I wrote a letter to my murdered best friend the other day, the one who died in 1987. He died 30 years ago, which one hand seems like no time at all, but on another hand seems like geological ages.
I’ve written in these pieces about my sense of feeling like a Time Traveller investigating and exploring my own past, and of seeing things in my past that my Past Self, embedded in that time and place sometimes could not see, or at least could not see clearly. From where I sit here on my IKEA couch, in a very nice house that we had built from scratch, my life together with Michelle with all of its ups and downs (do not ask Michelle about “the Christmas Boil”, which I think she regards as the low-water mark of our life together), and our crazy adventures, like our trips overseas to the US and Canada to promote my books, my life seems nothing short of call-the-bishop miraculous. I have been blessed.
I have written a fair bit about the doomed teenage boy who shuffled out of the meeting with his registrar in 1979, who had just been given his formal diagnosis, who thought his life was over. IKEA couch me thinks about him a lot. That time in my life was the making of me. I was free from abuse, from bullies. I was accepted just for myself. It was revolutionary. Even without any formal treatment or therapy, those few things alone, simply “treating me decently”, “being nice”, was a paradigm-shifting shock. Without what happened to me in that place, I don’t know what would have become of me. Certainly I saw several young people who were simply smashed to pieces by the same sort of circumstances, who never succeeded in rebuilding their lives.
But just as I have been able to wander about in my past, even in areas I have not wanted to revisit, sometimes wishing I could take my Past Selves aside to let them know they were going to be okay. They would survive. It would be hard, and it would hurt plenty, but they’d be okay. But what if there was a Future Time Traveller watching me?
Right now, in this moment, I have this comfortable, over-privileged life. I live in a soap-bubble floating through the air. The planet is on fire. We might not have much time left here. There is no Plan B. The people who should be in charge of helping us get through this mess are acting as if they are being paid not to do anything to help us. In the years I have been alive in this world I have seen the greatest times of hope and aspiration, when we seemed to achieve something like a global moment of “we” (the Moon Landings, when “we” landed on the Moon), and times of unimaginable division, despair, and wilful ignorance. I grew up at a time when people believed in the idea of progress, that we were going forward into a better future, for all of us. Now we just have “more of this, only later” to look forward to.
I’m hard pressed to find hope in this world. If there is a Future Time Traveller version of me out there, watching me as I’ve been watching my own Past Selves, I’d like him to show himself. I’d like him to let me know what we can do, what we should expect. What does he know that we don’t?
I wondered how I would explain to my murdered friend something like the Internet. I wondered how I would explain Google. Wifi. He was killed in 1987, so it’s just possible he might have read NEUROMANCER, or seen the movie WAR GAMES. He might have known what a modem was for. But how to from a modem to online pornography? To Uber? To Michelle and me sitting on the couch, both of us on Facebook Messenger, swapping soppy messages and emojis? And yes, how do I explain Facebook, with its official, as of today, two billion active users, to my dead friend?
The world has changed in 30 years. What happens in the next 30? I should be still here, and I hope I’ll still be writing, even if it’s just on whatever passes for websites then. Will I think fondly of the naïve and innocent simplicity of the Age of Trump? Will he have been a brief blip, a comma in a long run-on sentence, or will he be the whole sentence? Future Time Traveller me knows.
I’m just wondering if I really want to know. Will we be okay? Will our soap bubble world float on, its surface tension unbroken? I don’t see how it can. I have never felt, not even during the height of the Cold War, in the 1980s, as anxious about the future as I do now. Nuclear war seems like the least of my worries, compared to everything else that could go wrong.
Future Time Traveller Adrian, if you’re out there watching me, show me a sign. I need to know it’ll be okay. Promise I won’t post about it on Facebook.