MAY 1991: The cat is eyeing me warily from the countertop. Cats, to my understanding, are wonderful things. They are fuzzy; they are warm; they purr. The countertop seems infinitely far away, and this cat is different from my cat, but surely all cats are alike. I drag a chair into the kitchen and climb on it to reach for the cat. Its eyes flash; its ears flatten; it swipes at my hand and jumps away. Blood. The shock – the betrayal – the hurt – the pain – stuns me. I fall backward from the chair and collapse against cold linoleum, sobbing. The world is not what I think it is.
APRIL 1992: We pour out of the kindergarten into the playground, shrieking with excitement. Most kids run straight to the swings, but my group knows better. We’ve got a secret: if you walk counter-clockwise around the monkey bars, close your eyes, and let someone lead you under the slide, you’ll wake up in Narnia.
JUNE 1993: Why am I me? Why am I not that beetle, that bird, that person over there? The question doesn’t strike me as anything other than normal, no more profound «why is that man funny-looking» or «what’s for lunch.» I ask my mother, because adults seem to know these things. She cannot answer. To this day, neither can I.
JULY 1999: The horse is walking in swing-beat tempo. She’s never ridden a horse before, so we start out slow. Now a light trot, bumping up and down against the saddle. We pick up speed. The bumps turn to jostles. Are you ready? The trot breaks into a canter, the beats come in triplets: ba-da-DUM, ba-da-DUM, ba-da-DUM. I hear murmuring, and turn to find her. Her eyes are closed; she is repeating a Buddhist mantra, calming herself in time with equine rhythm.
OCTOBER 2000: Boy circles boy, bluster aplenty but no real threat. We do not want to hit each other because we’re afraid that if we can’t punch hard enough we will be mocked for being weak. We are ringed by jeering spectators. He throws a soft punch to the jaw. No real pain, but the force causes the inside of my lip to tear against metallic wiring. Blood makes the crowd go quiet. The red stuff is too real for any of us. Weak, spoiled kids pretending to be tough. An adult breaks things up before I can retaliate. I am glad: I did not cry. I held my own.
FEBRUARY 2005: I don’t understand why she is here with me. They must have had a fight. Her lips taste like bubblegum.
AUGUST 2006: Out here, I cannot even begin to describe how beautiful the stars are, so far away from the polluting lights of other people.
JUNE 2007: I’ve been walking the night-swept streets with my glasses off. If I squint my eyes, the blurred dots of traffic are flattened. As I walk, the city begins reluctantly to let go; rice paddies surface by the side of the road. I begin to talk out loud to the moon; she doesn’t answer.
DECEMBER 2007: I miss her. Not constantly, just little flashes of reddish-grey that occur between idle thoughts. The flashes nip at my heels, reminding me to keep moving forward. The further you go, the more distance you put between yourself and the past.
SEPTEMBER 2010: I step off the plane into another brave new world. The air tastes strange. I resist the urge to run across these new lands, shrieking excitement in a way no child can possibly understand. There is so much to see and to discover, and there will always be more. The world can never be what I think it is, and that is the joy of being alive.