Quiet but not too quiet, white noise of a fan and a distant highway against the void hum of silence. There are thoughts. They drift distantly in a relaxing mind, not for the first time I’m attempting to find the happy memories of my childhood.
Riding down the driveway in a wheelbarrow, feeling the sway and rocks and wind. Thrilling excitement in a safe danger, I feel free. Ripped quite violently— I remember standing at the edge of the driveway watching my toddler sister tottle vaguely toward the road. I cry out to our mother but I’m admonished, everything is fine. It’s not fine, I can’t protect her, something could happen to her. Deep heart wrenching anxiety batters my five-year-old heart. There are hands in my dreams. A mountain that moves. Threats I can’t fight back against.
Mother tells me she found me in the hallway, sleepwalking, “something’s wrong, somethings wrong, somethings wrong.”
Can I shake myself from the fear and retrace my steps back to a happy memory? Picking berries and carrying them in a giant leaf, I crawl back into the woods and watch frogs and dragonflies while I munch. I’m scared fairies will steal my dog. There’s a giant fish lurking beneath the surface of the pond, I saw it in my dreams, it’s going to swallow me whole. I remember finding solace in symbolism and spirituality as I grew older, but before I made peace with the unknown, it only represented danger. Everything was tainted with fear.
There’s a ghost in the water but I was never scared of him. Spirits of apple trees listened to me sing, and I’d wish the ghosts would come out of the swamp to hear the songs but they wouldn’t leave the waters and swamp trees they died in. I always felt safe though, I felt welcomed and accepted. Through the gentle souls and spirits, I found my way out of fear. Whenever I could, I spoke to plants or to old places I knew departed minds still lingered. As my reading level advanced, I researched occultism, psychology, esoteric scripture, religious texts, knowledge was power and if I was powerless in the physical world I wanted to understand the rest.
This was happiness. This was freedom.
I’m ten and I’m talking about the ghosts. No research, just instincts. There’s was satisfaction when other children’s eyes grew wide with awe and horror, but a longing for them to understand the context of my happiness. I felt powerful that spirits, spiders, mud, mold, blood, and wild animals didn’t scare me, but I still wished to impart the feeling of excitement.
“Sometimes they’ll sing with you, or if you draw circles you can feel their hand on yours drawing with you.” I say, “It’s nice. Most spirits aren’t scary. There’s an old lady by the rec hall—”
Understandably, kids with no context other than ghost stories would be rattled by this. The camp coordinator tells me that if I don’t desist I’ll be sent home, I must stop scaring the other campers.
I knew it wasn’t ghosts we should be afraid of. Later that evening I would experience manipulation and brutality at the hands of a counsellor. The cycle of revictimization and grooming would lead me through tragedy after tragedy. The ghosts were always there, and the myths and legends in my heart were warm. A child will struggle to keep a fragile flame alive when locked out in the cold.
Reading comforted me. I could hide away in a nook physically and then hide away in every other sense, lost in scientific text, folklore, fantasy fiction. There was more to the world than fear, I knew I could find it. I could try to understand.
In nature I could feel beautiful energy crackling around me. Forests and swamps were exciting and mysterious. When I climbed a tree, I could feel a pulsing heartbeat in its branches. Sensory processing disorder could make experiencing life difficult, synesthetic raw nerves frequently becoming overwhelmed. Calmness came to me in the wild. My body knew peace in the rippling leaves and quiet murmuring of birds. If a shrill cry of a squirrel or tugging ripping winds overload my senses, I can retreat deeper into the brush.
I was happy. I was powerful.