Today, the last of my friends left for college.* It’s got me thinking about goodbyes and the last time I said goodbye to an era of my life.
When I moved from D.C. to where I live now, I was twelve, and I knew from the moment I carefully unpacked my entire china fairy collection** from the boxes in my room all by myself and cleaned up without anyone telling me to afterwards that things weren’t going to be the same anymore—I was no longer a child. I was suddenly part of that awkward in between stage where you aren’t quite a teenager, but you’re certainly too old to be a kid. And it felt like eating one of those sour candies I used to buy from the ice cream truck–the type that I once made Pippa eat so much of that her tongue got so red, swollen, and bumpy that my mom nearly called the doctor.***
At first, it was so sour that your eyes teared up and your tongue felt like screaming in shock and pain. Then, just like on a long run, you become impervious to it–it still hurts, but you can work through it in a dull, rhythmic manner. It’s as if the pain will never leave, but you can just keep feircely struggling through it with eyes narrowed and forced, even breathing. Finally, it tastes sweet, like a proper lemon drop or a strawberry sucking candy. But there are always those sour pockets still stuck in the sweet part that make you cry all over again, and it hurts as shockingly and sharply as it did in the beginning.
I liked the responsibility of this new in between age. I loved being known as “the smart, mature one,” but I missed building fairy houses every fall until my arms were caked with mud, and the flowers in the front yard were rather unevenly pruned of their blossoms.
I missed playing in our backyard, in the kids’ space under the addition, where we had the secret and illegal “flat feet club,” named not for the height of our arches, but for the ability to plant your entire foot, covered in wet mud, on the whitewashed ceiling while swinging at scarily high angles on the swings. It made terrific bangs if you were inside of the house listening and the footprints were very difficult to wash off with the jet of the hose alone.
I missed playing “Laura Ingalls Wilder” for hours on end in brightly printed calico dresses as we watered the “fields”–my mother’s herb and vegetable garden–or made corn cakes on the stove, dribbling batter all over the floor to Louie the Dog’s delight. I was Ma, the ringleader and boss of the game, Pippa was Mary, Joseph was Frederick, Laura’s brother who died, Lee was Laura, Beth was Carrie, and Beth’s and Lee’s two-year-old younger sisters both played Grace.
I missed playing baseball in the front yard for hours. Like most of our sports games, we didn’t play with regular rules. The bases were all about six feet apart and the pitcher, which was me about ninety percent of the time, played all the positions except catcher. All the other kids would line up behind home plate and choose between the thin yellow wiffle bat, the big, flat-sided plastic bat, or a kid’s metal bat that made a satisfying ping when it connected with the ball. It was impossible to strike out, and instead of umps, we duked it out by seeing who yell the loudest and most intimidatingly. There were no teams, and we’d go for hours.
It was almost as fun as the World Cup soccer games we’d play across the street under the oldest oak tree in D.C. When we weren’t arguing over who got to be Djibouti, Ghana, or France, we were all charging around the ball, elbows wildly swinging, trying to get a goal. Tripping was common, and we’d frequently end particularly vigorous games sporting purple bruises all over our shins. But the bruises were battle wounds, and we wore them proudly, pointing at them and explaining in excessive detail exactly how that one was gotten when we had made a particularly impressive play.
But here in this new place, I didn’t have any of those endless hours of outdoor playtime. People in this town mostly stay inside and go to scheduled activities, and so I did too. I learned that you could use the internet for more than just buying American Girl Doll clothes and checking your email. I switched from play dates to “hanging out” and “going over” to other people’s houses. I cried a lot, and it sucked. But I adjusted. I began to really like it. This new era became me and who I am, and not some uncomfortable place where I didn’t want to be. Sure, I miss being a kid a lot. I feel a weight and a slight tingling in my solar plexus every time I think of how much I miss it. Sometimes, I tear up. But being here became good and sweet just like the center of that candy.
I’m still solidly in the super sour candy phase right now. I cried this afternoon. And unlike when I was ten, I can’t force Pippa to deal with it for me. But if I did it once before with some amount of grace, I know I can do it again. There are exciting, new, and shiny things ahead, I just need to keep eating the candy long enough to get to the sugary part.
*Well, George is still here, but she’s leaving for Durham in the U.K. in a few weeks, and she’s busy working a lot of the time.
**Which, along with most of trinkets I was fond of during my childhood, now sits, carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed in shoe boxes, underneath my bed.
***This incident along with the time I gave her chemical burns from spraying air freshener (I thought it was hairspray. I was five.) directly onto her scalp gets brought up anytime Pippa needs proof that I am a “mean person.” I never meant to cause her harm, I just didn’t have any idea what the consequences would be.