Daniel Adler Remembers the Past by Thinking About the Future

daniel adlerTaking a trip around the world is pretty easy. All you do is save up a few thousand dollars, which takes time, that’s the hard part, and then you buy a few plane tickets. Have an idea of where you want to go, be smart about your money, and don’t visit the most expensive places. When you find a good, cheap place, stay there a while. That’s what I’m doing.

My neighbor is part of the India family. There was a Grateful Dead family, a Phish family, and today there are other subcultural music festival-based families. He works in Goa during the season and travels during the off-season, since you can only stay in India for six months at a time. He tells people who come up here and complain about not getting work done, that they’re inputting. When you’re inputting there’s little time for outputting.

I’m outputting. I don’t have any family to go to. I’m an orphan. Not in the Oliver Twist, pity me way, but rather in the I feel so good to be alone with no one to tell me when to go to bed way. I go to sleep every night around 10 and wake up after 9. Writing all day is exhausting. Or maybe it’s not so much the writing as it is the remembering. I’ve been remembering a lot lately. And I’ve been writing about it. Because all the events that I’ve lived in the past four months are still crystallizing in my brain. I’ve written about them. I don’t need to go through them again– they’re still too recent. And I can only write about the trees and the mountains and the smell of the rain so much. If I’m going to write for five hours a day I need stuff to keep me busy– material. Memories. Like the stuff that happened to me during the past five years, during my time in New York. That stuff is long gone. Who knows when I’ll return to New York? So I revisit my memories for consolation.

I always used to think about the future. It was a family pastime. My dad would come home for dinner and sit with his legs up on a wooden chair, eating his salad like an elephant, his lips wet and oily. He’d say, “Let’s talk.” As if we hadn’t been talking until then. “Let’s talk about the future.” As if he had a crystal ball. Dad: the great prognosticator. He’d turn first to my brother. “Michael. What are you going to do this summer?” It was like a game show, when they’ve stopped playing and it’s time to learn about the contestants. Poor Michael. He’d keep staring at his plate, long empty, because Dad took such a long time to eat, and say, “I don’t know Dad.”

“Latin? How about a job tutoring kids? You’d make a great tutor. Or what if you started a home improvement company. Make some flyers, put them up around the neighborhood. I’ll let you use the car. You’d make a lot of money that way.” Michael stayed silent. Dad turned to me. “Daniel.” I beamed. I loved talking about my future. There were so many possibilities. “This summer. Where are you going to work?”
“Well,” I was the contestant who had come back with yesterday’s winnings. “This summer there’s an opportunity downtown at Jonie’s mom’s law firm. She said I could work there if I wanted.” Dad nodded in approval, his jaws chomping the greens loudly, his lips still oily. I waited for him to swallow. “What about some classes?”

“Well, I was planning to read a lot this summer, I really wanted to buff up on my Faulkner and see where that takes me. But as far as classes, I wasn’t really thinking about any.”

Dad dropped his fork in mock surprise. The sound of the fork hitting his giant aluminum salad bowl made Michael look up. Dad could be funny. He knew I was hard-working, and he had never read much Faulkner. Maybe The Sound and the Fury. “That sounds good.” And he smiled, moving the top of his head side to side in pleasure. We were his kids. He could do whatever he wanted with us. Within reason.

Cate was too future-thinking. One night she came over and had that far-off look in her eyes. We sat at the kitchen table drinking beer. “What’s wrong baby?” I asked.
“Nothing.” She rolled her can around its bottom edge, fingering the droplets running down its side.
“You can tell me.”
Silence. Finally she worked up the courage. “I just don’t know what I should do. If I go to med school and become a doctor I can’t have a family for a long time. And if I don’t go to med school I don’t know what I’ll do. I could dance again.”

Cate had been a ballerina in an international outfit. She had travelled across Europe, stayed in Australia, and had been to China. But after a year she was 20. She quit to go to school. And yet every now and then she would feel an overwhelming longing for her dance career, since it had been how she defined herself since she she was a child. Once she showed me a photo of her as a three year old in a pink tutu, completely owning the camera. I could tell that even as a little girl people gave her the attention worthy of a beautiful woman. And I knew that at this particular moment, she really just missed dancing.

“You could.”
“But I want to have a family and there’s no future in dancing.”
“So go to medical school.” She wanted to be a doctor in place of dancing. It was respectable, high-earning, and rewarding.
She said, “But as a doctor it’s really hard to take off time to have a family.”
“I could take care of the children.” She turned on me.
“I would want to take care of the children. You don’t know what it’s like! You don’t have to worry about leaving work because you’re a man.”
“That’s true. I’m only trying to help. But I wouldn’t mind staying at home and taking care of kids.”
“Daniel, I’m not going to be with someone who is a stay at home dad.”
Tolstoy did it. He wrote four hours every morning, and played with the kids in the afternoon.”
“Well, we aren’t in 19th century Russia. I would want the father of my children to work and I would want to work too. But if I’m in a profession where it’s hard to take time off to have a baby… I don’t even know who would raise it.”
“There are good nanny services. Or what about other family members? My mom loves kids.”
“It’s not that easy. You can’t just give a baby to someone to take care of! You have to love it for at least six months. Ugh, how can you not think about stuff like this? These are the things that a relationship is founded on and if you’re not even thinking about when you want to have kids, maybe we shouldn’t be together.”
“Cate, relax. I know I don’t want to have kids until I’m at least thirty.”
“Well you can wait that long. I don’t have so much time. I’m 24, Daniel. If I’m going to be in a relationship with you, we need to have a plan.”
And so this was the kind of planning we had to do. Not that I didn’t like to plan. I often planned. But sometimes planning doesn’t work– sometimes you find yourself doing something entirely different than you’d thought you’d be doing. Sometimes you find yourself traveling the world and not planning but instead thinking about how the life you’re living is different from the plans you used to have.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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