Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
—William Wordsworth, The Prelude
1 Charlie’s body jerks backward against a mattress. His arms and legs snap inward to clasp his gut. Panic squeezes the air from his lungs with a grunt, and he can hear his heart pounding raggedly. His skin is clammy with sweat. A tight fear clamps his chest.
Reason returns in slow pulses. The car. The truck. Where am I? Hospital room? No. My apartment. A nightmare.
Dark silence all around him. The fear eases, loses its grip, and his legs relax, so his feet can touch the bottom sheet of the bed. He makes his fists unclench.
But something isn’t right. His body feels wrong. His hands look for his gut—and find it gone. Where his comfortable paunch and frizzy mat of hair were, he finds smooth skin and taut muscle.
Faster than thought he grabs for his genitals. Still there, limp. He is still a man and himself. He starts to relax again, his breathing slower. He slowly runs his hands over his body, discovering hard, smooth surfaces that are strange yet oddly familiar.
He reaches for his jaw with both hands. The beard is gone. Am I dreaming? Charlie wonders. He chuckles. What a joke—first I die, and then I have my teenage body. Still dreaming. Charlie swings his legs out
of the bed and sits up quickly. I’m moving so fast in this dream, he thinks. He rubs the side of his head and finds long, wavy hair, slightly greasy.
He sniffs his hand. The hair smells of smoke. No, not cigarette smoke. Dope.
He laughs to himself, a dry chuckle, then reaches for the dim outline of a lamp. He finds its switch with fingers that seem to know where it is. The room bursts with light, and he flinches. A multicolored blur greets him.
Ah. Right, I’m still myopic in my dream. His hands explore the bedside table and find wire-rimmed glasses. He puts them on and his vision is perfect.
There is a poster of Jimi Hendrix in a surrealistic painted silk jacket, flanked by Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, all three sporting Afros and wild looks. Beside it is a poster of Cream, Eric Clapton in a dated bomber jacket. Just like the poster he had on his bedroom wall in high school . . .
This bedroom wall. And this bedroom. He feels a cool prickling at the back of his neck.
Then Charlie notices a Garrard record player stacked on top of a Marantz receiver. His Marantz receiver. He reaches out and touches the large volume button on the Marantz. The feeling of the cool metal terrifies him. I’ve never had such detailed sensation in a dream before.
He turns to look around and sees the full-length mirror on the door. He sees himself at sixteen, long hair, smooth face, large dark eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses, hairless chest with its swelling pectoral muscles.
Charlie sits down on the bed and begins to cry.
I’ve lost it. My second divorce and my dead-end career at GWU and I’ve lost it. I’m insane. They probably have me on drugs up to my gills, and I’m wearing a straitjacket in the loony bin.
This is how insanity feels. Not like those movies with special effects. Sharp and clear and still crazy.
He flops back onto the bed. It is just too confusing, too much—dying, and then this. His young body finishes its sobbing; the tears ebb away. Who needs self-pity? I’m forty-eight years old and I will survive this, too. They’ll keep me on the staff in Social Studies. I have tenure—that must cover even psychotic breakdown. Who else will teach those first-years American Government 101? Nobody else is willing.
He sits up again and looks down at his naked body. He notices a thick leather band around his right wrist. It has a peace sign emblazoned on it. Charlie snorts. What a detailed hallucination!
He looks at himself in the mirror again, hesitantly at first, and then with a smile. Long brown hair, dead white skin, pug nose, and large eyes. Dude, you’re in the sixties! No HIV, no Moral Majority, the best music, no heartburn—and . . . Charlie looks down. Energy flows through his muscles as his heart speeds up, a sensation he has not felt for decades. Maybe I can get something out of this hallucination.
He looks around the room again. A stack of textbooks on a chair, with two three-ring binders below them, stuffed with paper. His chest of drawers has a red T-shirt hanging on a handle, with another peace symbol silk-screened on it in black. A pair of blue jeans crumpled on the floor by the door.
His alarm clock says 4:32, and the dark hallway outside is leaden, scented with a faint flower aroma. Something Mom used to spray . . . A fresh calendar shows that it’s January 1968, the days blocked out beneath a naked girl draped over a motorcycle. 1968. Every day is crossed out before January 14, and that day is outlined in black, with Birthday! written inside.
This is, this was, my birthday, Charlie thinks. Thirty-two years ago. I’m sixteen. Hah! Sixteen, ready to go, no back taxes, no alimony, no backache. He looks in the mirror again and puts his hand on his stomach. He looks at his strong, young chest and sighs.
The sharp, lancing shriek of the truck crushing the life out of him briefly comes back, but he pushes it away with a shudder. Maybe I’m
in heavy sedation during surgery, he thinks. The image of an operating room, bright lights, green-coated surgeons, and white-clad nurses hovering over his illuminated body comes to him. But it doesn’t stay. This world does.
Screw it! Let’s see how long I last in 1968. My parents are still alive, probably down the hall. My little sister, Catherine, had, has, the bedroom next to them, thirteen-year-old terror that she is, baiting me about girls, Trudy especially, every chance she gets. But I know she dreamed about Paul McCartney, like every other pubescent girl on the block. Dreams, he corrects himself. Let’s do this right.
His young body is fully energized, so Charlie goes over the contents of the room, his hands carelessly moving over his youthful diversions. There are my albums; those were—are—my paperbacks: Hesse, Castaneda, Marx, Huxley, Orwell, Chandler, Hemingway, crisp Heinlein, obtuse Marcuse, wild Lafferty, Greenway. Greenway? I don’t remember Greenway. Is there a glitch in my hallucination?
He opens each drawer in his chest of drawers, inspecting the clothing, carefully cleaned and folded by his mother. Even his underwear, uniformly white. Did they have colored underwear in 1968? No memory of that.
Charlie lies back on his bed, letting the outer world slip away, breathing easy, and . . . recalls. He can remember all his academic history, his doctoral thesis, troubles with women along the way. But below that lies a whole plane of teenage Charlie, sharp and clear and somehow more immediate. A layer of life led. That time he was afraid he’d drown in Lake Alice, the late-summer water dragging at him like syrup. His F in ninth-grade science. The heavy, damp smell of the boys’ locker room. For a long while he lies there, mind spinning.