Little You

Grapes of Wrath

(Alberto Ayora)– Isn’t it interesting when you meet your younger self in the middle of a conversation?  It’s not always obvious when it happens.  You’ll be sitting in a literature class and someone says something sympathetic about a wealthy character in a short story.  Suddenly, an Amy Winehouse lookalike with pale green eyes raises her hand and blows apart every point the previous person just made.  The words “elitist” and “privileged” get lobbed around like live grenades.  And, as you sit up straighter in your chair, trying to get a better look at this neo-Marxist, you realize that you’re looking yourself in the face.

“Damn, I used to be that angry,” you think to yourself.  You used to unionize, march in protest, and generally hate the man.  Now, you’re sitting in a classroom, arguing the finer points of concrete language in literature, just waiting for your place on the dole.  What happened to you?  Where’d all that defiance go?

Amy Winehouse looking annoyed
“You fascist…”

Remember when you used to work in that Manhattan bookstore – when all the NYU students would pour in, smirking as they slowed their sentences to a crawl as if they were speaking to a child?  Remember how you’d smile and recite whole poems from the author they’d just mentioned?  That was great…

You knew whose side you were on then.  The line between you and them was gouged into the earth between you.   No gray area and no sympathy.  Remember how you said you’d die before you became one of them?  Look where you are now.

You’re surrounded by those same smirking faces you once despised.  Some of them are now your friends.  Some of them are “not so bad,” because, hey, some of them have had a hard go of it and they deserve a little understanding.  Some of them are just young and arrogant, like you once were.  But, they’ll learn better.  They’ll be better.

Jesus and the rich young man.
“Hell, I could fit a camel through there.”

Little Winehouse smells the sympathy on you.  She turns to you and searches for the labels on your clothes.  You watch her face tense as she commences to spit hot fire: “naïve,” “shortsighted,” “apologist.”  Every attempt to deflect her only infuriates her further.  Who do you think you are, with your fancy education and your ten-dollar words?  Do you think you’re better than her?

Suddenly, she stops, having finally appraised your shabby shoes and your ill-fitting clothes.  You watch as she nods to herself – decided – her expression setting into a hardened contempt: sellout.

Afterward, you try to catch her before she leaves the room.  You want to warn her about all the barriers she’s moving toward, her anger propelling her to an eventual crash: the sadness that will set in when “the cause” blows apart, the disappointment when the world refuses to be better, the bitterness that will consume her – perhaps indefinitely.

Maybe then she’ll understand what it is to try another way.  Not that you’ve done so much with your own altered path.  Halfway between the parties and shiny internships, you’re drowning in the promise of some easier life, where you wouldn’t have to hold a torch anymore.  Who needs all that?  We’re all just people, right?  Don’t you just want happy kids?

Afterward, as you watch your younger self walk through the door, you wonder where your two paths might align.  What might she learn that you never did?  What might you do to prepare for your future meeting, when the “mission” really begins?  That’s assuming that it ever begins.  That’s assuming that you even want it to.