Because it’s late and I’m feeling thoughtful, I’m thinking of 1988, which was 24 years ago.
1988 was one of about five or so really significant years that somehow contains more than a fortieth of my life. I lived like five or six years that year. I suppose everyone has years like that.
In 1988, I started my senior year of high school, got my braces off, cleared up my skin, grew the last inch I’d ever grow, beat myself black and blue twice-weekly at punk shows, started kissing girls, played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. (No, those last two are not incompatible.) Pretty standard Middle American Nerd stuff.
I won’t bore anyone with reminisces, but weirdly, some of my strongest memories of that year — particularly of that summer, which I recall lasted eleven moths and seemed always to be happening in the company of my friends — are of tiny moments between other moments. Example: climbing with a couple of my friends under the fence between Pioneer Park and the Yankee Hill Brick quarry, and scrambling through the brush to a smallish overhang above Salt Creek. (Note to West Coast friends: this is what passes for “wild land” in Lincoln, Nebraska.) This was just before sunset on a wiltingly hot Great Plains day, a hundred degrees and humid. Locusts and cicadas buzzed like chainsaws. Twenty or thirty years earlier someone had sunk half a dozen old cars along the creekbank to stabilize it. In my memory this overhang was a cliff a hundred feet high, I’m sure it was probably all of 30 feet or so. Nothing important happened: no first kisses or getting stoned or any other memorable thing. We were mosquito-bitten and sweaty and covered with dust and doing something utterly pointless which is Kind of What Sixteen Year Olds Do. It could have happened in 1958 or 2008; at this very moment there are probably bored teenagers crawling under that fence and thinking they’re the first-ever human beings to do so. Why would my brain keep a memory like that around?
1988 is across a significant break in my life, namely the year I moved to Oregon (1995). Everything that happened to me before 1995 probably happened to someone else. In part because it happened so long ago, in part because it happened far away in a place I seldom revisit, for all that it formed about 75% of my present personality. But my first day in Oregon (August 1995) feels like yesterday, or at least like an event on a continuum with yesterday, compared to July 1995. Water at 210°F is pretty much like water at 33°, but crazy different from ice at 31°.
If I were to travel back in time and describe my life now to Sixteen Year Old Me, that kid would be pretty impressed I suppose. He’d be glad to know I live in beautiful place like Oregon, and have a totally foxy wife. He’d be a little freaked out about all the rugrats, and at how much Forty Year Old Me rides his bike instead of driving a car. Sixteen Year Old Me spent a lot of conscious effort not making babies and not riding a bike. Being a father on a bike is like the opposite of everything he was trying not to be. Mostly he’d have no way to wrap his head around The World Wide Web, which consumes most of my forty-year-old waking life. In part because it just didn’t exist yet — which, consistently mind-blowing thought: the entire industry around which my life revolves didn’t even exist yet — and in part because he had no particular interest in computers, was only vaguely aware of the Internet, and couldn’t imagine gaining any expertise in these things more or less accidentally (which is how it happened.)