Letter to a Future Self
by Pete Sierra
A big, ugly man with a big, ugly dog stood on my front lawn. I had just parked in my driveway.
“I hope you’re going to pick that up,” I said.
“Nope,” he said with a grin, flashing two rows of teeth fit for a horse.
“This isn’t funny, mister. You’re violating a city ordinance. If you don’t pick that up right now, I’ll report you.” I could tell this unkempt brute didn’t reside in our neighborhood.
“My dog... how you fancy people put it? Oh, yeah. My dog just made a statement about your big house. That ain’t against the law, is it?”
His laugh matched his teeth. As I watched him walk away, an irrational wish to start my car and run him over entered my head. I was aghast! Do you want to injure this man over a turd? Of course not, but the impulse struck me like lightning.
Two days later, I noticed a fresh deposit on the lawn. The beautiful crisp morning lost its luster. The impulse to hurt him flashed again, and with it came fear. Was it fear of him? Sure, he, or his dog could tear me apart, but that wasn’t it — I felt trapped by his disrespect and by my reaction to it. This ridiculous situation seemed to bring up the worst in me.
You’re an intelligent man. Where is the problem? The landscapers will dispose of that mess. Just forget it.
I did forget it for a few days. Then I saw him walking toward my house. I parked next to him.
“I hope you’re not walking your dog to my lawn.”
“Yep.” He gave me an ugly smirk.
“Why are you doing this?”
“My dog likes your house. It must smell like crap.” He spoke with a sandy drawl as if dust coated his throat.
“This time I’ll call the police for sure.”
“Then my dog will take care of you.” He let go of the leash.
His dog leaped forward. It thrust its huge head inside the car. Its bark boomed. My body fell sideways seeking the protection of the passenger seat. Still its canines seemed too near. His saliva sprinkled my face. I cowered against the opposite door.
“Isn’t this fun?” he yelled above the barking. “Think I’ll be as scared of the police?” He pulled the dog back and walked to my lawn.
With shaky fingers I dialed 911. The operator interrupted me as soon as I mentioned the dog.
“Please, sir, don’t call this number unless it’s an emergency.”
“This is an emergency.”
“Don’t yell at me, sir. A dog defecating in your lawn, a dog barking at you is not an emergency. Please call your local police station and report the incident.”
“What’s the number?”
She hung up.
My illusions about civilization vanished with that click. A zebra grazing on an African savanna was just as safe as I was on my street. I drove to a gun shop and bought a gun.
From then on, he and his dog showed up every day. The man took a perverse pleasure in taunting me. Why was he doing it? What have I done to him? Not a thing came to mind, except that he was a sadistic psychopath. But those were the wrong questions to ask. Why was I playing along?
Twice the police responded to my calls. Of course, he was gone by the time they arrived. I didn’t know his name or his address. The officers promised to keep an eye open for him, but didn’t try too hard to hide their amusement.
On a Sunday morning, he came by. I saw him from my window. Maple leaves rained on my front lawn. As if ugliness were contagious, the beauty of the moment fled. As soon as he walked away I got in my car and followed him at a safe distance. Two blocks away he got inside a beat-up car. Two miles into the chase, my quarry gave me the finger and took off.
I was able to keep him in sight. I doubted I’d have the nerve to go much faster. As we drove through a deserted street, the sadist stopped and his car shot backwards toward me. I jammed on the brakes and clutched the steering wheel. I had no doubt this nut intended to plow into my car. I closed my eyes and heard his brakes screeching. Nothing. His car was inches away from mine. He was laughing his head off. Wheels screeching, my tormentor, sped away. Too rattled to follow him, I drove home.
Michael, these my last thoughts, I write for you with the detachment of those who hope for nothing. Tomorrow I’ll be gone. I have already said goodbye to my family. They tried to be cheerful for my sake.
“See you in a few days”, said my wife.
“Everything will be the same soon, Dad,” said my daughter.
I smiled and nodded, but knew better. There will be no next time, and they knew it too.
Tomorrow will be the day of my execution. As you will find out, they don’t call it that anymore. Surgical memory rehabilitation is the official name. Nice euphemism for mental annihilation. Tomorrow, after surgery, I won’t remember anyone I knew, or anything I did, or anything I ever thought in my life. I won’t know any detail of my former life, but all my skills will be left intact so that you, Michael, can earn a living. My endocrine system will be tuned to perfection to make you a model citizen.
This might not seem punishment enough for a murderer, but to me it’s as good as death.
I have as much reason to believe you’ll be me, as a man dying today has to believe that the first baby born after his death will be his reincarnation.
Michael, in two weeks, you’ll fly to a different city where you’ll meet my wife and daughter for the first time. They will run to you, hug and kiss you with all their love. You’ll feel nothing.
I have no illusions about your future role as husband and father. The divorce rate for these sorts of couples is eighty-nine percent. This is the reason I write this letter. I want to tell you how much you, well, I, loved these women. They are precious, Michael.
Michael, no one can put into words for you that living feeling of being your former self. I wrote an autobiography for you, which the escort to your new city will give you with this letter. For you it’ll be no different than reading the biography of a distant ancestor.
The government knows that a biography won’t resuscitate a former self. That’s why they allow this kind of communication. They know that words don’t have the hypnotic magic of living memory. In this “new world” we still believe people can be possessed by evil thoughts and memories.
Maybe, they’re right! There are demonic thoughts that sneak inside and take up residence. When our minds become hell, we can’t help hurting others. Which brings me to that question that you will ask yourself: “Why did I kill that man?”
Not an easy question, ‘why’. We can’t ever be sure it has been fully answered. So why did I kill him? Maybe fear, not of him, but of losing my self-respect. Thoughts asked: what kind of man are you? You can’t even protect your lawn. He thinks you are a coward. Do you believe he’ll stop at the lawn. Why not your wife? Would you protect her any better?
Tortured by those thoughts, I indulged fantasies of violence, amused myself by planning his murder.
I’d walk to him and shoot him first, then his dog would jump on me and bite me. I could tell the police he sicked the dog on me and I had to shoot it. Then he went for my gun and the gun went off.
It was just a way to release my anger, you understand. I wasn’t serious about it.
One day, all those thoughts reached critical mass and exploded into action. A neighbor watched the whole thing from her window.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this murder was the act of a sadistic psychopath,” said the prosecutor to the jury, pointing at me.
“You just sealed your fate with that stupid chuckle, Michael. Kiss your memories goodbye,” my lawyer said.
“Oh, God! I know. I couldn’t help it. A sadistic psychopath, that’s what I called him.”
The sky outside my window is getting light. I must stop now. Soon they’ll come for me. Beware of demonic thoughts. I know you’ll have a chip in your brain to prevent violence, but those thoughts will torture you anyway. That’s what they do best.
Good luck, Michael!
Your former self,
Copyright © 2008 by Pete Sierra