I recently turned 25. So of course, the first thing I do is dive headlong into my quarter-life crisis. There is such a specific taste to this age, like nostalgia and fear wrapped into a fruit-roll-up. I am learning again who I am, but now with 25 years worth of thought and experience. We craft ourselves and our identities over and over and over throughout the years. Like wearing a shirt till it doesn’t fit anymore and you’ve got to get a new one. Turns out the shirt I’ve been wearing for my twenties is the same shirt I wore for my teens.
Now marred with high stakes and stains I can’t wash out as easily with my mother’s help. And since I’ve no war to fight and no baby to care for, my twenties shirt is soiled with only my mistakes, like the grease I can’t get out from working in a restaurant for too long.
Now that I have graduated, I am taking stock of the clothes I have worn as identities for years. Looking through each stain, each rip, every patch sewed on poorly. From this evaluation has come a realization; your twenties are your second round of teenage adolescence. Instead of detention, it’s jail and instead of getting a D it’s being hungry and unemployed. This piece is a look at the stains of my childhood on that tiny shirt I can’t fit into. It is acknowledging where I’ve been. Folding that shirt up and hoarding it in my closet like the rest of my wardrobe of thought.
The Quarter-life Crisis: Childhood
Childhood feels like sun on the water-soaked cement beside the neighborhood pool. Damp, yet slowly fading to dry, leaving behind the hot rock that’s all but impossible to walk across. Instead, we sprint, eager to keep the soft soles of our feet from burning. The older I get, the more the sun seeps the moisture from the cement, drying and drying till the grey is warm and grainy. No matter how many times I cannonball to create a tsunami of reminiscent thoughts, the cement continues to dry.
Childhood smells like my mother, warmth and clean clothes, like my head resting on her chest as she rocks me into comfort and quiet. She is the soft tempo of my youth, the heartbeat that guided mine into adulthood. Each rock of her arms around me brings forward another day, another year lost to forward swing of the chair. No matter how I burrow my head deep into the space between her neck and heart, I am rocked forward.
Childhood looks like the tropic pink of my bedroom walls, warming mind and memory by the sheer false proximity to a beached sunset. It is the foot of my sister’s bunk bed I curl into to shutout the terrors of darkness and innocence, fearing waking her, more still. It is a blackened fear of a night illuminated only by her soft snores, quiet reminders of life and existence outside my own. Though the ink of nights blots out the pink walls and her small form above me, I am colorful still behind my bricked-up eyelids.
Childhood tastes like sweetmeats and spinach, crackling together in a cauldron of my mother’s care. She brewed health and happiness beside a stove despite the chain of her children’s’ creation wrapped around her ankle. Her sacrifice tastes of salted cantaloupe, one sprinkled upon the other like her dedication upon us. Each moment she sautéed is nourishment, though my eyes were too young to see the flavors of love and protection, my tongue to juvenile to capture the gratefulness I should have returned to her.
Childhood sounds like screams of a developing language, each syllable tested and strained against the vocal cords of inexperience. It pervades every space, filled like a church mid-choir, but instead filled with laughter and play rather than prayer. Though there is prayer still, underneath the yelps and giggles, my mother’s soft voice pervades and guides as she kisses our jelly covered cheeks with a wish. She wishes out success in laughter, she wishes our growth in chastising yells, she wishes our empathy in the press of forehead kisses. Childhood screams the sounds of our former selves sheading and growing anew, each day, each year, we emerge from the love wrapped cocoon.
My childhood is over but for what survives in the senses. Ten years ago I would have told you childhood feels like my teenage ball and chain, the tether to earth my fifteen-year-old self couldn’t cut at quick enough. It feels like the snow on the roof outside my bedroom window, the cold crunch of crisp flakes not usually broken into.
New age shades a new color on childhood, another ten years and I am still trying to rewet the pavement to bring back the cool feel of that cement. I listen for the soft snores, the building giggles, the smell of cooked meat and love, the heat of a head tucked into my mother’s chest. This the fate of our childhood, to be swallowed by the ever-burning sun, without empathy or remorse for the lost moments and pastoral scenes of youth. I am in perpetual loss, chasing moisture that feels no such desperation for connection.
Who and what am I, but breath and days? Time is endless, consistent like moon driven waves.
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