Knowing Then What I Know Now

By Christian Riley

So it went like this: I walked along the shores of Half-Moon Bay on the night of my 40th birthday all alone under the cover of a full moon and a spiteful southern March breeze bearing salt for my bitter eyes which cared nothing for the likes of anything other than that crisp sand between my toes. At least I was still young enough to never-mind our cold, dirty planet underneath my feet–so I told myself, as I then looked up and witnessed a moment of time and space which was both surreal and fantastic. A moment not of this reality; my reality, your reality, anyone's reality for that matter.

I looked twice over both shoulders, searching for another witness on that stretch of sand who might be looking at the same thing I was, and also, who could possibly help support my mind, so troubled was it upon observing this glowing, really glowing, and I mean glowing hard and bright, blue archway of shimmering light stamped into the cliff-side of that beach right next to me. But of course, I was alone. So you'll only believe half of this story, if that, yet here it is anyways.

Slowly, I crept up to this archway and found that no, it wasn't a trick slip of light from that full moon, because as I got closer, it got brighter, and then it grew in size and shape as well, stretching down and out until it ended in the likeness of a great, bluish-green "eye" there upon that slab of dirt.

And it had "features" within it as well. Features which I quickly discovered were symbols of some type. Arcane symbols perhaps. Symbols not of this earth, most definitely. Symbols which spoke loud and cruel to my curious mind, so I just had to reach up and touch them.

I raised my left hand and stretched my fingers out to one of those symbols, realizing then that it was warm. They were warm. And when my fingers finally broke ground with that one particular symbol I had aimed for, and when I traced its curvature, traced its pathway as dug out upon that cliff-side, I realized also that those symbols were, magic.

They were magic, because somehow, at the instance of a blink, I was then taken far and away from that piece of Half-Moon Bay, and deposited right back into that point of time there in that bathroom within that apartment we lived in when I was just thirteen years old, and I had been struggling to get ready for school because I was also being haunted from those words spoken to me just the day before by that terrible bully, Charles Miner. Those words which went like this: "Tomorrow, I'm gonna beat your head in, Ratface."

 

Except that now, while in that bathroom, the thought suddenly occurred to me that wow, I'm thirteen again. I'm thirteen, and I have to get ready for school or else I might be late; and oh yeah, Charles had plans to beat me up today, but sadly, he's gonna have to change those plans because I no longer have time for his crap. I've got more important things to worry about.

And then I went to school.

I went to school, to junior high, with my forty-year old intellect jammed into my adolescent body, and boy was I amazed. This was how we walked? This was how we talked and dressed? How we got along with each other? A freak-show both hilarious yet unsettling which had me more distracted than I'd counted on–or didn't count on, for that matter–and that too was unsettling because like I said, I had more important things to do there in school, real important things to do 'cause this was my second chance, right? Time to get things right for once, make a change worthy to be proud of for yourself, Mr. Thomas Plant.

"Ratface!"

Magic brought me there for a reason, and I was sure I knew what that reason was for, since–

"Hey, Ratface!"

–I was forty-years old. I was forty, so there was no way in hell I could fail a test now. I had planned on getting straight A's this time around. That's right, I was gonna make my old man proud for once when I handed him, no, shoved him that yellow slip of paper, that little insurance policy that told him his son was such a genius, told him to–

"Get the hell over here, Ratface…it's time for that beating!"

I had more important things to do. I did, I really thought I did, but there he was anyways: Charles Miner. Charles Miner, with his big fists. Charles Miner, with his short-cropped hair and braces, and spoiled-rotten pudgy belly. Charles Miner, with that unbelievable cruelness he somehow hijacked from a third-world dictator. And then it all came back to me, how on this day, way back when I was thirteen, I let Charles Miner give me a beating which left me scarred for years to come. Left me with scars that paled in comparison to the ones I'd receive from the old man, because I was the fool who confessed my cowardice to him. Confessed that I let another kid whoop my ass, and that yes, his only son was a weak little shit too afraid to stand up for himself.

Charles Miner.

Charles Miner, with his bruised ribs. Charles Miner, with his broken, bloodied-up nose. Charles Miner, big tree who fell hard, right there on the blacktop of the playground while I punched and kicked him with all forty years of my hatred and sorrow. I pounded ol' Charles with forty years of humiliation until he cried loud and hard for his mama, begging me to stop already.

And then just like that, I was twenty again!

Ode to be twenty again! Hallelujah! Twenty again! Thank the Maker! Twenty years old with forty-years of experience under my belt? Out of my way, world! And how I knew I was twenty again, was because I was there on that bed in that room I rented for that one year while I threw fries at McDonald's and thought about nothing other than Friday nights (yes, I actually had those nights off) and the next piece of all beef patty special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onion on a sesame seed bun with a smack on that ass and a side of poontang, thank you very much.

Her name was Tanya Millhouse, and she was my first, almost my best, definitely my favorite with her beautiful eyes that crinkled so heavy when she laughed out loud. A dainty girl with a huge, infectious laugh that always compelled me to give her a squeeze while I looked her in those magnificent eyes, kissed her lips, brushed my hand through her hair, kissed her neck, ran my fingers down her cheek, grabbed the underside of her knee, scooping her up and down onto that bed…

Yes, I was in love. I was in love for the first time with such a beautiful woman with beautiful eyes and a beautiful laugh, and I had the time of my life for that one year. Twenty. Not twenty years, just one, when I was twenty, and Tanya was nineteen, and I was sure I'd found the girl of my dreams, my future wife, the would-be mother of my children…

The same girl who I knew wasn't, couldn't, can't be the same girl I found on her knees in the storage room at work slurping on Fred Hurley's popsicle.

Fred Hurley; McDonald's shift manager, fat son-of-a-bitch who had a wife and four kids going on eight because him and his wife were Mormons, went to church every other odd day of the week, and who preached his version of the gospel to all of us deaf kids there at work–except for Tanya of course, who just got the wet end of his righteousness.

But she took that end apparently. She asked for it. She was happy to receive it, 'cause when I caught her in that storage room with Fred, she looked up at me, (a little surprised, just a little), then looked back at him, then at it, and then proceeded to get the job done–never-mind that her boyfriend was standing off to the side, javelin lodged deep into his ribcage…

And after that, I simply turned around and walked out of that McDonald's, remembering to drop my heart onto the griddle before I was out the door.

I went home and sat on that bed where I was now, in that same moment, thinking about how adultery stood next to murder on my list, and that my life, my future life with all its future relationships will forever be jaded by a million replays of Tanya, Fred, and The Storage Room Suck Off, and that…but wait…

I was forty now. Also. Forty also. I was forty, and I had a whole lot more to think about regarding my future life. A whole lot more to remember about.

And so when Tanya Millhouse came calling, knocking on my window 'cause I'd ignored all fourteen of her attempts to get me on the phone, I opened the back door which led to my part of the house and gladly let her into my room.

She had that look I remembered so very well, back when this moment first occurred twenty long years ago. That look that said, I'm here to apologize, even though I don't want to, but…you know, it's sort of the right thing to do.

And when she then proceeded to open her beautiful mouth, yet speak that ugly script that also had me thinking, How the hell did Fred Hurley get in here, I simply couldn't take my mind off the fact that Tanya Millhouse was only my first. Certainly not my last, nor my best for that matter. And certainly not going to be my favorite anymore, because yeah, I was a forty-year old man with the body of my youth, and the wisdom of my years sitting right next to me on that bed, (the opposite side of where Tanya sat), tugging on my ear, whispering into my conscience, saying, Hey Tom? Yeah, you. Why are you letting this sweet young thing break your heart? She's just a girl trying to find her way, just like all the rest of us. Give her up already.

And wouldn't you know, it was that easy. It was so easy for me that I couldn't even let Tanya finish with her apology. I just laughed softly, then rambled on to the effect of: Don't stress over it girl, it's all cool, I'm alright, there's tons of fish in the sea, no worries, oh, but by the way, maybe you should reconsider this thing with Fred Hurley though…I believe I read somewhere that those Mormon women can get awfully 'vengeful when it comes to cheating matters!

A fabrication of course, but it was the least I could do for ol' Tanya Millhouse, whom I still cared about after all, but oddly enough, in more of a "brotherly" way than anything else. Her eyes lit up after I spoke, though. They lit up real good. Perhaps she was insulted by my aloof manner, or maybe just scarred by that image of Fred Hurley's wife showing up at McDonald's with her bible in one hand, and a baseball bat in the other. But whatever it was that spooked Tanya, I'll never know…

Because just like that, I was thirty again!

A little sore over that all too brief "twenty again" moment, not getting a chance to live through a few fantasies I had deftly put together in my mind after letting Tanya off the hook, I found myself standing in the kitchen of my apartment. My apartment. My home. This was my home, the place where I've lived for over ten years now, yet things were now somehow different. Things were different in a manner that Friends was playing on my television, my old girlfriend Cynthia sat on my couch, and I had my hand on the door handle of my fridge, preparing to open it up and retrieve whatever it was I planned on retrieving (probably a beer), I can't remember, when all of a sudden, the phone rang…

Déjà vu materializes into cold hard fact. Cold hard fact with zero trace of resemblance. I knew what time it was then. I knew who's voice stood waiting inside that black box hung on my kitchen wall. I knew the words that waited there also, little bandits of emotion that they were, biding their time, tormenting their creator with anxiety while they held their poisoned daggers out for the ready. Ready for me.

Your father Tom…his liver…well, the doctor says…um…well you see, you might wanna to come out here. Yeah, Tom…you might wanna come out here…real quick. Don't wait Tom.

Don't wait? Don't wait, Tom?

Don't wait, so that that bastard of an alcoholic ends up dying by himself? Don't let that emotional wreck, that abuser of the mind with his occasional head-spanking from the back of his hand just to sink things in…don't let this man go to his grave without so much as a goodbye from his only son? His only son whom he hasn't heard from for ten years now, 'cause ten years ago that boy finally broke his nose. Broke it damn good, for real-like, smashed and bloody after that old man went off on another one of his violent trips with the bottle, hitting and yelling, shattering windows and hearts with such nasty selfishness. Slaying souls with that nasty selfishness. A selfishness which could only be pounded, heated, folded, pounded, cooled, forged, honed…and then expertly swung by the clever hands of a drunk.

Don't let this man die alone…again?

***

Cynthia was a much nicer woman I remembered her to be. A kinder woman, lovelier in every way in which I knew she could be, while she sat there in that passenger seat of the car I drove to Riverside. The car I drove to that hospital in that same city, where on the seventh floor there was a particular room with a particular bed that contained the still warm body of a particularly cold man…

A cold man who waited.

But for the first time in my life…I saw him. His eyes… His eyes…they were scared. They looked up at me, and although I've never had kids, and I don't really know the feelings parents have, but it was like…well….it was like my father, the old man that he was, all crumpled up under those covers of that hospital bed…with those eyes of his…I could've sworn…

And the coldness of this man, this soul…chilled no doubt from the incessant swallows of liquor…gone. Vanquished by the presence of impending doom, and he really did seem lost because of it. Lost and alone, a scared little child. My child, perhaps…

And for the first time in my life…I reached out for this man. I reached out with my own hand, a strong hand, a hand that told him–after he grabbed it so damn hard like he did–told him that I would never gonna let him go…

And finally, for the first time in both of our lives…I heard the vibrant resonance of love in this man's voice. I heard all the pain, forever dampened by the gush of a million swigs…heard it all come screaming out of him from those two simple words he spoke. Those two beautiful, life-altering words…words which put to rest once and for all decades of sorrow, as they came whispering out of him.

My son.

And then just like that…I heard the crashing of the waves.

 

Beginning at 5:00 a.m., Chris spends the only available lot of solitary time he gets in a day feeding his addiction to writing. If he's lucky, he'll get two hours in before "they" wake up, after which he lives a wonderful life as a family man, and special education teacher. His stories have been accepted at a number of publishers including Midwest Literary Magazine, Short Story.Me, Bete Noire, The Absent Willow Review, Underground Voices, Residential Aliens, and Bards and Sages Quarterly. You can reach him at chakalives@gmail.com, or at his static blog; frombehindthebluedoor.wordpress.com.

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