Having run out of boxing movies in my Netflix Instant Queue, I turned to something more light-hearted: Hot Tub Time Machine. I’m a sucker for time travel stories and while this one was definitely silly, I respect its honesty in not trying to be anything different than what it knew it was. I can even appreciate the fourth-wall-breaking take to the camera at the mention of the movie’s title in-script.
The characters travel back, somewhat Quantum Leap-style, to their younger selves in the 1980s. This is actually a frequent daydreaming fantasy of mine. I’m not sure if it’s from nostalgia or regret, but I very regularly envision what it would be like if I could go back and relive the last 20-25 years of my life onward with the knowledge and experience I’ve gathered up until now.
I seriously doubt I’d do anything cliché like place bets to make myself rich. That would arouse suspicion after too much success and as I continue to alter history, there’d be diminishing returns on my ability to accurately predict the future.
Instead, I’d take a simpler approach; appreciating and reliving the good times and correct some of the mistakes I’ve made. Things like going on adventures I’d originally ignored, asking out the girls I didn’t have the guts to approach before, taking my education more seriously and nurturing my talents into something more fruitful. Basically, taking a second chance at missed or botched opportunities.
There are two versions of this fantasy, each with their own complications. The first is as described above: I wake up as my circa 1992 self and relive my life from that point onward. There is a risk (and some guarantees) that if the sequence of events in my history deviate, great things from my current timeline will be lost forever.
One example is of course my relationship with Ashley. It’s very possible that if I were determined enough, I could engineer my life so that we do still meet up, fall in love again, and maybe have a brighter future together… Maybe this time, get it “right”. But maybe experiencing that once was enough. Maybe that was all I needed from that and this is an chance to explore other opportunities.
On the other hand–and this is going to get sappy–there’s my cat, Panther. Panther was an orphaned kitten that my family found by chance. If history doesn’t lead to any of us being just the right place at just the right time, she’s dead. So any improvements I make with my second chance, Panther pays for with her life… And that would haunt me.
The other version of my fantasy is my current self getting whipped back in time to a year when I was much younger. The challenge becomes what do I do to survive? Any credentials would belong to my self of that time, so I’d have no identification or documented history of my own. I’d be a clean slate. Knowledge of the future is a handy tool, but I’d still be handicapped by effectively having no past.
I think I’d probably still seek out refuge with my parents of the time. I imagine different ways that I could convince them that I’m their son displaced from the future. No doubt I’d appear like some creepy lunatic with an uncanny resemblance and suspicious obsession with their child. Thankfully I have a unique deformity that might save me.
Then of course there are the risks involving altering history, more complicated than the ones I mentioned above. In the previous fantasy it’s possible for me to maintain history as I know it if I put in the right effort. But in this situation, my future self is an extra piece added to the world. I can only be a tangential timeline.
With that, people who know that I’m from the future are going to ask a lot of questions. My parents are currently divorced. When their past selves ask me what happens to them in the future, what do I tell them? Do I lie? Do I tell the truth? To I avoid those questions completely? And if I pick and choose what I share, how do I justify those choices? I’d feel like an asshole if I tip someone on the future because “fuck it, this is an alternate timeline anyway”, yet keep quiet on knowledge that might be more destructive.
But I can’t deny that sometimes that knowledge is dangerous. If I tell my parents they don’t live happily ever after, they may split early at a time that could be hurtful everyone involved, including both younger and older me. I could just lie and say that they died, but it’s cool because I’ll tell them how to avoid that. I could only hope that events can proceed more naturally from there.
Then there’s the wildcard of what comes with me through time. If I’m transported with what’s on my person at the time, I might have my cell phone, which would be the subject of marvel in itself. But what about any other relics of the present that could be caught up in my temporal wake? Like my laptop, Kindle, books, photos… Anything that might be a tool would be useless without their infrastructure (WiFi, mobile service, etc.). But any multimedia would be impressive, if not just for trivia or novelty. I might even go to a club and introduce them to Lady Gaga, just to see if I could have my own “Johnny Be Good” moment from Back to the Future.
Of course, even though I’d be able plug in the phone to charge it, the battery would eventually die within a couple years, assuming the other hardware never breaks down. I’d probably be trying to back up my music to audio cassettes until USB becomes available.
It would be pretty interesting to play the “long lost uncle” and mentor to my younger self. It might also be good for me to be an adult in a time before internet and 21st Century conveniences. I’d certainly read and get out a lot more. If times got tough, I would probably just “invent” the Snuggie and retire.