First seen in Skirt! Magazine.
I look at the woman sitting in my aisle of the plane. She is young. She is familiar. My god, she’s ravishing.
“Wait, are you…?
She nods. “Yep. I’m YOU, 20 years younger. Surprise!”
I gasp and flop down in the seat beside her. Ok, maybe she isn’t ravishing, but she’s 20 years younger than me, and that is about as ravishing as I ever was.
This is IT. This is the moment when I tell Young Me all the things I wish I knew then. Either that, or I’m in a Lincoln Financial commercial and I’m supposed to tell Young Me how proud I am she’s saving money by flying in coach. Like she had a choice.
No, that’s not it. My idea of saving money is not feeding a parking meter and gambling the ticket lady won’t stroll by.
I clap my hands together, giddy with excitement. “Do I have things I want to tell you!”
Young Me seems happy to see me, but she has dark circles beneath her eyes, marring otherwise tight, fresh skin. How did I not appreciate that skin? I make a mental note to tell her to wear sunscreen.
“Can I guess why you look so tired?” I ask. “Were you up all night talking your overly-dramatic boyfriend out of throwing himself off the porch?”
She nods. “Our first-floor porch, five feet from the grass.”
“Riiight… You have four more years of that to look forward to.”
Young Me is alarmed. “Four? But we’re soul mates! What happens in four years?”
“In four years you spend all the money you have buying him a ticket to grad school in Hawaii.”
“I do? By himself? Why?”
“Distance makes it a LOT easier to break up with him. After missing your chance to do semester abroad and all sorts of other fun college things, you realize that taking care of him is making you lose yourself. This epiphany arrives right after you catch your “soul mate” flirting with another girl on the phone. I wish I knew who she was so I could send her a thank you card now…”
“Yep. It’s the breaking point. When the opportunity arises, you pay for his ticket, buy him a laptop and send him on his way. When he calls to ask for more money a couple of weeks later, you end it.”
Young Me’s jaw falls. “I buy him a laptop, too? I’m an idiot!”
I nod. “I know. That doesn’t really change.”
She spots my wedding ring.
“So who do I marry?” she asks, motioning towards it.
I look at the ring and smile. “First or second time?”
Young Me is getting agitated. I would buy her a drink, but I know she only likes sticky sweet margaritas and thanks to her passion for them, I can’t bear the smell of them.
“Well, you’re so traumatized by the first guy, you end up marrying the exact opposite person. He dotes on you.”
“Dotes? Then why do we get divorced?”
“One night, after you have a minor knee operation and are recuperating, this boy scout of a husband doesn’t show up for dinner. He doesn’t show up to dinner with your parents after you had an operation. When he finally does come home, he explains he lost track of time showing a young, male tennis partner around downtown.”
Young Me scowls. “Ok, weird… but hardly a reason to leave him.”
“It seems less weird after he gets more distant and mean and you look through his computer and find photos and… Well, let’s just say it seems less weird later.”
Young Me falls silent.
“You get the house,” I say, trying to cheer her up.
“So who’s this guy?” she asks, pointing at my ring.
“Oh, he’s great! Third time’s the charm. You meet him at a bar about a year after your divorce.”
Young Me perks up. “Whew! I was really starting to worry!”
I smile. “You don’t do everything wrong,” I say, my eyes drifting to her frizzy hair. “For instance, I think you’re only a year away from losing that perm. Yikes.”
She touches her head self-consciously. “Ok, well… good! This is AMAZING finding out what I do wrong!”
“I have SO many things I want to tell you!” I say, mentally listing examples of zigs where I should have zagged. ”So many things to avoid, so many…”
My eyes fall on my wedding ring.
I stop in mid-sentence.
Young Me is alert and ready to hear the secrets of her future life revealed, but I’ve stopped thinking about all my wrong turns. I’m thinking about how happy I am NOW. If I tell her what to avoid, even the smallest thing, it will change my path forever and everything will be different. If I tell her the things she should have done differently in her career, her love life, with family, with friends; where will I be now? If she breaks up with the boyfriend she has at 20 too soon, she’ll change my path and I’ll probably never meet husband two, whom I love very much.
I release a deep sigh.
“I can’t tell you anything,” I say. “And I need you to forget everything I told you so far.”
Young Me starts to fade. Soon, she’ll be gone, destined to make all the mistakes I made and me powerless to stop her.
“WAIT!” I scream, trying to grasp her now transparent arm.
I am about to lose a once in a lifetime opportunity. A million facts are clamoring to be revealed: the rise of the Internet, what stocks to buy, the real estate bubble; how can I help her without disturbing my timeline? There must be some way…
“One night you’ll eat Mexican with Husband Two and his mother!” I yelp.
Young Me nods, lingering long enough for me to share my final words.
“Don’t eat the guacamole!”
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