My Younger Self
by Kaj Tanaka
My younger self cleans up the house when the mood strikes him, which is rare, but when he does clean up, he does a good job. Usually, then, we celebrate his good work and we drink forty ounce bottles of malt liquor and we stay up late listening to my favorite music, which my younger self is only just now discovering. And we converse. I reminisce. I tell him about who we are and what we are going to become, and my younger self reminds me of the person we thought we were back then—he remembers vividly things and people I have long forgotten.
But our festivities, while they are new and exciting to my younger self, to me, only stir up uncomfortable memories. Who did I think I was back then? Often I am ashamed my younger self—his unbridled optimism, his boldness and confidence. As a result, I drink more than is my custom. When I drink like this I become thoughtful and stay up very late. My younger self falls asleep on the couch, and I get up and go into the kitchen and wash the dishes we have dirtied in our revelry. I sometimes stay up all night, thinking, wishing I had an older self to take care of me the way I take care of my younger self.
Sometimes my younger self blames me for his shortcomings, which makes absolutely no fucking sense. I try to explain to him that, if anything, it is he who is to blame for mine, but he is so young and stupid he can’t really appreciate what I am saying. He tells me that, to him, I am perfect. But he is an idiot.
I put my younger self on an exercise regimen to offset all of the beer he drinks. He knows it is for his own good. I enroll him in a Tae Kwon Do studio because I always wanted to be a black belt.
Within a few months, he learns to throw these beautiful spin kicks, and he begins lifting weights obsessively. Generally, he becomes healthier, and as a result, he becomes more annoying. He begins to talk incessantly about his diet and his workout regimen. He wears his Tae Kwon Do uniform all the time, often just the pants, preferring to leave his muscular chest bare and hairless, and he is always sweaty, smelling of musk, constantly grunting from chronic muscle soreness, drinking protein shakes, always slamming beers in my face. He leaves his sweat soaked Tae Kwon Do uniform tops hanging all over the house.
All this quickly becomes more than I bargained for and so I put a stop to it. I cancel the membership at the Tae Kwon Do gym, and instead, I get my younger self-enrolled at the community college down the street because physical fitness was all well and good, but what we really need is a better education. I tell my younger self that if I had paid attention in school, I wouldn’t be the guy I am now. I’d be doing something much cooler, and I would have more money. He says he thinks I am a pretty cool guy already and that makes me feel good even though I know it isn’t true. And so we get drunk, I stay up late, and I get nostalgic again, which kick-starts another cycle of self-loathing. I drink heavily for the next week, hoping to shake it, but that isn’t the nature of alcohol—not for me anyway.
At the end of my weeklong binge, I am hung over, and when I wake up on that terrible day, my younger self is already five beers deep. I tell him he needs to start cutting back on the booze for my sake—for my future self’s sake. Think of my liver, I tell him. He tells me not to push it. He gets up in my face a little, but I don’t get mad. I just walk away. I remember how rowdy I used to get, five beers deep on a Saturday morning. I understand, and so I do not further antagonize him.
The community college turns out to be a bust, which I should have known from that beginning. My younger self just doesn’t have the discipline to get through his general education requirements. I don’t blame him. He showed me some of the homework he had to do, and it was all bullshit. Write an essay about your favorite meal? Perform basic mathematics for hours? Memorize a geography textbook? Was this what had been holding us back all of these years? We try to get the tuition refunded, but it is past the refund date, so my younger self just stops going to his classes. I am afraid he will ask to reenroll at the Tae Kwon Do gym, but he doesn’t. Instead, he stays home, drinking my beer, smoking my weed, using my internet porn passwords, which he probably just guessed. At night, he stays out late, and I am not sure where he goes.
I order my younger self some useful books from Amazon dot com. I figure if the community college can’t educate him, he should start educating himself. I get him some books about starting his own business. I get him a copy of The Art of War. I get him the complete William Shakespeare. I get him a computer program that teaches conversational Mandarin. I get him a book about how to learn Java Script. I get him a GRE study guide. I get him an LSAT study guide. It turns out to be a pretty expensive order from Amazon dot com, which seems dumb to me just for a lot of books, but I figure I want to give the guy some options; see what he takes to.
He doesn’t take to any of it, and I don’t really blame him. None of it appeals to me either. I get on him about the business books though, and he reads them, but he doesn’t like them. He reads the newspaper and he watches Aljazeera videos on YouTube while he drinks his beer and smokes his pot. I can tell he feels superior to me. My only consolation is that my younger self will become me in a few years, and I will eventually have the last laugh (though, probably, an older, more dying version of myself will have the ultimate last laugh). I explain this to him in kind of a nasty way one evening, and I think it really hurts his feelings to discover that I bear him such ill will. I am a little shocked, myself.
I have been hanging around with my younger self for about a year when I get laid off from my job. My boss explains it isn’t personal, exactly, but I haven’t been showing up to work. This is news to me. I haven’t been showing up? I ask. I try to account for my absences, but I end up looking like an idiot. “I was here,” I say. He shows me, on the computer, that I was not. The computer cannot lie. I deny everything angrily. I tell him that the computer is lying and that he is out to get me. These accusations do not improve my lot.
When I tell my younger self about getting laid off, he opens up one of my beers and takes a long drink, then he hands it to me. “It’ll be fine,” he says. But what does he know about it? “You’re looking at your future,” I tell him. “Do you like what you see?” “No,” he says. “I used to, but not anymore.” He takes a fresh can of beer from the fridge, puts a hole in the side with his pocketknife and shotguns the beer in my face.
And I wake up that night with these crazy, murderous thoughts. I could stab him with his own pocket knife while he is passed out on my couch, I think. I could slit his throat. He would never know. But by the time I finish thinking it all through, I have lost the energy. I am such a useless person.
It is a dark time for me. I am supporting both my younger self and myself on my savings and my unemployment checks. My younger self decides that he needs to find a woman to marry—a dumb rich white woman who will take care of us. This is his plan to make it all up to me. It isn’t my favorite plan, but my younger self is so confident about his looks that I cannot dissuade him. He thinks he can perform any feat involving sexuality—which, I remember that thought process, and I don’t want to disillusion him. He’s still young. With any luck he will get laid more than I did, and then I will have those memories later on. But still, he asks me for advice about how to attract women. “You’re older,” he says. “You know what older women want.” I tell him it’s a lot more than that. “Think of the years you will need to spend living with this person,” I say. “Life is much longer than you can currently conceive.” But, like always, he doesn’t really hear me.
My younger self finds my credit card one night and uses it to order almost a dozen knockoff name brand name polo shirts from China. He got a great deal on them, he tells me.
My younger self spends most of his time out of the house after that. He trolls golf clubs, yacht clubs, polo clubs, fancy restaurants, benefit dinners. Everything he does costs a lot of money. He burns through my savings almost instantly. He explains that you need to be a big fish to catch a big fish. His analogy doesn’t quite work, but I understand what he means. There is no point stopping him anyway because he knows how to find my money. Even when I hide things from him, he has an uncanny way of uncovering them—he knows all of my secrets and guesses all of my passwords. He begins to take on some pretty substantial credit card debt—all in my name. He’s running a number of scams with high interest debt companies. “It’ll all be worth it,” my younger self reassures me. “We only need to land one rich white lady, and this will all pay for itself.” I believe him because I don’t have a choice. And I honestly think that maybe things will work out for us very soon. We talk about what we will do when our ship comes in. My younger self says he wants to get back into Tae Kwon Do. I tell him I want to become an accountant. “I guess that’s the difference between you and me,” he says.
And then he is gone. My younger self is gone. I awake one morning to find my bank accounts emptied, my credit limit capped, my assets sold and my house under another illegal lien. My younger self is gone. I have no way to find him. He has my passport, he has changed all of my online passwords to things I cannot guess or no longer remember. I imagine he has left the county. That’s what I would have done in his shoes. After a few days, it sinks in that he is not coming back and that he has stolen my identity—I am gone and I am not coming back, and I am also here, jobless, and up to my nose in financial and legal trouble.
But my consolation is what it has always been: no matter where he is right now, no matter how much unearned money he has, or love or validation. No matter the joy he is squeezing from the cheap fruits of his borrowed life, I am waiting for him. Each day I punish him by continuing to live. I wake up in the morning, miserable, full of hate, and I plan to live a long time. I will make sure that I suffer enough for both of us before the end.
Kaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, The Collagist and PANK, and he has been featured on Wigleaf’s (very) short fictions list. Kaj is the nonfiction editor at BULL. He tweets @othrrealppl.