FaceTime (Short Story)

Here is a selfie of Rick on Ventura Beach a few nights ago.

I sat amongst a circle of witches. Witch is such a misunderstood idea. Witch means wise one, one who studies everything on the spectrum. One who tenaciously studies. There is also the facet that we slept with angels or aliens, but do not let that cast a bad light upon us. It’s certainly brave. The fear you didn’t know you harbor is the ancient fear of someone who questions, who seeks knowledge. What is Satan if not a scholar? We discussed launching another cultural revolution at your children, and worse yet, removing the money from the counter-culture movement. An inquisition.

Here is a selfie of Rick on Ventura Beach a few nights ago.

My right thigh hummed. I couldn’t help but be surprised, I mean, this was a little bit early for Rick to be coming into my life again. Rick has served me for five years now, as something of a literal threshold to cross each time my physical body merges into another time zone. Somewhere along my journey (my foul attempt at making a drive along I-90 appeal to you romantics) my podcast binge and half-awake traveller eyes are eclipsed by the vibrating growl of plastic on Iphone. Rick, or at least the owner of the phone that caused my phone to vibrate against my right thigh mid-coven, was always the reason behind these road trip distractions.

I don’t know what you know about the portion of I-90 that runs through eastern Washington, but from Spokane to Snoqualmie Pass is a flat, straight road that passes wheat fields, wheat fields, wheat fields, rocks, wheat fields, and the occasional forest of windmills whose only really purpose out there is proving alternative energy still isn’t ready to take the mantel from its traditional oil and dam brethren. Somewhere along this stretch of pavement, as I reform my face into something those who raised me will recognize, I have to pick up my phone and scoff. Regardless of the direction I’m heading (East to West, West to East, I can’t really decide where my destiny will manifest) this phone number insists upon Facetime-ing with me. Now, I don’t want to get too far into this Jetson’s age technology, but I do just want to say that had we (humans) known how awful having to actually look someone in the face was well we talked to them over the phone, I wouldn’t be in this pickle. There’s a comedy sketch or passage from some book already on this subject though. When just talking on the phone, you don’t have to actually acknowledge the conversation, you can scratch your butt, make a meal, dance naked. It’s the lowest level of personal effort, and yet for each participant of the conversation it feels like a moment to cherish. After all, you had to answer the phone, or make the call, indicating a desire to speak specifically with the caller/called. Facetime is different, it requires full focus on the other person, as well as a level of facial control most people reserve for pictures and their O-face.

My reason for answering the first time I received one of these invitations to look all too closely at another person on a little screen had nothing to do with wanting to crash my car into one of the few rock walls that protrude from the sameness, or from a curiosity to see who it could be (the area code is the same as my own) but because he (Rick) called three times. This conversation is the longest to date we have ever had. I swiped right, the grizzled old face pixelated into view, I heard a noise equal to a cough or hello, I yelled, “Wrong number! Please stop!” and hung up. He attempted to Facetime me again, so I hid my phone in the deepest recess of my backpack in the next seat. Thus began a rather endearing game of phone-tag between me and this mysterious and persistent elder one. It was as if I had inherited a personal mascot, this figurehead who would make sure my travels never felt as lonely as they could. Each road trip’s monologue (if you don’t speak to yourself when left alone for anything over four hours, well…) was able to swiftly veer away from the typical complaints about other drivers, cruel commentary on the religious signs that line the imperial roadway, and stream-of-conscious fart sounds to wondering what could cause such persistence in a old man to not only call, but to call exactly each time I engaged in this odyssey.

Here is a selfie of Rick on Ventura Beach a few nights ago.

Once you figure out the answer to a question you have been pondering for some time, you feel instantly foolish. The obvious, staring you in the face since day one, has by this point contorted itself into a sneer.

The answer to my question, why was this old man so persistent on seeing my face as I drove from childhood home to young adult home (and vice versa) came during the midst of a speech on Flat-Earthers. People who still hold the ancient, man-centric view that the world is flat. These people aren’t like holocaust deniers, they don’t just spit on fact and create a new reality, they have a case. Essentially, their argument has everything to do with Antarctica. It covers a massive stretch of the planet, and for us round-Earth people this is acceptable in the fact that it holds the South Pole and is massive ice sheet spreading out from there. Flat-Earther’s look at it like this. The governments of many a country patrol the waters around the southern ice giant, and it is illegal to go past a certain point. No one except chosen people may explore the continent. Why is this, your neighborhood Flat-Earther may ask you. Because Antarctica does not form a nice continent, it forms a ring containing the rest of the plane on which Earth exists. Past a certain point on the southern ice shelf, one can see the end of the world, the abyss upon which our lives float. Past a certain point, there is absolute proof that god exists, watching us like animals in a bio-dome. “Truman Show” on a massive, sad scale.

All of us sitting around the small room laughed and shrugged off the Flat-Earth conspiracy, yet none of us has been to Antarctica. The hypocrisy of people dedicated to learning everything they ever could laughing in the face of a potential theory is not lost upon me. There are just some things language doesn’t equip us to speak about. I bookended our conversation on conspiracy by making a recommendation to check out the youtube video from the man who believes “Back to the Future” was both an ode to JFK’s assassination and predicted 9/11. I got all the laughs I wanted.

Here is a Selfie of Rick on Ventura Beach a few nights ago.

That was the caption under the picture sent from my old travel buddy. “Rick” as he chose to be called, was a red-faced elderly man, a handsome Sean Connery gentleman in a dark navy pea coat and captain hat. His white beard was immaculately trimmed, his hand in what would be a pompous “thinker” pose had he not looked to hold wisdoms, and the beach behind him had the allure of a dark-haired mistress calling you forth with a single finger beckoning in slow, full pulses. The eyebrows gave the whole thing away. I looked hard at the old man in the photo, the old man who had failed time and time again to tell me something as I drove from Missoula to Seattle to Missoula to Seattle, and I saw his eyebrows.

My eyebrows.

Three days have since past, and I find myself staring in the mirror, opening the camera on my phone to look at my physique, and in each blink in front of these narcissus pools I catch the aging process. As my eyelids quiver, as the lashes begin to interlock I see the man in the selfie. I see the beach behind me, hear the yawp of gulls. I feel the warmth of the bonfire that backlight the selfie. I hear the conversation, the clinking of bottles, the crash of waves accented with delicate guitar plucks. I know exactly how the sand would feel through my wrinkled old hands, catching on small moles that have yet to manifest, single grains falling last from clusters of long white hairs. I know I am looking at an image of myself from the future, sent from now. I know every time I drive, I am being signaled by some future version of myself, with some apocalyptic message, some grand warning or scheme or plot. I don’t trust this time traveller, this sick narcissist who feels the need to look back on his younger self. I would sooner kill myself than become this fat old bastard attempting to fuck up his societally acclaimed “glory days”. Maybe he wants to make sure I hate my future self, and don’t miss that appropriate time to off myself like he did. I’m sure it will be apparent. I’m sure something dumb kept him from swallowing the bullet, like looking out the window and seeing two eagles plummet to earth attempting to reproduce, or a phone call reminding him he had a overdue library book.

Or perhaps this is his, my, intent. He has nothing to say to me, and he knows everything I will ever have to say. Maybe he just wants me to know we make it. We change, we grow. Maybe he just wants me to live without fear. Maybe I am just trying to make myself happy. Maybe he just wants me to make it to the day I get to spend on Ventura Beach, surrounded by family and friends, silently tanning well reading the latest review for my daughter’s novel, smoking out of a pipe, maybe he just wants me to know what sand feels like on toes aged to perfection. maybe he just wants to fuck with his schizoid 21-year old self with the perfect joke,

Here is a selfie of Rick on Ventura Beach a few nights ago.

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