“This can’t possibly be reality,” I keep telling myself, as I go through the familiar motions of preparing for another year’s first day of school.
Last night, I went to sleep on our lumpy mattress; a 42-year old dad stressed out about the mounting bills, the kid’s braces, the wife’s car problems and the possibility of my overtime being cut at the job. The last thing I remember before nodding off, was wishing I could go back and start over, wherever it was that my life took a turn.
So how in the world did I wake up in my childhood bedroom, in 1985, on the first day of the 7th grade? While it all feels surreal, it actually feels familiar at the same time. I heard dad’s radio clock click onto News/Radio 950 at 4:30am, just like it always did. I heard him shower; smelled the fresh Folgers coffee brewing around 6:30am, mingled with slightly burned toast. I heard the side door close as he left for another day at Chrysler. When Ma flipped the switch to our bedroom light at 7:30am, I immediately hopped up first, to get to the bathroom before my little brother, Andre. I didn’t even realize the change until I walked past the bathroom vanity, took an absent glimpse at myself as I passed by the basin, and noticed I was too short to see my own reflection.
“What the hell?” I shouted.
“Boy! What did you just say?” My Ma yelled from the kitchen.
I clamped my hands over my mouth, disbelieving what just came out. That was the voice of my eight-year old son that just cursed.
I look up in time to see the flash of brown, followed by an incredible sting across my forehead. Ma’s patented bee-sting backhand.
“Don’t you ever let me hear you use that language again, Ennis Smith! Get your scrawny butt in that room and get dressed!”
“Yes ma’am,” I squeaked, as I rubbed the tender spot above my eyes.
Andre broke into laughter.
“What are you lookin’ at butthead?”
That line from ‘Back to the Future’ had become my favorite quote when I was…now. This age. Not back then, but right now! That’s when it all hit me like a ton of bricks.
“I don’t believe it. I’m 12 again? Seriously; 12 again? Why couldn’t I dream of being 24, or 27? What did I eat last night?”
“Ma, Enn’s talkin’ crazy in here,” Andre yelled. “I think you hit him too hard.”
My punk, kid brother was a snitch back when we were young. Suddenly, instead of freaking out about the whole situation, I actually began to revel in it. Somehow, I had gone back to 1985. Okay, it’s absurd but it’s whatever. But, I’ve still got every bit of knowledge and physical skill I’ve obtained over the last 29 years!
“Ma! He’s in here cuss-”
I slapped a hand over the kid’s mouth. “Shut it squirt, or I’ll pound you! I won’t cuss anymore; I promise.”
He nodded furiously. I set him free, and he immediately goes for his new school outfit. Meanwhile, I’m standing in the middle of our bedroom looking at the peach colored walls, the bunk beds, the wooden table. Our Casio keyboard and cassette tape recorder on top of the table. I spin around when I hear the panting from behind me.
“Tiger? Tiger! You’re here!” I yell at our slightly overweight Alaskan Malamute. He died of cancer when I was 18. But here he stands, rubbing his wet nose into my palm, just like he used to do when he wanted to be petted. I can’t help myself. I burst into tears, knowing there’s no way this can be happening, but wanting to stay in the moment for awhile longer.
Thirty minutes later, I’ve eaten breakfast, brushed my teeth, brushed my hair and slapped on my brand new Addidas. Andre and I are in the living room watching the new season of the Transformers, while Ma is putting on the finishing touches of her makeup in preparation for another workday. I remember how much I hated seeing Optimus Prime die in the movie this past summer, and how much I hated the new cast of Autobots and Decepticons. Seriously, Rodimus Prime could never replace Optimus. And Galvatron was simply Megatron with a new paintjob.
None of that stuff really plays on my mind beyond memory, right now. I’m too busy trying to remember what was significant about my first day of school, in 1985. Apparently, it was important enough for God to send me back. Maybe I’m supposed to correct a mistake?
“Let’s see: Mrs. Johnson is gonna be my teacher. Eventually, I’m gonna hook up with Charles Barnett, Chimpes, and Richard Ramirez. Misty Nielsen is going to…”
And suddenly, there it was. It was her. Misty Nielsen. The infamous first day of school. The day I would tell her how much I really liked her, only to have her laugh at me. I remembered laughing along with her, but deep down inside, it had killed my confidence. It was the type of blow that a boy never recovers from. For the rest of my days, through adolescence and into adulthood, I was a shy introvert always afraid of being hurt by someone. I would never again take risky chances, and eventually, my life would become a series of unfulfilled accomplishments due to my lack of trying my best.
“Not today. Today it’s gonna be different.”
The first few hours go by like a blur. I flow through the motions, easily remembering names associated with faces, and try my best to maintain the rhetoric of an 80s era 12-year old. These kids know nothing about iPods, smartphones and WiFi. So morning conversation is restricted to Run-DMC, the freshest arcade game out, called Super Mario Bros., my cousin Lasker’s latest and biggest boombox (everyone always wanted to talk about him), who was the bicycle cat-walk king of the summer, and so on. And then, 11:30am. As the classroom breaks for the half day, I spot her in the hallway, just where I remembered. She turns to descend the steps headed out of the building. This is my chance…again. I remember I had planned this all summer long, and had finally built up the nerve to approach her. This time would be different, because no 12-year old girl was going to stand a chance against my 42-year old mentality and vocabulary.
I break away from Dushaun Madison, just as he was beginning to talk about how much he hated his sister watching ‘Gem and the Holograms’. I was always a quick little guy. Three good strides place me down the linoleum floored-hallway and around the corner, just in time to see her leave the building. I take the steps three at a time. Man, it feels good to have knees that don’t ache. Once I explode through the door, I almost bump right into her as she stood on the concrete steps waiting for her mother. She turns to look at me, and all at once…I really am 12 again. Deer caught in the headlights. Her eyes are so green and captivating, I can’t move; can’t even speak.
“Hi…Ennis. What’s up?” She says.
Gall Darn it, say something, you idiot, I think to myself. I open my mouth and hear a replay of that faithful day.
“Uh, hi…Mi…Misty. I just wanted…you know, I mean, I wanted to tell you…”
I can feel my eyes starting to shift away from hers. She stands there, and begins smiling, making me feel uncomfortable all over again. Second time at 12, and she’s doing it to me again. I’m failing!
“NO!” I suddenly shout. She jumps, not sure what to make of my outburst.
I take a deep breathe, and remember who I really am, and what I came to do.
“Uh, are you okay? You need the see the nurse or something,” she says.
“As a matter of fact, I am okay. And I’m gonna be okay. I just came out here to tell you that I really like you, Misty. I think you’re beautiful and I would love to go steady with you. But you probably think I’m a joke. Maybe I’m too small for you, or not tough enough, or too shy, or too skinny. Whatever the case may be, you won’t appreciate my giving you my heart. So what I’m gonna do is…”
I quickly scoop her hand into mine before she knows what’s happening. I peck it with pursed lips, the way the old guys used to do in the black and white pictures my Ma used to love watching. Then I release her, like her hand is a rotten potato I didn’t want to hold on to anymore.
“Someday I’m gonna be somebody big; someone important. You? You’re gonna chase all types of lowlife guys in some ridiculous search for real love, and none of them will be able to provide it for you. They’ll never measure up to the man I’m going to become, starting today. So, I just wanted to say, I’m gonna love you for the rest of my life. But, unfortunately, I’m just too good for you. Hasta la vista, baby.”
“What?” she says. But…she’s not laughing. In fact, the look on her young face is curious bewilderment.
That’s my que. Exit, stage right. I wink at her, the way my dad winks at my Ma. Stepping off the concrete porch, I poke my scrawny chest into the wind and walk toward home with my head held high. It’s a confidence I’ve never felt before. Yet somehow it is distantly familiar. As I walk down Outer Drive, everything around me takes on a dull fade, as if a movie is fading to black.
I open my eyes. I’m staring at a vaulted ceiling with an expensive ceiling fan quietly rotating. My back should be stiff from another rotten night’s sleep. But…I feel as if I’m laying on feathers. The pillows underneath my head are so fluffy. My sheets are so comfortable; expensively comfortable. I shift my head to the right, where my wife usually sleeps with her back toward me. I’m met with the most lovely pair of green eyes I’ve ever seen. She’s smiling at me. It’s her. She’s here, right next to me…today.
“Good morning, Mr. Smith,” Misty says with a devilish grin.
“Good morning, baby.” I reply. It’s all so familiar, yet so different. But different isn’t so bad.
“I had the weirdest dream last night,” she says. “Do remember when we were about 12 years old?”