23A: Back to the Future
One afternoon I sweep through the first five months of deposits in the Time Capsule. The first four months, there is only a shortish note from Mum, writing to me as if I were a relative living overseas, with all the news from home. It’s weird as hell. It’s my mum, writing to me, her son, and I thought we had gotten past the whole “is this hulking boofhead my real son or is he a conman trying to scam us out of our house?” thing. I thought we’d really connected. It made me happy at a time when I needed a hug from my mum. And here she is writing to me about pot plants and weather.
And how much they all miss Robbie, and send prayers and wishes and hopes.
I try to put myself in her shoes. She is writing a note that she is then going to take to a box in a bank vault, and leave it there for me to find during my monthly sweep from from the future. It is just about impossible to think about, to wrap your head around.
With the fourth message from Mum she’s included a Freddo Frog. She says, “I know you always used to like them, so here you go. I’m sorry I haven’t really known what to say to you. It’s a difficult time for us. Phil and I are barely speaking. When we do it’s either tense whispers or screams. It’s best Robbie isn’t home to see it. We’re all at sixes and sevens. We don’t know which way is up. Can you really help us? Can you do anything up there in the future? What if Robbie dies? What happens to you if he dies? What happens to him if you die?”
Then there’s a gap, and a change of pen, and next thing she says, “I’ve moved out. I’ve left Phil, your father. All these years it’s always been your father threatening to leave. But I actually did it. He laid a hand on me. He dared to touch me, the bastard. I’m sorry for speaking so about your father, Rob. He is a million-piece jigsaw puzzle. I never figured him out. He’s baffling. There have been times I’ve at least felt willing to make the attempt, to at least try to figure him out, to try and find the corners and the edges? But now, no. I always told him, when we rowed, I told him if he touched me, even once, that was it, it was over. Just once, and it’s all over red rover. I’ll be getting in touch with some lawyers.
“I’m really sorry to be telling you this, son. I know it’s the worst news in the world. I need you to understand that we both still love you, both of you, all of you, wherever you are. If you find Little Rob, please explain this to him for us, and bring him home to us. Let us know through the Time Capsule here. But make sure he understands that this is nothing to do with him. We love him. He’s a funny mutt of a kid, but we always loved him. That’s never changed.
Somewhere in the middle of reading all of that I’ve ended up on the floor of the vault, sobbing, my arm over my eyes, unable to breathe.
Later, weak-kneed, moving very slowly, deliberately, as if underwater, I see the fifth message in the box: a thick, sealed envelope with “Robbie” in Dad’s pressing-hard handwriting.
Oh, God, I think, holding it, feeling the heft of it in my hand. He put this here after Mum’s last one. Do I really want to open this?
I put it in my jacket pocket, eat the Freddo Frog, which makes me want to cry again (such a simple thing, but conjures an entire world of feeling and memory and light), and put the empty box back in its slot.
I head back to the future.