My Future Self’s Past Self
“What are you afraid of, Aamina? I can’t answer that for you.”
I had a bedroom with a fire escape for a few months when I was 23. I covered the iron with a shitty couch cushion; I’d sit out there at night in my underwear and listen to the Crown Heights quiet. Sometimes I’d watch the people who worked in the restaurant below my apartment take smoke breaks out the back door. But most of the time, I would just talk to myself.
All my life, I have taken any moment of solitude and filled the silence with conversation. Like out loud. This is something most of my closest friends don’t even know about me. It’s a habit I’ve had since I was little. My mom talks to herself, and if she ever caught me mid conversation, she’d encourage me to keep going. The categories of discussion can range from an imagined fight that no one provoked to a daydream literally acted out like a one-man play. One of my favorite imaginary selves is Future Aamina.
Future Aamina is a god. Has great style. Talks with composure. Listens to good music. Shares stellar opinions about art and politics that no one has heard before, but everyone agrees with (except losers). Future Aamina constantly rejects sexual pursuits from hot people. Accepts awards. Knows everything. All of the questions that life plagues me with, Future Aamina has the hard-earned answer.
When I was a child, Future Aamina would coach me through social situations, like getting my period or when I couldn’t figure out how everyone had a friend group except me. Future Aamina would tell me what it was like when I finally fell in love, how to study for tests, how to face my fears. Future Aamina spoke to me like the narrator of a memoir. When my dad died, Future Aamina sat next to me in the shower and told me that it wouldn’t hurt forever. I got through life by time traveling. Future Aamina never missed. And because of that, I always listened.
When I was 23, I saw Bo Burnham’s directorial debut Eighth Grade at the Angelika. It was cringe and difficult to watch, and I think my body was clenched for the entire duration of the feature length film. It made me want to peel my skin off of my body and die. It was perfect. The movie followed Kayla, a hyper-anxious and insecure girl aged 13. When it first came out, everyone talked about how much they felt like Kayla when they were 13. They’d post on the Internet the words of wisdom they’d offer their eighth grade selves. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I related to the movie, not just at 13, but then at 23. My first year in New York was colored by a haze of sensory overload, a cruel boss, and feeling like a foreigner in the hilariously pretentious magazine world in New York City. I cried in the bathroom most days at work. It wasn’t my teenage self that needed words of reassurance from the future. It was my present self, the one who can’t know how this turns out.
I’m 27 now, and everything has gotten existential in a way I could have never predicted. I’m in the present, nostalgic for my teenage years, and simultaneously I’m in the future, nostalgic for the world I’m living in now. My self confidence is both incredibly high and complete shit. Same with my career, I think. My writing is better than it’s ever been, and my batting average with editors is at a career low. All the while, the voice in my head, the one with the answers, my imaginary older sibling, has been drifting away from me. Suddenly, my mind is so still that all I can hear is rumbling, and there’s nothing left to do but listen. Is Future abandoning me, or are they just forcing the training wheels off? I’m banging on Future’s door asking for an answer, and they’re ignoring me, as if to say, “What are you afraid of, Aamina? I can’t answer that for you.”
There’s a voice memo on an old iPhone that I recorded on that fire escape in Crown Heights. My voice sounds younger. (Insane, by the way, how much your voice changes in a few years.) It was right after I came home from seeing Eighth Grade. “I want to imagine that I’m older and I’m thinking about myself at 23 and not cringing, not feeling for sorry for a kid I think is helpless,” I said into my phone. “I hope I’m older and remember that I wasn’t helpless. I was hopeful and happy, and I hope the hurt isn’t the only thing I remember.”
Even then, I was so aware that my 13-year-old self was still around, walking around this earth with me like a shadow, her sensitivities still awake and prickling in my 23-year-old body. If I could go back in time now and say anything to her, it would be only to ask, “How did you know everything? How did you handle so many things at once? I can’t remember getting through it.”
The 23-year-old, along with 13 and all the rest, would say, “Because you held me in your palm and told me how.”