I’ve been both, and adult is better than kid. — Robert B. Parker, Early Autumn
I can only pray that this is a dream. Then when I wake up it will be over. Or maybe it’s one of those dissociative fugues; that could last a while, so that would suck, but if I really were having one I don’t think I’d remember what they were. It could be one of those bad movies, which means technically I’ll be out of it in something under two hours not counting end credits. I will have a word to say with the producer; don’t think I won’t.
That is, when I’m grown up again.
Whatever it is, it will be a great illustration for a lot of classroom discussion. Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, as viewed from the other side of the bridge. Objectivist epistemology: is Truth persistent, despite capacities and circumstances? Even the Kafka lectures are going to be a little more pointed and personal from now on, that’s for sure.
The logic seems to work something like this:
- The world is terrible.
- I don’t remember the world being terrible when I was twelve.
- Other people fed me and clothed me and paid bills and I owned nothing that needed maintenance or insurance and I didn’t know what “perfidy” meant let alone recognized it in my elected officials and I was never driving in rush hour traffic and there was never the threat of anyone firing me.
- Sometimes I got to be outdoors, on grass, with animals.
- I looked happy in all the photographs.
Ergo, I’d rather be twelve.
One way to deal with that longing is Facebook nostalgia — you know, memes about summer vacations, afternoon naps, crayons, blanket forts, Mom’s chicken soup, whatever.
Another way is to construct a dumb movie plot where the tween, miraculously aged, discovers just how sucky the adult world is and What’s Really Important in Life and does everything in his or her power to Go Home Again. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad. Hugs. End Credits. Little Red Riding Hood in technicolor. My Momma Done Tole Me, don’t go into the woods where there’ll be People Like You to ruin my innocence. My Momma was right, there’s blues in the night. (She also told me stay away, you never know what you’ll catch.) And Goldilocks ran all the way to her Home where she Promised her Mother she’d Never Disobey Again.
But let’s just say I’m not dreaming. If I’ve written myself into this movie, I should have some control over what I wished for, right? I’d like to go back and try again. I’d finish grad school. I’d kiss my Grandpa goodbye.
Wait. Grandpa? That assumes that I’m not just twelve but that it is also indeed June 25, 1977. I might have requested that I be twelve and yet it would still be 2014, which means that I’d have chances but I’d have no mother, no grandparents, and a heck of lot fewer aunts and uncles. What, I just wake up sitting on this front porch with no money and no ID and no place to call home, and I can’t even drive?
And wait. I am thinking like an adult. Well, of course, that would have to be part of it, right? If I were just twelve “again,” without the awareness and the memories, I couldn’t fix the problems or swerve to avoid the pain or even fully appreciate the long hot summer afternoon because, well, hell, I’m twelve, right?
OK. So say it is 1977. Facts:
- There are angry people sitting in long lines at gas stations.
- My sister owns what’s going to be my car, which by the way burns leaded gasoline.
- Nobody has a cell phone.
- I can’t figure out who or what or where I’m supposed to be because there’s no Internet.
- They haven’t caught David Berkowitz yet, and if I report him, that’s going to take a LOT of explaining.
- Am I supposed to be leaving cryptic notes everywhere telling people to Stay Home From Work on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001?
- Has Kohlberg even published the moral development thing yet?
- That book I was reading hasn’t been written yet. I wonder how it ends.
- Our house doesn’t have cable or central air yet.
- Red M&M’s might still be lethal; I can’t recall.
- If I walk in talking like this, my parents will slap me for being a smart ass.
- I’m bound to fail algebra again, anyway.
- My English teacher is going to assume I’m from outer space, a plagiarist, or both.
- My friends are going to seem inane, and I’m going to seem pompous. Oh, wait, that’s not new.
But what about the opportunities? The possibilities? Let me try again, we beg. I’ll get it right this time.
I see Mrs. Pauley across the street. Her husband died. Mine did, too, only not yet.
He’s alive somewhere. I could get him back. Not right now, of course, that would just be creepy; I’m twelve. He’s twenty-three. And if we became friends now he’d never fall in love with me; I’d always be the little girl, I can’t change the past, I do not want to try again in a world where I might breathe on a butterfly and so never have him…
But if I’m twelve and it’s 2014, and even granting that I can use the internet and have a cell phone, and presuming that I can find someone willing to become legal guardian for a plagiarist from outer space who’s bad at algebra, he’s already gone and I have that many more years to live without him.
Plus people telling me what I can and can’t do. And what time I’m supposed to do it at. And what I’m supposed to eat. Read. Watch. Say.
Mrs. Pauley reminds me of me. That helpless, hopeless look. Like the answer to every question is What Makes You Think Anything Matters?
Hi, I’m twelve, and I know what you’re going through. Do you want to talk?
Or, hi, I’m twelve, and I have my whole life ahead of me, how ’bout them apples?
I’d like to see the script pages, if this is a movie. So I would know if we’re going for Triumphant Spirit, which means I march over there and say exactly the right thing in a forthright manner and even the cops and the evil greedy capitalist landlord give way to my childlike powers of persuasion. Or if we’re doing the maudlin thing where I hug her before she leaves and she clutches me and cries, establishing her tragedy and foreshadowing mine.
Let’s see. I could stay here and try to improve my GPA, but with a manual typewriter.
Sure, and next year I can say to my parents three days before Christmas, Look, I’m going to get strep throat before New Years, so we’d better plan ahead. And oh, I’m going to be allergic to penicillin before this is over.
And, by the way, Mom, about that thing that you’re worried about, being a burden on us in your old age. Not really going to be a problem.
OK, but it can’t be 1977. That wouldn’t be Mrs. Pauley across the street, it would be Mrs. Walsh. And there’s no landlords in this neighborhood, in my neighborhood, I mean. Firmly upper-middle-class suburban homeowners as far as the eye can see. So it must be now, I mean 2014, and I’m just twelve, for some damn reason.
To save that woman? I have no power in this world. Give me back my grown-up cred, I’ll get her a lawyer; I’ll write an editorial; I’ll call the mayor. Like this, what can I do? Beg and plead? Cry? Organize a children’s protest? Wait — is Spielberg directing this? Is that the problem?
I can’t even offer her a ride, or a room for the night. My car, my house — does somebody else own them? Who has Daisy-Dog? Who’s teaching my class in an hour and a half?
A rustle at my elbow. I glance over, and involuntarily recoil. “Oh, sweet God, not YOU.”
“It’s your nightmare, lady. I just go where central casting sends me.”
“So I am dreaming, then? Or it’s a movie?”
“Very helpful.” I study him. “I suppose you have wish-granting abilities?”
“Na. I’m a Literary Device. A trope with wings. You have to do all the work.”
“I can’t work. There are child-labor laws.”
“Well, learn the lessons, then,” he says impatiently.
I scowl at him. “Whose stupid idea was it that I could possibly learn anything from being twelve?”
He leans in, says softly, “There really isn’t anything about this that appeals to you?”
“I don’t think so. I’ve thought it through. Nostalgia, check. People I miss, check. Opportunities, I really didn’t miss that many. I did good, you know, Clarence.”
“You haven’t moved off this stoop.”
“I mean up to now. I’m still me, wherever I take me. Whenever I take me. And if I weren’t, then I wouldn’t know it, and I couldn’t be having this conversation with you. Maybe The Audience would know it, but I thought this was supposed to be in my point of view.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“That this is an anomaly; a rift in space-time. Either I know what I am, which means I am what I am, or I don’t know, in which case I am what I am anyway, except it’s something else. But something else from what — and how could I possibly know that?”
“I’d like to request a policy change!” he shouts up towards the sky. “No more philosophers, EVER!”
“Yea, we make bad customers, I’m sure. Why did I even end up on the list?”
He gestures across the street. “We knew you’d sympathize. Even empathize.”
“I think it would have been more to the point to make HER twelve.”
He shrugs. “I don’t make the rules. You popped up on the radar. You’re alone. You’re sad. You have a cute dog. And you pray.”
“Did I ever say, Please God, make me twelve?” I ask. I really can’t remember at this point.
I say, softly, “You don’t need to save me. I swear it. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t like what I have, but I sure as hell — sorry — don’t want anything else that I could think of. That’s not my job. That’s not my place. Take me back.”
My cellphone rings. I reach across my desk to get it, moving aside the student assignments and the Call for Papers for the October 2014 Literary Roundtable in Philly. “How’s it going?” I hear.
“Forward,” I say.