Trigger Warning: mentions of injuries, blood and corporal punishment.
At 23, I think I’ve passed the age for skinned knees.
And yet, here I am.
This whole week has been a slow journey back to childhood, no different to how it always is with me, right? I am always returning to these vestiges of the past, attracted to crumbling structures and their stories. Except it didn’t once feel like escaping, like I was swapping my adult responsibilities for memories of simpler days. Instead, it felt like returning to myself, to where it all started. The great wonders of childhood, the great truths in them.
You know, I skinned my right knee so badly as a kid that I still have a scar from that time. It is a raised bump, all scar tissue, that really stands out from the rest of the surrounding skin. To begin with, I already think knees are not very pretty (they’re necessary but awkward-looking). Now having this large scar tissue on my knee is no improvement.
And today, to add insult to injury, I skinned my knee again. As a 23-year old.
It was just a slight graze, lacking any fantastic blood loss. I fell off my own two feet as one does, smack down in the corner of the street. And as I was falling, all I could think was:
‘Wait, am I really falling here, now, in the middle of the street??’
You have to understand that not a minute before I was walking like an independent woman with a new Kate Spade bag (my sister’s, not mine) and the next I was getting up close and personal with dirty bitumen.
When I promised myself I would keep my inner child alive, skinned knees was not what I had in mind. Wonder, creativity, joy…That is what I meant. But as I was falling, I think I also fell back into childhood, the way Alice falls down the rabbit hole.
The burning sensation on my knees and palms, the light sting on my right knee, the trickle of blood and broken capillaries all brought me back to my formative years — not the ones where I was struck on the knuckles, where I emerged head bent, palms burning a fire that was nothing compared to my shame. No, it was not even those days when I futilely crammed mathematical formulae in my head, when I studied without learning much or recited print-outs on exam papers.
The world would want for this to be my formative years. The system dictates that this should be it: my turning points, my significant encounters and the course of all my personal rebirths. But it’s not. And this — this quiet discrepancy, this refusal of the world’s ways is the greatest of rebellions to me.
In this rebellion, in this choice, lies all of me.
No, as I fell into the rabbit hole, I found myself transported back to the gardens of my childhood, to free, blue skies and days that gave me all the liberty to follow the course of aeroplanes crossing the sky and birds taking flight to who knows where. It took me to quiet classes in the school library, encased between tall bookshelves made of golden wood where we would discuss the significance of Thomas Hardy’s “The Going” — hours that saw the unravelling, the rising of my being to new life. I returned to the heart of my own being, who I was before I needed to be anybody.
‘Like Ulysses returned to Ithaca’ my childhood self supplies. Oh yeah, that was a thing. I grew up adoring all sorts of mythologies. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan… I spent my days wondering about them all.
It’s funny how I walked away from all this without knowing.
Inch by inch then all at once I left these quiet pleasures, these little, potent truths for a world that needed me to be someone else. An obedient student. A good employee.
A trickle of warm blood, a skinned knee like a blood sacrifice and here I am, back to where it all started.
Remember who you are and don’t let the world take it away from you again.
In the moments after the fall, after I dusted myself off and got back on the road, shaken, I spoke to the child in me again. Long conversations that did not require many words. Many things became obvious to me; the lies I had fed myself began to fall apart.
Now, I am almost laughing at the me who wrote that she was not sure she wanted to be a writer after all, the me who was still looking for her “thing”. Too afraid of not having what it takes, of the long road ahead, it was easier to look for something else, to not pin all hopes onto this one silly passion…It was more sensible, more reasonable to pursue something less whimsical, more stable, more profitable.
But if money didn’t matter, would I really be going to an office everyday from 9 to 5? If I knew I was dying, would I really be okay with living like this? Would I not want to formulate a plan, a getaway, an adventure?
But I am dying, aren’t I? Aren’t we all?
The real challenge in all of life, in this young adulthood stage is to conciliate the ephemerality of our lives, the suddenness of death with an existence that endures day by day and leaves us feeling secure, complacent in our momentary triumph over death.
‘So, wait, am I leaving my job?’
Not quite. But I am going to make space for adventure. I am going to dedicate time to doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. Like, I don’t know, write a book. Travel the world. And maybe I’ll quit my job too when it starts holding me down.
Who knows what’ll happen?
“That’s the best part,” the child I used to be says “You can walk out the door and have a million different things happen in the time it takes for you to return.”