I’m on the swings of my school playground, laughing with exuberant joy and feeling the crisp, autumn wind blowing through my hair, but I’m too happy to care about how I look. The swings are my favorite part of recess, and after school, I beg my mom to drive me to the nearest playground so I could swing for two more hours.
I’m at the library, and I find a little corner with a comfy beanbag. From anyone’s first glance, I’m just another little girl sitting there while flipping through the pages, but it’s so much more than that — I’m entering into another world, one that I like better, one where I’m the hero, the captain, the smartest detective, the mythical bird, the queen, or maybe all of them at once. In the end, I rise and claim my place as the victor. Triumphant as always.
I’m eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with apple slices and baby carrots. I’m drinking Minute Maid apple juice, which I actually like. I’m not complaining about this simple meal, because I honestly just can’t wait to be done and spend the rest of the day reading.
I’m sitting outside in silence, watching the sun set. I see squirrels and I’m instantly fascinated by the way they scurry up the trees so quickly and how they chase each other around, but I’m not stupid enough to believe that they’re good as pets. I somehow have an intense fear of germs and diseases of wild creatures even before I was ever taught about them.
I’m building a sculpture for art class using random scraps of anything we can find — paper, cardboard, old newspapers, packaging, you name it. I end up building something that looks like a cross between a fun house and a castle and the teacher is impressed. She tells me that I’m a very imaginative child with a bright future, and it sounds like she means it.
I’m writing a book with my little brother about a spider with 100 eyes and the trouble he’s causing by looking all creepy and spreading poison everywhere. The police force is made up of the McDonald’s happy meal beanie baby bears, and they’re the heroes in the story who end up saving the whole town. In the end, the spider ends up going to jail. We illustrate it, and I let my brother draw the spider because it’s funnier-looking that way.
I’m going to sleep, and I don’t need to worry if the monsters are coming to get me because I believe in guardian angels. I sleep soundly and nothing’s keeping me tossing and turning late at night.
These days, I feel more connected to my childhood self than any of my other selves. I know I should move on from the past and to stop idealizing it, but the simple magic of childhood isn’t something I can easily replace. So I venture back there, back to a place where all the good memories are waiting for me to relive again and where the traumatizing and guilt-inducing ones are erased. There’s nothing like going on the swings and pretending like you’re flying. There’s nothing like getting lost in a children’s book and finding whole new path to your own heart. There’s nothing like writing a book on loose-leaf paper and creating unusually ridiculous storylines without caring about what anyone thought. There’s nothing like creating art from things that would’ve been thrown into the garbage. There’s nothing like sleeping for 10 hours straight and waking up feeling refreshed, happy, and bright.
But they’re just memories. Soothing ones, but memories nonetheless. I sometimes wonder if I’m too stuck in the past, but I know it’s impossible to erase it entirely. I mean, I think I’m doing better now, since when I find myself lingering in the past, I’m bringing the happier moments back to life — the simple ones that were full of magic and wonder, instead of the ones that put me in pain.
I have a lot to learn from my future self. She is wiser, more adapted to the world, more successful, more secure, and more at ease with who she is. Even so, my childhood self isn’t someone I need to leave behind, because she has taught me the art of getting lost and finding herself along the way. It’s something I never paid attention to the older I got, but now it’s all becoming clearer. I miss allowing my imagination to fly and carry me anywhere. It’s so grand yet so simple at the same time.
I keep bits and pieces of these memories and revisit them now and again. I smile and fall in love with these moments of peace where there’s no guilt or self-consciousness disrupting the effortless flow of childlike wonder, which keeps fueling my excitement for life and all the possibilities I have yet to discover. All the future paths I still don’t know about, yet I don’t view this uncertainty with dread. Because my childhood self certainly never did.
But in the meantime, nothing’s going to keep me tossing and turning tonight.