Sunday, June 14, 2009

A boy and himself


Jeremy was an only-child who just moved from Chicago to Seattle with his parents. As an only-child, he was used to feeling a bit lonely. But moving away from his all his childhood friends accentuated his sense of isolation.

I say they moved to Seattle, but strictly speaking they moved to an outlying community. An isolated area with lots of woods and ponds.

His parents never went to church. But they jogged religiously on Sunday mornings.

Jeremy went for long walks in the woods. Not knowing his way around the new neighborhood, Jeremy lost his way in the woods. He wandered around until it started to get dark. He then sat down and tried to not cry. Jeremy never felt more alone in his life.

Then a strange man came up to him. As if he was hiding behind a tree. Jeremy was terrified, but there was nowhere to run.

Yet there was also something strangely familiar about the stranger.

“Hi, Jeremy,” the man said.

“Who are you?” Jeremy asked.

“A friend,” the man answered.

“How do you know my name?” Jeremy asked.

“I know all about you,” the man answered.

“How?” Jeremy asked.

“That’s a story for another day,” the man answered. “It’s time to take you home.”

With that, the stranger took Jeremy by the hand, and led him out of the woods. When they arrived at a clearing, the stranger pointed Jeremy to his house, then said good-bye.


A week later, while Jeremy was going for another walk in the woods, the stranger approached him from the other end of the trail. This time Jeremy was not afraid.

“How are you doing?” the stranger asked.

“I’m bored,” Jeremy said. “There’s nothing to do. No one to play with.”

“Let’s go fishing,” the stranger said.

So they went fishing. Caught some trout. Cooked their trout over a campfire.

“What’s your name?” Jeremy asked.

“Call me Jem,” the stranger answered.

After they ate, Jem said it was time for him to leave.

All in all, was one of the happiest days Jeremy could remember.

Over the next few months, Jem frequently met with Jeremy when he was outside, by himself. There was no predicting when Jem would show up. But it seemed to happen whenever Jeremy was feeling really lonely or upset.

Jem was easy to talk to. It was nice to have someone to talk to who understood you. Jem seemed to know what Jeremy was going to say before he said it.

Jeremy’s parents didn’t have much time for him. They both had careers. Long hours at the office. Working every Saturday. Sometimes on Sunday. Taking business trips out of town.

Jeremy missed Jem when he wasn’t around. One time he went outside and called to him, but Jem didn’t answer. That made Jeremy mad.

The next time Jeremy saw Jem, he was still mad at him. “Why didn’t you come to me when I called?”

“I’m not God, Jeremy. You need to have a few friends your own age. I’m not here to replace your other friends. I’m available whenever you need me, but not whenever you want me. I have a life, too.”

At that point Jeremy was sorry for what he said. In fact, he was afraid that Jem might be mad at him for getting angry. But Jem assured him it wasn’t a big deal.

Over the years, Jem continued to take Jeremy fishing. Or take him to baseball games. Or take him to church. As long as his parents were not around. They didn’t pay much attention to how Jeremy spent his free time. They had more important things to think about.

Jem seemed to stay the same age. Around 30, give or take. It was odd. But Jem was a great storyteller.


One day, when Jeremy was in junior high, his mother was scheduled to fly out of town on a business trip. But when she went outside to drive herself to the airport, her car tires were slashed. So she missed her flight.

Later in the day, when Jeremy happened to see Jem, he asked him about that.

“Yes, I slashed her tires,” Jem said.

“Why would you do such a thing,” Jeremy replied–incredulous and furious.

“I have my reasons. You’ll see.”

Jeremy was furious. He felt betrayed. He didn’t think he could every trust Jem after that. In fact, he told him to go away and never come back.

That night, as Jeremy and his parents were watching the local news, they saw the report of a passenger plane that crash-landed, killing everyone aboard. His mom looked at her tickets. It was the same flight number.

The next time Jeremy saw Jem, he asked him about it. “You knew about the flight, didn’t you? You saved her life,” Jeremy said.

“Yes, I knew,” Jem answered.

“How could you know the future?” Jeremy asked.

“I’m from the future. That’s how.”

“Is that how you know so much about me?”

“Yes. But there’s a bit more to it than that. I’m not merely from the future. I’m from your future. I’m the future you. I’m you!”

In one sense, Jeremy wasn’t surprised. That explained a lot. Indeed, he’d suspected something like that for a long time. Still, it was a bit puzzling.

“But if you come from the future, aren’t you changing the future? Every time you talk to me, aren’t you changing the future? Changing the future you come from? How can you still be me while you give me advice about what to do next?”

“Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. I admit oversimplified a bit. I’m not exactly from your future. To be prcisee, I’m from a different timeline. So I’m not going back in time. Not into my own past. But an alternate past. I’m you in a different timeline. They run along parallel tracks at many points, but diverge at other points.”

“Can you tell me when my parents–I mean, our parents–are going to die?”

“I’m not here to tell you your future. That would ruin your future. You’d lose the sense of adventure. The element of surprise. And if you knew what bad things were going to happen, your foreboding would spoil the good things. You’d be apprehensive about the bad things long before they happened. It would kill your capacity for joy.”


During his senior year in high school, Jem showed up one day. “Let’s go for lunch.”

Jem was unusually pensive. “You haven’t said much. What’s on your mind?” Jeremy asked.

“This is the last time I’ll be seeing you, Jeremy,” Jem replied.

Jeremy was stunned. Grief-stricken.

“You’ll miss me, but you’ll get over it.” Jem said.

“Why are you leaving? Why are you deserting me?”

“I can’t really abandon you. After all, I’m you. You’ll outgrow me. You’ll grow into me. In another ten years or so, you’ll be me. I’m just an older version of you. And you’re catching up.”

“Why did you ever come into my life in the first place?”

“God sent me to you. Sent me back to guide you and protect you at a time when you needed me. I’m like a guardian angel. Or an older twin-brother. Much older! But you don’t need me anymore. I’m in the way. From now on you need to look to God. I’m just a bridge. It’s time to cross that bridge and put it behind you. And it’s time for me to return to my own timeline, to my own life and family. From here on out you’ll do just fine without me. After all, you’re already me–near about.”

And with that, Jem started to fade. The colors began to pale. He became transparent. Then he disappeared.

1 comment:

  1. Another good one Steve. Though, isn't this a bit of a wish for the "I-wish-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now" theme? I can't tell my 20-year-old self what I'd like to have known back then.

    I can tell my kids, but they don't always listen.