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The Window of Youth
The Window of Youth
“The storybook,” I called it. A land full of unending magic. A cup of dreams that no one believed in. A page rich with the impossible. A sanctuary of colorful youth. It stretched as far as the Himalayan Mountains of India and was as wide as the Sahara Desert of Africa. Sometimes it was upside down or twisted into an intricate tube that you could slide down for years before reaching the end. At times, everything was edible and at others, it was all deathly poisonous. But there was one thing that could never change, which was that it was mine.
I was three years old when I found it, crushed between a shaken wall that stood idly in the middle of the cornfield. I remember peering through its shiny, glass surface that glowed with the morning colors when the light shone through it. Every day, I would run over to the wall and look at the little girl on the other side of the window, and we would smile and tap on the delicate glass. She looked just like me with the same long, brown hair and bright green eyes like the sea during a storm. We never spoke a word to each other but rather listened to the thoughts and playful ideas swirling around in our childish minds. I longed to be on the other side of the window and play with her and prance around like a deer on dew filled grass in the morning. But she never let me see the world she lived in behind the thin glass pane because her face remained in the window frame, smiling and crying when I did. And although I marveled at the familiarity of her, I yearned to explore the world behind the glass.
April 15: the day I took my first steps in the world I had dreamt of. The wind was howling as fierce as a wolf on a winter night, and the sea of tall grass in the cornfield wavered and swirled elegantly. I sat underneath my bedroom window huddled in a tight ball waiting for the scratch of shutters against the wall to slowly fade away. My grandma called from the kitchen, “Mara, are you alright in there?”
“Yes,” I replied quietly, silently fearing for the wall out in the cornfield that I had been so excited to run to before the storm hit. But just as my grandma said as she pulled me into our cabin an hour ago, it passed and the sun was unveiled from the ominous clouds above. I raced outside and down the porch steps with the crooked door slamming behind me as I struggled through the tangled cornfield. There it was, standing with poise in its own little open area. I thought for a moment that the storm had been too weak to break this marvelous wall, until I saw the window. The glass had shattered into pieces and swept across the open area, leaving an open space between the window frame. My heart thumped like Indian drums as I saw the pieces of the girl in each sliver of glass that I walked by. However, this wasn’t the reason why I was filled with bewilderment and excitement at the storm’s remains. I stood breathing in and out in front of the opening before my face, taking in the scene that lay before my eyes. It was then that I climbed through the once closed window and took my first step.
I could remember the moment when I was nine months old, and I took my first big step towards a long and successful life. Now that I was repeating that step, the memory became buried at the bottom of the ocean, and I felt like a baby bird spreading its wings at the edge of the nest and leaping into the fresh air. I landed in a cornfield much like the one I had come from with the tall stalks dancing harmoniously in the calm wind. I began to walk slowly and then faster and faster until I was no longer in the cornfield but in a wide open plain covered in lush, green grass that bore bright sunflowers that reached into the sky. In the distance, a single raindrop dropped out of the cotton clouds onto the soil where a big, beautiful tree began to sprout. It grew long branches and fat, colorful leaves that cupped the rain when it fell, over flowing onto the earth at the base of the trunk to form a glossy, new pond.
I looked to my left to see millions of butterflies smother the air out of a cocoon that hung on one of many jungle vines spreading so far back that you would never see the end. In front of me hung the sun on a fishing pole that a lonely giant held as he sat on the tallest mountain. I reached into the shining ball of fire to bring out the sweetest honey a child could ever taste. And this world was the sweetest place a child could ever be.
As I licked the sweet honey from my tiny fingers, I couldn’t help noticing a large beast drinking from the pond beneath the magnificent tree. I skipped over there with my flowery sundress flying in the breeze. The beast was as white as snow with a flowing mane that glistened with crushed crystals. As it looked up from its drink, droplets of water from its mouth piercing the surface of the water, I saw that the beast had stunning turquoise eyes that could entrance even the blind. It was now, when the beast revealed and spread its wings, that I knew that magic was real. I held onto its tail and swung myself onto the beast’s back as it took off into the sky. I yelled with joy as the air rushed against my face and combed my long, brunette hair with elegant precision. “I’m flying!” I yelled to this wondrous new world. My voice echoed through the mountains that stretched as high as the heavens, powdered with cinnamon and sugar. I could see deserts with dunes that wove in and out the landscape and oceans that splashed milk and cookies upon the shore. There were jungles with swinging monkeys and parrots, farms and valleys, flying witches, fairies, and unicorns, rainbows and waterfalls. I was in my very own storybook where I could be the princess and ruler of this magnificent kingdom.
“Flying horses!” Grandma repeated. “How absurd! What have you been eating, Mara? There’s just no such thing.”
“But it was there, Grandma, I saw it! And I was flying right on it! And there were all kinds of magical things, just like in the fairytales you read to me at night!”
She stared at me amused and I could tell she thought I had bumped my head a little too hard during the storm, but I didn’t care. I knew it was real, just waiting for me to come back through the window once more and feel the undeniable magic.
The sunrise paints slowly began to stain the sky a pinkish hue as morning light carefully opened my closed eyes. My grandmother was still asleep down the hall and I tiptoed across the creaky, wooden floor towards the enticing, open door. By the time I was running through the tall, golden stalks the pinkish stain in the clouds began to turn a soft yellow. Soon I was at the wall again, slipping through the window into the world I had spent all night dreaming about.
The very first thing I saw was an apple the size of my house sitting peacefully in the grass valley before me. I had skipped breakfast and eagerly ran to the giant fruit. The sweet juice ran down my cheeks like a waterfall when I bit into it. Imagine the sweetest thing you have ever tasted and times it by a thousand. That was the taste that smothered my mouth.
When all I could see was a giant seed positioned like a tree in the grass, I went to the pond beneath the newly born tree to wash my face. As I stared into the cool blue water, I was pleased to see the little girl again smiling back at me. “Hello,” I said innocently. I wanted her to say, “Hi,” back but instead her image rippled away to the edge of the pond and a beautiful, magical creature appeared. Its scaly tail bent gracefully in the air behind her. I’d only seen mermaids in the picture books that my grandma would read to me before I went to bed, and I suddenly longed to be just like her. I leaped into the water and swam further down under until my very own tail could be seen trailing behind me. A school of colorful fish suddenly appeared before my eyes, wrapping me in a rainbow colored blanket that spun me upward as it unraveled.
I felt a cool rush on my face as my head penetrated the surface of the water. But I wasn’t in the pond anymore, but emerging from bubbling hot springs atop the tallest mountain where the lone giant watched me curiously while he held up the sun. I smiled at him and said, “Hello, Mr. Giant! What are you doing up here all alone?” There was no answer and I shrugged. I walked across the snow that numbed my little toes so that by the time I was standing at the edge of the cliff, I couldn’t feel them at all. Then, in a flash, the world began to spin and swirl, and all I remember is jumping.
Soon, I was sliding down faster and faster in the tube that the world had twisted into just a moment ago. It felt like years until I saw my magical world again, but something was different. The entire world was turned upside down, and I was falling into the sky and sinking into the clouds…
One year had passed and still the world behind the window and I were inseparable. The magic never faded and I still could do only what those in storybooks and fairytales did. I could fly and swim and disappear and transform. On my birthday my grandma would take me to the window out in the cornfield and I would show her the magical world behind it. She would watch as I rode the flying horse and poked little holes through the dark purple sky at night with a stick and swam with the mermaids in the pond. I showed her the girl just like me who was in the pond and how she had used to be in the window glass before it was shattered. My grandma believed me now, and there was a certain understanding in her eyes that hadn’t been there the day I had told her about this wondrous place.
It was all so magical, but I began to notice how each time I went through the window, something faded away. Throughout the year when I was four, I traveled to the top of the snowy mountain where I had jumped off when I was three, but there was a gradual change in the atmosphere around me. The giant who sat on the mountaintop was beginning to take a more solid, lifeless shape with a gray color smeared across its face like dry paint, and the fishing pole that it used to hold up the sun was increasingly hard to make out. But of course, I thought it must have been transforming into an amazing thing, so once again I jumped to find myself swirling in the world once more. The monkeys in the jungle whose faces looked like flowers caught my fall, and I swung on the vines until I could swing no more. That night when I went back to the cabin and told my grandma how the giant on the mountain was changing, she merely said, “Yes, darling. Things do that when you’re growing up.” She continued to scrub an earthenware pot by the fireplace.
“What do you mean, Grandma?” I asked with a confused voice. She smiled at me as silence dragged on.
When I was five, I snuck out at night and climbed through the window to look at the sky. Earlier that day I had discovered that there was something way up in the sky that adults called Space. I decided that tonight I would go there and see it for myself, so I climbed on the flying horse’s back and took off into the air. I was dismayed to find that the powerful sensation of when you take off into the air had seemed to vanish almost completely, and the horse’s back felt scratchy like tree bark. I never did reach the place called Space. There was nothing different about the sky when I was flying upward towards the shiny dots, but I did realize that when I commanded the horse to go back down, there really were no mountains in sight except large rocks. They seemed so much smaller than before. “Perhaps I’m becoming a giant, just like the one on the mountain,” I muttered to myself. But when I looked, the giant had disappeared. The horse let me down on the grass roughly as if I had fallen off its scratchy back. I saw the fairies and witches flying about the tree lighting up the night silently, but they didn’t talk to me or sing like they used to.
Three months later in the fall, I discovered another world: kindergarten. It was dangerous, though, unlike the one in the cornfield. Kids threw giant blocks at me and grabbed toys out of my hands like ravaging beasts. Then, when the shrill screams of children rang in my ears, the teacher would sit us down and read us a book. “Hey! That’s a mermaid!” I shouted excitedly as she held up the picture book for us to see. The teacher looked at me odd.
“No, Mara. That’s a fish. See the tail and the fins?” I didn’t understand. The mermaids in the pond behind the window looked just like them.
“You’re dumb!” One boy shouted. I began to cry.
Two months passed in kindergarten, and I had been exposed to all the picture books on the shelves where I had seen many of the things in the world behind the window. They had different names and looked slightly different. One day, I climbed through the window in the cornfield once again, expecting to find a world of magic just like a few months ago. But as I looked around I saw that there were no more jungles or oceans or fairies or witches. The mermaids were round and covered in scales and swam around in a pattern of colorful circles. Then, I realized that the world hadn’t turned upside down or twisted in weird shapes for quite a long time. “Yes, darling. Things do that when you’re growing up.” My Grandma’s words repeated themselves in my mind over and over again like tumbleweed over the lonely road. Everything had changed and I was beginning to see a new kind of magic through the window.
There was one thing that never changed, however. The girl looking up at me from the surface of the pond is still there to this day smiling back at me. But she’s older now and much more beautiful than decades ago when I first saw her.
I can still squeeze through the window in the wall, except not as easily as before. I don’t go everyday but when I do I sit on the grass and remember the times when I was little. I see the pond that I had laid down in and pretended to be a mermaid surrounded by the little water bugs that I thought could be colorful fish. I see the rock that I had jumped off of, pretending to fly, and the long log that I had slid down, thinking the world had spun into a tube. I remembered climbing up onto the tree branch and pretending that I was flying on a magnificent horse and how I had hung from another branch so that the world would be upside down. I had fallen, too, but in reality I had hit the dirt and broken my arm. I see the empty bee hive where I had gotten sweet honey out of, thinking it was the sun and that a giant held it up by a fishing pole. The large tree in the center was an apple tree so of course when I saw the giant apple I didn’t realize that I was just so small. Then I laugh as I watch the little flying witches and fairies soar through the air. Now, I call them birds.
At night, sometimes I camp out in this serene, little world and gaze at the stars that I had once poked into the blackened sky so that I could see. Once in a while, I’ll see a shooting star, and it reminds me of when I was flying on the magical horse long ago in that same sky. I feel the magic that still remains, altered but so real. Then, in the morning before I leave, I walk over to the great tree once more to see the old woman I had become in the sacred looking glass. I gaze at the cobwebs spun across the blades of grass by the side of the pond. I realize that the old woman that I see staring back is the same little girl because we are all connected, just like the cobwebs, by pure, unaltered magic. At last, I take one last look through the looking glass beneath the tree before slipping back through the magnificent Window of Youth.