As children, the world as we know it centers on arts and crafts, playdates with our current “best friend”, and looking forward to the surprise snack our moms pack in our lunches. Sounds of our childlike world include Disney movies, laughter, and singing the ABC’s. We view the world as adventurous, kind, and joyous. Our perception of the world is pure and untainted. There is so much we have yet to discover about the beautiful world and ourselves. Our lives are like the summer sky - clear blue with rays of sun shining down. The occasional cloud or rain storm may appear, but otherwise, life is clear. The moment the single wisp of smoke trails into the sky, polluting our innocent perspective, everything changes.
By twelve years old, I began to notice slight cracks in the world facade. It was my first year of middle school and concerns about nightly homework assignments and quizzes replaced the carefree existence of my younger self. Although the workload was heavy, my schoolwork was the only stress I faced as an adolescent up until this point. Over Christmas break that year, my family and I journeyed to Florida to spend the holidays with family. White lights on palm trees, sounds of excitement as wrapping paper is ripped off presents, and the scent of the salty sea air wafting through the windows were all elements of a perfect week.
One night towards the end of our vacation, we went to see the recently released “Les Miserable” in a local theater. The movie was filled with war, brutality, poverty, death, and unhappiness. I found my body tensing as I watched the severe visuals on the screen. By the end of the movie, there was an uneasiness stirring inside of me causing me to question the world I thought I knew. In an attempt to retain my innocence, I focused on clearing my mind.
As the theater doors opened, my innocence was briefly refreshed with the warm breeze and the night sky. Heading towards our car, we passed an ice cream parlor with a girl sitting on the ground, leaning against the building. I briefly wondered why she was on the ground, then moved on to ponder what ice cream flavor I would get if we went inside. As my mind drifted away from ice cream I noticed how uneasy the girl appeared as a boy walked towards her and discreetly slipped something into her mouth. Within seconds she began to violently convulse on the ground. My eyes were filled with the horror, my ears ringing with the clamoring of metal tables and chairs being knocked over. Something within me dropped and shattered as I watched people moving the chairs and tables out of the way of her flailing body. My parents rushed my sister and me away from the scene, trying to shield our innocent eyes. A passing woman questioned us on what was happening. My parents solemnly answered a girl was experiencing drug withdrawal. The women simply shook her head and continued on her way home. The news seemed to roll off her shoulders while in contrast, it was corrupting my whole world view.
As we hurried towards our car, we passed a police officer parked about 50 feet from the scene, oblivious to the horror unveiling right in front of him. My mom approached the police officer to enlighten him on what was happening. The conversation was muffled as all I could focus on was the terror behind me. My world had turned into this whirlwind of ignorance, neglect, and oblivion.
Eventually, we found our car, piled in and drove silently back home. The upheaval of the tables and chairs rang distantly in my ears. With the blur of the night sky whizzing past, I attempted to wipe my memory of the night. The once light and warm night air felt heavy and sticky on my skin. My feet felt coated in cement as I got out of the car and trudged up the stairs with no motivation. My mind was on replay of the poor girl losing control of her body. My eyes and ears forever stained with the memory of the real world. Unable to remove this image from my mind, I sat down and began to cry. I could not stop the tears from flowing questioning my mother why the world was such a bad place. How could there be so much sadness, corruption, and anger in my beautiful world? I could not fathom how the once small cracks had expanded into large fissures that exposed how cruel this world could be.
My vision once was light and fluffy clouds with the sun shining as unicorns grazed the meadow of flowers. In an instant, my vision became smug skies filled with smoke killing the beautiful flowers and hurting the animals. My mother consoled me with a simple reply that I had to remember the good when I was faced with the bad. That the smoke would eventually clear and the flowers would regrow, and the animals would return home. Although the environment may be challenged again with sickness, disease, and pain, it would always be able to return to its original state. Instead of seeing a girl losing her life outside an ice cream shoppe, focus on the kindness of those rushing to her aid. My mom reminded me that no one person wakes up a drug addict and that through her own weakness she chose to follow the wrong path of life. The life I live is based upon the choices I make and the paths I choose to venture down. Just like the meadow, I may stray from my path through my own decision or through uncontrollable factors, but through the cycle of innocence, I’ll always find my way back.