Christmas is a weighty and nostalgic time for me. The frenetic waxing of forty once led me to write, “If you are childless, every first-something is a reminder of a last-something.” I don’t know if this makes much sense, but to me there is an implicit sense of loss when one is unable to experience the enchantment of… well, anything really. Even my last trip to Europe felt strangely familiar; and I am aware of the first-world-problem-ness of this statement.
I have this construct in my head that child-rearing is some sort of mechanism that quells a lost sense of enchantment into a projection of renewed wonderment. Suddenly a parent’s memory of a first-something is now experienced vicariously as a first-something–not a last-something. “I remember when…,” is replaced with a tangible event preserved forever on social media.
Several years ago while writing Christmas cards, a feat attended to only on the rarest of occasions, I decided to write my 8 year old self a Christmas card.
I have zero idea what prompted this other than I was completely blanking on where to send the lone remaining card purchased from Paper Source. And yes, I am aware of the supreme lameness of being a graphic designer and not carefully crafting my own personally designed Christmas card.
Here’s the ridiculous thing… not only did I write a letter to my 8-year-old self as some sort of therapeutic exercise in vanquishing ghosts of Christmas Past, but I actually physically mailed the Christmas card to my boyhood address in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Specifically, the card was addressed to “1980 David” from “2013 David”. You have to understand that at the time I had no idea who was living at my boyhood address.
After I dropped the letter in the mail, I thought, “That was dumb. I really hope the addressee has a great sense of humor.” There were a lot of variables here. Does a crazy person live there? Will they think I am a crazy person? Am I a crazy person?
I didn’t include a return address, only my blog address on the back of the envelope–just in case.
Dear 1980 David,
This is 2013 David. As an 8 year old it’s going to be difficult to imagine yourself as a 40 year old adult, but unfortunately it’s going to happen. You are probably wondering what the future is like… all I can say is you are going to love this thing called an iPhone. Remember your idea about a phone where you could see the other person? Well… it does that but also a lot more. (It’s way cooler than your Mattel Electronics Battlestar Galactica Space Alert game.) I hope you are enjoying your “Satin Steel” drum set. Believe it or not you are going to become a good drummer — but an even better guitarist and songwriter. (Just wait until you meet 1988 David.) Give Bessie a big for me. She loves you so much! No other dog delivers hand written notes requesting a bed time snack quite like her. You must be really excited for the Star Wars sequel — I don’t want to give the ending away… but let’s just say Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are very close. (You will also be happy to know there will be many more Star Wars movies.) I know how much you love scratch & sniff stickers so I am enclosing some stickers for your sticker book. And guess what? You designed them! I guess those drawing contests paid off. Have a Merry Christmas 1980 David. And be nicer to your sister and look out for her.
Love, 2013 David
Months passed and I completely forgot about the card and my absurd Quixotic quest to connect with the past.
And then… I was left a comment on my website from “1980 David”.
Over the course of a month or so 1980 David and I exchanged brief correspondence here and there via my blog, but eventually over time I got to know the messenger: Steve.
It turns out that Steve bought our house in the early/mid-80’s–one seller removed from my existence in Waukesha–and has lived there ever since with his wife, Janet, and their two children.
Steve is an H/VAC guy and also sits on the Waukesha Public School Board. He teared up giving a speech at his son’s wedding; his daughter recently started college. Last year for Thanksgiving everyone came to the house. On Black Friday some went shopping and some stayed behind to watch football. Steve waited for his daughter to return home from college before decorating the Christmas tree because, per tradition, she always hangs the star on the tree-top.
Steve was highly instrumental in getting the name of Central Middle School changed to Les Paul Middle School. (I’ve even watched Steve in action via a YouTube video of a school board meeting.) And, if you didn’t know, Les Paul was a native of Waukesha, Wisconsin… “The Wizard of Waukesha”.
We’ve exchanged many photos, vintage Waukesha in return for present day Waukesha. In particular is a picture I sent of our old dog, Poohbear, sitting on the front porch on a cold blustery Wisconsin autumn day. It was returned with an eerily similar photo of their dog, Tucker.
Steve’s love for his family is unconditional, and at times has made for a misty read.
It’s so bizarre. It’s like the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future simultaneously showed up on the doorstep of my psyche. I half-imagine standing on the edge of the Zakim bridge… staring down into the icy Charles river on a cold snowy Boston night only for a sagely ghost to reveal an 8mm film of my faceted past meshed against the reality of my Facebook yearbook video. (Which was awful by the way.)
I wrote my phantom boyhood home only to discover that in its stead is a functioning, normal existence of a family–neither of which comprises my past, present or future.
Talk about an existential crisis.
It’s not so much a critique of my own circumstances, my own family or my own decision making vs. just what is or what was thought to be.
But, I think what I thought would happen was: Steve. I guess I thought it would be Steve in 1980 and I thought it would be Steve now. I’d be the guy tearing up at my Son’s wedding. That I’d wait to decorate the tree until my daughter returned home from college. That I would host a house full of people on Thanksgiving.
I’ve established this amazing connection that simultaneously projects two realities; one that is real and alive in Waukesha, Wisconsin and one that is suspended in grainy, silent 8mm movies and photographs requiring of zero vintage Instagram filters. (But both requiring of a tissue.)
I’ve long recited to my friends and colleagues a well rehearsed script detailing my fondness for a nice quiet holiday season with no travel, family or friends; while the performance is not entirely disingenuous, it’s largely symptomatic of the tapestry that is simply 2015 David.
I know it’s a losing prospect, comparing and contrasting our outcomes with the realities we create versus the concretized past–hardened regrets both beyond our control and those we fully own. I also accept that the responsibility for our own happiness belongs to ourselves and ourselves alone.
But sometimes… sometimes, as I leaf through the old family photo albums, I can’t help but feel like the world could use more 2015 Steve’s.
Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas.