The child I once was

There must be a reason why I have come to think more and more of the child I once was, as of late.

It’s a regressive tendency. Or more nostalgic? After all, nostalgia is denial of a painful present, it is said.

It’s interesting how that child, back then, didn’t understand why genders were put in boxes and separate categories, however, at the same time, perfectly understood why such things as fantasy and reality needed to be distinguished and not confused for practical reasons. Yet, she chose to forego the latter, while living under the suppressing shadow of the former, trying to adapt.

Now, that child has grown up and come to understand she need not limit her gender to only two separate categories, but learned to live with what she is, yet has fused more and more of her reality into one of fantasy. Or let fantasy become her reality. “I could live almost completely in imagination,” like the poet Louise Glück once said.

Like many, she was always a lonely child. She did not know where the road she was taking was leading. She knew she only wanted to go ahead and take in everything with a childlike wonder.

The lesson that child took from everything she learned was that people, that interpersonal relationships gave meaning to life. That what she perhaps most hungered to understand was the human soul, human thinking, human interaction, human patterns, human inventions. To observe and to understand. And, at some point, also take part in it, not just stay an outside observer.

But somehow it wasn’t in her immediate nature to nurture the garden which she found so precious and which she realized she couldn’t live without. She was a lonely introvert; she both spurned and longed for company.

What instances with those persons in her life could be named unforgivable? Heart-rendering?

What about her own ineptitude to remember to water the flowers in the garden? Was she even showing herself in those relationships for them to become fully realized?

She wasn’t so sure anymore. Only that they mattered. That the people who would come and go in her life mattered more than anything, but that they couldn’t be obtained by anything you were taught. You had to carry it out for yourself and it was tougher, more unpredictable than anything.

She came to learn that people and relationships were the only unpredictable thing in life able to break the routines; that otherwise settled outlook of a lived life, but she knew that marriage and children were not what she was looking for. Never had. It was fine if other people sought it out. She could understand. But it wasn’t for her.

Most of all, she found she lacked courage and conviction in her loneliness, but oddly enough refused to let herself be depending on other people’s support. In her naivety and arrogance (between which there is a fine line), she took the people in her life for granted. She had love and knowledge to give, but her mind strayed, unable to settle on its own until she might stumble across whatever she was looking for.

With no ambition in life, she came to learn art, music, writing, philosophy and love were what gave life meaning in its essence. Purpose. If she had any ambition, it was that. Perhaps she had an artist’s soul because she couldn’t see herself living any other path in life. She admired those who dared stray off the main road and live the life they wanted, when so much was made up of and dictated by money and norms and expectations. How did one find purpose and meaning in a world like that? How did one give and live without the constant interference of money? All she saw was how money and capitalism and greed ruined every good thing in life, and yet she knew money was what gave her her creature comforts in life.

She was blessed. Privileged. And yet she wasn’t happy. No matter where she looked no conventional path in life gave her a sense of purpose or happiness. She wanted to contribute but every path seemed to lead to money; an endless circle, she kept questioning. Why?

So, yes only art, music, writing, philosophy and love and everything in-between seemed to be more free than anything else. They too could be twisted and exploited, everything can, but at least there was more lasting positive effects from the workings of these elements of life. And if not love, what then?

She had been more cynical once, still was to some extent, but always a romantic at heart. She couldn’t help herself, but it was paradoxical: The more she learned of the world the more cynical she became, and simultaneously, she became more of a romantic. As if the two sides lived side-by-side, constantly trying to outplay each other. Romanticism acted as a way to deal with the cynicism of the world and its reality; its harsh day of light. She believed and had hope that as long as we had and could produce art, music, books, philosophy and love, we could be good. Despite the ever-growing, prevailing hopelessness of everything else.

That child moved within a forest of paths and wilderness, curious and afraid, but always going forward.

And now? What now? Is she really at such a loss without guidelines that she cannot find her way out or around of the forest; that same child? Can she even make her own path, or has she always been helped; guided along a yellow brick road?

Alice in Wonderland3

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Ah, the good ol’ days …

Am I the only one feeling a lack of nostalgia concerning one’s first school years?

20 years ago I started in elementary school and I graduated 10 years ago. That’s something to celebrate.

… Isn’t it?

Well, the very same class I started and graduated together with has decided to celebrate it in our hometown this summer. Some of them have tried persistently throughout the last couple of years to get hold of us all on Facebook for a get-together, but have failed to make anything happen so far.

True, my school years were not the worst of the worst, but I have no overly fond memories of them either. After all, I went to school for 10 years with the same group of kids and going to school was obligatory – what was one supposed to expect? I was a kid and was as easy to please/entertain as I was to get hurt. One could easily make friends by simply saying ‘wanna play?’ or enemies by disagreeing who should play with the prettiest Barbie doll. Rarely much thought came with one’s actions. As one grew older, toys and games became less prominent in the ways of interactng and were replaced by more complex ‘games’ of emotional and hormonal rollercoaster-rides, adopting the adults’ more hard-hitting humour (more awareness, yet no more thought behind) and partying and drinking. The stakes had changed. Everyone was trying to find their places in the world, hierarchy by hierarchy; starting, naturally, with one’s school class. Some kept throwing their weight about, physically and verbally, others experimented with how much power they could gain through various devious, manipulative methods, while a few sat by the ‘High Table’, holding court like kings or queens and whom everybody looked up to (eventhough they did nothing special to earn those titles). A couple stayed quiet because the turmoil stayed on the inside, and of course they often received the worst of the brunt. The latter (surprise; I was one of them) became the scapegoats and/or the wallflowers of the group. Of course, this only got worse the older we got. It didn’t matter that we had known each other for almost ten years at that point. The hormones (or something that’s beyond me) took charge!

Should I have known my mates would suddenly turn on me and those they for some pathetic reason deemed weaker? Should I have seen it coming? Could I excuse their behavior for merely being hormonally induced? Perhaps. But… It wasn’t like I wasn’t hormonal too, you know. I was no angel, but at least I didn’t frequently patronize or bully or mock my peers simply because I felt like it or because I had a bad day. I just kept to myself and did my homework. Which may have provoked something in those still-developing brains of theirs. Who knows? I also looked like a nerdy, lanky tomboy-reject from a 1970s’ school photography of the latest arcade game club; bowl haircut, glasses and all (let’s just say, I would fit perfectly into a Wes Anderson movie). I guess such a strange ‘non-girl’ was very confusing for everyone else trying so (too) hard to find their places in the heteronormative systems. So they had to say something, of course, though I never asked for their opinions. Well, kids are kids. Actions forgiven, but not forgotten. To this day I cannot help feeling a touch of old-time betrayal whenever I have bumped into any of them back home.

Still, I wasn’t the one who took the worst of the brunt (though some of it was pretty rough) from those so-called mates of mine. I am ashamed to say I witnessed some awful stuff that I was too stunned by and too much of a coward to interfere with. There was even this one time when I was the mocker, and I will never ever forget the face of the poor girl who happened to be at the receiving end and had done nothing to deserve my vile words. I simply wanted to show off in front of my other friend. I remember feeling so bad the moment the words left my mouth, seeing her face crumple in shock and hurt (and she did not have a very pleasant life at home, in the first place. Boy, did I feel double-bad!) while my friend giggled and we turned away and continued with our usual frivolity like nothing happened. But I felt so paralyzed within. Didn’t recognize myself. And I wondered how the others who did this on a daily/weekly/yearly basis felt? Did they really feel better from projecting that kind of stuff? Did they really tell themselves that this was the way to find a place and role in the world? To be grown-up and cool?! No, it was beyond me.

I couldn’t have been much more than 13 years old, and suddenly I had grown light years older in my awareness.

So this whole reunion-celebration-anniversary-whatever-invitation this summer is awkward to say least. They write in the invitation that – besides all the summer frivolities – we are going to ‘gossip all night long’. Really? What are we to gossip and bond over? ‘The good, old days when we were one, big, happy group of kids and our 10 years togetherness’? Yeah, right. In that case, they remember our school years very differently than I. What do they expect we have in common anymore? We’ve grown soooo much in those last ten years. Are we supposed to ‘share all the good memories’? Sure, there was a few, but those I remember most clearly were when we were playing ball and forgetting ourselves for a moment; with no hackling or power-play. Just kids getting excited about a stupid, but oh-so-essential, little ball in the school yard, getting sweaty and exercise all our frustrations out through the simplest of games – where the only danger of getting hurt was scraping one’s knees.

I know (via Facebook) most of them still live close to our hometown or even in the town (still – after all these years, geez) and that some of them have maintained some contact during the years, so I will be one of the few who have lived ‘far’ away from home and not been in close contact with any of the others. As far as I know, we’re also only few who have taken a college education. Not that it is time to get all snobbish, but I’m not sure whether any of the others will go all the way back home for this. At any case, I will be an outsider who shares no greater nostalgia for my past school years nor have a need to stay close at home or keep in contact with old school mates. But why pretend? The ‘school mates’ I connected with (and still stay in contact with) were first and foremost from my high school years.

Shouldn’t I give them a shot, you may ask? Am I not a little harsh and unfair? If I expect we have all more or less grown so much since we last saw each other, don’t I expect them to be different than what I remember them to be? To have become nice and behaved grown-ups?

Honestly, I’ve spent most of my life since our graduation to move on and separate myself from that time. To free myself and become myself, since I felt stuck in the role I ended up having in that class. I do not hate that time; I accept what it was and that we were all just kids growing up and trying out the world (though, I never counted on that it was to be tried out on each other as well), but I honestly cannot evoke or fake any lingering nostalgia about that era of my life. Most times that I’ve happened to bump into one of the people from school in our hometown, I’ve more or less avoided them (yeah, really mature, I know), but I hate putting up a front of fake politeness, so most of our chance-meetings became nothing more than a awkward, crooked half-smile or brief, stilted greeting. A rare time or two some of them started a conversation like nothing has happened, but all I kept thinking was: ‘Don’t you remember what you said and did back then – at all?!’.

I have no real desire to get to know any of them. I have moved on. It may sound harsh and unfeeling, but I cannot help feeling that that chapter of my life is over and I have no nostalgia left to even find an anniversary celebratory and cozy. Not in my case. If the others feel it, let them! I honestly think they remember those school years differently than I do. Or they have managed to become nostalgic about us being kids … or something.

Sure, this coming reunion (which I don’t know if I’ll participate in) could prove to be all fun and interesting, such as hearing what the others are up to – instead of always hearing it through our parents (or maybe it’s just me). But again, I’m not that interested beyond that nor renewing any friendships (which were barely there in the first place). Sorry. And not to be a full-fledged pessimist, but I can almost see the strained, put-on front we’ll all have adopted beforehand when we meet each other – and I’m not entirely sure it’ll just melt away if we give it some time and a couple of drinks and that we’ll ‘fall right back into the good, old patterns’. I’m not so sure how ‘good’ those old patterns ever were … But then again, they may see something I don’t.

However, some say nostalgia is denial – denial of a painful past.

I have a wicked wish of wanting to ask them if they indeed remember any of the less ‘good, old’ episodes in our school days together. Now, there’s something I’m interested to know about – all polite masks aside! To really see how they react and if they indeed have changed! I certainly have my suspicions about one or two of them, but I’m not sure if they will come to this event. Hell, I’m not even sure I’ll come – and what does that say about me? That I’m a cold-hearted bitch who feels too high-and-mighty to join the rest of them? Perhaps. I have persistently stayed away from the sporadic, back-and-forth conversations on Facebook regarding this renunion – which I honestly hoped there would come nothing of since it has failed to do so the last couple of years. Now I would look even more an ass if I don’t show up when they’ve finally pieced something together, right? Especially since I know I’ll be back in my hometown this summer – and given it’s a very small town, it would be a miracle if I don’t bump into any of them and then I’ll have to come up with some sad excuse for not joining the party … Ugh. Maybe I’ll just have to grin and bear it. Smile like nothing happened.

… Really?

I wish I felt nostalgic about my earliest school years. I really do. But I don’t and I’m not going to as long as I remember what also happened beyond all the supposedly good stuff and the fact that we were just kids etc. etc. (though, people were equally if not more bad in their teens). Funny how you can still be hung up about the past yet not be nostalgic. Some – or most – would probably say: “Ah, would you relax! Forget about all that stuff for a minute and have some fun, will you?”. Hm, yeah, well, if only it was that easy. Again, I’ve forgiven but not forgotten, and I cannot face the past and be asked to forget it at the same time. It does not compute in my brain and if that is very INTP or very me, then that’s that. I cannot change it. I’ve been in such situations before and tried to do so, but I never quite succeed. I will rarely make greater fuss about it during the event itself; schooling my attitude to that of fake politeness and overall friendliness, but that doesn’t mean it sits well with me or that I don’t go home with a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. Whether it was the wine or something else. And I hate that; knowing fully there’s little one can do about it; it’s just life, and I sense this will be more or less the situation after the reunion – if I attend it. I’m not sure I want to have it confirmed. And yes, I could go to have it unconfirmed – and if it was anybody else I would. I just don’t feel it’s worth it with these guys. What do I have to renew or give a second chance, when there hardly was a first chance?

We were just a random bunch of kids, compulsory put together in the same class in 1996. Who said we were to become life-long friends and always have something in common other than we happened to start in school together? When so much happens those years growing up and that it seems only natural one has little in common with the kid one once was? I have no overt desire to revisit who I once was. I have no need to reminisce of the closed-off child I was at school; for so long boxed in between all the others who elbowed their way to the front in various ways. Not because I am bitter about that era of my life or hate that version of myself. I simply accept it as a chapter of my life that I have written and have no desire to revise because then I wouldn’t be where I am now. I want to be the person I needed as a child: Someone to speak up and stand up in the face of injustice. I cannot be silent and smile one more time – just to keep the waters calm. What is past is past, but I will not pretend it was never there either. The truth of the past. And that may be to put way too much into an innocent, little reunion, but I’m only trying to explain the lack of – anything really – I feel towards my former school time and ‘mates’. I might not give it a chance but again, why should I when there was hardly one to begin with?

And maybe that’s just me – being weird. But I cannot change how I feel and what I cannot forget.

“…It’s strange how I’m reliving it, hour by hour, with the mission of neutralizing it, and transforming it into an inoffensive past that I can keep in my heart without either disowning it or suffering from it. That’s not easy. It’s at once painful and poetic.”

— Simone de Beauvoir, from a letter to Jean-Paul Sartre c. January 1947 featured in Letters to Sartre

*revised 25/10/18*

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