Cover my eyes with your hands
Just pretend we’re better
Turn out the light
There are no more surprises to come
Let’s be numb together”
I recall summer mostly in bursts of sunshine. I spent entire days outdoors, whether it was biking or swinging off the monkey bars. Trampling my mother’s roses (accidentally) in the backyard. Plucking roly polies out of the sandbox. Ducking in and out of long shadows beneath the trees. This was my childhood.
Fast forward to high school. The summer days are still long, but there is more structure. The sandbox is more or less abandoned in the lawn. Instead, I roam about in a clunky Honda Civic, passed down from my brother. The sunlight now streams in from the sun roof. I roll the windows down, and Billboard’s Top 20 crackles from the radio. Occasionally, I still bike to the park, shielding my eyes from the hot glare as my bike tires relentless scrape against the sidewalk. It’s a little lonelier at home, now that my brother is in college. Some particularly hot mornings, I spend hours on the computer, then spend the subsequent afternoons arguing with my mother. I daydream about the day when I can leave.
I leave for college. Because of the quarter system, I start classes a month later than the rest of my friends. It’s mid-September by the time I leave, and summer has begun to cool away. The plan is to drive sixteen hours to campus, and The Day has finally arrived. I cup my pet hamster in my hands as a farewell. I stroke his tiny legs and thinning patches of fur, and I realize that he is incredibly old. This is the last time I will ever hold him. Then, I step into the minivan. Warm rays of sunshine stream through the back window. We round the corner of the street when I begin to cry. My father glances in the rear-view mirror and sees me, but he chooses to say nothing and continues driving. I look back at the house, and it strikes me as a safe haven. It took me eighteen years to learn this. The same home that I spent my teenage years escaping, and now I did not want to leave it behind, even as I drove away. I know that I will never come back to that house as the same person.
It is curious how one’s mood is directly affected by the amount of sunshine one is exposed to. Here at work, cubicles consist of three and a half gray walls with poor lighting. My internship assignment landed me in one of the drearier buildings, where I navigate empty pallets and warehouse rooms to reach the southwest office corner. One exceptionally quiet Friday, I take a lap around the sea of cubes. The sunshine pouring through the northwest windows nearly blinds me. I stare at the plains and tree clumps beyond the industrial complex. Ten years ago, I would have made that open space my playground. Queen of the golden straw and running in any direction under the sun.
It aches sometimes to acknowledge how much I have grown. In those days, parents would never admit to their children that anything was wrong with the world. Only when I grew older did ugly truths gradually become apparent. Winter break of freshman year, my mother accused my father of cheating on her. My brother got high that evening, and we sat in the basement listening to jazz on the record player, drowning out the yelling upstairs. He mentioned divorce, and my first reaction was to scoff. Then, it suddenly became very tangible. Something that could be picked up from the grocery store or ordered at a restaurant. One divorce to go, please. I let myself consider the possibility, very briefly. Maybe I changed going to college, but home had also come to mean something different. Several days later, my parents spoke in cordial tones to each other. The argument had blown over. My mother told me to forget that it ever happened, but she never denied the truth, either. The time spent in that household was gray and overcast, even as glittering snow draped itself over the streets and Christmas lights went up in the living room.
I rarely shout when I am angry nowadays. I consider myself calm and collected, and I exert all efforts of friendliness. Sitting in my business casual attire in my cubicle, I am, for all pretense, a functional adult. A corner of my heart still yearns to release the unbridled energy within me, however. I wish I could scream at my parents to get their act together. I could gather the courage to fulfill my childhood dream and apply for med school. Ride a bike out of the Midwest, flat as a table top, past Lake Michigan and through the cornfields until I can see the Rocky Mountains. Home under the sun.
We live beautiful lies. We learn to smile in the face of pain, even as our vices and secrets tear at our minds from the inside out. No one wants to know all of you. When I am at my lowest, I think back to those days of frolicking in the sunlight. I was too young to appreciate that freedom we all crave in our limited time now. However, I refuse to become numb. I will be tough, but I will not forget how to feel. When I could lock away my heart, I will instead choose to love fiercely. I fight for clarity and purpose in my work; I search for those rays of sun, even as I stare at computer monitors all day. The little girl of my past, who laughingly built kingdoms in her backyard, she’s still here. I bury my cynicism in the quiet sandbox back home, now overrun by flowering weeds and the occasional rabbit. I remember what it is like to be unburdened by adulthood. And yet, we still grow.
Uncover my eyes. We don’t have to pretend to be better. Let the sun shine on, and never forget to feel. Give us all of the beautiful truths.