The Last Fight for Innocence This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Happiness is the bright-eyed smile that awakens to lazy days of sunshine and Popsicle sticks. My early childhood was an endless string of days spent galloping through the woods and searching for four-leaf clovers. As the sky grew dark on summer nights, I would fill jars with fireflies to draw treasure maps in their dim glow.

One might say that these days were wasted, that no knowledge was gained and the mind was deteriorating. I firmly disagree. I knew every type of rock, ladybug and butterfly. Everything I needed to know to be happy I knew by age three. Children are wisest when left alone; our imaginations can develop from seeds into rich maples. But even at that early age we can sense the future - the walls ready to close in, to trap us and turn us into money-hauling robots. They call it the American Dream.

One fateful day, my mother told me that I’d be starting school the following week. It was a simple statement. It meant no harm and promised no consequence. But it harbored a significance that had the potential to smother my gift of imagination and capacity for wonder. I, too, would inevitably turn into a robot, just like my parents, to whom earning money had become more important than hunting for unique stones or finding lost treasure.

I can remember my first day of preschool more easily than my first kiss or my eighth-grade graduation. My mom pulled me into Room 103 and smiled with frustration as if she were pulling a wagon that kept getting stuck on the cracks in the sidewalk. I remember the tear stains on the children’s faces and the smells of thick dust, chalk and Elmer’s glue. Colorful birds floated from strings on the ceiling. What I remember most about those birds is how fake they looked. I felt the gaze of 27 pairs of confused and fear-stricken eyes as I entered the room. The children were with their mothers, all of whom thought their children were crying because they were going to miss their parent. But I knew the real reason they were crying: they would now have to conform to a society that would take away their passions and let them strive for money and not for self-gratification.

My mother twirled a lock of my hair in her fingers, and with one final half smile she turned and left me in this foreign world of structure and rules. My heart clanged against my chest as my mind raced. Forever lost were my days of making sand pancakes and riding the ponies at Dominic’s. Forever lost was my spontaneity. In the past, if I wanted to climb a tree, I would. Now I would have to stare at it through a classroom window.

The woman whom other kids were calling “Teacher” turned her back to me. I faced the door, the only portal to the outside world and my last chance for freedom. It had scratches from children hungry for nature trying to claw their way out. I felt the silver handle sliding in my sweaty palms. The light burst through the crack and I fled. I ran so fast through the maze of hallways that I forgot to breathe, my pigtails slapping the nape of my neck. Then I was outside. The drops of rain like white-hot pinpricks against my sweaty skin dared me to go farther. I ran a great distance, then turned around and stared back at the school. Like a mirage it blended with the fog. Once I had crossed the road, I took refuge under an oak tree and collapsed into a sobbing heap.

After an hour my fingers were numb from the cold rain and my eyelashes clung together from the tears. In the distance, tiny pinpricks of colored flesh grew more and more prominent. I could see a silhouette of a woman coming toward me. I concentrated on the daisy print of her chiffon dress. She screamed when she saw me and motioned with her hands in a signaling gesture. Suddenly eight other adults ran toward me and bombarded me with questions. The colors and smells all became a blur. I felt my eyes growing heavy as they closed in upon the vision of the damp earth. I fell asleep in my teacher’s arms as she carried me inside. It was an act of surrender. Now, I was theirs, theirs to be shaped into an ideal citizen. I was another ball of clay. And 15 years later here I am - another work-driven American, living in the land of liberty but yearning to be free.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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