Monthly Archive for January, 2009

Nineteen Eighty Five

All of us have past lives. Points in our lifetimes when we were different. Sure, we all experience the gradual changes of growing up, maturing, learning, becoming more wise. But these are things that usually slip quietly into ourselves; things that change about us in small and sometimes imperceptible ways, gradually, over a long period of time. A whole life, even.

But, once every so often, we have an “AHA!” moment. That tiny microsecond where your brain changes; when you realize that you’ve changed. The first time this happened to me, was in 1985. I was 5 years old. Not necessarily the moment of enlightenment, when you might scream “Eureka!” Instead, a moment when you can see the old, and see the new… and you can identify, sort of, the in-between moment when you knew you had changed. Something happened, and you might not know exactly what it was, but you know you’re not the same as you used to be.

The mention of the year 1985 stirs a lot of emotions, a lot of memories, a lot of thoughts. It was the year in which I had that first “AHA! Change afoot!” moment in my life. When it struck me, my tiny 5 year old brain realized that there was a previous version of Chris. One that existed from birth up until age 4. But, somehow that version no longer existed. He was gone?

1985 was a great year. I was in kindergarten. For the whole year, my brother and I both rode the same bus to school, marking the only time this ever happened in our lives. He kept an eye on me, as every 5th grader with a kindergarten-aged sibling should.

1985 in my adult mind represents the best year of my childhood. It was a year of innocence. Before the colorings and jadedness that come with experience. I was fresh and new and untried, yet still just old enough to realize I had my own personality.

It was before I ever understood that I was poor. That the kids I went to school with, whether they knew it or didn’t, had trust funds worth more than my parents house. That their parents drove much nicer cars than the teachers. That eventually, when they were old enough to drive, the kids themselves would drive much nicer cars than the teachers.

1985 was the year when I learned that Ronald Reagan is the president. And some guy named Jimmy Carter was the old president.

1985 was still well in advance of my parents surprise separation and subsequent divorce in 1988. It was before I had any doubt about my parents; before I realized that they’re just people, too. I didn’t understand yet that they make choices, and have to live with the consequences of those choices.

1985 was still three years before my great-grandfather, the patriarch of our family, died of old age. He and I were cut of the same cloth. He would often admonish me for wearing thin the knees of my jeans. If he had his way, I would have hunched over to make toy cars speed ahead rather than be at eye level with them, on my knees. I never understood why he got so mad about it, but I get it now. I totally get it now. Thanks, Pop.

1985 still preceded the collapse of my family’s long-running mushroom growing business. It was before I knew what a feud was. Before I knew what a lien was. Before I knew what a sheriff auction entails.

In 1985, my parents were only about five years older than I am now.

1985 was the year that I first realized that humans are just so utterly fallible; but that despite this frailty, we basically have limitless potential to learn from our failures and avoid the same mistakes. Yes, I learned this from cartoons, but it doesn’t reduce the value of the lesson.

Speaking of cartoons, 1985 was the year of G.I. Joe and Transformers. And to a lesser extent, Go-Bots.

1985 was the year of show-and-tell. I had no problem going to kindergarten. I would later have a lot of problems going to 1st grade, but in this year, I loved every second of school. In kindergarten, I made friends easily, and in general that’s how everything felt: easy.

One of the tests for passing kindergarten was cutting two pre-drawn circles, separately, out of a piece of construction paper. I remember that when Mrs. Dadds passed out the paper, she took an extra second to emphasize how important it was that we cut it straight and accurately. We had the original metal safety scissors, the ones made prior to the general plasticizing of everything in the classroom. I burned through those circles with every bit of focus and concentration I could muster. When I dropped the completed cutouts onto my desk, I looked up to see that everyone else was really taking their time. Another student looked at me, panic-stricken and said to me in earnest: “Why did you rush so fast through those? She said it was really important that we cut them perfectly.” I need to emphasize that this kid was REALLY cutting his patterns slowly. While I had completed both of mine and was moving on to the other test requirements, he (and much of the rest of the class) were still painstakingly cutting the first of their two perfect circles. I simply remember thinking “Hey, relax, it’s just kindergarten. A circle is still a circle, whether it takes 10 seconds to cut it out, or 10 minutes.” Even then, I knew about wasted time. I understood “busy work.” I wish I had verbalized my thoughts to the poor kid, just to see his reaction. Just so I would have that memory.

I remember clearly, sitting in a circle around Mrs. Dadds story telling chair. Behind the story telling chair, she had a super large construction paper calendar that she would decorate in the style of the month. For the month of March, for example, she would have cutouts of a lamb and of a lion. She would explain “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” to us. Now repeat for each month.

I remember, sitting in this circle, waiting for the story to start, or maybe end. She was in her chair, the kids all sitting Indian-style on the floor. Even at that young age, I was prone to staring off into space and thinking. I do it way more now but the seeds were there, way back when. So there I was, thinking off into space, when I settled on the calendar. I thought about the year 1985. I thought about the year 1984, and realized I didn’t really remember it.

I realized that there was a version of me that lived in 1984. I had parents, pets, neighbors, forts, forests, books, toys, all of which existed in 1984. I knew that I hadn’t just appeared, grown to the size of a 5-year-old. But where did THAT Chris go? Where was he now? I realized that it was the beginning of something new. And in this new time, I would remember.

I remember that for those few minutes, I tried, really hard, to remember what life was like for Chris in 1984. But 1985’s Chris just couldn’t do it. He was too busy looking ahead, because 1986 loomed in the distance.