half a page of scribbled lines
I have discovered a time machine, but a very poor one, one that allows everyone else around you to hurtle forward into the future while leaving you frozen motionless in a temporal quagmire. Our neolithic ancestors perfected their own crude version of this machine, first burying home-churned butter in the damp and squishy bogland that surrounded them and then, upon discovering its amazing preservative qualities some months later, deciding to move rapidly forward on to human trials and depositing their excess family, neighbours and business rivals deep within the peaty brown, there to remain for millennia until churned up by a Bord na Móna tractor and then unceremoniously dumped in to a powerplant furnace and converted by the magic of thermodynamics into X-Factor, or Hollyoaks or even, god forbid, TOWIE. Truly our ancestors had a dark sense of absolute justice.
Many thousands of years later, and four years ago, my own journey through time began. I am a few years older than most of my social circle, and have been for most of the last fifteen years. While they were still larking around in college and worrying whether their trousers were skinny enough, or baggy enough, or long enough, or had just the right amount of leg rolled up but not enough to be mistaken for a Freemason, I was already well on my way up the slippery corporate ladder that at times resembled less of a means of egress and more an implement used by a butcher or other frequent dismemberer of bovine carcasses. I toiled away for many a long hour while the young folk frolicked and gamboled their lives away in a pastoral idyll punctuated by parties and exams, and repeated exams and more parties, and I consoled myself with financial security, a disposable income and the piece of mind that comes with knowing that the rent will be paid and there will be food on the table both today, tomorrow, and with any luck, next week.
Then one day, about four years ago, I climbed into my time machine.
I didn’t realise it at first. All I thought I was doing was leaving my job, taking some time away to try my own thing after many years dancing to the tunes of a distant Californian organ grinder. I travelled for a while, doing all the things you say to yourself that you would do if only you had the time, and then when I got back, I got down to work. My own work.
In the background my friends were all on their second jobs, or picking up their PhDs, starting to get married or thinking about having kids. The group had scattered, the Tiger years in Dublin proved too expensive for most and as they started to imagine their own future, the flats and apartments of the city centre no longer seemed suitable, so outwards, ever outwards, they moved, the South, the Midlands, the UK and beyond, no longer content or financially able to live in the moment, or for the moment. Security and stability became their own motivators and neither were available in the Dublin of the Tiger.
Then came my illness, the point where my flux capacitor got jammed into overdrive and catapulted me far, far into the distant future. After months of hospital and many more in recovery I opened the gull-wing door to gaze out upon this wondrous world of tomorrow and begin afresh my own attempts to forge a life for myself, living and working by my own designs, and not to a template mandated by the forces of social conservatism that ruled the lives of so many others.
But a funny thing happened while I had been nestled in the brushed aluminium embrace of my time machine, perfectly preserved like the choicest bog butter, a Futurama head floating in an aquarium of my own procrastination. While I waited and planned and dreamed, all my friends suddenly passed me by, their life choices made and paths of certainty embraced. Children were born and raised, houses bought and renovated, careers forged and reforged, and somewhere along the way the years that separated us shriveled and shrank, five became four, three became two and then one and then disappeared altogether until I was left standing on the street with a set of blazing tire tracks running ahead of me into the distant vanishing point, as I slowly pieced together the shreds of the tattered note that blew around me in the evening breeze, “And what are you doing with your life?” it said.
Somewhere in the last four years my friends have not just caught up with me, but overtaken and passed me by. They who partied and played and lived while I worked and slept have now such a solid life built up around them while I sit back and wonder what has happened, and what will happen, and how. My illness is a factor, but more so is the threadbare decision-tree of my recent life. I regret nothing that I have done but just wish, somehow, that I had done more.
Of course if my journey through time has taught me anything, it is that time itself is a great leveller, that in five years time my friends themselves will be going through the same questioning self-examination that I subject myself to now, wondering where they are and why they are, and looking out across their social circles to ask themselves, “what if?”.
But by then I myself will be living deep in the past, locked in the stasis chamber that is middle-age, in a frontier town of my own devising far removed from contemporary worries and concerns where I will dress forever in the fashions of my youth, and listen to music that comforts me, all my biases and prejudices locked forever in place by the early onset quasi-senility of your forties that frees you from ever caring what the wider world around you thinks of you, a social dementia that releases you from the shame of culturally soiling yourself in public on a regular and repeated basis.
These feelings, of course, are not unique. Everyone has their own time machine, just for some it seems to run faster than others.
I wish mine didn’t run so fast.