From the Dear Me — the Diarmuid Cleary tales
Many therapists have encouraged patients to write letters to their younger selves. Imparting advice to our younger and presumably less wiser selves can help us better understand and, subsequently, mend our current selves (or so the theory goes). By giving voice to our inner child, we can forgive ourselves for past mistakes, big and small. We can gain perspective and, ideally, expunge the mental bogeymen who have lived rent-free in our heads. We can move on from them.
It started me thinking: What nuggets of hard-earned wisdom would my “Dear Me” letter impart to the younger “Dearmy” (“Dearmy” is short for Diarmuid. It’s what my mom called me when I was a boy and still sometimes calls me today)? Perhaps more intriguingly, what would young Dearmy’s letter to me say and how might I respond? Hmm …
[A letter to future Diarmuid from 12-and-a-half-year old Dearmy]
Um … ok, well, first off, this is weird. I mean, are you still alive? Did you make it to, like, I don’t know, 25? 35? Please tell me we make it to 35. Do I dare to dream of a 55-year old me? I don’t want to get greedy. If I do make it, am I a decrepit 55-year old, or do I look like, I don’t know, Jack LaLane or Robert Wagner or someone like that?
Yeesh. This is even little creepy, too. But yeah, knowing how old my future self is as I write this might help, ya know, give me some context. Like, who is my audience? Mrs. Porter, my English teacher, told us to think about our audience when we write. So, is my audience the still single and relatively happy me or, like, the thrice-divorced and totally bitter me?
This is really hard already. This feels like homework and I have lots of homework already, ya know.
Ok, I got one. There’s this kid, Billy Aikins, on my track team. For some reason, everyone calls him “Dutch” like he’s the 12-year old John Wayne or something (Oh wait, never mind, John Wayne was called Duke, right? Ronald Reagan! He was called Dutch!). My point is that Billy Freakin’ Aikins is an ordinary, 12-year old snot-picker in 1985, not some dust-bowl-era Okie riding the goddamn rails, or some plucky southpaw in the Boston Red Sox farm system, circa 1910. Stop calling him Dutch, people!
Anyway, I guess he can’t help that people call him that, but he’s still kind of a jerk. I cut him some slack, though, because his older brother, Ted, is a real piece of work. Ted’s also on my track team and he has this old-school, military-style buzz cut like Wyatt’s older brother, Chet, in Weird Science, ya know? Ted is totally Chet: a Class A Douchebag.
So, Billy Aikins, who I’m totally not afraid of because I’m pretty sure I could take him in a fair fight, is really riding me on the track, ya know, runnin’ up behind me during practice and tellin’ me I should cut my hair — that it’s too long or whatever like I’m a hippie or a burnout or something. And I’m like, shut up dude, except I don’t say “dude,” you catch my drift? I’m like, “I’m trying to run here, man! Get away from me!” But he keeps at it and Coach Waller is yelling at me, sayin’, “Cleary, quit yer yappin’ and keep those knees up, will ya!” So, now Waller’s nailing me for this when it’s totally Billy who’s startin’ the whole thing! But that’s nothing compared to what happened last Tuesday in the locker room after practice.
So, I’m just minding my own business after showering, toweling off my hair and whatnot, and Chet, i.e. Teddy, comes over and slams me into my locker. Real Type A, stereotypical jock BS, ya know? And he goes, “It sure would be a shame if someone cut that pretty hair of yours, Deirdre, huh huh.”
And I’m like, “Oh, Deirdre. Because I’m Diarmuid. I get it. Ha, ha, ha. Yeah, I guess those are similar sounding, though, you know, Derma, or even Doreen, would have been acceptable, too. But ok, sure, let’s go with Deirdre.”
“Shut up!” he says.
And there’s Billy next to him with this dopey, shit-eatin’ grin on his face just sayin’, “Yeah, yeah” or “You tell him, bro” like he’s Ted’s little lap dog.
So, anyway, this harassment goes on for another few minutes or so until this other kid, Ronny, starts walkin’ over from the far end of the locker room and I’m thinking, ok, here we go, I’m totally getting my ass kicked now. Unlike Ted, who’s just your run-of-the-mill, wannabe jarhead, Ronny is truly terrifying. Some people think he’s like 23, but he’s been left back a ton of times, which is why he’s still only in the 7th Grade. I don’t know about that, but stranger things have happened, I guess. Some other kids say he’s been in juvie a few times, which would account for the fact that he suddenly just appeared at our school one day. And then, he’s like on the track team? What’s that all about? How did that even happen? I mean, shouldn’t he be on the football team where his particular skills, experience, and attributes, ya know, the scar down the cheek, the prison-yard stare, could be put to better use?
But yeah, I digress. Ronny starts coming over like a leopard stalking prey and he’s giving me that menacing glare and I’m really shaking in my cleats — not from Chet (Ed note: Ted) mind you, but from Ronny, ’cause he’s like the Terminator or something and he stops about a nose from me and then … Then he turns towards Chet, I mean Ted, and he slams him real hard into the lockers — so hard it knocks Billy back, too. And I’m like breathing real hard but also kinda laughing, and all the other kids are like “Whoa!” Chet I mean Ted is like “What the f–”, but before he finishes that sentence Ronny’s hand’s around his throat pushing him hard into the locker. Keep in mind, Ronny’s not big, he’s maybe an inch taller than me. But he’s built like a brick shithouse if that brick shithouse is named Mike Tyson. Ronny’s on the short side, but he’s pure muscle. The muscles on his face could kick my ass.
So, anyway, Ronny’s got Ted pinned and he says, “You ever touch Cleary again, I’ll kill you. You got it? You got it?!”
Ted’s barely able to speak but says, “Let me go! Let me go or I’m tellin’…”
Then Ronny grabs Ted’s shirt and pushes him against the locker again, slamming his back real hard into the handle and I go, “Oh, man! That really must be achin you, Aikins!” I know it was kinda mean, but he pretty much started the whole thing, so I didn’t feel too bad about sayin’ it. Plus, it was kinda funny, you have to admit. Kinda got him back for the whole Deirdre-Diarmuid thing.
Anyway, Teddy looks like he’s about to cry and he says to Ronny, “Ok, lemme go. I’ll stop. I’m sorry. I promise. Just let me go, Ronny, please!”
At this point, Billy’s nowhere to be seen. He just booked. But then someone says “Coach Waller’s comin!” and Ronny lets Ted go and straightens his shirt like he’s brushing away a piece of lint on it or something.
“Everything ok in here?” Waller says in that deep voice he uses when he’s about to make us do extra laps. “I heard some banging, and then Billy comes in sayin’ there’s some kinda fight goin’ on? Tell me what’s happening in here?”
“Nothin’, um, everything’s ok, Coach. All good,” Ted whimpers.
“You sure? Looks like you’ve been crying Aikins. What gives?”
“Yeah, yeah, Coach, just some, um, allergies. That’s all,” says Ted.
“Yeah, Coach, I came over and gave him some of my allergy eye drops,” says Ronny, as he looks over at Billy, who looks like he’s about to say something until Ronny’s glare just kinda muzzles him.
“Allergy drops?” Coach says, looking kinda confused. “Ok, then, let’s break it up. Stop gawking, all of you. Nothing to see here. Get yourselves cleaned up, pronto. Your parents are probably outside wondering where you all are, for chrissake. Hurry up! Chop chop!”
So, yeah, anyway, I’m not sure why Ronny came to my defense. I mean, he’s got longish hair like me and I did shoot some hoops with him once when no one else would play with him. So, maybe he figured I wasn’t as douchey as some of the other guys? I don’t know. I’m glad he did, though.
Yeah, but my question to my older self is, what happens to Teddy and Billy? And Ronny, too? What happens to those guys after, you know, when they get older?
[Letter from current Diarmud to 12-and-a-half-year old Dearmy]
Hey there, buddy! How are ya, li’l guy … li’l me?
Yeah, wow. I mean, just wow, right?! Where to begin? And yes, I can see how this whole thing could seem totally confusing. I mean, I’m confused. And I can see now why this “write a letter to your younger self” thing is really meant to be a one-way transmission rather than an ongoing, sort of trans-time correspondence, you know? Not sure how that’s even possible, I mean, is that even a thing?
Anyway, so … yeah. As I write this, I am 53 years old, to answer your first question. I am divorced, but not thrice divorced. So, that’s something to be proud of, or, uh, look forward to, right? And I don’t live in a van down by the river, though I sometimes fantasize about it — maybe not a van but more like a nice RV, or one of those tiny homes, ya know?
Van down by the river. Lol. I crack myself up sometimes. You know that reference, right? Chris Farley? SNL? You, we, love SNL? Remember? Oh wait, Farley wasn’t on till like, what, 1990, ’91 … I think? So, right now in ’85 you’re reading this and you’re thinking, “Van down by the river? What the hell is that, lol?” Ok, well, you wouldn’t write lol, would you? No. A 12-year old today might, but not one in 1985.
Ok, moving on. So, yeah, this was supposed to be me writing to you, my younger self, to say things like, “Hey, big guy, don’t tie yourself up in knots over that D you got on Ms. Rankle’s algebra test, ’cause well, you know, it turns out you were right — you don’t need math. I mean, some people do. Lots, I suppose. Just not you. Not really, anyway. You’re going to become a writer, so actually, you were kinda right to wonder why you needed it. Maybe just try not to wonder that aloud in the next parent-teacher conference, ok? And, yeah, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying to get good grades in math, yada yada. Just don’t beat yourself up if you get a bad one, that’s all.
And, oh hey, here’s something cool. The Beatles? You know how you’re totally obsessed with them and buy all their records — even imports like Oldies … But Goldies and your parents and brothers and sisters always feed the obsession with, like, Beatles-related gifts and stuff on your birthday and on Christmas? Well, I’m here to tell you that in 2022 The Beatles are just about as popular as they’ve ever been — maybe even more so. And you’re still totally into them, too! And the really cool thing is that there’s this thing called YouTube that lets you watch all their old concerts and interviews and listen to studio outtakes and stuff. It’s really cool. I mean, you’re totally gonna go nuts over this thing, and stay up all night going down these rabbit holes, Beatles-related and otherwise. I probably should tell you more about YouTube so you can, like, find Tim Berners-Lee and co-invent the Internet. Ok, more on that later.
I was also going to tell you not to obsess over sex so much. Just be patient, li’l buddy, it’ll happen. You’ll eventually get laid. But honestly, after you reminded me of the whole track team hair cutting incident, I realize now you’ve got more than enough on your plate. Sounds like you are contending with raging hormones of a different sort: the kind that leads some boys to taunt others in schoolyards and locker rooms. And Chet — excuse me, Ted — well, that aggressiveness might be a front to mask confused sexual feelings churning inside him. Who knows? Or, it’s entirely possible he’s just a total wanker (more on that later).
I mean, look, you stood your ground and you tried to defuse unprovoked aggression against you with humor. You did the right thing. You did something that will serve you well later in life on that thing I mentioned, the Internet. You have nothing to be ashamed of, kid. Kudos, younger me!
As far as what became of Teddy, Billy, and Ronny. Strap yourself in it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
So, as I mentioned, there’s this thing called the Internet that allows people to post things to a virtual bulletin board, and then others can respond to that, practically in real-time. And then, later, this thing called Facebook is invented and it starts out as a bulletin board where a few college nerds tell each other which chicks they think are hot or not. Really dopey stuff, though I’m guessing you’re reading this now and thinking, “Oh man, that sounds totally cool!” Trust me, it’s not that cool; it kinda turns into this cesspool with people posting half-baked conspiracy theories and flinging hate speech at each other like monkeys throwing feces in a cage. Imagine that locker room incident happening on a daily basis, but instead of just you, Teddy, Billy and Ronny there are people from other schools getting involved — other towns, other countries, even. What starts as a misunderstanding, a disagreement or even an unfair act of aggression between one and another devolves into a full-scale riot involving many.
Yeah, anyway, it’s a real bummer. Not always, but many times. Sometimes people share funny cat and dog pics with each other. You’ll like those. But Twitter? Oh, don’t get me started on that shitshow.
Diarmuid, the reason I bring up Facebook is that Bill and Ted don’t become stoners who go on excellent adventures (oh wait, never mind, that movie came out in 1989 — Gah!). They do, however, sling lots of shit at people on Facebook, which is how I know they’re both still massive tools.
And you know Donald Trump? He’s probably not at the top of your radar as a 12-year old in 1985. I know that back then he’s still just a self-promoting, overweening, trust-fund windbag doing a pretty good job persuading people he’s some kind of Svengali dealmaker. But he will go on to become president — yes, president! — in 2016, and it’s because of guys like Teddy and Billy, who think he’s relatable and salt-of-the-earth and that he builds things when he really just swindles people who build things he puts his name on. He’s really just a low-down, wannabe autocrat and a total fraud, but they don’t see it. The sad thing is that when he’s revealed as a liar and a cheat over and over again — even when it can’t be denied — Teddy and Billy and the millions like them just seem to love and admire him even more.
My theory is that their stance is less about liking Trump and more about White Middle-Class rage or straight-up bigotry and racism, or owning the Libs or just getting off on chaos and destruction.
Who are the Libs, you ask? Well … actually, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Trump and his cohorts nearly destroy democracy when they attempt to overturn a fair and certified election just because that election determined Trump lost — by a lot. And sorta like how Bill got Ted to attack you in the locker room, Trump instigates a bunch of easily-swayed, low-information thugs to attack the U.S. Capitol to try to overturn the … Phew! Still with me?
Ok, let’s move on. I know that’s a lot to take in.
You asked about Ronny. Ok, remember how he told Ted, “If you touch Cleary again, I’ll kill you?” Well, Ronny actually does kill a guy, but it’s not Ted, you’ll be happy to know (I think). No, Ronny gets sent up river for killing someone who, dare I say, maybe sorta kinda deserved it? His victim was not unlike Teddy, or even Donald Trump, a guy who bullied and abused and swindled. You can probably just Google it. Oh, wait, no you can’t. Scratch that.
Look, Dearmy, I’m not condoning what Ronny did, but what he did was not entirely out of character … for him. It’s kinda like how Dexter’s this serial killer, but he only murders the monstrous people who kinda deserve to be … and there’s another reference you won’t understand because — hello?! — Dexter came out in, what, the 2000s?!
Anyway, I don’t have much more to say to ya, pal, but try not to stress too much over people mispronouncing your name, Diarmuid. They’ll continue to do that throughout your life, but most people are appreciative when you point it out. They’re not all as douchey as Ted. I know it makes you shy and self-conscious. That’s understandable. Just don’t let it crush your self-esteem. Embrace the weirdness of your name. It’s part of what makes you unique. Part of who you are.
More pearls: I know how you feel about homework, but just know that you, we, never stop learning. We never stop seeking to know ourselves better. But it’s cool. It doesn’t always feel like homework. Sometimes it feels more like recess.
Try to be present for those you love and be patient with those you don’t. I don’t mean you should give those you love presents — though, please do that, too — you should just try to be there to listen when you can. Sometimes that’s the best gift of all.
Don’t take democracy for granted. Tell your classmates the same. I mean, you don’t have to stand on a desk and scream about it, but maybe write an essay for Mrs. Porter’s English class. It turns out that some of the ideals you take as given — that there will always be free and fair elections; that no man is above the law, not even the president — aren’t given at all. People need constant reminding and it requires vigilance and reasonable thinking to ensure those core tenets of our republic don’t get terminated by con men and opportunists, or don’t simply disappear because an apathetic public didn’t care enough to insist that the ones who tried to take them away be held accountable.
I know you care, but I can see now that many of my former classmates — your current classmates — need reminding. So please tell them the best way you know-how. Write about it — with humor, if you must — but do write, Dearmy. You’re good at it.
Most of all, though, don’t beat yourself up when you fall, because you will fall. Everyone does, from time to time. And you’ll fail, too. I’m happy to report that you’ll get back up. Over and over again. It’s kind of remarkable how you — how we — do it.
Oh, and lastly: Buy Apple stock! And Google, too! You’re going to have to trust me on that. But don’t mess with bitcoin, though. F*ck that sh*t!