A letter to be read by Stephen on his birthday each year.
These are your yearly reminders to pause your false sense of immortality for a bit, and that you’ve lost yet another year of youth. Or as some people who remember (or are reminded by whatever means) say, “Happy birthday!”
You’re reading this x years after it was written, and really, my intent is for the older Stephen to read this when x=30. Or maybe it’s that time already, and you’ve already read this more than once you old fart. How is 2046? Who is president? You had some interesting candidates this year, but you know better than I do how the winner fared as head of the nation. Enough politics, you’ve spent most of your birthday today watching Vox videos (your new favorite activity) and Last Week Tonight.
The past 12 months (at the time this was written) have been the most interesting in your life so far. Of course, every past iteration of Stephen will probably say the same thing, but that’s the point right? To make every next year the most interesting one?
There isn’t much your self from the past can give you as a gift other than a smug appreciation that you’re somehow better than them; and an envy of their energy, metabolism, time, and all the things you can only long for with nostalgia.
Well, future Stephen, I’m here to give you the latter. The former is something you can bask in with every cringe you experience from reading something in this letter that you could have said in a better way, or could have left omitted.
Be grateful that I’m even thinking of you to begin with. Most past selves are selfish and work only in their present selves interests. I don’t know that many past selves that would set up their future self up for success, let alone write a birthday letter to them. Don’t worry, I’ll just write about this last month. Your birth month. Be grateful.
When you find out that you’ll be stuck in hell for a week, the last thing on your mind is gratitude. This past week, you were stuck in Kuwait in 125 degree weather (51.66 C if you’re anywhere but the Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands, Palau, and the US; or maybe those countries adopted the metric system by [your] now).
Somehow though, remember that an outsider to a harsh land can easily make a hobby of complaining about the harshness of that land, and distractions always end up being the best option. The corollary here is that you’re probably an upgraded pseudo-me mentally in a body degraded by age, and will always feel like an outsider to whatever situation you are in now. You can complain like most older people do, or you can practice the wonderful form of acceptance called distraction. By then, I hope it’s hyper-sensual virtual reality, but if not, go read a book.
After you tried to beat the heat with things like soft-serve ice cream, ice cold fruit, games, the swimming pool, attempts at sleep when the AC constantly shuts off because of the heat; you realized it wasn’t enough, and the best option was to do everything you could to get the fuck out. So you flew to Qatar. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, where it’s at least a little cooler at the bottom of the flame. That was fun. You watched the third JJ Abrams Star Trek movie in the base theater, got some good workouts despite the heat, caught up with your buddy from college, and spent time with a good group of guys doing the beer, cards, and Pokemon thing through Germany and Baltimore (oh, and you have a new favorite place to get crab cakes).
You probably don’t remember any of this, you suck so much at remembering to take pictures.
You just had an awesome sixth deployment. You’ve already been to various places in East Africa, the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Iraq. At this point, you just want to stay home for as long as you can — you’ve been home less than six months out of the past year. At least it’s one of the few birthdays you got to spend at home these last few years, be grateful. But you’re spending it alone at home. Pleasure spiked with pain. Who are you kidding, you kind of enjoyed it. No cake, no candles; just your favorite foods (Spicy Beef Pad Thai for lunch and Anchovies/Pineapple pizza for dinner) and you living up to the etymology of your last name — L’habit. Phone calls with the ones you love, and a whole lot of Vox videos.
Honestly, I don’t really know what I want to tell you in this letter. You know more and have seen more than I have.
I just wish that you’re in good health right now, and this pizza and diet coke isn’t really doing you any good is it?
I also hope you’re getting really good sleep. You’ve been taking a lot of sleep medication with all the timezone and schedule changes. You’ve developed a hatred for Zolpidem because while it gives you beautiful nightmares, you also allegedly have gotten up to have full blown conversations with people that you don’t even recall.
It scares you, actually, that something happened and you don’t remember it. It’s like you don’t even know what kind of mistakes you’ve made and failed to learn from, and you are doomed to repeat. Or it’s like you’ve been deprived of a pleasure you might have experienced, yet only have a vague concept of what that joy might be like instead of a memory of it. Whatever, you think too much. Life itself, after all, is a conversation with the universe that I’m also likely not going to remember.
If I won’t remember any of it, and you probably don’t, hopefully someone else will. A memoir for someone else to sadistically read. I hope you wrote that book by now.
– Stephen. Florida, 2016
Here is your real letter. Think of the letter above as the preamble, or the foreplay, or the long intro to a song that you recognize as one you don’t particularly want to hear right now but can’t really change it because you know it’s going to be stuck in your head all day if you don’t finish it.
I’m happy. And maybe this happiness comes from a sense of completion, a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and a deep love for everything that you had going on for you in your life this year.
There is this path in front of me, and for the first time in a long time, the uncertainty excites me. I no longer fear it as I once did. Uncertainty has always been that thing I pretended befriend while really not inviting it to any of the important parties.
“You should enjoy the little detours. To the fullest. Because that’s where you’ll find the things more important than what you want.”
I hope you had a hundred little detours.
featured image: Lógi Cult: Roberto Ferri