Inspired by my prolific friend Tim Gilmore, I decided to write something about my childhood. While my novel Tamper included some semi-autobiographical chapters, this is all new and all true:
I’ve been trying to erase the line between science and mysticism since I was a child, even if I couldn’t put it into words. Some people say that every moment in time is happening simultaneously. I tend to believe it.
There are golden childhood moments that have stayed with me all my life. I don’t think about them every day, but when prompted by a certain sight, sound, place, or something I eat or drink, they are happening again, right now.
Second grade. Autumn. Paper cutouts of Pilgrims and Native Americans encounter each other on the classroom bulletin board. Black hats, big buckles, headdresses, moccasins. The Mayflower in the harbor. Pumpkins, corn, apples, and pears overflow from a “horn of plenty” basket known as a cornucopia. The weather is crisp and chilly in Virginia. The teacher had read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to us, just before Halloween. She told us about the Salem witch trials. It was all still fresh in my mind. To this day, I like reading about ghosts and witches, real or imagined (is there a difference?).
Sitting at our second grade desks, we write our names on the top line of the paper, and under the name, we copy the date from the chalkboard. November 5, 1962. I remember doing this in the first grade. A pattern forms in my mind, and life is good. I have risen above babies and kindergartners because, after only two years in elementary school, I have grasped the reliable, inexorable logic of calendars. Things gel fast when you’re a kid. This world of Halloween-tinged constancy is one of my golden moments. When I feel the glow now, as an adult, would a scientist say it is only a surge of serotonin or endorphin that approximates my second grade epiphany?
I didn’t expect it to ever change. I looked forward to future events, like Christmas and summer vacation, until at some point, I must have felt change at a subconscious level. On the playground, I stood too close to a little girl in a swing. The corner of the swing cut my forehead. My invincible forehead healed, leaving a tiny scar, which I thought looked cool, like I was a tough guy. But when I saw creases in an old person’s face, I thought, that won’t happen to me for an eternity. By the seventh grade, the decay of autumn lurked mysteriously in my soul like a guilty pleasure, but also, on a distant horizon, a scary realization, fear diminished by the hubris of youth.
My mother has an old black and white photo of my friend Russell Board and me pretending to be super heroes, wearing towels for capes. We look a lot sillier than we thought we did at the time. I was five years old and Russell was six. He was very smart and I looked up to him, listened to him. As we got older, comic books taught us a lot about science. Metamorpho, the Element Man, introduced by DC comics in 1964, could shape-shift into any element or combination of elements. We learned that iron and carbon were elements that, when combined into an alloy, make steel, because Metamorpho explained it when turned his fists into steel to fight a robot. The Flash, another DC hero, could pass through solid matter by vibrating his molecules at super speed, to slide around the molecules in the wall. Even though this was not possible in real life, it helped us understand the nature of atomic particles.
Then one day I was in the front yard of my house with my younger brother Jeff and his friend Dennis. We were pretending to be super heroes, pretending to fly. I was their leader. With our arms stretched forward, we ran, pretending to fly, making whooshing sounds like the wind in the Superman TV show. Russell Board rolled into view on his bicycle, on the street in front of my house, and we ran to meet him as he slowed down. “You wanna play super heroes with us?” I asked, and he said, thoughtfully and mildly, “Mmm…I guess not.” I was embarrassed. Russell was not judgmental about it. He did not look down derisively at me. But he had outgrown it and I felt suddenly so embarrassed for still playing like a little kid. It was a turning point in my life. I don’t know about Russell, but I didn’t want to let go of the past. I wasn’t ready. Some days, in some ways, I’m still not ready. But there would be other golden moments.
To be continued…
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