Hidden in a drawer in my room is a small time machine. It’s not too strong. It doesn’t have any lights or sounds. It can’t send me wherever I want to go. I can’t fix my mistakes. But sometimes, when I’m trapped in this limbo of lowlights, of sleeplessness and quiet, I visit it, and it calms my nerves. Today is one of those days. I originally came here looking for a pencil to draw with, but this seems more worthwhile. I reach in, and I’m in the past again. My past.
I sit at the corner table in the middle of an English class, staring blankly at the teacher as she tells us about spelling, or grammar, or maybe sentence structure. It’s midmorning at Colegio Americano, and as to be expected for an American who moved into Mexico, the level of English provided by a third-grade class there is a bit… underwhelming. Sunlight filters through the windows, or a doorway, or maybe it doesn’t at all, and there’s lights on instead. A kid nudges me in the arm, or whispers my name- it’s Luis. I’ve known him only for a little while, maybe since I’ve been here, or maybe he’s just talking to me for the first time. The details are lost in the haze of the time machine. He shows me his notebook, and I find out about something I never knew kids could do: pages and pages filled with characters and pictures in boxes, panel after panel of pure comedy. He shows me how to make comics.
Eight years later, I sit in my room, flipping through the notebook during one of my many sleepless nights. The crushing grip of insomnia has had a lot of drawbacks, surprisingly, but it’s also allowed me to find this- a remnant of a past that I’ve only ever experienced in blurry fragments and fever dreams. The comics themselves are nonsensical, with non sequiturs and random punchlines throughout, but it’s not the inconsistencies that matter. I smile at the wrinkled pages, wishing I could see what my younger self was thinking. Once again, the memories set me at ease. I almost feel a yawn coming, but it escapes me, stolen away by the draw of the time machine. I set the book aside and reach back into the time machine in the cupboard, pulling out another dusty memory.
I’m in my room. Not my current one- it’s different, smaller. I have big windows in front of my bed, and wooden floors, and the doors don’t lock but instead are made of glass, so I use curtains to have some semblance of privacy. I’m writing a story about myself- well, not exactly, but it might as well be. I’ve yet to learn the meaning of “self-insert”, and I’ve made every character a version of one of my friends. This will be my best work yet, the greatest thing I’ve ever put on paper! This will be the comic that finally finds its place on the Internet, where people will see it and find it amazing, like all the others’ successes that I’ve started reading daily now. I eagerly flip the page and continue with the script, ready to add in the next exciting plot point. Everything’s going perfectly.
Slowly, I come back into the present, feeling the weight of the notebook on my lap. This must have been written in middle school, maybe creeping into freshman year of high school. I had no idea this story came along as far as it did. Almost thirty pages of script reveal themselves to me as I lazily flip through, cringing internally at the lazy writing and clear desire to make myself something in this fiction that I wasn’t in real life. This story never had a name, much like many of the things I’ve written: titles have never been a thing I’m good at. How do you describe something you work for so long on in just a few words? I guess here it never mattered. All I needed was a vent, someplace to escape to.
I realize I never have put any of my stories out there.
There’s no need to wonder what brought this story about: flipping to the end, I find a piece of looseleaf tucked into the margins. It’s a note I wrote my future self, coincidentally. Dear Me, What’s it like in the future? How’s our writing doing? How good are we at art? There’s a lot more forced imagery in the letter than I use nowadays, and I even catch a couple spelling mistakes. I feel a pang of guilt, wanting to apologize to my past self for not being able to remember him properly, to say it’ll all be great, just keep going. But I can’t. I couldn’t even answer his questions, the ones about what my writing and art is like now. Why do I still do it? Sometimes, it feels like a formality to who I once was. Sometimes it feels like an anchor to the surface.
I try to stand, but I’m too weak. The time machine beckons. I feel its familiar draw, the warmth of the past that these books and papers give me. It’s tempting to lose myself within these perfect pasts, to find solace at last. In the time machine, there’s no uncertainty. But when I go to reach in again, I lose my balance, and I fall into the dresser, knocking something else out of the cupboard.
It’s a blank composition notebook, wide-ruled. Like the ones I wrote my stories into for years, the ones that held Stix Comix Volume 2, and 3, and 4. Where did this come from? I glance towards the time machine, but it’s not there. In the cupboard sits a pile of old books, collecting dust or creases, or nothing at all if they’re lucky and got placed somewhere nice. A couple of these relics are missing, and the dust traces down my lap and onto the floor. Have I been wallowing in my past this whole time, wasting away in the warmth of the time machine while I think about what things used to be like? I feel embarrassed, but I don’t really know why. I’m too tired.
My hands feel empty, and I instinctively reach up towards the top of the dresser, grasping at the surface with the last of my strength. The time machine is gone now. I find a pencil. It feels heavy in my grasp, a weight three thousand pounds strong. I lift it slowly, putting the dull tip onto the top line of the notebook’s first page. It’s time to start a new memory, isn’t it?
As I write the first word, I fall fast asleep.