By: Anna Louise Steig
At seventeen years old, I am still scared of the dark. Though it petrifies me to the bone, I think most of us – us being the broad spectrum of young teenagers to seasoned adults – can agree that there is nothing inherently malicious about the dark. After all, it is the natural state of the Earth, if we weren’t so lucky as to be cosmically arranged in the vicinity of a flaming ball of fire. The majority of us are long past the familiar days of trembling beneath the blanket, wondering silently what evils lurk within the closet or underneath the bed frame. Monsters do not scare me. Ghosts do not bother me. Cryptids call themselves my friend. What haunts me is to finally release my childhood, like a balloon floating into the stratosphere, a balloon your mother might try to replicate but you, in the infinite wisdom of a child, understand that it will never come back.
The innocence of childhood has always resonated deeply with me, especially as a girl whose once-in-a-lifetime experience was snatched away, stolen like precious goods. Puberty struck a milky skinned, bruise kneed, pigtail child like lightning and through the night transformed her into a desperate rebel, like some alternative Cinderella story. “You’re so mature for your age,” they all crooned, lauding me with certificates of academic achievement while wholly ignoring the fundamental social skills I was missing out on. Normal ten year olds did not want to play at recess with the girl who couldn’t keep her nose out of books and her scrappy fringe out of her eyes.
The most astounding aspect of childhood is not the hours of recess, the arts and crafts, even the untapped well of first time joys. Rarely is any adult appreciated, celebrated, even, simply for existing. A toddler tumbles down a slide and everyone within a mile radius jumps to cheer her on; a kindergartener waltzes off to school and his parents weep at the doorstep; a second grade student peels her own banana and the lunch lady lathers on the praise. As soon as I began to exhibit terminal symptoms of an illness called “growing up” I was subliminally introduced to a set of standards for functional members of society. The world around me had a preset expectation that I would, on my own, be capable of going down the slide, prepare for school, peel my own banana; there was no more praise for milestones. As soon as the first drop of blood stained my cotton panties, I became a woman. Through the magic of unfortunate biology, an eight-year-old loses her youth. And so, I sleep with stuffed animals. I hold them tight. I relish visits from my grammy because its the only time a night light is turned on in the hall bathroom – I can’t bring myself to plug one in in my own room. After my boyfriend’s band practice and before we have sex in the backseat of my car, I order an ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles from Dairy Queen and squeal when they hand it to me through the window. In my mind, I like to pretend that everything has a soul, a friend, a mother, someone who is going to miss them when they’re gone, so I refuse to step on the bug; I pick it up, be it bee or beetle or butterfly, and release them into the grass. I’ll roll down the hill, buy a bell for my bicycle, wear my waist long hair in draping pigtails just because I want to embrace the feeling of being fun. Of doing things without ulterior motives, of simply living because there’s nothing else you know how to do yet. When you’re a child, nothing gets in the way of living. That is why I hold onto the balloon, that is why I let myself be scared of the dark.