By Sean MacKenzie
I don't know why some people are different, why I'm different. I wish I knew. Then my life might make some half-assed kind of sense. I wonder if anybody knows, if there's some expert out there who can tell me why some guys like other guys.
This is a nice sunset, and the wind's picking up -- the salt water smells good on the breeze. Nice brilliant pink off in the west. No boats, no beachcombers. I like it here, on Guemes Island, just across the channel from Anacortes, Washington.
I sure as hell can't talk to my parents. Mom would pretend I was going through some phase and dad would just beat the hell out of me. And I'm not going to talk with anybody at school. Count on that. The biggest dilemma our high school counselors have is what period does a senior want to take study hall. Sexuality? Forget it. They wouldn't know what to say and they'd probably send me to some shrink.
So I talk to no one. It really hurts. It's like I'm supposed to be alone, maybe for the rest of my life. I don't want to think about that.
A seagull drops something into the water not far away and I watch ripples on the surface. I could just sit here for hours, but there isn't that much light left.
I don't want to have to go through the motions of some senior class dance a couple months before graduation, and wishing I could be taking a special guy instead of some girl I barely know. What a joke; what a waste of time -- my time and hers. But how would I even go about finding a guy who might be remotely interested in me? And, finding him, how would I dare ask?
I'd cry if it would do any good. This is early 1972, man, and I feel trapped, with no future; 17 years old and condemned already. This is crazy. No options; no way of discovering options. Maybe in New York, maybe in Los Angeles or San Francisco, maybe even in Seattle, but out here in the God-forsaken country, light-years from anywhere worth anything? No way.
Kirk. I think about you a lot, Kirk. And Gary. And Mark. And if you guys had any idea what I was thinking... But I've heard your fag jokes, so you'd better believe I'll keep quiet. I'm good at it, too -- keeping my thoughts to myself, that is. I won't be one of your jokes.
I'd really like to be your friend, Kirk. I wonder if you even... But there's no chance it'll ever happen. It hurts. A lot. I can't take this.
I look up at the house, to make sure there are still no lights on, no one home. It's dark. Then I look up and down the beach -- no one. I don't want anyone to stop me. I have to do this alone. I get up, walk toward the water.
This silence is crap, Kirk. This loneliness, the pain of being cut off from everyone I know. And if I try to -- what? -- talk about it with somebody, I get kicked in the teeth. I know. I'm trapped.
I walk into the bay, feel its numbing cold soak my shoes, my pants, up to my waist. I keep walking. If living didn't hurt so much, I'd turn back now. I'm scared. I can't swim worth a damn. I can feel the currents begin to tug at me; a few more steps ought to do it.
Enough of this twisted joke of a life, man! I want to just...
*%!!#@!)) t i m e s h i f t **!!!&^%!
That was strange. What the hell? Where is this? Some kind of city! Too loud, too many cars, too many people! How the hell? Sun's at noon and it's bright.
Street signs: Fourth Avenue, Pine Street. Buildings: The Bon Marche, Nordstrom. And what are the cars doing so small? That's a Cadillac? On Mars maybe! If I wasn't losing it, I'd have to laugh. This is nowhere near Kansas!
Close my eyes, shake my head, wake up somehow. It doesn't work.
Who's that guy over on that bench? Staring at me.
Woman on my right. I glance at the newspaper she's... no way! No dream could be THIS detailed. Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Fine. Seattle I can handle. March 12, 1997? Twenty-five years into my future? Right. And I'm the Pope! Some dream!
So who the hell is that guy? He's been looking at me ever since... ever since I got here. He's got a beard anyway. (I'm growing one some day, definitely. Always wanted to.) He's -- what? -- motioning me over, like he knows me or something.
"Sit down, Parker," the man says.
I ask him how he knows my name.
"It doesn't matter. Sit down," he says. "You don't have much time here."
He sounds serious. I do what he says.
"Don't kill yourself," he tells me. "You think you're alone; you like other boys and you think no other guy your age likes other boys. You'll find out..."
I cut him off. "You don't know a THING about me, so back off, okay?" I get up to leave, but the man pulls me back down.
"Cut the bullshit," the man says. "I know you think it's okay to have an attitude and you're used to being thrown out of class at least once a week. But now is not the time. What I have to say is important."
I don't know how he knows me, but he does. I give the man my undivided attention.
"My name is Parker Shane McDonald," the man says. I feel this knot in my stomach. It's fear. "I was born on August 25, 1954, in Los Angeles. This scar," he says, pulling up his right pant leg and pointing to a mark on his shin, "I got falling out of a tree when I was six or seven. I've never met my real father. Seeing the movie 'Space Odyssey' in 1970 changed my life. Sound familiar?"
I don't answer. This is too weird. "No way." I can't handle this.
"Okay. Try this: you really like Kirk. I mean, you REALLY like Kirk. You imagine what it would be like to be in bed with him. You haven't told this to anyone."
The knot isn't just in my stomach now, it's everywhere. This half-bald guy with reddish brown hair and blue-green eyes and a streak of gray in his beard -- he might as well be some kind of demon.
"So what are you saying?" I ask. I know I sound afraid. Maybe because I am.
"I'm saying, survive. In spite of everything. You think you're alone -- and right now your pain, your isolation is killing you. But there's life beyond this crap."
Parker pauses. I wait for him to speak again. He looks at me and his eyes are like knives. This demon-man, he knows me too well.
"Imagine the young guy of your dreams, Park. Your mother calls you Park, right? Somebody beautiful, a body to die for. Imagine making love to him."
"In the summer of 1978 it happens. For three hours in the dead of night, you guys do everything you can think of. And it's tremendous -- and it won't be just one time. You'll treasure the memory of this man for the rest of your life."
"I'd really like to believe you," I whisper.
"Believe it. And if you kill yourself, you'll never know the magic of that one night. There are other people and other experiences, mistakes and victories -- all kinds of events between your time and mine. Some are even electrifying. Kill yourself and it's all smoke. You'll never know Conor."
"Who's Conor?" I ask.
"You're a hopeless romantic, kid. That's probably not how you'd describe yourself, but you are. You never stop believing in magic -- and believing that somewhere out among earth's billions is one enchanting guy, just for you. In September, 1991, you meet him. You recognize him in an instant and he's not just a hollow imitation of your secret dreams or 170 pounds of wishful thinking. He's for real. He's the man you were born to love -- and he loves you, too."
"Kill yourself and you lose this."
I want all this to be real. "What's he like? Conor." I ask.
"You already know."
Somehow, I knew he'd say that. Like I know he's through talking now.
I get up. Parker doesn't stop me this time, but his eyes follow me.
"Survive to my time," he says, "and all your pain will fade like the memory of last Thursday's lunch. Trust me."
I walk away. I'd like to lose myself in the crowds here. I can still feel his eyes on me, like there's something I should be...
*%!!#@!)) t i m e s h i f t **!!!&^%!
"Hey, Park, get your oars in the water, guy! Here's your coffee."
French roast. Industrial strength. The aroma alone gives me a caffeine buzz.
"Thanks, Conor. Sorry. I was dreaming."
"Sitting here outside the Westlake Mall, taking the day off, feeling the heartbeat of the city I love, the sun -- it's just a nice day, you know?" I tell him. "Being here with you, this day just feels terrific. Like my life's okay, always has been."
Now, how do I say this? I look into Conor's eyes; I could get lost in them.
"It's like I can reach back across the decades, back to the alone, scared kid I once was, and tell him everything's going to work out. That's what I was dreaming about, I guess."
I sip my coffee; it puts a nice edge on the day. I squeeze Conor's hand briefly; I don't care who sees or what they might think.
"Did that kid listen to you?" Conor asks.
"Yeah, I think I got through to him."
It feels good to smile.
Note from the author:
My background as a newspaper journalist and graphic designer of print media supports my current job as an instructional designer for Mosaix, Inc., a software development corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington. I specialize in creating multimedia software that teaches our customers how to use our products.
I am out socially and at work. In addition to my job responsibilities, I also chair an employee committee at Mosaix that is aimed at extending medical and insurance benefits to the unmarried domestic partners of our employees. The company already has a written policy that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but my committee's work is more extensive.
Originally printed in the Northwest Gay and Lesbian Reader, "Timeshifts" is more autobiography than fiction. It's also my personal statement about the importance of resources for GLBT teens (printed and on-line publications such as Oasis, PFLAG, student groups, and other avenues of support). If these resources had existed 30 years ago, many lives could have been saved.
Thanks for reading this story. I welcome e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the photo, my partner Roy Albers is on the left; I'm on the right.