If someone were to ask me about growing up in America, I might recall the following:
There is a labyrinth on the southern edge of Virginia, and the labyrinth is made up; that is to say, it consists of a number of intersecting and snaking streets with old brick houses lined up at the sides. Bluebells and rhododendrons grow out front under windows, and fences are erected between the perfect, square houses. A neighbourhood.
A five-year-old girl lives in one of these houses. At this very moment, she is screaming her head off, riding full throttle, her purple and white tricycle speeding down the steep slope of a neighbour’s back driveway. What is remarkable about the given situation is not the fact that the little girl is not wearing a helmet (because this is the nineties and health and safety’s rise to power had not yet manifested itself in the explosion of sports protective gear). Rather, what is curious about the given situation is that there is a swamp at the bottom of the steep path.
The pool of muck is covered in a green agley and churns with the boneless legs of broody bog creatures. There are six bog bodies in total, each one purple. Only the number of eyes or the sharpness of teeth differ from creature to creature. The little girl had once sent a Hot Wheels car racing into the swamp where it was promptly eaten up by mud and then, most certainly, torn apart by the hungry mouths below. The sky above the swamp is red. Only here it is such a colour; the rest of Virginia is blue. Perhaps another oddity worth mentioning is that under the aforementioned labyrinth of roads lives an elephant-sized rat. And this particular rodent has an affinity for wearing aprons and baking loafs of bread.
To the best of my memory, all of the above happened, and the little girl was me. Whether these moments occurred in my dreams or on the hard concrete of my neighbourhood cul-de-sac is another matter altogether.
For me, childhood memories are awash with colour, bloated by dreams, refracted through rose-tinted glasses, and confined to a vantagepoint not yet reaching four feet in height. Back then, the world seemed bigger, brighter and …do I dare say better and risk making myself sound prematurely like my grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and cousin? (It seems the observation is inevitable). Anyway, better or not, childhood was really something special. Perhaps it was all the more amazing given the free reign of imagination.
Images like the ones mentioned above – that of the purple bog creatures and the massive, baking rat – seeped into my conception of the world. And with such a mixture of reality and dreams, my perfect little neighbourhood became just the smallest bit more exciting; it became a fantastic zoo of oddities. Of course, imagination only embellished what dreams had begun. Lumps in the sidewalk, without a doubt, were the product of the enormous, subterranean rat bumping against his ceiling. The strange disappearance of the neighbour’s cat was the sad result of the bog creatures’ overwhelming appetite for both Hot Wheels cars and cats. The return of the neighbour’s cat was the happy result of the bog creatures developing a sudden dislike for cats. That is to say, the world was infinitely larger when dreams seeded imagination and imagination coloured reality. Perhaps that is one of the most memorable parts of childhood: the vastness of possibilities. Maybe that is why the world now sometimes seems a little bland, a little lacklustre. There was something simply wonderful in seeing the day-to-day without boundaries, without the scientific method, and without qualifying secondary sources. The world simply was what I dreamt and imagined. (I have already acknowledged the rose-tinted glasses, so please forgive the nostalgic reflection and, perhaps, embellishment).
Of course, there is some consolation in growing up. A five-year-old creature-creator is obliged to follow bedtimes. I am free to dream when I want.
[Reilly Dufresne – she/her]
[Photo credit: Reilly Dufresne]