Admitting that his project is manipulative, the man can be sly. After his high school literature teacher claims to recall the younger Hemley's impressive deconstruction of Faulkner's The Unvanquished 32 years earlier, the modern Hemley marvels that "the only thing that would make the moment more perfect would be if I'd ever read The Unvanquished."
Do Hemley's do-overs do him any good? Occasionally he doubts the feasibility of the entire enterprise. "When I put down my bag in my old room," he reports, "a wave of nostalgia doesn't wash over me." But after mowing his old lawn and dining with his parents' old friends, he is touched—especially when the current owner of his childhood home finds him a fragment of a familiar '70s orange shag carpet. "But sometimes the simple fact (that I am a grown-up) momentarily escapes me," Hemley observes. "Or maybe I let it escape and happily watch it float off like a lost balloon in the sky."
The key to Hemley's fulfillment, it appears, is finally receiving the praise deferred lo these many decades. A modern-day junior-high coach admires his grit for getting out there with the boys on the touch-football field. He basks in applause from the audience attending the children's Christmas play, for which he traveled hundreds of miles to re-deliver the line he had flubbed as a 7-year-old.
"There's something about failing in public in front of your parents at an early age that doesn't wash out easily," Hemley writes. "Receiving their compliments is the next best thing to receiving the belated congratulations of my own parents."
Thanks to his antic exercise in physical retrospection, Hemley manages to leave his dreaded junior high school where it belongs—in the past—once and for all. From now on, he will take comfort in the knowledge that "the hall where I was almost beat up is just a hall."
Thus does Do-Over! emerge as a serious quest: "It's the little patches we use to cover our mistakes," Hemley concludes, "that define us for the good."
Washington writer Charlie Clark is the author of a coming-of-age novel, Finish High School at Home. Other than that, he can’t recall ever having done anything embarrassing. He previously reviewed Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL from Someone Who Was There on AARP The Magazine Online.