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Left Behind, Waiting Ahead
“We’re going to be doing some writing today!” my English teacher exclaimed, standing up just as the last student entered the classroom and shut the door. To his obvious dismay, he was met with a sea of groans. I have to say, I didn't participate in them. No matter what I might say, I love to write. Interrupting his protesting chorus, the teacher grabbed a couple stacks of papers off of his desk and started handing them out while saying, “Yeah, well there’s nothing you can do about it so suck it up.” (He didn't say exactly that, but that was the gist of it.)
He continued, “Today, you are going to be making timelines of your lives including all of the most important events from your past - birth, deaths, moves, pets, friends, etc. - from your date of birth to your first day of High School. Then, you are going to choose what you believe to be the most important event and write a short memoir about it.” He said a few other things-something about ignoring the handout the district required him to give us on the project because it was stupid and wrong-but I wasn't really listening. I was lost in my past, reversing through my life.
I saw it like a slideshow being played backwards, the memories parading past me like notes on a calendar being flipped the wrong way. I saw my first real job (with a real paycheck) as a Teacher’s Assistant at the Everson Museum, myself tearing up at 8th grade graduation, the chaos of being prop mistress for the middle school play (Annie), getting 1st chair 1st clarinet in the All-County Orchestra, getting into Area All-State, my first solo trip to Arizona to see a family of strangers, and that was just this past year.
I saw the births of all my younger siblings (I’m the oldest of four), the crazy moves my parents have put me through – some of which were across the country, most of which I don’t remember – and their resulting loss and gain of friends, and the random series of sickness and injury I have endured (last year I had Strep throat five times and was out of school for about a month in total). I saw my life on a piece of paper, made of insignificant words scrawled in ink, and I realized how trivial and unimportant it all was in the scheme of things.
I have never undergone any great tragedy or injustice, nor any great stroke of luck or brilliance; I have never had any life-changing moments, for good or for bad. My life has just been normal, average. So far, it has just been an introduction, a prologue. Then, I realized that writing this short memoir was going to be a whole lot more difficult than I had originally anticipated.
Though, I soon came across a memory that didn't mean much, but also means more than I can yet realize.
A week or so ago, I was walking home from school. The heavy weight of my overfull backpack was pulling at my slumped shoulders and pushing my tired feet further into my flat, uncomfortable, too-small boots. My abrasive black jeans were acting like solar panels, absorbing the heat of the sunny afternoon and cooking my legs like a roast in the oven. Instead of toasting in the heat, my hands were sweating profusely, and my violin was swaying in their slippery grip, hitting my knee every few steps.
I was just making my way up Broad Street and was passing the park, where it seemed like hundreds of children were playing.
There were kids falling over each other in the slide, clumping and piling and crashing into each other like the numbered balls in a bingo cage; kids swinging on the monkey bars and kids clambering and bear-crawling on top of them; kids scrambling up ladders, only to fall between the rungs, cry for a minute, then get up to journey up them again; kids climbing, kids crawling, kids falling, sliding, smiling, frowning.
On the tennis courts, two moms were playing a match while their children bicycled and tricycled around them in circles, the green fuzzy tennis ball streaking the air lime as it flew and making a loud Thwack as it bounced between their two rackets. Their impressive volley ended when the tennis ball flew a little bit too far and hit one of the children bicycling around them, scaring him half to death and sending him into frightened tears.
In the fields beyond the playground, I could see an impromptu soccer game being played. I could almost hear the shouts from where I was standing:
“I’m open, I’m open!”
“No, not to the middle!”
“Move up everybody! MOVE UP!”
“Shoot, SHOOT! Come on, SHOOT!”
It was all a chaos of movement and sound, and it was easy to get overwhelmed. So, for a moment, I let myself.
The conversations around me rolled over each other, mixing into an unrecognizable muddle of sound. The soccer game shouts faded into the background with the tennis match following them. The swish and rumble of the cars passing behind me disappeared altogether and even the gleeful screams of the children playing quieted. It was as if everything had slowed down, like I was walking through quicksand, or I had entered an edited scene from some Hollywood action movie.
Then, instead of the children, I saw myself. I saw me climbing the maple trees next to the road, saw me running around the pond chasing geese with my friends, saw me sprinting up the field chasing a soccer ball, saw me failing at tennis in the courts, saw me swinging and jumping off when it was at its highest point, saw me climbing up the drainage pipe in the darkness, saw me making my first climb on top of the monkey bars.
And I thought to myself, “When did I stop going to the park?”
All I could think of was that I grew out of it. It gradually stopped being interesting to me. I guess we all have to grow up someday.
Though, it’s never just in a day. Overtime, we become different people, outgrowing our past selves like a snake shedding its skin. Sometimes, we do it unwillingly, most of the time, we do it unknowingly. One day we just wake up and realize, “I’m not the same person I was only a couple of years ago.” I guess this was my moment.
All of this was going on in my head at once, all these epiphanies and connections overlapping in my head, and for some reason, I was struck with the desire to sit down in the middle of the sidewalk and cry my eyes out. I would never again be that innocent child jumping off the swings for the sheer pleasure of it, never again would I be without worries or cares or responsibilities, never again would I be ignorant of the ways of the world, good or evil.
But instead, I forced the tears back and kept walking, feeling like I was leaving my childhood behind on those swings, skinning her knees as she landed on the wood chips, laughing her head off all the while.
Though, now I realize that right as I turned away from that playground, I could just see my adulthood on the horizon. Right now, I’m just in the space between. And I tell you what, it’s the best of both worlds.