Rewind, Part 1
He woke to what sounded like a 5th grade percussion class on the first day of school. It seemed that the teacher had been called away, leaving the little darlings unattended with the all-too tempting drums.
Could be worse, right? Yeah, except that he was clearly lying in bed and the cacophony was limited to that little echo chamber between his ears. It felt as though the base drum beating of his heart was trying to force his eyeballs out through his tightly clenched lids.
Speaking of eyes and eyelids, Josh’s were so tightly clenched because some evil madman had managed to transform light into a solid, and very sharp, needle and was using that needle to stab him in the eye every time he relaxed his lids even the tiniest bit.
Rather than deal with whys and hows of 5th grade drummers and madmen, he took stock of the rest of his body and started to get a little worried.
He was cold and clammy, as though he had been sick and sweating through his sheets. His joints all ached and that seemed to fit the theme, but that is where things started to go wrong.
The smell of the room where he lay was all wrong. Over the sour stink of sweat and what were probably traces of someone (himself?) having been sick to their stomach recently, the familiar scents of home were missing. On the bright side, there were no chemical or rubbing alcohol smells one normally associated with hospitals, so that was somewhat comforting. He could smell cigarette smoke, coffee and a bevy of scents that were both unknown and yet strangely familiar in some indefinable way.
Slowly and carefully, he inched his arms and legs out as far as he could and discovered that he was in a bed, but he couldn’t determine much by touch. He could just wrap the first knuckle of his fingers over the edge of the mattress on each side but his feet were nowhere near the end of the bed. Since he stood just over six feet tall in his bare feet, that meant the mattress was at least as long as his California King at home.
His limbs felt oddly weak and sluggish, the joints stiff and sore. It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling to anyone who has been sick for a couple of days, but he couldn’t recall getting sick. There was also an indefinable “wrongness” to how everything moved. It was as if his arms and legs had been asleep and the blood was still working its way back in, but without the tingling, pins and needles feeling you usually get.
There was something besides a sheet dragging at his arms and legs…. Ah! Some fumbling revealed that he was wearing flannel pajamas. That made him pause as he tried to remember the last time he had owned a set of pajamas, much less flannel ones.
Ok, so he was obviously not at home. Do hospitals dress patients in pajamas? he thought they only did that Marquis De Sade ass-less gowns, in a putrid pastel color and one size fits no one. He had already ruled out a hospital, but if he had been sick for a long time or even comatose, an extended care facility didn’t have to smell like a hospital ward, right?
He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself, take stock. “I am Joshua Sloan”, he thought to himself. “Male, 45, computer geek, married with a couple of grown kids and today should be Feb 19, 2011.” he lay still for a few more minutes, his mind sorting through the memories of the last few days. He worried them like you would use your tongue to wiggle a loose tooth, poking and prodding, seeing if he could sense any changes.
He took another deep breath and exhaled slowly, a self-deprecating smirk touched his lips. So, whatever was going on, it didn’t involve some B-movie amnesia. He didn’t recall getting sick so if he had been bed-ridden and if there was some memory loss, it couldn’t involve more than the time he was in bed. Thank god for small favors.
The drummers were starting to wind down a bit, though that kid on the base drum needed an ass-kicking in the worst way. The madman’s needles of light were starting to dull as they ran up against his iron willed, um, fear of pain and he tempted fate by cracking his lids and trying to see what he could without moving his head.
Directly above him was an off-white ceiling, covered in that annoying popcorn texturing stuff that builders used to cover shoddy sheetrock work. Just to his right, at the edge of his peripheral vision was a tacky light fixture right out of the 70s. If he was institutionalized, it was in a cheap place. No drop-tile ceilings or fluorescent lights, beeping monitors and the like. The light that cast tiny shadows in the ceiling texture wasn’t coming from the fixture; it was coming through a window somewhere behind his head.
He stared at the ceiling for a moment, something nagging at the edge of his awareness. In the left edge of his vision that he saw he was close to a wall, and the wall met the ceiling just a couple of feet over his head. It was either a very low ceiling or he was on a raised platform of some kind.
He pulled his left arm out from the covers and slowly raised it up to touch the ceiling over his head and froze, his hearth speeding up again and a cold sweat breaking out on his forehead.
It was an odd moment in a series of odd moments and it felt like his brain had simply stopped working. The entire world around him narrowed down to what was in front of his eyes. The hand, his hand (?) was small, pale and would look perfectly at home on the end of a small child’s arm. Even as close as he was to the ceiling, there was no way this diminutive hand was going to reach it.
His forebrain refused to even consider anything but this pale little hand while a cacophony of voices gibbered mindlessly in the rear of his brain.
That tore it. It was all clear now. He had lost his fucking mind.
He watched the hand with fascination as he willed it closer to his face, turning and twisting the wrist; wriggling the fingers and making a tiny fist. He could feel the muscles and tendons; could feel the smooth skin as the fingers moved against one another and could even feel the bite of the little fingernails as they pressed into the palm. But this was Not. His. Hand.
HIS hand was large, scarred and calloused by 45 years of life. He had worked on jets, on cars and bikes, built houses, chopped wood by the cord and had fired 100s of thousands of rounds of ammunition with those hands. There should be wrinkles and stains, a jagged nail where he had smashed his thumb last week working under the sink in the kitchen; a scar in the web between his thumb and forefinger where that Brazilian knock-off 1911 had bit him last week.
This was some sort of sick joke, a hallucination or… his thoughts trailed off. But it wasn’t, was it? It moved when he wanted it to, as did the arm and shoulder it was attached to.
His mind tried to come up with a logical explanation, a reason he could grab and hold.
First, he was dreaming. This was some lucid dream brought on by a fever or a knock to the head. He was probably laying on the concrete floor of the garage after hitting his head, or even laying in a padded cell in some loony bin, maybe shaking with fever or.. or even comatose and this some escapist fantasy. All he had to do was wake up, right?
How does one wake up from a dream? He tried concentrating, willing himself back to consciousness; imagining himself awake.
He tried biting the inside of his lip and then his tongue. Even the taste of his own blood didn’t bring him around. He blinked his eyes and even used the decidedly unsettling “fake” hand to rub them hard enough to make them water.
Ok, so if he was dreaming, there was nothing he could do but wait for it to end.
There was always the possibility that he was out of his mind, totally fucking bonkers. People snapped, after all. Some went postal and gunned down a few coworkers; others moved in to cardboard boxes under the freeway and sang duets with Elvis.
Why he might have snapped was secondary to figuring out why he was picturing himself so differently. Didn’t crazy people re-sculpt the world around them to fit and not the other way around? If he was hallucinating, was it an old man dreaming of being young again or a young boy fantasizing about being an adult?
He gave himself a mental slap. The former, obviously. No kid would fantasize about having an exceedingly fucked up life like the one he had lived. They wanted to be astronauts, race car drivers or firemen. No kid wanted to be a broken down old vet, an aging biker who made a living behind a keyboard, taking orders from people half his age.
Dream, hallucination or fantasy, he wasn’t going to spend it laying here driving himself even further around the bend trying to analyze it. If he was crazy, then it didn’t matter if he wandered around inside his delusion. If he wasn’t crazy, and he was some character in a highly-improbable after-school special like the movie “Freaky Friday”, then what was the harm of having some fun with it?
Yeah…. He wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders and definitely wasn’t breaking ground on a new area of philosophical insight. He was just totally freaked out, more than a little scared and, as he had all his life, felt the urge to move around, get the blood flowing and, maybe, his mind working.
Taking a deep breath and gathering his will, he pushed himself upright on the bed and opened his eyes. He had to squeeze them shut again and take a couple of deep breaths as his stomach tried to rebel, but it quickly passed and he was able to look down at himself.
He was dressed in pastel yellow pajamas with red at the neck, wrist and ankle. Printed on the flannel was the head of a cowboy figure with a red bandanna around its neck. It looked familiar, but it took him a minute to place. His breath caught and his vision blurred as it came to him.
Howdy Doody. He looked around the room and it all looked vaguely familiar, but more like a de ja vu than a real memory, all except the pajamas and a Howdy Doody ventriloquist dummy propped up on a scarred wooden dresser across room.
He wasn’t just a young boy, he was HIM. He was himself at about 10 years old; the boy who had these same pajamas, had gotten that Howdy Doody dummy for Christmas the year before; the boy who lived in military housing at an Air Force base in New Mexico with his family.
He closed his eyes again and took another series of deep breaths, counting to ten, and then counting to ten again before opening them. Feeling just a little creeped out and overwhelmingly curious, he pulled out the waistband of his pajama bottoms and looked down. Damn. That was going to take some getting used to.
His mind spinning, he looked for something, anything to distract him from this impossible circumstance, and began to catalog his surroundings.
He was on the top bunk of a set of battered wooden bunk beds. A thin blanket and top sheet were now bunched at the foot of the bed. His pajamas were slightly damp, as was the bottom sheet and the pillowcase. A flashlight, a small transistor radio and a paperback book were up against the wall where the mattress met the sheetrock.
His mind flashed back a period in his childhood where he had trouble sleeping and would be awake late into the night, reading or listening to radio Mystery programs. They still played “The Shadow” and “Mystery Theater” radio shows back then, reruns of reruns even then.
He pushed his feet out in front of him and wiggled his tiny toes, fascinated. These were his feet. His 10 year old feet. The scars that should be there from kicking in a plate-glass window or cutting off the end of his big toe were missing; callouses from decades of wearing boots. They hadn’t gone anywhere or done anything yet, but they had many, many miles to go.
They would run and swim countless miles, first in football and later as he trained in his military career; they would dance across the flight deck of an aircraft carrier during flight operations and slog uncounted miles through the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq; would carry him from the Nuclear Reactor containment areas of Diablo Canyon Nuclear power plant through the backstreets and alleys of Southern California as a bounty hunter. They would help him run to, and from, a depressing number of fights, not to mention a couple of gunfights, on their way to middle age.
Ok, fun though it was to trip down memory lane and think about events that may not even have happened yet, or ever, it wasn’t getting him moving.
He flipped over on to his stomach and inched his head over the edge of the bed. The first thing he noticed was how very tall this bed was and how far away the floor looked. He vaguely remembered having bunk beds for a while as a child and as he inched forward, he could see the second bunk below. It was, thankfully, empty. His older brother, with whom he had always had a hate/hate relationship, was the usual occupant of the lower bunk and was, mercifully, absent at the moment.
On one hand, seeing him would confirm his suspicions about his apparent age, but on the other hand, he don’t recall a time in his life where he didn’t take every opportunity to torment him. He wasn’t ready to deal with that quite yet.
At one end of the bunks was a wooden ladder, the hooked top hanging from the foot rail of his bunk. He scooted over and eased himself on to the top step, taking extra care since he was obviously in no shape to be doing anything foolish.
The room was oddly shaped, the bunk beds pushed into and alcove that was just a little over half as deep as the beds were wide. The ladder was pushed as far as it would go to the side of the foot rail that was deepest into the alcove and a wall provided him with an extra support, making the climb down the ladder more of a decent into a chute. A scant 18 inches or so between the wall and the ladder provided him with some feeling of security as he inched his way down to the floor. Still facing the foot of the bed, he sidestepped into the room proper and looked around.
The rest of the furnishings in the room were a wide, scarred wooden dresser that was once painted white, a bedside table doing duty as a desk of sorts, piled with books, notepads and what looked like homework. There was also a toy box of sorts, looking rather neglected in the corner. On the floor was a set of blue pajamas, a little larger than those he was wearing and whose owner, he assumed, was his older brother. On the same wall as the bed and alcove there was a closet that contained a bunch of cardboard boxes, a few pairs of shoes and a couple of forlorn looking, threadbare jackets hanging on the bar.
HE opened a few of the dresser drawers, and, hoping he wasn’t picking some of his brother’s clothes, chose some clothes to wear. Showing up downstairs in his brother’s clothes would be a sure fire way to earn his ire. If he was going to be stuck here for a while, he would have to do some serious thinking about how to deal with him. If he remained the terror that he remembered from his childhood, he was going to have to address it sooner or later. He wasn’t the same scared little boy that was picked on unmercifully, well, not on the inside.
As he dressed, he was surprised to hear his stomach rumble loudly. If he had been sick, it was obvious that his body was convinced it was on the mend. Taking a deep breath, he folded his pajamas, left them on the dresser and moved to the window.
What he saw brought a lot of history flooding back into his mind. The sights from the 2nd story window of his bedroom were crystal clear, and yet surreal.
In the mid-seventies, we lived in New Mexico, on Holloman Air Force Base near the White Sands Missile Range where the first American nuclear testing was done. We were ensconced in enlisted base housing, one apartment in a building holding half-a-dozen families. The building was a two-story structure, probably built during WWII, and each family had a slice that consisted of two stories, 3 or 4 bedrooms per family. There were no garages, but each home had a fenced in back yard and a small hutch out front that held garbage cans, keeping them safe from animals.
The housing unit sat in a cul de sac with two other buildings making up a disjointed “U” shape. The circular drive wound around a large gravel area and was partially sectioned off into parking spaces for the residents. There were three or four other area like ours on this part of the base, the terrain giving way to single family dwellings for the senior enlisted and officers just a little way down the road.
At the time his step-father was an E-5, or a Sergeant. It was a middle of the road enlisted rank that gave him Non-Commissioned Officer rank, but no real authority. While career military men consider the NCOs the backbone of any military unit, sergeants were a dime a dozen and good for supervising the lower enlisted ranks but not experienced enough to command anything more than a small team. They were also, like all enlisted men especially, but military men in general, woefully underpaid.
His family was a hodge-podge affair. His step-father had been married before and had two children from his first marriage. His mother had been married before and had two from her marriage as well. He came along as child number 3 on her side, a few years before she himt her new husband. He was the unfortunate result of a short affair his mother had with a married man after her first marriage ended. Though he wasn’t to learn all of this until years later, she had been given a couple hundred dollars and told to hit the bricks. At this time in his history, he still thought her first husband was his father. At that age, he had zero knowledge about genetics and didn’t think to wonder why his American Indian mother and her American Indian first husband had given issue to a platinum-haired, blue-eyed son. In fact, he looked a lot more like his step-father and his blond kids than he looked like his other siblings.
His older sister Chris and his older brother Marcus had the dark hair, pronounced occipital ridge, large nose, keloid scarring and other racial markers that clearly showed their Indian heritage. His sister looked much like the pictures he had seen of his mother in her youth. Years later, after Marcus has enlisted in the Army, he saw his induction picture and compared it to a similar induction picture his mother had of her first husband. He was the spitting image of his father, so much so that if both pictures had been in black & white, you would have had a hard time picking him out from the pair.
Then he came along. Platinum blonde hair, light blue eyes and fair skinned. He have never seen a picture of his biological father, but it is a good bet he look a lot more like him than he do his sibs.
On his step-dad’s side, he was fair haired and his ex-wife was a redhead. The children, the older a boy named Derek followed by a sister named Lisa, both had blonde hair that later would turn more towards straw-berry blonde. Most folks assumed that he just took after him, and it was easier to let them continue to think so than to bother correcting the impression.
Derek and Lisa lived with their mother most of the year, but spent summers and the occasional holiday with us. Dad was still paying child support and, for a while, alimony, so raising a family with 5 kids was a strain on an already limited budget. So, with that in mind, of course they had another child! Charles, the baby, was born in 1974.
So, our family had His, hers, Theirs and…. somebody’s. He was the odd one out and always felt that distance from the rest.
He recounted this history to himself, hoping it would east the trepidation he felt when he opened the bedroom door and peered around the edge of the door frame. He was hoping, and afraid, that he would come face to face with one of the family. He knew he couldn’t avoid it, but he still felt an unreasoning fear about facing the family of his childhood. Decades of separation and maturity had taught him to deal with his family by ignoring them all-together. He hadn’t spoken to most of them in 10 years or more, a couple of them in almost 20. Now he was going to have to deal with these people downstairs as if those decades had never happened. He was terrified.
Taking a deep breath and, in his mind anyway, prepping himself for a battle, he eased out the door and, recognizing the next door in the hall as that of the bathroom, he slipped inside and closed the door as quietly as possible.
The room was pitch black except for a band of light that shone under the door. As his eyes adjusted, he could begin to see the fixtures, and the thing he both feared and had come in to investigate, the mirror.
He placed himself in front of the sink and clicked on the overhead light. Even though he knew what he was going to see, the shock was enough to make him light-headed. There, in the mirror, was a stranger, and yet not a stranger at all. The military buzz cut, the scar at the hairline from a fan falling on him in the garage one summer, the jug-handle ears. All so familiar and yet so very, very wrong. He scowled at himself in the mirror, and then had to grin. The fearsome scowl that had cowed many a man throughout his life was comical on the face of a 10 year old boy. Instead of looking fearsome, he looked constipated. He stuck his tongue out at his 10 year old self and then spent a couple of minutes making faces, turning from side to side; trying to get comfortable with his new (old?) appearance.
Leaving the bathroom, he paused at the head of the stairway. Below he could hear the television playing what sounded like a cartoon, so it must be still pretty early in the morning. He could also hear adult voices, though he couldn’t hear what they were saying, so it was a Saturday. That eased his mind a tiny bit; there would be no worry about trying to remember where the school was, and where to go when he got there.
Easing down the stairs, he craned his neck to spot them before they spotted him. He needn’t have bothered as no one was in sight from the stairway. As he rounded the bottom of the stairway, he could see down the entry hall into the living room and spotted Marcus, lying on his stomach in front of the television. He found himself staring at him, quite unprepared for the shock of seeing him at 11 years old. There was also an unexpected lump in his throat at seeing him alive and well. He had been killed in a training accident at Ft. Bliss Texas in 1983…. 7 years from now. He must have noticed some movement from the corner of his eye as he turned his head to look at him, then back to the TV again, completely disinterested.
Just ahead to his left was the entry to the dining room and kitchen. He stepped forward enough to peer around the corner and could see his father sitting at the picnic table we used as a dining room set. He thought the shock of seeing Marcus would have prepared him, but seeing a younger, more fit ‘Dad’ was just as shocking and brought forth a welter of conflicting emotions. He sat at the head of the table, reading the newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee.
He had never been close to his step-dad. Like any small boy, he guess he wanted the approval of the male alpha, but he was never comfortable around him. He was cool and emotionally distant to his mother’s children and it seemed he was even colder toward him. His was a quick and hot temper, given to throwing things or lashing out. He never saw him raise a hand to his mother, but he thought nothing of physically lashing out at one of us kids for the smallest infraction.
The picnic table we used in place a dining set was a great example of his form of discipline. He didn’t like to see children slouching at the table. He also didn’t like elbows on the table, talking with your mouth full, eating too fast, eating too slow, slurping anything, forks and knives on the wrong side of the plate and a host of other minor infractions. His favorite punishment was to reach over and backhand the offender. A picnic table had the advantage of picnic benches; basic wooden planks of wood that offered no back support. A backhand from him resulted in a child going backwards off the bench and ending up on the floor. This was, evidently, much more satisfying than a child that just bounced against a chair back.
He could hear sounds coming from the kitchen and assumed his mother was in there, doing dishes or some other mom-like task. He tore his eyes away from his father’s face and scanned the rest of the room. Sitting in a high chair was Charles, the baby of the family. He was happily cramming cereal into his mouth with one hand smearing milk into his hair with the other.
The dining room/kitchen area was a large “L” shape with the dining portion running parallel to the front of the house and the kitchen parallel to the entry hallway. Taking another deep breath, he stepped further into the dining room and stopped when he could see around the cabinets into the kitchen. His mom was taller than he remembered, but he guessed he shouldn’t be surprised since he was nowhere near the height he was to eventually reach. She was so young looking, and heavier than he remembered her being at that age. She was puttering around the kitchen, washing dishes from breakfast. Next to her, drying the dishes as his mother placed them in the drainer, was Chris.
Of all of them, Chris shocked him the most. Chris, in his time, was a 350lb slob with a persecution complex, a penchant for living off of everyone around her, a drug habit and a taste for the kind of black men that a crack whore would have second thoughts about sleeping with. Here, today, she was a sweet-faced, pretty teen-age girl who looked as innocent as you would expect of a 12 year old. The disconnect between what he knew she would become and what she was now was jarring.
For the first time since he woke this morning, he wondered if there was a reason he was here and about what it all meant. Could he effect changes to his own past? Should he? Was it possible to change the future by doing something different here and now? Was he going to be locked in to a fixed set of immutable actions? Assuming that this was not just a fever dream and he was really, truly in his own 10 year old body, what were his options?
He guessed that he had stood still for too long, lost in thought because when he looked around again, everyone was staring at him with varying degrees of confusion.
“How are you feeling?” his mother asked, for what was obviously not the first time.
“Well,” he paused, thinking fast. He didn’t want to even try to explain what was really going through his mind. “I am hungry.” He temporized, trying to buy some time. “Was I sick? It smells like it in my… in the bedroom.”
His mother and father exchanged a look while, behind his mother’s back, Chris smothered a giggle behind the dish towel.
“Yes you were.” his mother replied, stepping forward and laying the back of her hand against his forehead. “No fever, so that’s good news. Want some breakfast?”
“Yes ma’am!” he replied as his stomach rumbled again, loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. His mother started a bit, staring at him suspiciously while his father glowered and Chris giggled again, this time not bothering to try and hide it.
Mom stared at him for a minute more, searching for something in his expression, and then gestured at the table. “Sit, I’ll get you some cereal.”
He hopped up onto one of the benches, carefully situating himself at the far end of the table from his father and pretended not to notice that his father and sister were still staring and that his mother watched him from the corner of her eye as she pulled out a bowl and a box of cereal from the cupboard. The smell of the coffee was mouth-watering and he would have given his eye teeth for a cup, but he didn’t dare ask.
Hi mother put a bowl of corn flakes in front of him and handed him a spoon, then stood staring at him like he had grown a second head. He met her eyes, then did the same with both his father and his sister, trying to not look nervous.
He cleared his throat and asked, “Is something wrong? Did I do something I shouldn’t?”
“No,” his mother said, “it is just that you have been sick for 4 days. We took you to the hospital yesterday but they said it was just a bug. Plenty of rest and lots of fluids, they said. You wouldn’t get out of bed, wouldn’t eat unless I made you and even when you did eat, you’d throw it up half the time. Don’t you remember? Now here you are, looking like normal.”
He placed the spoon on the table, thinking furiously. This could be a possible loophole for him if he played it right. “I don’t remember.” He paused, then tried to look as pathetic as possible. “My head feels all funny.”
His mother exchanged another look with his father, and then sat down on the bench beside him. Josh’s dad laid his paper on the table and leaned forward.
“I don’t understand. What do you mean you can’t remember? Do you know what day it is?” she asked gently.
“I guess it is Saturday because Dad is not at work and Marcus is watching cartoons” he answered, looking up hopefully as if expecting to be rewarded. So far, so good, he told himself.
“Yes, but what is the date?” his father asked, voice devoid of inflection. He had the feeling his father was suspicious about something. His relationship with the man had never been close, and at times it was an outright battle.
Josh looked him right in the eyes when he replied. “I don’t have any idea. Should I know what the date is?” he asked, letting some of the confusion and worry he felt show through in his voice.
His father scowled and sat back, toying with the coffee cup in front of him. In a sudden movement, he leaned forward and skimmed the newspaper across the table top. It fetched up against the cereal bowl in from of Josh and caused the bowl to tip, slopping some of the milk on to the wooden surface of the table.
Josh reached out and spun the paper around until he could read the date and the headlines. It was Saturday, May 15, 1976. The headline: “Ford Gains Ground Over Regan For GOP Nomination.”
Josh wracked his brain to try and remember something, anything from that time. The only facts he can pull out of his whirling thoughts are that Apple Computer was founded in April 1976; Gerald Ford was on his way out and that peanut farmer Jimmie Carter was going to step in to really foul things up.
He raised his eyes and met his father’s unwavering gaze. Josh just shrugged his shoulders and glanced over at his mother.
She was standing there, arms crossed and hugging herself. Her face was pale and she worried her bottom lip between her teeth. She was obviously upset; worried about something but Josh couldn’t put his finger on just what.
“Don’t worry about it right now, Josh. You were pretty sick and had a high fever, I am sure it is just temporary and you will feel better soon.” his mother said this with a smile, but the tension was clear on her face and in the rigid way she held herself. She looked at his father and made a small motion towards the door with her head. She looked back and him and said, “Just eat your cereal and then you can go and watch cartoons.”
She rose from the bench and Dad did the same. Together they left the room, heads close together and talking in whispers.
Chris plopped down on to the bench next to him with a sly grin on her face. “What’s my name?” she asked, playfully.
“Broomhilda? Agatha?” he replied, straight-faced.
She looked shocked for a minute, and then scowled at him. “Not funny, dork.” she said as she stood up and flounced away.