Someone once told me the control panel for a 747 was so complex that pilots were trained to check certain areas and certain readings at a time, look up to see where the plane was going and then scan the next area of instruments. I often wondered if they installed them in some sort of order of importance. I would think the altimeter would be one of the most vital and airspeed right up there next to it. The In Flight Movie would be over at the bottom left along with Happy Hour Special at the airport Philadelphia which is also known as the World’s Largest Waiting Room. Morgues move people out faster than does Philly.
For reasons I cannot explain to you I keep up with dates. Worse yet, I’ve developed a spread sheet so I can keep up with more of them every day. It’s OCD with a calendar. It’s an instrument panel with leap years. It’s a form of weirdness that as far as I know, only I practice. And to make matters even worse, if they could be made worse by admitting this addiction in public, I keep up with my very own modeled- after- events- in- my- life Backwards Calendar. As time goes forward on the reality calendar of everyday life I also relive the past with a calendar that runs backwards in time.
I’ve tried to explain the Backward Calendar before and I almost always confuse people when I do. But let me try this method and see how it goes. Let’s suppose you got married on New Year’s Eve of the year 2000 and you decided to throw one huge ass party on January 1, 2020. Now, if you were marking off days on a regular calendar then in a year you’d have twelve months gone, right? But suppose you cranked up a spreadsheet that also marked off twelve months, but in the opposite direction. A year after you were married on one calendar would also be a year before you were married on another. If you had known your beloved for two years then after two years you would also be at a point on your Backwards Calendar two years previous to having known that person. And you might be surprised at the dates you remember. I am.
Usually, I have a vague idea at what was going on in my past; which dog was what age, who I was dating, what I was doing at work or maybe who got married or died during that year, or month. On occasion a day from the past will leap out at me like a wet dishrag flung at a grease fire. I just passed my wedding date on the Backwards Calendar and am now single and living alone again, in the past, and in those times before I knew there was a very real difference between being divorced and being single.
That date was coming up and I knew it. It was going to be one of those benchmark dates, the wet rag dates and one of those dates that will live in personal infamy. Let’s face it; other than your airspeed and your altimeter, is there really anything else the people around you notice very much in your life? No one cares what day you got married when you are married much less when you’ve been divorced for over a decade. That’s like that gauge that measures the amount of toilet paper left on the roll in the bathroom. Far, far, right, towards the bottom of the panel, the one with the suction cup coffee holder stuck to it, yes, that’s the one.
November 28th 1999 is today’s date on the Backward Calendar. Now, in 1999 this day doesn’t fling any rags but back in 1993 it was one of the strangest days I can remember. I was in a hotel room with a young woman who I had a crush on forever. She was a red head. She had the most alluring green eyes I can remember. And she was as beautiful as the day was long and the night was black, at least as far as I was concerned. We had been seeing each other for a while but both our lives were in a state of flux and we both knew it. I had just moved for a job, which brought me to living closer to her, (that wasn’t the specific reason I took it) but she was looking for work in Atlanta, which would move us further apart from one another again. My job required urinalysis so I couldn’t have smoked pot if I wanted to and she wasn’t inclined towards it, but someone had given her a joint. I was highly entertained, no pun intended, by the affect it had on her. She was giggly and very accessible when she was stoned. Her altimeter was maxed out and I was beginning to wonder if this wasn’t a good thing after all. She got invested in telling me how it fascinated her how a few months ago she was pushing a mop in a fast food restaurant but now that she had a Master’s degree she was asking for, and likely to get fifty grand a year, for starters. There was a hospital that needed an assistant administrator and she really like the job requirements and really liked their offering. It was a dreamy kind of conversation for her, she talked with her hands and her eyes and I liked her even more for sharing it with me. She told me an old friend of hers worked there and that was going to help a lot. And while she was telling me this she mentioned her friend, who she had stayed with for a weekend, had a male friend who had asked her out. She told him no because she knew that getting involved with someone new while moving to a new place was problematic at best. She wanted to wait until she knew where she was going to be before she started dating anyone there.
It was one of those cue crickets moments and it took me a couple of seconds to realize what she had just said. I felt her tense up and she rose up on one elbow and looked at me like she had just heard the words come out of her own mouth. I remember how good she looked nude and how in candlelight she looked magical even after my brain kicked in and realized she was already leaving me.
“I uh…” and then she lay down again and covered her face with her hands. I remember how her voice sounded when she said that. I remember looking up at the candle and seeing the flame.
We talked about it and she told me she didn’t want a long distance relationship. She didn’t want to break up with me until after New Year’s, because we had already made plans, but at the same time, as soon as she moved that was going to more or less be the end, she thought. I can remember trying to find something to say and all I could come up with at the time was, “So you’re using me for sex now?” and I thought it was the right thing to say, because we both thought it was very funny. I was young enough to be flattered by the thought and the sex was good. But it created a fundamental change in who we were and how we reacted to one another. The sex was still good but the future was gone now and we both lived more in the moment when we were together. There was no point in checking the fuel gauge because we knew we were running on empty.
We went to see one of her favorite local bands in Athens for New Year’s but it was impossibly loud. We wedged ourselves into a corner table, drank and tried to communicate over the music. It was fun in an odd way yet we were now tourists in our own relationship; we were only passing through, here to see the sights, take a few photos then leave. There were fireworks at midnight, beautiful fireworks fired directly over our heads and it was spectacular. “Kiss me!” she said and I did, picking her up, letting her wrap around me, and then gasping for breath with her one more time. The last time we were together again would be a few weeks later. She came over, stoned, and she drank with me. She offered to do anything I asked her to and I knew this was her way of telling me good bye. The entire relationship was boiled down, reduced by heat, purified and its very essence melted into motion. We drained the night dry of anything and everything left to say and she left.
I thought about for a long time after that and I can remember being fairly aggressive when we began and she told me that it turned her on that I wanted her that badly but she didn’t know what else I wanted. Hell, I didn’t know what else I wanted either and for that matter, I had never asked her what she wanted. She had bought me off with sex on November the 28th and I had accepted payment. For whatever she got for being with me in the two months we had left together I got the only thing I had really asked her for and was hurt when I didn’t get anything else. And now, just right now, as I write this, I wonder what she would have done if I had asked for more, if I had asked where she wanted to go and maybe if I had thought for a moment that those two months, those two months that she gave me, she might have been waiting for me to ask. I was looking far too low on the instrument panel to see where I was going.
A year later I heard she married a guy named Mike and thought it was amusing.
So now the Backward Calendar has a few years before that date comes up again. But it will come up again because neither calendar stays still for any reason. I thought time would cease or slow or modify itself to bow before some personal tragedy or triumph but no, it never has and it never will. The young woman in the hotel room has been long gone and as one calendar races away from her another races towards her, yet in the end, both will recede away from any event we humans measure by time. The past is still the past, no matter how much we enjoy watching it, and the future, too, will be the past, no matter how far away it might seem right now. The altimeter will read zero, airspeed will reach the stalling point and the flight will end. Or, perhaps, it will begin.