by Donald Schneider
He knew that the boy had for several years endured living a double life of sorts. At home and around his neighborhood, his was the life of ideal boyhood. But at St. Matthew’s, his life had become one of abject misery. His friends around his own little neighborhood of row houses were so accustomed to Bobby that they hardly even noticed any longer the boy’s idiosyncrasies, which had rendered him such a victim of merciless school bullies.
Indeed, Schultz had puzzled for many years as to exactly why he had had to endure what he did. It wasn’t until psychiatry had advanced during his lifetime that he realized that new diagnoses such as “Attention Deficit Disorder” and “Hyperactivity” as well as better recognition of Tourette’s Syndrome held the answer. Unfortunately, these answers came too late to have helped him during his all-important formative years of childhood. He had suffered all his life from having been born just a tad too soon. Now he was here to see that this Bobby Schultz would not.
Schultz looked down at the child and began gently, “I know what life is like for you at school, Bobby. I know how you dread it and how you live for after school and especially for summers. I know how some nights you kneel and say, ‘I pray the Lord my soul to take’. I know what they do to you, and I know how you hide it from your family and friends.”
This was true. St. Matthew’s, like so many parochial schools of the baby boom era, was huge, and never had a single one of his playmates from his neighborhood been in his classroom since the bullying began. As a boy, Schultz had felt such shame at his apparent helplessness to combat the situation that never for a moment had he considered asking his family or friends for help. The shame had been just too great.
Schultz knew that during this past year, when Bobby had been in sixth grade, he had endured the worst school year to date, the worst he ever would. Schultz knew that it had been sheer pride and willpower that had kept him from collapsing into a nervous breakdown. He had had some inner strength that kept him going.
At first, Bobby started to protest, to deny the man’s memory of what he had endured. Then, as if finally realizing it was useless to try to hide anything from this all knowing adult, the boy’s features began to contort, and Schultz knew his younger self was fighting to suppress the tears he had held back for so long. Schultz looked down at the boy and said as gently and kindly as he could, “It’s all right. Go ahead, cry.”
Bobby whimpered, “Boys don’t cry.”
Schultz responded softly, “Just this once, Bobby. No one will ever know.”
The last of his emotional reserves exhausted, the boy capitulated to the catharsis that his older self had forced upon them both. What began as a trickle became a virtual flood, as if all the years of the inactivity he had enforced upon his tear ducts now caused them to spring to life with a vengeance. Schultz watched the pitiful sight, while sporadically wiping the boy’s cheeks.
“Why do they pick on me? Why do they make fun of me? Why? Why don’t the sisters stop them? It’s supposed to be a Catholic school, a Christian school. Why did Sister Mary Peter hate me so much? Why did she hit me so much? Why did she have to put me in the closet and call me a baby in front of the entire class when I begged to be let out because I was so scared in there?”
At the very mention of the name of Sister Mary Peter, a feeling of rage swelled within Schultz that he struggled to combat lest it consume him in front of his younger self. She had been the one person he had met in his entire life whom he would without compunction call a sadist. God forgive him, how often he prayed there was a Hell so that woman would burn forever.
He fought to regain his composure, as he knew he must for the sake of his younger self. He said with total empathy, “I don’t know the answer why people sometimes act as cruelly as they do, Bobby. But I’m here to help you, to change all that.”
The boy cried to him, “Then why did you wait so long? Why couldn’t you have come back when I was younger?”
Schultz felt a pang of guilt. Perhaps he should have risked coming to him at age eleven. He looked down and answered, “I just didn’t think you were ready until now. Maybe I should have tried earlier. Please forgive me.”
The youngster nodded, as Schultz continued to wipe the tears off Bobby’s face. As they began to slow, Schultz smiled kindly and asked, “Don’t you think it’s about time I untie you?” The boy had no objection.
After rubbing his wrists and wiping his eyes dry with his hands, Bobby suddenly held them in front of his face. Trying to recover his spirits and pride, he said to them, while mustering the start of a smile, “I never thought I’d be so happy just to see you guys again!”
Schultz was both surprised and encouraged by the child’s apparent resiliency. As he finished untying the boy’s feet, he realized what a fool he had been. What did money matter in the final analysis? Oh God, if only this alter ego lying in front of him could have been his son instead. With more pain than he could ever have put into words, he realized that he had nothing at all.
Schultz looked at his watch. He said to his younger self, “It’s almost noon. How about some lunch? I saw a diner around here that looks quiet. We have a lot to talk about. As I said, I want you home by dinner. I don’t want your mother worried sick. You know how she is.”
Bobby responded, “Sure. And I know.”
The man added, “You can leave now if you want, Bobby. I’ll give you money for a cab. But I hope you’ll stay with me for the afternoon. There is so much I have to say to you and so many ways I want to help you.”
The boy looked thoughtful and then replied after a few moments, “No, I’ll stay. I know who you are, as weird as it seems.” He paused and added affectingly, “Besides, it hurt too much for me to leave now.”
Schultz looked into the boy’s face and then turned away. He bit his lip and said nothing at all.
* * *
They sat in a booth in the nearly empty diner. Schultz thought that the place must be on the ropes if this was their typical luncheon “crowd.” The food was standard diner fare, and the boy and he decided to order hamburgers and French-fries. When Bobby told Schultz that he wanted a Coke, he suggested, “How about milk instead?”
“Milk?” the youth responded almost incredulously.
“I know, you hate milk. In fact, you have almost a phobia about it. I’ve been drinking it since age twenty. You can overcome almost anything, Bobby, if you put your mind to it. One day I just said to myself I was going to drink a glass of milk. I gagged on it for a while, but kept at it. After a while, I grew to like it. If you can’t hack it straight at first, then drink milkshakes. You’re too skinny, Bobby. I want you to start eating more, and slower. You rush through your meals. In fact, you rush through everything, and that’s part and parcel of your overall problems.”
For the next hour, Schultz explained to the boy what Tourette’s Syndrome is, and that he doesn’t always realize how other people see him. He told Bobby, in simpler language, that this condition causes him to have obsessive thoughts, thoughts that unnaturally reoccur on a regular basis. Because the mind dislikes this happening, it reacts in a compulsive manner as a defense in an effort to dispel the repetitive thought patterns; causing the body to react in what looks to be a jerking movement of the head and sometimes other parts of the body. Such unnatural movements are called “tics.”
He also told Bobby that although he had a relatively mild case, it was still noticeable to others. The result was that he often came across as clownish and as a nervous wreck. He sometimes looked to others like the characters played by Don Knotts, the actor. Of course, all the stress that the boy had had to endure had aggravated his naturally high-strung disposition, resulting in a vicious cycle.
He explained to his younger self that the reason why he doesn’t do better in school was that he had Attention Deficit Disorder, which often is associated with Tourette’s. The boy had trouble concentrating for any length of time and became easily bored. This was why he often made such a mess of matters. He’d have his mind on what to do next before he finished what he was currently doing. This was what often caused him to dress in such a sloppy and careless manner, which added to people’s negative reactions to him. He told him that he was also hyperactive, which meant that he had excessive levels of energy. This was partly why he had trouble sleeping and why he talked so much.
Bobby seemed to take this all in without argument or embarrassment, as if he had fully come to terms with the actual identity of the man telling him these things. He asked his older self if there were medicines he could take to help him. Schultz explained that there would be, but unfortunately the boy would have to wait for them until some years into the future. For a number of reasons, he told the youngster, he couldn’t bring them back to him. The primary one was that he wasn’t a doctor, and there would be no one to monitor the boy’s reaction. However, he also assured Bobby that there were other ways to help himself.
Schultz explained various relaxation techniques, such as elementary meditation on his breathing. He told him a lot of his progress would come with simple effort. He must train himself to concentrate for greater lengths of time; force himself to talk less and to stop responding impulsively without thought. He told Bobby to count to three in his mind before answering anyone, and to ten if he felt he was becoming angry.
He told him to make a very firm effort to speak slower, when he did speak. Most people in the Northeast tend to speak rapidly, but Bobby exceptionally so. People often had trouble understanding him. This too, he told the boy, was part of his hyperactivity. He simply must learn to relax more and take life at a slower pace.
Schultz monitored Bobby’s eating of his meal and pointed out from time to time that he was rushing through it, as his older self had always done then. He told him that by eating slower he would learn to savor his food more and thus eat more of it. To Bobby at that age, eating had always seemed like a chore that had to be completed before he could go out and play again.
He told the boy that he simply had to learn to be patient and do things in their proper place and time and to do so with care. He explained that the youth had to learn to have confidence in the future and to stop acting like now was the only time he would ever have to play or do something else he enjoyed.
Had anyone else spoken to twelve-year-old Bobby Schultz like this, the youngster would have reacted defensively from pride and dismissed the advice out of hand. Others had made similar comments in the past. With the stark realization of who was now telling him these things, the boy realized the truth of it with a jolt.
Schultz instructed, “In addition to eating more and slower, I want you to start doing pushups every morning. Make time for them no matter what! I want you to be up to fifty at a time within a year. Until recently, I did two hundred; which, of course, means you can, too, one day. The better built you are, and the better you look, the less of a target you will be for bullies. Understand?”
The boy nodded in assent.
Schultz continued, “Learn to deal with repetitive thoughts. Don’t try to fight them from reflex. Learn to sort of float through them and ease them away. With practice, you can do this. If you don’t, you might eventually develop verbal tics as an attempted defense mechanism. You might shout inappropriate things at inappropriate times.”
“Above all, Bobby, when you get older, don’t ever start smoking! People like us are especially prone to addictive behavior, and smoking does tend to improve concentration. But the price paid for that benefit is way too terrible to bear. Do you promise me?”
The youngster nodded yes, but responded, “Mom and Dad smoke.”
Schultz sighed slowly and said, “I know. Dad will quit in a few years and will be all right. But try to get mom to quit. Keep at her the best you can. Be a pest if you have to. As I recall, you seem to have no small talent in that area.”
The boy’s face took on a look of alarmed comprehension. He had always been quick on the uptake. He asked apprehensively, “How long?”
Schultz responded, “Not until well after you’re grown. But the sooner you can get her to quit, the better her chances will be.”
Bobby nodded sadly.
Schultz noted, “You did well with your meal. Remember, take your time. How was the milkshake?”
“Well,” Bobby answered, “Coke would have been better. But I’ll try milk from now on. I promise. I am too skinny, and look what it has done for you. You’re chubby!”
“That, Robert,” as the man unconsciously used the boy’s formal name, as his mother had always done when she had been angry with him, “is a prime example of an impulsive remark! Think before you speak, remember? Besides, as I told you, we have separate timelines now and are, in effect, two different people. That means that not only can I spank you without feeling it, I won’t even remember it — at least not from your end! Understand, young man?”
“Understood!” the youth grinned and responded.
“At least you have little worry about drinking. We might be half Irish, but we can’t take the booze! Three beers and you will get dizzy. Four and you’ll puke. That will fortunately keep you away from the stuff for the most part.”
They spent the next few hours in a park. Schultz showed his younger self how to practice the relaxation and meditation techniques he had spoken of. They talked about old times, some of them recent to Bobby, but seemingly ancient to his older self.
When Bobby quite naturally asked Schultz about the future, he told the boy that he wasn’t going to tell him too much about it. He thought it would be too dangerous for him to know, both for himself and his new timeline. Schultz told Bobby that he had decided to destroy the time travel device, which he declined to show his younger self fearing that it might whet the youngster’s appetite to follow in his alternate self’s footsteps.
He did tell him not to worry about Vietnam for either his brother or himself and that the draft would end. But he also told Bobby that he didn’t want him to enlist in the service, as Schultz had anyway. He said he had done so to be able to afford college, but told him not to worry about that consideration.
“Besides,” Schultz said, “the Navy is where I started smoking.”
Bobby’s face seemed puzzled. He remarked, “But you just got done telling me not to smoke.”
The man asked grimly, “Why do you think I told you?”
It took a moment for it to sink in. The boy asked with alarm, “You’re not sick, are you?”
Schultz took a deep breath and responded, “Yes, Bobby. I’m afraid I am. I’m very sick. I don’t have much more time. But that doesn’t have to happen to you.”
The boy’s face took on a completely devastated appearance, one of almost shock. “No! Please! No!” he implored.
“Bobby, I told you, it doesn’t have to happen to you.”
“But I don’t want it to happen to you!” the child pleaded, as if addressing a newly found messiah threatening to ascend into Heaven without him.
Schultz grabbed his younger self by the shoulders and said, “Bobby, even God can’t change the past. I know that now. We can only change the future, which is why I came back. In a real sense, I’ll live on through you. If you care about me, then you’ll do all that I ask. Just promise me that. Please.”
Copyright © 2006 by Donald Schneider