly no idea about how to go back. A wave of hopelessness and confusion washed over me. I collapsed back into my smelly bed and pulled the Yoda blanket over my head.
“Scott?” my mother called from downstairs. “Are you awake, sweetie?”
“Yeah,” I replied. At this point, I had no problem imitating a surly teenager.
“I have to go into work, honey. Can I trust you and Davey to behave?”
“Good. I should be back before lunchtime.”
From further away, I heard David say, “And he better not be a jerk!”
There was muffled conversation, then the door slammed. After a minute or two the volume cranked up. David liked his TV played loud. Even with the door closed, I could clearly hear the soundtrack from the Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam, one of David’s favorites.
I got up and glanced around the room. All of the nostalgia from last night was gone. Now it seemed like a cell, cramped and smelly, with a weird undertone of karmic retribution. Suddenly, I knew what I needed to do.
I needed to get a drink.
I went downstairs, past where David was engrossed in the teenaged hijinks of Hero High and into the kitchen. I snagged a drinking glass that had started life as a jelly jar, then carefully eased out the bottle of Scuzzio Brothers burgundy. I hazarded a quick peek around the door – David would squeal on me for sure if he knew I was glomming Mom’s cheap vino. Fortunately, he was glued to the TV set, and ha the volume cranked to the point where he wouldn’t hear what I was up to.
I poured a dollop of the wine into the glass, carefully replaced the bottle under the counter, and took a huge gulp…and promptly spit it all out.
It tasted awful. And not just awful in the normal $3.99-a-gallon cheap wine way. To my unrefined 13-year-old palate, the burgundy was like a combination of vinegar, rubbing alcohol and melted grape Popsicles. As much as I wanted to, there was no way I could drink that. Even if there was top-shelf scotch in the house (and I was certain that there wasn’t), I probably wouldn’t be able to get it down. I rinsed the taste out of my mouth with tap water and went back upstairs to sulk.