Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in aging , child , childhood , dale wilsey jr. , death , growing old , life , park , playground , riding , storms , writing , youth | Posted on Monday, May 02, 2011
"I'm five years old," said the unnamed boy running about in his sunglasses and blue jeans. "I turned five on my birthday."
"I'm five, too," said my good friend Gabby's three-year-old son, Miles.
Marcelle, another good friend, Gabby and I all laughed together. We had just come to the park at the end of Washington to let Miles burn up some energy. Like all young boys, he has enough to spare. And, like all mothers of young boys, Gabby was more than happy to let him use some up.
The two boys were climbing about the playground equipment in the park. Across the small bridge, which undulated under their tiny feet, and down the spiral, static-inducing slide. No matter how many times I'd receive tiny jolts of electricity on my way down those plastic slides as a child, it never seemed to stop my fun. Then again, fun is one of the only things you have as a child. What's there to stop it when one of your biggest worries is whether or not you'll get ice cream after dinner?
Gabby snapped photos of Miles while Marcelle and I found ourselves a spot to rest on the walkway of the park below a Maple tree. After weeks of rain and warm weather, the trees had exploded into life with buds bursting open and unfurling their newborn leaves.
As I sat on the shaded pavement, leaning back on my hands and feeling the warm, fresh breeze of Spring move across my face, I couldn't help but think of how much easier it would be if I could return to those days.
"You can't catch me," said the boy in the blue jeans.
They were running about, kicking up the faded mulch and whirling around the chocolate-brown piping of the playground.
"Hey, man," said the blue jean boy. "I'm five years old," he repeated.
"I'm six," Miles responded. He kept making himself older.
There were times when I used to do the same, as a boy. I couldn't wait to be 13 and a teenager. For some reason, I figured it would mean more freedom. Less nagging from my parents. Then I wanted to be 16.
A driver's license, for me, was like the holy grail. It provided freedom. A ticket to the outside world without the constraints of asking your parents for a ride somewhere. When I wanted to go, I went. Turned the key. Fired up the engine and fed that hungry beast gallons of gasoline with the smooth movements of my foot. Then, it only cost $10 to fill my tank. Then, I had no other bills to worry about.
Eighteen came. I bought a pack of cigarettes for a friend simply because I could. Went to a strip joint and blew every dollar I had earned during my birthday week while simultaneously learning that some women could rob the money right out of your wallet without even touching it. I graduated high school and went to college. There, I learned that it wasn't only women in skimpy clothing who grabbed money out of your pockets. Banks, bookstores and the state were equally as good. They even charged interest.
Then came 21. I had learned enough at 18 that blowing all your money on a celebration was rather useless. I spent July sixth of 2004 watching a movie in my bedroom while drinking a six-pack.
There came a point, sometime after I turned 21, where I realized that everything anyone had ever told me about staying young when I was a boy was true. Like every child, I never wanted to go to school. I wanted to stay home and always envied adults for not having to go to school. I never believed them when they said it was better than working every day. Never believed that being a kid was better than being an adult.
"When you get to be my age, you'll wish you were back in school," they'd say. "Homework is a lot more fun than bills."
When I open my paycheck and see that I've worked over 100 hours in the past two weeks, those days I spent sitting in class, longing for the clock to strike three, seem so far away. Now, I wait for the clock to strike six. And I don't even have the luxury of "snow" days anymore. There's no staying home when my stomach hurts. I go to bed earlier now than I did when I was in school. Why did it always seem like my parents were up so late?
And, as if the working week and bills showing up in the mail weren't enough to make me long for childhood days, there are the truly difficult times and harsh truths that one must face as the years pass by. Those friends you used to run and play with as a child start to thin out. Some move on to other lives. Interests change. There are fallouts and breakups. There are deaths.
As a child, your own ignorance of the world and how life works protects you from many of the worst parts of it. Your beloved dog doesn't die, he goes away to a farm. Or to play with other happy dogs in the sky. Your grandmother is not dead. She's an angel with wings. She's with grandpa, now. These are the things we're told. Things that, as children, we may believe and, as adults, we wish we could. But the innocence and carefree times of childhood are long gone.
Though, growing older is not all terrible or crushing. There are events and bits of happiness which make their way into my life to make it all worth it. The way in which my niece hugs me and calls for me, reaching her tiny arms into the air searching to be held. A call from my beautiful woman whose voice can break through any fog that's moved in on my day. The understanding of a friend. Or, even a moment like this where I sit in the company of friends who truly take joy in time spent with one another. Where each of us can watch two boys, both unaware of anything but how fun it is to be playing in the park, and take joy in their innocence and happiness.
In the same thought where I wish I could return to being a little boy, fishing from a boulder along Bowman's creek with my grandmother, I hope that Miles doesn't grow too quickly. That my niece remains unaware of the pains and sorrows of passing years for as long as she can. It's a tough world and life is not an easy path to travel. But, at least we have our childhood days to ease us into it.
I can't go back to those times. I know that, if I spend the present longing for the past, I'll wake up at fifty and still be longing. Wishing to return to this moment under the Maple and so many like it.
"Let's go for a walk to the car," Miles says. His statement solves Gabby's problem of how to get him to leave the park and head home.
Off over the valley, the stirrings of storm clouds begin to appear and I look at my motorcycle parked next to Gabby's car. It's a half hour ride home. Miles pounds my fist in true dude fashion and I hug Gabby and Marcelle goodbye. My bike rumbles to a start and I push the kickstand up and head out.
The ride home is windy and with every mile covered, the threat of rain seems worse. But I don't let it take the joy out of the cruise. For now, it's dry. It's warm. And it's a good ride. Whatever storms may be ahead, they're not here yet.
So I ride on.