Last weekend I had a revelation in the most unexpected place. It was during 90s night on Saturday when a bunch of millennials in my coastal New Jersey city of Asbury Park get together at the downtown venue to drink and dance to the greatest classic hits of their youth’s decade remixed in a pulsating club atmosphere of smoke and strobe lights.
Somewhere between Britney Spears’ ‘Hit me Baby One More Time’ and Hanson’s ‘Mmmbop’ I caught sight of a man who appeared to be in his 80s standing in the balcony. He was smiling and scoping out the scene; every so often he’d raise his hands, shake his hips, and cheer on the crowd.
“That’s me in 50 years,” I said, raising a drink to the man. “And look, I’m still alone.”
My friend laughed and nudged me as “I saw the sign” started blasting over the speakers.
A few moments later, the club erupted in cheers and shouts as a circle formed around the old man, who had made his way down to the dance floor with his elderly wife.
“Look, future you isn’t alone,” my friend said. “There’s your future wife.”
We watched as the couple danced it out, busting out moves, locked in each other’s gaze, and singing at the top of their lungs. I thought it was funny because they were from another era but somehow embraced the night’s theme with such passionate love you’d think they’d grown up in the 90s and were longing for the time. I watched them hold one another, eyes closed, arms draped around shoulders as they sang into each other’s faces, “Life is demanding without understanding. I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign.”
The song ended and started blending into the next. The crowd whistled and applauded the couple who turned and bowed gracefully to their fans, blowing kisses. On their way out they both scanned the room for a second before laying eyes directly on me. The old woman whispered in her husbands ear as they both smiled at me before making their exit.
“The Kinney’s look great at 80-ish,” I said to my friend as we watched them leave.
I envied them. I wanted to be them someday. I thought perhaps they might have saw it in me.
And suddenly it hit me that this couple looked familiar. I had seen them before I just couldn’t figure out where. One of my friends took a video of their dance and I kept replaying it that night curled up in bed at my apartment. And then it dawned on me… I started scrolling deep in my Instagram feed to a photo I took years ago on the Ocean City boardwalk of this elderly couple walking arm in arm. I went from my friend’s video to the picture and back again, and again, and a few more times. My heart leap. It was absolutely them. I was sure of it.
But those dance moves and the way they held each other reminded me of another instance where I swore this couple must have paid me a visit. It was the Philadelphia Zombie Prom, 2010, during a slow dance. The song was “Earth Angel” but the lyrics were replaced with “Oh Zombie.” I didn’t take a picture, this was just before I got a smartphone and the world was less documented. But the memory was crystal clear because it was one I savored and stored because of how much I loved it.
This beloved annual Philadelphia event drew hundreds of young people to The Trocadero Theatre in Chinatown, decked out in formal zombie attire, splattered with fake blood, and drunk on the venue’s infamous ‘zombie punch.’ I globed liquid latex, makeup and thick oozing blood over my one eye to make it appear gouged out. In my tattered tux I held my zombie date as we danced to the song, but my one eye wandered over to this adorable couple; the stage lights illuminating them.
“They’re old enough to be zombies themselves,” my date joked. I loved how they were so into it, arms draped around one another’s shoulders, gaze locked as they gently sang into each other’s faces. I reveled in it, because I wanted to be them someday.
“I hope when I’m their age I’m still coming to Zombie Prom,” I told my date. She shrugged, as if Zombie Prom could someday get old.
The memory was distinct, and as impossible as it seemed, I was fairly certain this was the same couple.
Another memory burst into my mind’s forefront as I laid beneath the sheets. I was eating at an elegant French restaurant in Montreal one spring several years ago when I was eavesdropping on and envying this… my God, it was this same old couple. I sprung forward, fumbled for the lamp light, and put my glasses on. I walked over to the mirror and ran my fingers through my hair, touching the edges of my face. This felt like one freaky episode, but with a weird sense of clarity I was fairly certain I’d seen these people a handful of times throughout my life. And particularly during moments I specifically wished I wasn’t such a lonely, single man.
Before my mind began wandering off into a demanding, lowly, and depressive state of misunderstanding my present circumstances, I popped a melatonin, flicked the light and hit the pillow.
The next morning I walked back over to the same downtown theater in Asbury, but this time for church.
“Yes, it’s true” I said to my friend after the service, sipping coffee at Cafe Volan. “I go to church in the same place I spend my nights raging.”
I was still mulling over the pastor’s sermon.
“Believe that a new chapter in your life is about to unfold today,” he said. “You need to trust The Director and stop worrying so much about the future. Maybe God’s big plan for our lives is that we wouldn’t spend so much time trying to figure out a big plan for our lives. If you’re looking for a sign, this is it.”
And as I sat there at the cafe I longed for her, whoever she was, as I always have, just wishing we could’ve walked together after the service, hand in hand, into this coffee shop. So much of my life had been spent without her and I felt the heavy weight of her absence in my 29 years of life; my tormented romantic soul wishing we could make up for lost time.
“Who says it won’t be possible to go back?” my friend said from opposite his laptop screen.
“It sounds like some crazy matrix stuff, but by the late 2060’s we may have the opportunity to, believe it or not, revisit and relive past moments in our lifetime.”
“Is this an Elon Musk thing?” I laughed through a swig of coffee.
“Hey man, haven’t you seen Black Mirror on Netflix?” He asked.
“Every episode,” I replied.
“Well then,” he said, closing his laptop. “If you could go back what would be some of the moments you’d relive with your future wife that you didn’t get a chance to?”
I thought about all of my epic travels, the magnificent sights I’ve seen, mountains climbed, glaciers hiked, cities scaled.
“I would’ve loved to have done all those things with her,” I said. “But maybe just the simple, seemingly insignificant, ordinary moments are really when I’d miss her most.”
“I’m just surprised you haven’t run into yourself yet,” my friend laughed. “Knowing you I’d think you’d go back and give yourself a sign.”
And there it was. The great reveal. All of a sudden my eyes were opened, I felt a burst of sunlight splash across my face from the adjacent window, and it was clear that in all reality, the very ones I’d envied last night were her and I all along.