Timehopped

Photo by Phillip Wolt : Story by Mark Killian

Andy is not nostalgic. He scrolls through his daily feed of forgotten social posts as a form of self-flagellation; punishment for his previous political beliefs, musical preferences, hairstyles, outfits, etcetera, etcetera, all of which he broadcasted to 500+ of his closest friends, former classmates, distant relatives and probable catfishers. He typically does this during his morning commute — an equally torturous ritual — where stoplights and bottlenecks set the stage for remorse and embarrassment.

What Andy does not realize now, but boy will he, is today marks the anniversary of an act so impulsive, so brainless, so hopelessly romantic, it’s a wonder he hasn’t scrubbed every trace of it from the internet. But we, and he, are not there yet. Andy is just now approaching his first serving of stand-still traffic, only granting him enough time to peruse his notifications and access the app.

Andy lets the time traveling dinosaur dance on his screen as he inches forward, stopping once a wave of brake lights washes over him. He brings his car — a sedan too humdrum to describe — to rest and reaches for his phone. Beneath the headers for one, two and three years ago it reads, No activity found, a testament to his longest-held New Year’s resolution. The traffic resumes its submissive crawl and Andy returns his phone to the cupholder.

A familiar guitar riff rips through Andy’s steering-wheel stupor and he shoots a quick glance at the radio display. Armor for Sleep — The Truth About Heaven, it says and he scoffs so hard the windshield fogs. There are several ways he could change the station — The steering-wheel controls, the seek button, one of his five other presets — but he doesn’t. He lets the angst-ridden lyrics transport him to the days of dark eyeliner, swooping bangs and Penny Schwartzman — more on her later — until he approaches a stoplight and returns to the app.

Waiting for Andy behind his phone’s fingerprint encryption is a picture he posted four years ago with the caption, HADOUKEN!!! Above that all-caps battle cry, we see Andy appearing to be thrust off a cliff by an invisible surge of energy originating from the outstretched palms of his friend Blake. Andy laughs, realizing that taken out of context, the image looks like a marriage proposal gone horribly, horribly wrong. He presses play in his brain and the scene resumes, his four-year-younger self stiffening his limbs before plummeting feet first into the Colorado River.

The pleasant reminder encourages Andy to dive deeper into his memory banks, which he almost immediately regrets. “Too soon,” he whispers after reading the tasteless tweet he posted five years ago in response to Whitney Houston’s death. He’s ashamed of himself and the seven people who liked his comment, Some bodyguard. #RIPWhitney, but he reserves some disgust for what awkwardness may lay ahead.

Six years ago provides a bit of a respite. Aside from the early-Beatles bowl cut he was sporting in his Facebook profile picture, Andy has little reason to feel bashful; until the vehicle behind him lays on the horn.

Andy tosses his phone on the passenger seat and gives an apologetic wave to the pissed-off person in his rearview mirror. The driver responds with a middle finger as he pops his Tesla into Ludicrous Mode and cuts Andy off without a single puff of exhaust.

Andy is tempted to relapse by tweeting something like “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a Tesla,” but he overcomes his addiction and keeps his quip to himself like people did back when they had more important things to worry about; things like gas gauges.

Andy continues thumbing through his virtual mementos while waiting for his knight in a shining AAA truck to arrive. He is convinced no post from his past can be as bad as his present, and for the most part, he is correct. There’s a juvenile sex joke, a fail video that still makes him chortle and several questionable sartorial decisions, but nothing more humiliating than being tardy to the weekly company meeting. And then, he sees it.

Anchoring his feed, just below the ten-years-ago header and a picture of a log that’s been hacked to death by territorial lovers, Andy reads, Penny Schwartzman, will you marry me?

The events that transpired after Andy’s misguided attempt at twenty-first-century romance went as follows: Penny said no — obviously; Penny blocked Andy; Penny avoided negative publicity by spreading rumors and confidential truths about Andy; Andy became the butt of many jokes; Andy swallowed many pills; Andy spent a week in the hospital; everybody heard about it; everybody felt bad about it; everybody blamed Penny for it; Penny became the class bitch; Penny switched schools before graduation; Andy never heard from Penny again; the end.

Andy lifts his forehead from the steering wheel once a man in a denim work shirt eclipses the driver-side window. He turns to the man before his greasy knuckle makes contact with the glass.

“Got your gas,” he says, lifting the portable fuel tank into view.

Andy gives him a thumbs up with one hand and reaches for the gas-cap lever with the other. The man follows the pop sound to the back of the car and Andy continues feeling around the floorboard for his phone.

With his sense of touch failing him, Andy cranes his neck around the steering wheel and brings his eyes in for reinforcement. As he retraces his hand’s path with his pupils, he notices a golden glare beaming from his left ring finger. He leans back and lifts his lone piece of jewelry closer to his face, turning it clockwise for inspection. The metal is nearly spotless, with less than a month’s worth of scuffs and scratches obscuring his reflection.

There’s a buzzing sensation beneath his left thigh and Andy’s phone reveals itself like a timid toddler playing Hide and Seek. He retrieves it and sees a text from his Wife that reads, Remember to get gas :-*

How could I forget? he replies and returns to his home screen.

In the bottom right corner sits a smiling dinosaur wearing aviator goggles. Andy makes eye contact with the prehistoric creature before squishing its face with his finger until it becomes a moveable object. He drags it to the top right corner of his screen where an uninstall bin is waiting to be fed. He releases, confirms his decision and never hears from it again.