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This was supposed to be about the candles that burnt bright on my grandmother’s red stone mantel while all her grandchildren piled on mountains of quilted blankets in her living room, popcorn- and candy-filled bowls on each lap, while a comedy played on the TV. About the way my grandma would fall asleep twenty minutes in, and pretend to know the events of the entire movie by the time the credits rolled. This was supposed to be about midnight whispers and giggles while the grownups think we are sound asleep. About the early morning tickle fights, pillow fights, and donut-filled food fights. About board games, Simon Says, and Go Fish. About the nine a.m. grandpa talking on the home phone to our mom, telling us to pretend we are sleeping so we can stay an extra hour or two. This was supposed to be about holidays. About the long tables and rows of turkey, mashed potatoes, and fruit salad that made our tummies rumble with delight. About the tree that once stood in the snow-covered mountains, now beautifully decorated by the couch in the corner. About Santa’s lap, losing a tooth, hunting for Easter eggs, and blowing out candles. This was supposed to be about wishbones – how wishbones wishbone. It was even supposed to be about my mother’s homemade chicken noodle soup – she’d knead the fragile dough, cut up the stringy, sticky noodles in symmetrical lines, dice up the colourful veggies into perfect chunks, and with our help, embark in a classic flour fight until we were all covered in white dust (or until dad joined – then it was game over).
This was supposed to be about long car rides in a beat-up suburban that fit everyone comfortably. About camping trips. About prolonged voyages across states, Bohemian Rhapsody blasting through the speakers. About lip-syncing to AC/DC, Queen, Nirvana, and mom’s favourite, Madonna. This was supposed to be about dad’s rough tan hands, and the way his wedding ring was always a little too tight. About the way those same hands would hold mom’s in the passenger seat. This was even supposed to be about making playful fun of people with RVs, who thought camping meant sleeping in a bed, with a shower and toilet. About waking up with the hot sun shining through steamy tents, the sound of crackling wood and the fresh smell of pine trees. This was supposed to be about the hunt in the forest for the perfect stick that would be used to roast delicious treats by the fire. About one-piece polka-dotted swimsuits, sunblock, and pigtail braids.
Or maybe it was supposed to be about the way hair slowly starts to fade to grey, or the soft tiptoes of bare feet walking at night, past bedtime, or the small three-foot tree in the front yard that made us all wonder why we were bigger than it – the same tree that we dirt-footed children would try to see who could hurdle the highest without hurting ourselves. Maybe this was supposed to be about pyjama day, crazy-hair day, or mismatch day at school. About the innocent “boys vs girls” competitions in the backyard: jump the rope five times, spin around eight, and hop on one foot until you reach the garden hose. Or maybe it was just supposed to be about a remark on the number of dimly lit houses it took to get to the 7-Eleven down the street that us kids would walk to with ten dollars and hopes that the blueberry-flavoured Slurpee wasn’t out of order. About when the walks become fewer and the ten dollars is spent at the mall, when the metal holding the swings on the playset starts to rust and your doggie brother has a beautiful garden of his own in the backyard, accompanied by a hedge stone with his name on it. Because that’s when our favourite picture books start losing colour, one by one, erased by the mind that once created such beauty. And shortly thereafter, computer screens start seeing more faces, as library cards were used for a much different purpose.
Or maybe it was about something entirely different: the tall list of bills that stack on the dining room table, reminding you why you don’t have time to sit and eat there anymore. About the dust that collects on the top shelf of your dresser, while the iPhone screen stays shining. The excitement of stargazing late at night, only to look up at pitch black and clouds. The summer tan that fades and is replaced with itchy wool, umbrellas, and the one-hundred-dollar electricity bill that keeps the house warm. But never mind the “supposed to.” This is not about (was never about) forgetting – no, not about moving on – nor the sadness of the realization of what used to be.
Because you see, there is heartache in the realness of time; it has a way of taking simple and sweet moments, in which we can create a flash of memories to replay in our heads, but never relive. And when we look back, we’ll notice things were so easy, so light, so pure – and the change we’ve acquired since is not only physical – but mental and emotional too. And whether we appreciate it or not, these life lessons of growth can also be replayed in our heads, reminding us where we came from and who we truly want to be.
I was raised in the same little house as my mother. On 21st Street, down the road from the Auburn Skate Connection and a rundown 7-Eleven. I was always a very happy child; never aware there was any other emotion a human could feel besides joy. My sister was my best friend, and my two brothers were my heroes. Together, us four would join forces to conquer the neighbourhood and make lifelong friendships we never knew possible.
My grandma would watch us four kids during the day while my parents worked. She often sat on the couch and watched Dr. Phil, Ellen, or Wheel of Fortune while we played in the backyard. The next-door neighbours would hop the fence and join us on our adventures. We would jump on the trampoline, build forts, spray each other with the hose, and pretend we were Power Rangers (I was the pink one, always). Life was easy. I smiled every second.
Entering the world of preteen pimples and being embarrassed by my parents, life around me and within me started to shift. The joy-filled personality I always knew and loved started making room for other dominating emotions; anger, sadness, jealousy. You know, the hormonal period-starting emotions. And then high school happened. Throw lust and attraction in the mix, and you got yourself a teenager. With the help of my wiser, older brother, I began to realize I wasn’t a child anymore.
An old miniature teapot, glass vintage cup, and personalized Jones Soda bottle still sit in the small window above the kitchen sink at my parent’s house. Those were the three important breakable objects I moved with care every time my brother and I used that window as an escape route past midnight to relieve the stress of living an age between child and adult. We wouldn’t even really do illegal activities (besides be out past curfew) – just hang out with friends and think we were cool. Being the younger, smaller, female out of the duo, I was always the one to get “boosted” up and thrown into the kitchen sink from the outside. My brother would interlace his hands, which I’d put my foot on so he could throw my body up and into the window. I would then run and turn off the alarm that my father strategically placed on the front door the morning after he caught us walking down A-street at two a.m. a few months prior. He also placed alarms on every other door and accessible window. Little did he know, my little butt fit through that kitchen window. Oops!
There was a specific reason my brother and I stopped sneaking out. It was around one a.m. in the spring of 2010. The bottom of my PINK sweatpants dragged across the pavement; the beat of the swooshing sound it created matched well with the rhythm of the rap song my brother played on his iPod. He took a few hits of a swisher and the grape-flavoured smoke clung to the air around us. A few of our friends were waiting at a park a few blocks away – our getaway destination for the night.
Walking through a questionable area of Auburn, Washington where gang activity and street drugs are typical, I couldn’t help but cling to the arm of my big brother. He gave my forearm a tight squeeze. I looked up at him with a sigh of relief and realized I had nothing to be worried about with him walking next to me. Just then, a loud scream and wail bursts out of an open window from the top floor of the Section 8 housing apartment across the street. The sound of skin-on-skin slaps grow louder and louder, as a woman’s voice becomes weaker and shakier. My brother and I stare at each other in utter disbelief and concern. We look up into the window and see shadows of a man and a woman. She wasn’t alright. Oh, the heart of my brother. Always eager to help and promote positivity no matter the circumstance, he pulls his cell phone out of his pocket to dial 9-1-1. Here we stand; sixteen and seventeen years old, calling the cops on a domestic violence case that really wasn’t any of our business. My brother told me he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he walked away without trying to help. That was when we realized: there we were, putting ourselves in scary situations, while some people don’t even have the choice. We didn’t sneak out after that. We got a taste of reality; that the world isn’t always a happy-go-lucky magical dreamland filled with unicorns and sunshine.
And then we were adults. In college. Broke. And drunk (a lot). And that magical dreamland I once lived in as a child was turned in for another harsh lesson.
It was fall quarter, 2012. The sound of my alarm pierced my ears. In a groggy hungover haze of confusion, I looked at the clock and saw the time: nine-thirty a.m. No thanks. I woke up three hours later to a massive headache and a not-so-thrilled roommate. I can’t really recall the exact words she was trying to portray to me. Something along the lines of me being careless and eventually dropping out of college. You know the teacher off Charlie Brown? Yeah. Sounded a lot like that. Later that evening, I was called to the cheer-squad director’s office regarding my grades. Now, I know I couldn’t tell you the words my roommate and best friend used earlier that day, but these ones stung like the venomous throbbing of a black widow spider.
“The rules state that you must have a standing GPA of 2.5 or higher to remain a member of the CWU cheer squad. I’m sorry, but we have to let you go.”
It’s still the running joke of my friends that my blood alcohol content level was higher than my grade point average fall quarter of my freshman year of college. The sense of freedom I felt away from the home that provided endless childhood memories had taken its toll; ironically giving me memories I wouldn’t remember the next day. Eventually those habits led me to meet a man, whom I didn’t realize drank heavily, even when the parties were over. And it wasn’t long before his actions toward me started to reflect his poor life choices, as I found myself hiding in my room twenty-four hours a day, drenched in anxiety.
From carefree to careless to careful.
How I long for the days that I never knew would end, before time grew both my bones and my thoughts.
I know what I said at the beginning; that this isn’t supposed to be about the memories. They mould us, guide us, and show us how far we’ve ventured so we know where we want to go. And yet we’re still growing, on an endless voyage until no memories are left to be made.
From carefree to careless to careful.
I wonder what I’ll be next.