14 August 2016

On Losing Childhood and Imaginary Worlds

Over the past week or so I've started realising something. That despite all my vehement protests to the contrary, all the promises made to myself that it wouldn't happen, I grew up.

The other night -- my birthday -- I was watching my younger siblings play in the front yard. They were fully invested in their imaginary world, their story. And suddenly I realised that to them, I was not a playmate. I was not one of them. I was more like a second mother figure, constantly throwing cold water on their imaginations.

When was last time I was so fully invested in a story that everything around me served the story? My next-youngest sister and I had a fictional family living in darn near every tree on our yard, not to mention the trampoline and the playhouse our dad built and in every row of the garden and in the ditch... We could enter that world at the drop of a hat. It would take one second.

When was last time we entered that world? She and I hardly even speak to each other now -- our tastes are so different and it has divided us so deeply. It's a ridiculous thing, I know, but somehow our imaginary world was literally the only thing holding us together. When we stopped entering it -- and heaven knows why -- we stopped talking to each other. Could we find it again? Are either of us brave enough to try? Would we be able to get past the self-consciousness, the petty arguments, this silent gaping rift?

Suddenly I'm not a child anymore. I even made it through two years of college still sort of thinking that I was, or at the very least that the child in me wasn't that far away. That's how subtle it is. That's how slowly it happens. You don't notice it's gone until years after the last foray into the imaginary world. I think last time we were there I was fifteen -- admittedly, that's older than most are their last time -- and the only reason I remember that is because it was somehow a more conscious decision for me to enter that world that time. I pre-planned that day before it happened. I planned the night before that we would play our game. We got into it the same as we always had, but the preamble felt different to me. We didn't just jump in -- it was pre-meditated. It wasn't spontaneous.

What changed? I don't know. Certainly not self-consciousness -- at the time I had exactly zero friends and wasn't trying to impress anybody. I did get a job the next summer. I joined Facebook. I got my driver's license. I was diagnosed as severely anaemic. I went through the worst phase of my depression and nearly committed suicide. Was I really so wrapped up in numbing the pain I was feeling that I forgot about the most effective cure? Did I think it wouldn't work? Or did I truly forget it was available to me? Why did it never occur to me between then and now to try re-entering the story again?

I feel like I cheated her. She's younger than me, and so her last time entering the story was younger than mine.

Or maybe the reason I didn't notice was partly because I did keep connecting to characters -- but they were created by me, for me, not with her. I kept using different personas while writing, and now it's showing up as dancing and acting. Maybe that's why I cling so desperately to my performance dream -- because if I give that up, I have well and truly given up on the childhood I swore I would never completely lose.

If I were to try and join my siblings now, would they accept this new character? Would I accept their world? Do I still have the imagination to narrate myself out of a corner if need be?

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