In this episode, the writer talks to his high school self about leaving behind the things he loves...or not.
If I’ve timed this correctly, yesterday you got a letter that you had written to yourself in high school, and today you’re getting a letter from the future! Your Statistics teacher, Mr. Carcelli, had asked everyone in the class to write a letter to their future selves, a letter that he promised you’d get five years later. He was always the cool teacher, the one who brought fun games like Pass the Pig into class that didn’t make you feel like you were learning Statistics (even though you were), who’d play your favorite band, Barenaked Ladies, while you focused on in-class work, the teacher you’d made a special trip to go back to visit when you were in town.
I probably don’t need to reiterate the contents of that letter since you just read it, but I’m a sucker for nostalgia. 2003-Saker asked 2008-Saker if he was still with his early-aughts girlfriend (broken up, of course; who the hell stays with their high school girlfriend?), he joked about the game sequels he thought he’d be likely to see (they are still making Sonic games, weirdly), and he enclosed a single dollar as a funny gag, even though he speculated that it would be pretty much worthless five years from then.
As a tribute to that, I’ve enclosed a hundred dollars in this letter. In 2020, the economy (and the American government as a whole) has fallen, and money means nothing. We routinely use sawbucks to wipe our butts, so I figure this’ll be better spent by you back in 2008.
Nah, I’m fucking with you. I just have a job now and can afford to spend money on dumb jokes. But wouldn’t that be wild?
Yesterday, when you got that letter from 2003, you were entering your final year of college. Graduating high school, you knew you had to go to college--it was expected, of course, and you had been offered a full ride to the same university that the rest of your family went to when they were your age, so it was a given that you were going to attend. But you were terrified; you’d never been away from home and all of its comforts for any significant amount of time. Your community had seemed so important at the time (Yes, the friends that you don’t talk to anymore, the Denny’s that got torn down a couple of years ago, all of those things.)
To be clear: this isn’t a message about how important it is to grow up. I know it seems that way, like there’s some bigger metaphor about how your old town represents all the immature stuff you used to do and how you have to grow out of those things to become a wiser, older, sagely silver fox. First: you only have a few greys, okay? Mid-thirties are the new mid-twenties. Second: I know the Denny’s seems like a metaphor. The Denny’s is not a metaphor. Let the Denny’s go. Telling somebody to grow up would be a tremendously douchey reason to send a letter through time anyway, right? Let kids be kids! (Yes, you’re still a kid, even if you don’t think you are. You’re 22. Last year you asked your roommates if your girlfriend could live in your shared apartment rent-free because she was going to be staying in your room and you “already pay rent for that area.” You’re a goddamn baby.)
When you got to college, four whole hours away from your cool basement bungalow with your two TVs, one for video games and one for watching Adult Swim while you played video games, the very first thing you did was go to the student involvement fair, and stand on the circle in the student square, in the middle of all the booths. You were surrounded by a mass of other students, kids your age, going to clubs and signing up for things with an air of confidence that made you truly question why you didn’t have it all together yet. There were fraternities with the kids who looked like the ones who’d made fun of you in the hallways, the women’s health and wellness club, completely inapplicable to you, the aerial yoga club that seemed like it was full of people who might as well be aliens--but you stood there, in that walkway near those booths in the middle of all of those kids, and you listened, and you caught a familiar melody: Tonari no Totoro, the eponymous theme song for the Ghibli film known in the US as My Neighbor Totoro. Like a child under the spell of the Pied Piper, you followed it through the swarms of 18-year-olds, people who were laughing and chatting with each other and making friends, a task that seemed absolutely impossible now that high school was over, and arrived at the booth the anime club, a place that would become your safe haven for the next five years. It would be the place where you found a friend who would become the best man at your wedding, the place that would eventually lead you to the city where you’d spend your adult life, the place that would nurture the things you considered dumb creative pursuits, things that would blossom into lifelong hobbies.
This isn’t a story about how you had to leave behind all of those childish things. This is a story about how you kept all of the things you enjoyed when you were young, and took them with you, and made them a critical part of who you are and who you’ll remain. How the things that made you happy, the things that everybody said you’ll grow out of, how they continue to make you happy today.
It’s bizarre to think about, but I’ve been out of high school and away from my hometown now for half of my life. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but for the most part (there are some pretty big and difficult asterisks along the way, to be sure), life continues to get better, and it always winds its way back around to the things you love. You meet your future wife due to a mutual acquaintance at an anime convention. You get paid to stand in front of people on a stage and yell into a microphone about your favorite Dungeons and Dragons class. You name your first son after a character from a TV show you love and and it’s the perfect name and you can’t imagine your little dude being named absolutely anything else.
And all the things you carried with you, all these things you’re passionate about, you’ll give them to your son. And some he’ll bring with him when he gets older, surely, and maybe he’ll pass them onto his kid, who’ll maybe keep the cycle going. But for the most part, he’ll be a different person from you. And one day, it’s possible that he’ll consider the place you live that you love so much as “his dumpy hometown,” and he’ll move onto better and brighter places. Or maybe he won’t! I’m still waiting on the letter from my future version that’s going to clue me into all that. But if there’s a lesson from all of this, maybe this is it: love what you love and carry it forward and share it with everyone, but let them love what they love, too. That’s okay!
Anyway, seeing as I don’t remember receiving this letter in 2008, I’ll probably just end up creating an inescapable time paradox upon sending it. Or...maybe I just wont send it at all, in fact? I’ve watched enough time travel movies to realize I could be erasing myself. And anyway, the lessons you need to learn and the growing up you’ll do are always going to happen. And you’re strong enough and smart enough to get through them, carrying what you love.
Hug your dad and tell him you love him,