Sometimes I think how you remember your childhood varies with how much time has passed since. Each year adds another coat of paint tempered with pop culture and shifting perspectives. Childhood takes on this orange hue, as if a perpetual summer. One coloured with the clichés we remember from movies: bare feet, tire swings, lakes, rivers, streams, creeks – how much of childhood seems to revolve around water? It’s as though youth finds itself in something at once both primordial and perpetual in its motion.
“Childhood” – when remembered as such – is just these images. They are probably not even our own. We have to think further to connect childhood to something. Time comes back in fragments. These are the “stories.” These are the pieces you slot together into a puzzle that can never really be completed. Do you ever start talking to an old friend or family member and they come out with an old story in which you are the protagonist that you have absolutely no memory of? It feels like someone else’s life. It’s a piece to the puzzle, but one you don’t feel comfortable fitting in because it doesn’t connect to anything else. It’s just this lonely jigsaw shape floating about in your life.
A while ago, my uncle told a story of toddler me that my parents didn’t even know: he took me for a walk and – toddling about as toddlers do – I found a small rock that I tried to push through a storm drain. When it didn’t fit through the grate, I kept pushing, punctuating each attempt with a “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” I guess I was able to take this “new old story” as my own because I can still relate to it today.
But these fragments, these pieces, become clichés – clichés like: bare feet, tire swings, lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, and the colour orange – because that’s what we need as an anchor.
But I digress.
Summer. Childhood always seems to take place in the summer because when we were kids, summer meant being free. And now, being free means being a kid.
Summer was your own world. For me, my parents both worked. And then my dad decided to go back to school. He became a full-time university student who also worked several part-time jobs (because my mother made too much for him to qualify for student loans, but not enough for us to, you know, have things.)
It is too hard now to construct a daily narrative. I cannot remember the pattern of the average day in the summer. I remember the freedom of being home alone. I remember the freedom of running around with the neighbourhood children, in and out of backyards, over fences, through carports; dirt under our crudely nibbled nails and scabs on our knees. I remember dates with my friend’s family who lived two blocks away (far enough away to be another land). Last week I saw this friend for the first time since my wedding. I played with her daughter. Her mother stopped by. We conversed as adults. Time passes. Dynamics shift.
In those latch key summers, she would drive us up to the free outdoor pool. Sometimes it would suddenly close because some kid pooped in the water. Just like in Caddyshack. We would pile back into the car in our swimsuits, barely towel-dry. Once, it was so hot inside the car that my half-exposed ass cheek hit the hot metal of the seat belt. It burnt, blistered, and left a scar that finally disappeared sometime in high school.
We came home and presumably let ourselves in. That seat belt burn left a perfect square in the middle; it was so clearly a seat belt. That brand was an emblem of summer. It marked me a child of free swimming pools, latch keys, and camping in the backyard.
One time we played house in the broken-down car sitting in the carport. We moved in a kitchen shelf, throw pillows and the cat. The “mother” sat in the driver’s seat but all of our bedrooms were in the back. When our game was done, we let ourselves out, made sure we locked the doors (as we had always been told), then realized the poor cat was still inside.
Luckily the car in the shade, but we had to wait a few hours for our parents to get home with the key.
It was the one key we didn’t have.