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Sometimes I go back in time and meet myself.
This time I see myself, fifteen years old, in the basement of my grandparents’ house, cutting the sleeves off a once-useful t-shirt and putting it on, trying to make a muscle shirt. My past self, with bobbed hair, a plump body, looks around the four-square-feet radius containing every video game, book, and scrap of paper in the house, and tries not to wonder where a missing homework assignment could be, before walking to the home gym. The gym, located in the puke-green-colored, fluorescent-lit makeshift living room, was nestled six feet from the TV, ten feet from the bedroom where my past self’s father, is drunk and asleep, and six more feet from the washer and dryer, both filled with clothes. It is a three-story house compressed into one basement of one house, and my past self tries to ignore it, laying down on the bench and grabbing ahold of the barbell.
My past self pushes as hard as possible, arm muscles tensing to raise the sixty-pound weights up, then down, then up again, then back down. The arm muscles cry out, then give out, and the bar hits my past self’s chest with a thud. “Argh!” My past self cries out, not swearing, but only because I didn’t start swearing until senior year. Without taking either hand off the bar, my past self sobs, no tears, in frustration.
I enter into the basement, holding my nose at the cigarette stench and stepping over my dog Vader, who is still skinny and young enough he’d bother catching a ball. The ten-year-old television lets off high-pitched static but I try to ignore it. I step up to the home gym.
“Here,” I tell my past self, lifting the barbell, with a lot of strain, and placing it back up top. “What are you doing?” I ask as I sit on the edge of the bench.
My past self looks incredulously at me, and answers, “I’m working out,” before flexing an arm in an attempt to show the nearly-nonexistent progress made.
I shake my head. “You’re going to hurt yourself if you do it wrong.”
“I know, I know,” my past self says, standing up and stretching. “I just want to get this done without having to ask Mom for help when she gets home.”
“You couldn’t look up the right way to do it?”
“What, on my computer?” My past self points to the Windows XP, riddled with viruses and unable to connect to the internet. It would be another two months before it started working again.
I stand up and start walking to the room my family never really named or had a consistent use for; at this point, it is my Grandpa’s drafting office. “Why are we going in here?” my past self asks. I shrug. I don’t really have a reason, I just wanted to see what it used to be like.
Various knickknacks from the Georgia Bulldogs and the Civil War line the walls, and papers are scattered everywhere on the floor. This room is also a monstrous shade of green. I shudder at the clutter laying about but my past self looks on as if it’s nothing out of the ordinary. And it’s not. I look at myself and see a face that is discontent with everything, eyes seeing nothing but what’s ahead in order to ignore what’s around. I can relate, and I want to help. We stand in this room together in silence for a few moments.
“It’s going to get better,” I say, finally.
And my past self responds quickly, knowing exactly what I meant. “I know. I’m going to make it better myself.”
“By working out and getting a girlfriend, right?” I ask. No response. I cough from the smoky smell of the basement; it’s too much to handle at this point. “Now I know why we came in here. To go outside and get some fresh air. C’mon.”
We leave the basement through the side door and an icy January breeze sweeps by as soon as I open the door. My past self shivers but we keep walking anyway.
“Let me tell you something,” I begin. “You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” my past self says, probably regretting cutting the sleeves off that shirt by now.
“Not really good at this giving advice thing, sorry,” I say. “But what I mean is… This whole deal you’re trying to accomplish.” I extend my arm and point in a circle around my past self. “You know, lifting weights, pretending to care about sports, hitting on every girl you see– it’s not you. But you do it anyway because…?”
“It wasn’t a rhetorical question. I want you to answer.”
My past self stops and stares off into the distance, looking slightly to the right. I still do that when I’m trying to think. “I don’t know. It’s just normal teenage guy stuff, isn’t it? You’re talking like I’m playing Call of Duty as some sort of cover or something.”
“Okay, you have to admit that Halo 3 is so much better and you’re really stupid for paying sixty dollars for Modern Warfare 2.” My past self shrugs but does so only to please me. “Anyway, you’re on the right track.”
“Can we go inside now? It’s freezing out here.”
“Yeah.” We walk back into my Grandpa’s office. I sit on the rolly-stool in front of the drafting table. My past self watches unenthused as I spin around, which pleases me to no end. I reluctantly stop and keep talking. “That reminds me. Have you done the Facebook message thing yet?”
“Where you send the girl you like a message asking for dating advice on one of her friends to try and make her jealous?”
“No? That sounds awful.”
“Well, you’re going to do it,” I say. “Or you will if you keep acting like you’re some hyper-masculine douchebag when that’s not who you are at all.” After no response comes, I continue. “Like, you and I both know how you get when you think about cute lesbian couples.” My past self blushes, having never mentioned that to anyone before at this point, but still does not say anything. “Have you seriously never wondered about that? That most dudes only think about that in a sexual way?”
“I mean, yeah, I guess I have before, but… what does that have to do with anything?”
I let out a small sigh. “I guess I should be less vague about this.” I point at me and then to my past self. “You see me? I’m a girl. And you are too. And one day you’re going to admit that. And hopefully it won’t take another four years for you like it did me.”
I step off the rolly-stool and give a smile. “Just remember, it’s all going to work out in the end. Okay?”
“Alright.” I see the look on my past self’s face. There’s something there. I don’t know if I got through but I think there’s something.
I open my eyes and I’m back in the present.