The Price of Growing Up

       
          “Simon says reach for the sky. Simon says reach for your toes!” you yell as we sit on the top floor of Grandma and Grandpa’s house near the playground. As I struggle to touch my toes, you jump on the couch that is a strange coral and blood red color. The Grandfather clock chimes from the hallway and we hum each note like always. We run down the stairs that twist and turn, becoming race-cars with each step. As we jump to the floor, skipping over the last few steps, we become birds, soaring in the sky. And then we crash to the ground and roll and laugh and occasionally scream “ow!”

          At nighttime, when we have gone from Grandma and Grandpa’s, you and I eat dinner. I notice that you take the cheese off the pizza or that you put salt on your plain pasta. Immediately, I copy you, trying to be like my big cousin. After dinner, we play with your dog and three cats. I pull their tails and you quietly teach me how to pet them and avoid getting scratched. You teach me that, although the dog is as dark as my six-year-old nightmares, she is more like a daydream that bounces in and out of my view. You show me the trick you’ve taught her where she shakes your hand with her paw.

          It is then time for dessert and we eat our cookies and drink our milk and get ready for bed. After brushing our teeth and changing into our Powerpuff Girls nightgowns, Aunt Debby and Uncle Jeff turn out the lights and we climb into bed. Your room is usually a light blue like the daytime sky, yet at night it is hidden by shadows. We wait until we can no longer hear footsteps in the hallway and until the darkness creeps through the room. Then, we crawl out of bed and grab all of your many stuffed animals, pillows, Webkinz, and blankets. Carefully, we stack them on the side of the bed in two piles: one for you and one for me. We have done this before - we are artists and our art is perfect. These are our pillow towers, things that support us through the long and troubled childhood nights. We lie down perpendicular to the bed, resting our heads on the pillow towers and our feet against the wall. We talk softly about faeries and unicorns. In time, as the shadows settle on the ground, we fall asleep.

        A few years later, when Grandma lives in an apartment farther away, and Grandpa is gone, I see you less frequently. Daddy tells me that Grandma actually lives on the thirteenth floor, yet they call it the fourteenth because thirteen is an unlucky number. And soon, luck runs out. Every time I come to visit you, we play nonstop until it is time for dinner and in the mornings, we play until family brunch with bagels and lox, like always. On holidays, Aunt Joan brings her chocolate and vanilla meringues. Each time, I steal them from the dessert table when my parents aren’t looking but the next time I see you, there are no meringues - no chocolate or vanilla. A funeral is not a place for desserts.

          At Grandma’s funeral, you read a poem. I am too young to take part but I watch as you and everyone around me cries. I don’t understand what she has meant to me. I don’t understand that she is gone. I walk the coffin out of the funeral home with you, our hands resting upon it. I find it strange that, encased in this pinewood box, is a woman who once snuck me Hershey chocolates and watched movies with me after my parents had fallen asleep. Along with her death comes the death of my nightly views of the city lights from the wide apartment window, the college next door where my dad and I would climb on rocks and feed the orange koi fish, the trips to the Carvel ice cream store nearby, the playground at the house with the Grandfather clock, and our drawings in purple ink on yellow, faded paper. The distance starts to creep in between our Neopets and Webkinz games, our love of cats, and our pillow towers.

          I first notice the distance when I come up to New York one spring and you are not there for Passover Seder. I sit alone and daydream while the adults talk of their lives. The next time I visit, you are there, but not there, in a way. You don’t talk to me about faeries; instead, you are part of the adults’ boring conversation. A few years older, you have left me in the rivers of childhood, while you wander into the forests of adolescence. Rivers are simple; the current goes one way, but in forests, there are many paths, and twists and turns, and brambles.

          The video game we used to play is broken and dead in a junkyard somewhere. You eat pizza with the cheese on, while I still take it off. Your room is painted a pale yellow and I want to change my childish light blue room into a mature color of yellow, like yours. I want to print out antique maps of foreign countries and hang album covers on my walls with glue, mimicking your house. I still yearn to be like you, to have a connection with you. But it’s gone.

          Next year, you will be gone too. You will be leaving me for college and I’ll be stuck in childhood still. I won’t see you at Rosh Hashanah or Passover. I might see you at Thanksgiving and you’ll have interesting stories to tell, but not to me. We won’t make place cards for the table together, the paper leaves looking as real and crisp as the ones outside. We won’t hide away from the kitchen together, refusing to smell the dead turkey.  We won’t pet the dog anymore, as she is gone too, like Grandma and Grandpa and a part of ourselves. I no longer know anything about Pokémon - you no longer know anything about faeries. You’ve grown up. And so have I.

          In my house, the old Grandfather clock chimes. It is a remnant from our childhood
 and from my Grandma and Grandpa and how everything used to be. I long to have you here, shouting out Simon Says commands that I struggle to follow. But in between the years when we still made pillow towers and the years where you left me alone at family dinners, I’ve learned how to reach my toes.

text + visual: zipi diamond
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