I have always been extremely aware of life as being mostly death that hasn’t happened yet. I have no idea why I’m like that. I suspect, though, that it has to do with the fact that you can’t be more than about six years old before understanding that the only thing ever standing between between life and death is time. And time never, ever stops coming. So there you have it. It doesn’t matter who wins at Monopoly. It doesn’t matter who’s “It” in a game of tag. Hide ‘n Go Seek? Sure, it’s fun. I love that game! Find me! Don’t find me! I’ll be The Seeker, and give you all the time in the world to hide! Sooner or later, we all get found anyway.
Red Rover, Red Rover, send Johnny right over.
Pffft. Like I’d expect anything else.
Anyway, I was a fun kid. It probably doesn’t seem like I would be, but I was, because I was always acutely, keenly, sharply aware of life as a temporary state. I knew that being a kid was like a dreamI was having. And you know how in dreams the colors are always super-vibrant, and everything sort of shimmers with otherwordly, luminous potentiality? You know? When you’re dreaming, you know the trees around you could start talking, or you could start flying, or money could start raining from the sky. Anything can happen — and at any moment, all the rules could change. That’s how I experienced my life as a kid. Everything was open-ended. Everything was fabulous. Everything was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
Everything was just waiting for me and my friends to make of it whatever we most wanted it to be.
I used to think furniture danced around when no one was in the room. With Maximum Nonchalance I used to casually stroll out of a room — and then pop my head back in again, to see if I could catch the couch dancing with the chair, the coffee table boogalooing with the lamp. I never did see that. I noticed a couple of times that the coffee table wasn’t exactly where it was when I left the room, or that the lamp had zipped back to a place a little closer to the edge of the end table than it had been, but that was all. Nothing I could use for proof. And that was fine. It could be our little secret.
One thing about being . . . well, me, when I was a kid, was that because I had this basic conviction that at any time things could be a lot different than they were, I tended to do things that made them different than they were. Of course the problem with that is that there are always adults around who are definitely vested in things staying exactly as they are.
I enjoyed changing things; teachers, for instance, enjoyed keeping things the same.
To me, not being willing to reassess the way something is meant denying its potential. Which was the same as killing it.
I always liked my teachers. But very often, I didn’t see as I had a choice. I understood that in the realest possible terms, it was either them or me. I knew I only had so much time. And I definitely knew that fun was just about the best thing anyone could ever have in this life. Hence my understanding that it was critical — and fair, and right — for me to get as much fun as possible.
And that is why, for instance, one day at school I thought I’d see what would happen if I snuck into the room where the crosswalk guards stored their orange vests and white hats and big “Stop” signs, put all that stuff on, went down to the area of our school where just then all the kindergarten kids were having recess, clapped my hands, told all the kids to line up in two rows, and then walked them off the school grounds. I was in sixth grade. I figured that to the kindergartners, I’d look like an adult. Or enough of one, anyway.
The kids and I were off the school grounds — we’d crossed the asphalt basketball courts and four-square boxes, passed the swing set/jungle gym area set in the grass, traversed the entire grass playing field, walked all the way down the straight, long path running between the school and the nearest street — before I realized that I had no plan beyond that. Still holding my “Stop” sign across my bright orange vest, I looked down at the forty or so kids who’d so obediently followed me from school. They were definitely looking to me to tell them what’s next.
Life. Sometimes it’s just so hard to tell who’s in charge, isn’t it?