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Curled up in my flannel pajamas, I gaze out one of my five bedroom windows toward the surrounding canopy of trees. In this tree house of my own, I can see the faint reflection of my kindergarten bedtime on the clock gleaming behind me in the window, but the time is the last thing on my mind. Before me I imagine umbrellas and pigs, boys and top hats, snakes and winking faces drawn by God himself in the tree limbs. As the distant moon shines brightly over the moss balls which cling gently to the bark, forming bears’ noses and giant buttons, in my eyes, a scene, unlike the night before and the nights to come, unfolds before me just as my weary eyes can stay open no longer. My little fingers grip Goodnight Moon and Verdi a little more loosely as I finally drift asleep, but my books never quite compared to the stories I whispered to the stars.

As the dim and glowing bedtime in the reflection grows later and later through the years, the pictures in the trees grow harder and harder to make out, and my exhausted eyes close long before I can focus on the labyrinth of branches I would trace with my pinky as a kid. Below the branches sits, illuminated by a light perched in the largest oak, the brick enclosed pond which wraps majestically around a moss covered urn. This pond was the center of my childhood. In the garden nearby, I can still vividly visualize my old muddied Keds and the red ribbon in my hair visible from behind as Max and I would dig for Gardner snakes in the bushes, collect rollie pollies beneath the rocks, climb the trees, or play “Hot Lava” on the cracked and uneven sidewalk. We would run and run through the garden, and then bring the garden inside via our filthy sneakers, skidding through the dining room and turning sharply up the stairs where we would race to gather red brick-patterned building blocks, beanie babies, hot wheels cars, and legos. Even the stairs alone house so many memories : crab-walking down – backwards – behind one another; falling down the entire flight, my leg gushing blood, erupting in sobs; attempting to perfect the slinky launch and landing; failing.





Max was not just my playmate; he was my best friend. We are and always have been complete and utter opposites, in absolutely every facet of life. Our rooms alone are powerfully indicative of our characters and their differences. My room is always being rearranged. Above a Parisian mirrored chest, topped with a few books and perfumes, are photos, magazine clippings, articles, drawings, letters, paintings, and movie stubs weaving up and around the wall in a somehow organized and contained manner. Across from this chest sits a small patterned chair accompanied by a stuffed elephant, and below this chair is a carved wooden chest full of diary entries, photos, letters, journals and sketches. My room, quite simply, is me. If Sherwin-Williams condensed my personality into a paint can, and then splattered it onto the walls, one would discover my room in its current state. And then there’s Max’s room. Untouched. I do believe there is a distinct dust outline of his bed on the carpet, for his furniture has not been moved an inch since the day my father assembled it there. I think of his room as the Smithsonian, full of collections and trinkets and crap –antique crap nonetheless– from kindergarten on. If Sherwin-Williams condensed nostalgia in a can and splattered it on the walls, one would discover Max’s room in its current state. He has leaves pressed in a bound journal from 1996. Pokémon cards. Above a wooden chest, topped with his delicately laid out World War I gun collection worth thousands of dollars, hangs a pristine Porsche poster (ah, the aspirations of a fourth grader). Max’s room is the only thing in my life that has not changed. His room has and will always represent security to me. I often wonder in there and look around, remembering the times I would sneak out of my bed and into his room where we would talk and giggle for hours. I have found there to be something truly powerful and extraordinary about the silent understanding between two siblings. We have seen each other’s highs and lows, peaks and awkward stages, successes and failures, and there is something to be said for watching someone else’s entire life pan out before your eyes from the moment you were born. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. He knows me better than anyone else, and no one will ever understand Max like I do. When Max graduated, half of my childhood was ripped from my hands. It overwhelms me that I have just a little over a year left, and my childhood is forever over.





But while Max’s bedroom remains untouched, my outlook on life has not. I no longer see the pond as a playground. As a world full of curiosity and wonder. I see the pond as a chore – an excessively mossy urn I’ll have to scrub this weekend. I see the pond as the place I sat alone in the wake of my grandfather’s death – a place I sat shivering in the dead of winter just to stay up a little longer on the phone to talk with a friend who is now no longer a friend. I can visualize myself sitting at that pond through the seasons, through the years, through the thousands of passionate yet ephemeral emotions I have experienced. Giggles, tears, friends, solitude. The pond, for me, represents inevitable and unpreventable change. Outside of my garden, I see the world more literally. For what it is. And my heart aches to get back the innocence and oblivion I held as a child. I find knowledge to be overwhelmingly permanent; once we learn something, it changes us in some way - even if only slightly. Even if we are incapable of remembering specific details about things we have learned, places we have seen, books we have read or people we have met, these collective experiences have undeniably shaped who we are. Each of us carries a suitcase, so to speak, of knowledge. Incoming knowledge is forever placed, sometimes roughly tossed, in our suitcase as a benefit or a burden to us for the rest of our lives, and there is no emptying of this suitcase. The remnants of our memories may be lost and broken within our suitcase, leaving us unable to piece them together, but they are unquestionably there. And whether we like it or not, we will carry the same suitcases with us from cradle to grave, through the pearly gates of Heaven, or through the fiery gates of Hell. Our youth excitedly embrace shiny, new, and untouched suitcases which they, not yet aware of the dangers, risks, and power that knowledge can bring, eagerly hold out to almost anyone for collections. Some of our elderly drag tattered suitcases whose containments gradually fall out over time, or are dropped and lost along the way. Others’ suitcases are stuffed to the brim, overflowing and bulging. Some of us have suitcases stamped with Louis’ initials or the distinct G of Gucci, indicative of just how little the inside contains. Some are locked and inaccessible to others; some have loose hinges and swing open for any passerby to peek inside.







My suitcase is navy blue, somewhat old-fashioned, and slightly battered around the edges but still notably unmarked. The handle worn from the perpetual oil and grip of a little hand, my suitcase is indisputably and uniquely my own. I look back on what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen, and I can’t help but wonder how it has hindered my once wild imagination. My thirst for learning has in many ways jaded my idealistic view on the world. The truth that has come to open my eyes was in some ways necessary, but in other ways unfortunate. I press forward hesitantly, tenderly. I have incredibly fond and invaluable memories of gazing out of my window and dreaming, playing with Max in this house, and sitting thoughtfully by that fountain. But that’s exactly it. They are only memories now, and I will never be able to replicate this simplistic happiness from before I was jaded by reality. Before I travelled the world, read the classics, felt real pain, and filled up my suitcase with things I can never take out.



But even now, as the end of my childhood draws nearer without my consent, the fountain pulls me in. Frazzled after a hectic day, balancing a backpack, keys, loose papers and more, I’ll often drop everything and pause at the fountain to think. About where I’ve been. About where I’m headed. And I’m acutely aware of what growing up has and will cost me. Like a train moving way too fast, my life is lurching ahead toward taxes and death at an unbearable speed. But alas, the conductor shouts, “All aboard!”, and with my navy blue suitcase in hand, there’s nowhere to go but forward.





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