Before it grew faded and cliché, appearing only in fragments of nostalgia and the occasional disruptive dream, there was a wondrous time when childhood was real.
If I could close my eyes and travel back for one hour, it would be to an autumn afternoon, any one of hundreds of them, to the smell of apples and the delectable crunch of leaves below my boots. I would listen to the wind in the branches and watch the birds fly away, up through curls of smoke and the sweet scent of autumn leaves that hung like a smiling mask over the primal fear of cold.
In Childhood Autumn I would not be afraid to leap into piles of those leaves, nor would I consider that they would soon be gone to winter. Nor would I consider that Childhood Me would someday also be gone. The one who could fall, unafraid of pain.
We would carve a pumpkin, and I would press my face to its face and breathe in its cold, wet, earthy aroma. I would grin proudly at the silly teeth that had sprung to life from my imagination and warm my hands by the old furnace grate. In pajamas, I would sit by the window. I would write poems and eat pumpkin seeds and watch for neighborhood cats and try my hand at witchery and (in a moment of lucidity) marvel at how long an hour truly lasts.
I would do my best to forget that I was a time traveler, and I would plan things like a trip to the rickety old cider mill, where I would ride a slapdash barrel train driven by a pipe-smoking man, older than time, and would never stop to think that someday that magical place would cease to exist, or the old man would finally die. And Childhood Me would dangle my hands out of the train, and catch blades of hay.
I would plan intricate games with my sisters, involving fields of corn, or hideaways under willow trees. Influenced by Edgar Allan Poe and by the mischievous visual trickery of M.C. Escher, we were rarely bored. We would design state-of-the-art fortresses, or breathtaking labyrinths and build them from kitchen chairs and outdated sheets. And there inside, we’d while away the rest of our evening, encased in splotchy floral patterns and the scent of bleach and sky, until it was time for bed.
I would watch for signs and stories in the black clouds as they slipped over the moon, a heavy maroon of sundown falling slowly away. These were the items that I collected like a mad hoarder, crinkles of sky, wisps of wind, the lull of crickets, cobwebs in the corner of a room. They would be the backdrop and the soundtrack to countless stories written by Future Me, accompanied at times by the fervent crackle and glow of a cigarette (and later by Wiser Me, with wine alone.) I would peek out at the ghastly, shapeshifting shadows. Toys gazed at me from the shelves. Jesus and Mary were in that room, in gaudy golden frames. They were children, like me, and none of us knew how complicated our relationship would one day be. I folded everything in this room into a faded, handwritten note to myself, and I have never quite forgotten nor remembered it since. It was simply gone one day, like Childhood Me.
If you could close your eyes, and travel back for just one hour, where would you go? Tell me. Take me with you.