The phone rings. I answer. It's me from 10 years in the future.
"Hello, Janice. It's me. You. From the future. Do you have a few minutes to chat? I wanted to tell you about our greatest regrets over the past 10 years."
I clutch the phone. Regrets? Plural? Our greatest ones? I'm not sure which is more disturbing: that I've actually had any regrets in life, much less a subgroup of them that have surpassed the others in gravity, or that I'm on the phone with my future self.
I feel my finger itching to press the hang-up button. It's like someone's just asked if I want a psychic to tell me my fortune. Well, where would be the fun in knowing where in the world I end up 10 years from now? Or who I (start) grow(ing) old with? Or if I successfully manage to die at the age of 79?
(Everyone says I'll look like I'm in my 20s until, due to the curse upon us Koreans, the age of 80, at which point I will immediately turn into a halmoni [grandma] yoda. So basically, I'm planning to die a young-looking corpse at 79. But I digress...)
But wait. What if this is actually a decision about changing my fate? And that 10-Years-Later Me has come to ring the warning bell like the grim-ass fucking reaper?
Releasing a deep exhale, I put my trigger-happy finger away and say: "Tell me everything."
Ten-Years-Later Me wastes no time. "First off, you...we...moved back to the city."
My eyes widen. I look around me at the lush green fields of the farm. From where I sit on the front porch of my tiny cabin, the trees sway and rustle overhead, sending a gentle breeze across my face. A large heron, on cue, soars across the landscape like a scene from The Land Before Time. The fuck we do that for?
"You got a job offer you couldn't refuse," Older Me explains. "Only you could have. But a nagging voice in your head kept saying that now was the time to rake in the big bucks...and that it would all be temporary."
The stern silence that follows tells me that temporary, it was not.
"And then," Older Me continues, "we didn't write the book."
I smack my forehead. The only thing I said I'd regret on my deathbed.
"We gave up because we thought our writing wasn't good enough," Older Me says. "That our story was too uninteresting. And now the inertia has settled in like a heavy morass that has clouded all creativity. Will the fire in our soul every reignite to compel us to pick up the pen once more? I fear not."
I think Older Me is being a tad bit dramatic, but something tells me to keep my observations to myself.
"What else?" I ask, biting my fingernail nervously.
"Well, you met someone..." Older Me sounds disappointed, maybe even a bit perturbed by whomever she had to associate herself with for the past 10 years due to my apparently questionable choices.
"Was he...nice?" I ask.
"Nice? Psychopaths are nice."
"You tried your darnedest to spot the red flags, I'll give you that much," Older Me says. "But then, bit by bit, you sacrificed your values. You didn't make the hard decisions. You were afraid that he'd leave...but in the process, you left yourself."
I wonder why Older Me is no longer talking about what "we" did, and whether I can go back to Ten-Minutes-Younger Me and hang up the phone.
"Then there's our biggest fear..."
Geez, didn't we just cover that?
"Connection." Older Me's voice fills up with sadness. "We stopped trying to unlearn our deep-rooted trauma response of avoiding connection with others so we could avoid abandonment. Even though so many people genuinely loved us, it was easier to escape into solitude and keep everyone at arms-length...you know, except for Red Flag Dude."
A tear fills my eye. My heart feels heavy thinking of all that Older Me had endured. "I'm so sorry, Me."
"I'm sorry too," Older Me replies.
And then I hear the dial tone. And with that, Me is gone.
I sit there, stunned. What had I done? How could I let this happen after all the therapy, all the trauma-healing work, all the hard decisions I made to live a supposedly happier life?
Sadness sinks in as I think about how fear can move people to do the craziest things against their own happiness...things that make them live in regret...things that keep them locked down in chains...things they convince themselves are what make life worthwhile, but are ultimately forgotten when the next shiny thing is on display.
The worst part is that no matter how much you know, it's so damn easy to go down that path of insanity. Because experiencing those fears aren't ultimately a choice to be made. And even what we do in the acknowledgment of fear...well, let's not go down the rabbit hole of discussing whether free will truly exists or not. At least not now. I'm having a moment here.
I stare back out at the green fields. My heart settles. The winds have picked up speed, and thunder gently rumbles in the distance. Huge billowing clouds envelop the sky and in a matter of seconds turn from white to bluish-grey. I know the heavens are about to unleash their fury on the earth, but I want to stay out here for the sky show just a little while longer.
A single bolt of lightning flashes downward, silently, electrifying the sky.
And I smile.
In this moment, I am grateful for the reminder that I'm right where I'm supposed to be – immersed in nature. I am grateful for the awareness that nothing in my life is truly predictable or set in stone. I am grateful for now knowing that I am truly worthy of love...and also why I might not always feel that way.
My fears will always haunt me...until age 79. But I know my courage will, more often than not, carry me through. And as long as those moments amount to more than the decisions I make due to fear, trauma, and all the rest of it, then I know my future is in good hands.
I silently thank Ten-Years-Later Me for our conversation, but I know she won't actually exist a decade from now. It'll be another version of Me. And she'll be telling me all about the greatest joys I'll be experiencing in the next 10 years.
A special thanks to Dev for creating this writing prompt and some added motivation to write! You can check out his version of this prompt on his blog: "Hello. It's Me. You."
Also, as I was writing this piece, I was actually sitting outside on my cabin deck and witnessed all of those beautiful nature sightings I wrote about. It most definitely made me smile and reminded me that I am where I'm supposed to be, in so many ways. :)