Most recovery narratives depict terrible withdrawals, the feeling like bugs itching your ass, peripheral hallucination insects, a crushing sternal void. Or they’re about guilt, shame, the urgent, hesitant recollection of sideswiping a bicyclist. Then there’s the 12 steps: atonement, making amends, the indignity of scrubbing toilets. I could continue but you get the point.
Instead, I want to posit that recovery is a time machine. If you like time travel then you’ll like recovery.
When I time travel now, I don’t think back to big moments, as they are portrayed on the screen. No molestation, no parental discord, no repressed sexuality.
When I’m tachycardic and twitching, wrangling with the one-microfiber sheets here at Derek Jeter Rehabilitation-Delray, I recall It’s A Wonderful Life, Winter Break, 1999. I was 21 and brought Kim from Happy Valley to meet my folks. After all the meals and the caroling and the gifts, Dad picked out an old VHS copy of It’s a Wonderful Life and Mom was like Yay! Let’s Watch but I prepared for the worst.
As a teenager, I’d taped over most of my parents’ stuff with soft-core porn from free weekends of Showtime and Cinemax. If you know the name Shannon Tweed you’ve done it too. My parents on the couch, Kim and I on the loveseat I’d jerked off on watching a Boy Meets World episode with Topanga’s tits. I’d begun to relax around the scene when Jimmy Stewart prances home exuberantly, figuring I guess I hadn’t taped over that cassette, when it happened. The screen fizzled and Shannon Tweed’s tits replaced Jimmy Stewart’s head. She was fucking a man with a spray tan and bad teeth. There was a raunchy sax solo. Dad cleared his throat and turned it off. We’re off to bed kiddos, Mom said with strained glee.
That’s all that happened then. We still joke about it on Christmas’s at our McMansion, Kim and the kids, my parents in the In-Law suite. They allude to it in vague terms and suppress giggles, making angel-cookies, straightening Hallmarks on the mantle, pondering the chances of snow. I give them what they want, I grimace, pretend to attack them with the fireplace’s poker, cry Just Stop! But really I’m thinking about that kid, and how that kid was me, now, married, a father, a lacrosse coach. Things that used to mean something don’t: Nirvana played at the dentist’s last week while I had my Adult Braces measured.
Kim always accused me of loving that kid, Past-Me, more than I loved my own kids. If I took my time-machine to that kid, he’d call me a sellout, a poseur. It’s complicated, but maybe she’s right. It’s probably not love but something like that. Maybe loyalty to the past, how that somehow gives us loyalty to the future. If we accept ourselves, then do we need to accept all our selves? And what if we take our time machines to the future? It’s not that strange really, knowing the Past-, Present- and Future-Mes, and accepting them for who they are. You’ll see one day, I’ll be here to greet you, it’ll feel like a memory you taped over.
“Skinemax” is a chapter from James’ McAdam’s novella-in-flash WIP The Florida Shuffle; or, My Summer in Rat Park II. His short story collection, Ambushing the Void, will be published in April 2020 by Frayed Edge Press. He teaches literature at the University of South Florida, Ringling College of Art+Design, and Keep St. Pete Lit. He is Flash Fiction editor of Barren Magazine.