Change Your Past In One Easy Step
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Once upon a time, we used to take photos with a potato and print them using noisy, colour-guzzling machines. That was how you created that stuck-in-time image of you being you at whatever age you were at the time. And then you would take that photo, and put it in a special book, just for photos –let’s call it an album, even though there’s no music involved.

And then, sometimes, when you get older and then old, you take the album down off the top shelf and run your finger across the cover, marvelling at the depth of dust that had accumulated there. It hadn’t been that long since you visited those memories, right? But we all get busy, and our pasts get further from us every day, so maybe it has been that long.

You flip and flop through the book, the pages making their own satisfying plastic pocket peeling noise as you do so. Then you hesitate over one particular photo, and you free it from its cellophane prison. And that’s just the beginning.  

That was how I came to be looking at an old photo one day. 

I try not to look at it, because this was the photo where I was balanced precariously between ‘quite sane’ and ‘certifiably insane’ but sometimes, on days like today, I look at the photo. 

And I think: 

To my own surprise 

To the surprise of others (I could can hide things well) 

‘I looked happy.’ 

Who am I with? Oh, yes, friends I no longer have such intimate contact with, just the bleak communication over social media. I point at them, and think in my head: Her, her and her had at least one baby each – he, well, he’s in prison; he’s not here anymore; he's married to one of the hers.

I’m on the outskirts of the photo, just visible, throwing out a peace sign with one hand and holding candy floss in a relaxed grip in the other. I’m smiling, as well, slouching against one of the unnamed hers, with a twinkle in my eye that could be honest excitement for a day at the funfair, or could have been the budding mental health crisis that would build and build and build until it exploded, red and messy, everywhere, on everyone. 

I ran my finger slowly down the side of the photo, aching to get a paper cut, aching for that old pain to be reflected in new blood. When that doesn’t happen, I take it as a sign, and find myself absently tracing a brightly coloured stall in the background of the photograph. I could barely read the name, between the poor resolution and the cursive writing, but it was something like ‘-ange your pa-‘… 

Then, there was a tingling in my hands; my fingers went numb, which made me clumsily drop the photo, that landed face down; our faces down, coloured side down, funfair down. On the back, there was an inscription I hadn’t seen before, and one I had certainly not written. 

Change your past in one easy step! 

Got answers to questions you had ten years ago? 

Want to tell past you something of serious importance that could cause a risk to national security? 

Do you miss the Old You?* Tell them all about NewYou! 

Why wait!? 

Write to: 

Change Your Future Ltd.

248 Main Street


BN40 4YN 

We’ll find the Old You and make sure they get your letter! 

Once in a lifetime offer, never happening again, you’re not special, Change Your Future Ltd. is not responsible for any changes to the future that changes to the past may cause and visa versa, flip-flopped, and all of the above is covered by the Terms and Conditions (Terms and Conditions not included.)

*Old You doesn’t think of you.

I can’t say that even I didn’t find it totally bizarre. I scrambled in my brain for some memory of mania or being so orbiting planets high that would excuse the note as something benign. But the handwriting wasn’t mine, the dust on the album excused that a long time had passed since my last interaction with any photos in there, and the timeline just didn’t work. It was the handwritten gold and silver font that told me that this was Something. What ‘Something’, I couldn’t possibly know. However, I also knew it couldn’t possibly do any harm to write a letter to Old Me – at the very least, it would be a cathartic exercise. 

I retrieved some loose-leaf paper from the printer, wrestling with the machine for a second before ripping some free. Then I found a well-chewed, well-loved, nice writing teal-inked pen from my desk. The office chair slid easily on the hardwood, so I let myself enjoy rolling the tiny room I called a study for a while, before pushing myself back over to the cluttered writing desk. When I reached my desk, I put pen to paper. 

I didn’t write. Not yet. Instead, I closed my eyes and tried to straighten my thoughts into something clear and concise. When my eyes opened, I was surprised to find that I had already began writing. 

‘Dear Younger Me, 

This is You, Now writing to You, Then. Don’t worry about how. Concentrate on the why. 

We both potentially have a chance to change somethings that I know we would want changed. 

But you do have to listen to you. Out of all people, I think you find listening to yourself the most difficult thing. And this isn’t easy to write, either. But I feel like if I don’t do this, the chance may leave as quickly as it came, and I’ll never know if this was possible at all. We’ll never know.’ 

Exhaling, I try to think of a way to write what I want in a way that could be palatable. Paragraphs upon paragraphs, that old school info-dump would never appeal to Younger Me, even if she did somehow believe we were both the same person. So, instead, I decided to go with the concise nature of a list that would be easy to read and absorb. (Was I patronising Younger Me as someone who couldn’t pay attention?)  

’1.   Don’t take advantage of the fact you have friends. 

When you get older and they get married and have babies that look like little old men (apparently, you’re not meant to say that to the parents – dinner suddenly gets very awkward), you’ll find you don’t really have them anymore. And sometimes, just sometimes, you’ll really miss them. And maybe do more to keep in contact with those friends and step out of your comfort zone to make more! It’ll be okay. The worst they can say is no. 

2.    Wear belly tops! 

Okay, I know you hate the idea right now (believe me, I remember) but when we get older, it is very inadvisable to wear belly tops. You need to do it now, because you’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in, and, at this rate, the best shape we’ll ever be in! 

3.    Don’t argue with mum so much. 

I know you think your opinions or morals aresometimes often right but there’s often not a wrong or right with stuff you argue about; just opinions and thoughts and passionate feelings. You may think you’re correct and could put the world to rights, but trust me, you change you ropinion on some very controversial topics as you get older. 

4.    Please don’t dye your hair black! 

You’ll be a goth for all of six months and then regret many things, but you’ll regret your hair colour the most. Damn stuff is impossible to come out, and it will impact the condition of your hair forever. I know it’s so minor and so dumb but I battle with the ghost of dark hair until this day; it tangles unbearably and is so fragile that a stiff breeze could set strands and strands free. 

5.    Kiss more boys. And girls. Kiss everyone! 

I know you – we – are shy people but you miss so many opportunities to be happy and to invite a new person into that radius of happiness, too. Prince(ss) Charming isn't just going to come and knock on your door. Reach out your hand instead, capture kisses and smiles and ‘I love yous’and it all feels so beautiful and new.’ 

I paused. So far, most things I wrote of were, admittedly, pretty shallow, self-directed and largely unimpactful. Younger Me was inherently selfish, because they were young, and young people are entitled to be those things. But there was something in my life, something that came from my craziness, something that caused damage not only to Younger Me, and Now Me, but my friends, my family, my jobs, my animals, my futures – their future, and my future.   

My gaze drifted to the scars on my arms, the imperfect slashes and lines and shapes. They had their own unique textures; bumpy and raised, flat and smooth, dotted with signs of suturing, some were still red and itchy with healing, others were white and old, the biggest scar numb and incapable of feeling; thin old person skin protecting the fragile veins underneath.  

'6.   Never hurt yourself. (Physically or mentally or emotionally or psychically or any other way you can think of.) 

You’re going to want to, but don’t. This may seem like an abstract idea if the thought hasn’t come to you yet, but trust me, you will think of it, and that thought will become clearer and clearer as you get sicker and sicker until it feels like a mission you must fulfil. Instead of doing that –Ask for help! As soon as you feel different or wrong or sad or tangled up or scared or anything bad. Self-care means sharing self-feelings and doing self-help; there’re loads of people and charities and phonelines out there who want to help and hear you. I know you’re very scared of hurting her, but mum doesn’t even have to know; I remember fearing that.  

Smaller things – 

* Look for love in all the right places. 

* Put yourself out there for things, just all the things. 

* Brush your damn teeth (twice a day!) 

* Be proud of what you achieve. 

* Never ask permission to be yourself. 

* Stop acting like other people are more interesting or unique than you, because there is only one you – us – and we are definitely unique. 

Love, because you should always love yourself, 
Older You.’

I felt like a bit of an idiot when I finished the letter. I leaned back, chewed the pen again, and scanned the letter five or six times. Maybe I should take on some of this advice myself and put myself out there by sending the letter, even though it was insane to think it would actually end up anywhere that made a difference; let alone back in time. It was like a child writing to Santa, the same desperation and neediness and trust on information plucked from somewhere unknown, even with the address.

But, at that time, I couldn’t argue with the liberating feeling that came from writing down the advice. I stood, found an envelope after some rummaging and swearing (who fucking sends letters in this day and age?!) and copied the bland address onto it before folding the letter neatly into it. 

As I went to get my coat,the guinea pigs were squeaking in their cage. I smiled and went over to them, kneeling in front of them and fondly scratching Salt’s chin. “I’ve just got to go to the post box and then I’ll give you some vegetables,” I soothed, gently touching the more nervous Pepper’s nose. 

Envelope clutched in scarred and unsure hands, I slipped out of my flat, wearing my coat like a cape; a superhero on a mission to save the past from itself.

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