It is the simple things that make me wish for better times. As I look out over the river, the pines sway gently and I am reminded of my last home, where an old Bradford Pear’s branches beat against my window in storms. The sight of pink flowers blooming from among the dull pine straw reminds me of failed attempts to feminize our old yard. The house across the street reminds me of our old neighbors, and their father, who was always off at his job working for a pool company while his wife cared for two little ones. I remember how we filled in the pool in our backyard when I was little so we would have room for a playground and swings. I remember the first day we brought home our new dog and the way it happily rolled around in the grass and snuggled in my arms on slow, quiet evenings in the family room. I remember the smell of laundry and constant baking, and the way haphazard piles of old school papers crowded the desk in the kitchen. I remember my old room with its garish pink walls and childlike pink furniture. My room now is blue and has mature, imposing polished wood furniture filling it, and there is little of my identity in the room, though it is full of my belongings. My old room did not capture me completely, either, but it did hold in it the sort of childish fantasy and innocence that I had at that age.
Now that I am older, I can remember the things I did not appreciate as a child. I took things for granted, like the little garden planter in the backyard and the endearing untidiness that enveloped that house. There was a charming, homely air to it that made it more inviting than the neat, clean, clinical house I now reside in. I did not appreciate the constant presence of a sense of love and surrounding support. I did not appreciate the ever constant presence of my mother, and I did not know how lucky I was to have a simple, uncomplicated life. I remember wishing that I would be seen as an adult, and that I would be mature enough to handle that. I remember my childhood being cut short, and I remember having to grow up quickly. I remember the days when the pink walls of my bedroom seemed to be mocking me, jeering at my lost ignorance. I remember summer evenings when the houses all up and down the street would be lit with lights as parents called their children in to supper. I remember how, on those nights, our house would be dark and quiet. On other peoples’ yards, bicycles and jump ropes would remain strewn everywhere and be left alone until the next morning, as the still innocent children in other families arose with renewed vigor and returned to their hours of play. In our yard, there were nothing but drooping flowers and overgrown grass.
I remember one day abandoning our dark house and resuming play with the other children, and being shocked at how little these age mates of mine really knew. They lived in a quiet, protected, active life, as I had, but their childhood would continue for a few years more and then would have time to grow out of it. In my eyes, I was already an adult, already grown, already knowledgeable about the woes of the world. As the years passed and the others grew physically and mentally, I remained in our closed up, dark house and remained confusingly a mixture of unlearned children and abruptly matured teenager.
Then I remember the night that our family count dropped by one, and our morale dropped by many more. I remember the house being full of people, and of condolences and cards arriving by the truckfull. I remember feeling even more alone than ever, with the one person who truly knew me knowing me no more. I remember the crushing depression and the way strangers to me looked at me and knew me by sight to have been through a tragedy. I remember the nights when I would lie alone in bed, staring at the stars, and hear weeping through the walls. I remember how the stars never seemed to shine as brightly or as numerously as they had before. They no longer held the appeal and allure that I had previously been entranced with. I no longer would stay awake at night long enough to see the stars; granted, I was not asleep, but I no longer looked to the stars for comfort. I was alone in the world, alienated from my friends, my family, and my allies. I remember being the new kid in my grade the year before the passing, and I remember struggling through the year with none but the one I lost later to comfort me.
I remember appearing the next year at school with a blanket of gloom and an air of depression surrounding me. None knew, and few guessed, but it was clear to all that I was not the same I had been before the summer, but they had never paid enough attention before to notice how radical the change was.
I remember my hair being unkempt and my clothes awkwardly fitting. I remember wishing for isolation and for comfort at the same time, and I made it through that year and the next with a few friends I found I could confide in, and they carried me through two hard years. The next summer was my first in high school, and it is vividly burned into my memory of a marriage that seemed more like a funeral to me, and I still feel wary from the hassle to pack up and abandon our dark house, and move to one that was bigger, spacious, and holding no memories. I can still feel the disappointment and regret as we settled into our new home as I settled into my new school. I detached from my old friends, finding that there was a whole new class of students and potential friends to merge with.
I remember fleeing from my past, and trying to escape the whispers that sometimes reached my ears. I dove into my studies and pushed away from the people that knew my tragedy, and tried to find new companions. As I found them, there was a sense of relief. These people knew who I really was, and not just a story about who I could have been, or what I had been through. But now, still meandering through that school, I find my memories catching up to me and trying to force their way out of my heads and into the heads of others. How well can someone really know you if they don’t know the thing that shaped you the most? How do you know who you can confide in, if you can’t test them? I feel the confusion and guilt today as I keep quiet while other people are eager to share their stories, and I have none to tell. They have noticed, I’m sure, that none of my stories are about middle school. My stories are about my early childhood or my recent past. They know nothing about me, and how am I to know them?
My secrets are tripping me, and what I will fall into will either be an inescapable pit or a net to catch me. So I have stopped running, yet I am being pushed to continue. Can I escape the fall altogether, or will all of this change and will my life be poured out for other people to gawk at? Will they feel like I have betrayed them by not divulging all my secrets, or will they feel awkward and view me as another person?
But I have gained from this. I have a new level of tolerance, an easy compassion for others, and a drive to make a difference. I am closer to my remaining family, clutching them tight to me lest I lose them as well. It has given me a clear mentality, as a teenager, that there is no such thing as immortality. So I am always careful, and it has protected me. This tragedy of mine, I could also say, was my awakening.