Childhood is filled with great memories and hopes. The first time you slept over in your friend’s house, the first time you stayed up till midnight, the first time your teacher acknowledges your hard work and recognizes you in front of your classmates.
Childhood is when everything was simple. When you don’t watch the news because, to you, the only news you need to know is what you see in your everyday life. When it was unforgivable if you talked back to your dad and hamburgers are not an option since your mom thinks chicken burgers are better for your health.
You hear glimpses of grim conversations about your far cousin who passed away from an overdose and you don’t dare ask because you know that you were eavesdropping. You hear about the married teacher who has an affair with the foreign administrator and know it’s a hush hush thing so you act all cool in front of her, not really knowing what “affair” is. You join the after school activities to fit in with your classmates and feel ecstatic when you get invited over to one of their homes.
Going to your friend’s house after school is a privilege. Having lunch that isn’t like the conventional one you have at home is an experience. And seeing their room for the first time is a discovery. You play “hair dresser” and actually cut one of your friend’s braids. Her mom’s not happy.
Then you hear of something grim like war and don’t realize what is really going on. You only think of the gas masks that your parents didn’t buy and worry. You don’t know why you are actually worrying but you do. You think of your cousins who have gas masks. You check on the safe room your parents designated and open the cupboards to check on the canned goods. Yum. It feels like a serious matter and you feel scared. You don’t know why but you pick up on the overall fear going on.
You fear monsters in your grandmother’s house. Your eldest cousin makes up stories and they haunt you when you go to bed at eight. You wrestle, you play, you get hurt, you buy a bike because everyone has one and you ride. You ride around the block and have the wind blow in your hair. You put up your hair in a high ponytail, go out to lunch with your family, and lock yourself in the bathroom when reading the I love you letter you got from the boy who sits next to you in class. And your heart skips a beat. Then your younger brother pukes and you go home thinking of how embarrassed you feel (totally not considering his feelings because, come on, everyone’s watching you!)
You run. You take tips from your brother who tells you to keep your hands open and push your head back so you run faster. So you do that without questioning his knowledge. You compare dolls with your friends and realize you don’t have the latest, so you ask your parents who buy it for your birthday. You cherish that doll for a year, and park it at the corner of your room with the other previously cherished dolls.
You listen to your parents shout behind closed doors and worry. It hurts to hear them shout. You don’t understand what’s going on but it just doesn’t feel good. To hear your mom’s voice change from relaxed to unhappy isn’t nice. But by morning, everything is fine. Your parents are fine as if nothing happened and you act like you never heard a thing.
You miss you father when he’s away on business. You enjoy vacations and going out with your siblings. You live your life without thinking of the future. All you care about is yourself. Your happiness, you simple requests, your toys, and whether or not you’re getting pizza today. And it’s usually not a worry.
You hear of someone sick. You try to find out who but no adult gives you any attention. You don’t even ask. You hide behind the sofa and peek at the movie Jaws and have your heart race at the music… dan dan dan dan dan dan starting out slow and becoming faster. You can’t sleep that night, so you end up sleeping on your parent’s sofa. And it’s the best sleep ever.
Then you grow older.
You realize that you like beef burgers, you realize that mayonnaise isn’t so bad, and you realize that overdose means drugs. You grow older and realize that the war that was in your region wasn’t in your country, and many people died. You grow older and realize your classmates won’t care what you do in your life, they are too preoccupied with theirs. You grow older and realize couples have problems and it’s strength not to show kids they exist.
You grow older and realize that sick person had cancer and didn’t live. You grow older and commend movie producers for scaring us (then end up watching some action or chick-flick instead.).
You grow older and watch the news. Grim news all day, everyday. You hear of car accidents, and realize that the policeman who came over in the third grade and tried to teach you that seat belts are important was trying to save lives. You realize he probably came across some painfully realistic accidents. You realize your married teacher was cheating and got caught, her boyfriend got deported, her husband made a scene at school, and she got fired. And then you realize the meaning of affair.
You grow older and see things differently. The happy place we called life is now more realistic (and not so happy). A world where cancer kills, racism hurts, and war destroys homes. You realize that the stories you read every night are fairy-tales and you can never be a princess. You realize your father had to go away on business trips to afford that doll you ignored after a year. You realize your mom was tired.
You grow older and you lose the innocence you once had with every step towards adulthood. Your dreams, hopes, and aspirations remain your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. You realize the world isn’t as simple as you thought it was, and the glimpses of conversations you heard were the truths untold to children.