Childhood, for me, was a grand adventure – a Romance filled with ghost hunts, exploration of uncharted jungles, quests as a Medieval Knight, and epic battles between the forces of Good and Evil. It was a time of endless summers, a time of family portraits, a time of warmth, simplicity, and happiness. But now, I know life to be immensely more complex, with deeper joys and deeper hurts. I believe in the loss of innocence.
I know that for many people, the loss of innocence happens gradually over many years, as the bleak realities of this world are introduced in small doses. For others, as with myself, the loss comes in a single moment.
The memory of that moment is as real for me today as it was eight years ago. The air in the room was heavy, suffocating, as my mother sat beside me on our beat-up, blue leather couch, sobbing quietly, even as she tried to console me. I was crying too, as was my father. It was the first time that I had ever seen him cry. Only my brother, who was just a few years older than I, was able to withhold his tears. “When will you be moving out?” he asked my father, his words sounding thin, and echoed only by a louder, more desperate sob from my mother. In that single moment, shortly after my eleventh birthday, my family was shattered, and along with it, my childhood and my rosy view of life.
It was our first (and last) “family meeting.” My parents did not divorce for another two years; after six months of “separation,” my dad moved back in and they tried to make things work. But it will forever remain the turning point of my life, the point where my eyes were very rudely opened.
I look back on my childhood with longing, but also with bitterness, knowing that it was, in many ways, a cruel lie that my parents had fabricated for me so that I would not see the realities of their situation. Before this point, I believed that my parents were deeply in love with one another. My father was still my hero. We lived in a great neighborhood, full of other boys who loved to get in trouble. I was “Big Al” – a nickname given to me by a wonderful grownup named Ken.
It is not easy living on this side of that watershed. I recently saw all the old neighborhood gang at a reunion-of-sorts. Everyone was much more dysfunctional than I had remembered them to be. When I saw Ken for the first time in years, he stumbled up to me and cried, “Holy Shit! Big Al! Big Fuckin’ Al! I didn’t even recognize you!” He was already drunk. Later, he came up to me, a beer in each hand, and slurred, “My God, Big Al, you haven’t changed a bit.” Yes, Ken, I have: I now believe in the loss of innocence.
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