I have a horrible memory. I do. All I have from my childhood are these small nuggets here and there. There was this park, with painted on streets and working traffic lights, where you could bring your bike and ride around like it was a car. There was the school bus and the route through the tunnel, where they had lion statues on either end. One time, it was closed and we had to go through this forest where monkeys were known to run around. There was a playground on the roof of my best friend’s complex, a soccer field on the ground level of mine. I know that I cried a lot, that I fell off the top bunk once, that I watched Transformers and played Nintendo games… but there’s not much beyond that. If it weren’t for pictures, if it weren’t for what people tell me, I wouldn’t know that much about myself. But the thing is, all of that, it’s different – because what someone says about you is not the same as what you feel.
Do you know what the worst part of moving from place to place is? It’s not the packing and unpacking, or getting adjusted or whatever. It’s the fact that you get so many glimpses of what your life could have been. You meet people that you think you might be lifelong friends with, and then you leave them behind. You fall in love, only you never see her again. You learn every nuance of the street you live on, and then you’re yanked away. Sure, if you care enough, you can stay in touch. But it’s not the same. You don’t go through what they will go through. It’s this realization that none of these people will remember who you are five or ten years past – like you didn’t make enough of an impression. And sometimes, it’s like you feel incomplete because of it. Because you were somewhere else in kindergarten or the fifth grade, with people off somewhere with their own lives, unaware that you ever existed.
The thing about college is that it can be so impersonal. I know a big part of that has been my own doing, but it’s just a different atmosphere from high school. I miss having friends – real friends – in every class that I attend. I’m talking about having conversations with people whose houses I would go to, who would watch a movie with me that weekend. People who wouldn’t be afraid to tell you they just fucked up on a test. I miss knowing the names of all thirty people in a room, and knowing that my crush would be in my next class. I miss teachers who didn’t have research going on, who you saw that entire year. Field trips where you would learn something, assemblies where you wouldn’t, and just all the activities that made you feel like a member of a small community, even if you never noticed or chose to take part in it.
I still remember how nervous I felt as the last person left in the dodgeball circle. The relief after giving a short presentation on my crappy popsicle stick mission. The pride after swallowing a bunch of Jell-O cups. The hope that I would be on a certain team in kickball. You never thought about it then, but being a kid is a pretty neat thing. It’s like that saying about how ignorance is bliss, except kids aren’t ignorant. There’s a certain purity to their emotions, a beautiful innocence. And as you grow up, all that kind of slips away… and you start worrying about GPAs and applications and lab write-ups. You think about gas prices and 9/11 and earthquakes, maybe your schedule or what you’re going to do the rest of your life. And the thing is, you don’t invest more emotionally now than you did ten years ago. It’s just something else, and maybe it’s really no more important.
The last couple of times I went to Disneyland, I noticed how much parking was. I noticed how long the wait times were, especially in contrast to the actual ride times. I took note of the distance to the parking lot, how overcrowded the park was, the selection of concession stand items, and the price of souvenirs. When I go to carnivals nowadays, I don’t play most of the booth games because they look like scams, because the prizes aren’t to my exact taste, because I realize how much they cost. I care a lot more than I used to when I’m at the movies by myself, or when I’m wasting time at a mall. That’s the problem with growing up. You stop seeing things as they should be. There’s really no point to any of this. But if there was a Peter Pan and a Neverland, could you blame me for wanting to be there?