I look around the classroom and I see the masks of my peers, equals in the bondage of maturity. I think I can also see who they were, as the days of memory accumulate like the birth of another person with the same soul. Forms change without awareness. Not new, but not the same, either. Only the pinpoint between the temples maintains the muster-sheet of identity. Call the roll now.
There are six-year-olds playing peek-a-boo among the desks. Chasing that big red ball of time down the hall. Bouncing, bouncing, and bouncing into the unknowable. Running and shouting and laughing for the joy of innocence in the fog-fenced playground.
Twelve, and pulling the string of a kite across an open field. Friends run alongside, either real or fairytale. The kite rising into the summer clouds like a phoenix not yet reborn. Unburned. Unimpaired by experience. Free to hang in the sky like a fool.
Then, the teens who flirt and beg. Social animals without an instruction manual. Hormones stalking prey, objects of feral lust, driven by hunger that can’t be named. Denied satiation by fear of failure, most took the directions they were given and followed the safe road to the final game. The others, so many others, found other paths. Some escaped into closet worlds to play new games. Not all the ways led out of the nightmares.
The final game crept in and pounced like an invisible tiger, chasing them from the comforting radiance of their only known world. What dark future waited? No light to guide them except what they could build out of moss, scraps of dry twigs, and a bonfire of cash. Dressed in the clothes of acceptability, they learned to cover their faces with virtue and work ethic and financial responsibility. Thus they arrived to this singular step on the stairway of life.
I see their masks of now, but I imagine other selves slipping out to disturb the readers who pretend not to see and smile at the antics between paragraphs.
Innocence is never lost, simply buried under the accretion of suffering. There are still games to be played, and the freedom to be foolish waits only for the unmasking. All the people that we were still live within. Every day adds to the crowd. Too many now to sort.
But, if I could just return to that six-year-old… That pure child. Just a day from that one day. It would be as though the massive pile of time were washed away like a sandcastle battered by the tide. Rediscovering that moment of innocence might be the medicine that makes the remainder bearable.