Discover more from Desk Notes by Charles Schifano
Sensations of Childhood
Summertime, when you’re young, lasts forever. Underneath a cloudless sky, in the heat, is where the short hours dissolve into long days. In this very moment, as I think back, my summer days are humid and bright and endless and there’s always a fiery, glowing sunset. What I taste, in this very moment, with the sky blue and the sun harsh, is a rich chocolate ice cream, my fingers and chin sticky, the drips coming fast, plopping against the grass; and what I smell, in this very moment, is that freshly-cut grass, pungent and thick in the air, the warm blades tickling my feet while I run and run and run; and what I sense, in this very moment, is the dirt underneath my fingernails, the sweat that pours down my neck, the chlorine in my hair, the scrapes and tears and marks on my knees, the salt on my lips; and what I feel, in this very moment, is a hard fall against a concrete sidewalk, how the warm blood gushes down my forearm, how there’s a vivid magenta color to the open wound that’s somehow beautiful to my eye; and what I must do, in this very moment, is dress in long sleeves and long pants to visit the cold movie theater on a particularly hot afternoon; but what I am doing, in this very moment, is sharing an entire watermelon with my sister in the early evening when there’s not a parent to be found, it is messy, sweet, juicy, there’s watermelon running down my arms and covering my chest, and we are puckering our lips after each bite and spitting the seeds across the room—because, in this very moment, I am living all of these distant sensations, they’re still inside me, still part of my nerves, still alive, each of them possessing a potency of experience that, in later years, is hard to recapture.
Although why adults can’t easily recapture the potency of a childhood sensation isn’t exactly a mystery. What we remember from childhood is forever regulated to a foreign and even exotic land, to a place where we’ve certainly been but can’t quite return; so the sensations that we remember are fragmentary, a bit hazy, although there are rare moments when we seem to cross the border of reality, when the distance between our normal, adult selves and the childhood sensations that we hold so tight seem to diminish; but they strike with a jolt and last no longer than a shiver, since we’re mere travelers, we’re just visiting this land of childhood, and we must, soon enough, return back home.
Because we’ve learned that delight, in a ten year old, is always more visceral, more overwhelming, more corporal, than that same sensation of delight, for that same person, decades later. In childhood delight there’s awestruck eyes and a shudder in the legs and what’s surely an irrepressible moment of mania. And we’ve learned that sadness, too, in a child, is also irrepressible, it is bodily, sudden, it is endless tears and weakened legs and a collapse onto the ground. This is a hysteric loop, a fever that seems to take every sad thought in all of human history and cram them into one child’s scream, without any of the consoling flashes or moments of levity that most adults can discover in even the worst times. Although fear is also, we sometimes forget after the birthdays start to pile, more intense when you’re young. A potential for violence feels vertiginous at any age, but, when you must tilt your head upward to find the world, violence is absolute, it feels intolerable, horrific, and inescapable when you’re so small and everyone else is so big.
Of course novelty explains part of the difference between child sensation and adult sensation—when the sensation is new, when you’re young, it strikes you harder, there’s a passion and ferocity and expansiveness to all of these moments. And the passing years simply makes living on this precipice more difficult. It can’t always be springtime, the fruit can’t be forever ripe. The next summit isn’t necessarily the trigger for your bliss. To forever seek out adventure begins to wear you down, so perhaps you settle into stagnation, and you notice one day that your nerves are a tad duller now, that your goal has accidentally become the easy and comforting and familiar.
Yet nobody envisions adult life during their emotional, dynamic teen years as a stream of indistinguishable days where the excitement comes from watching one episode of a series end and another episode begin. Nobody who made sure that they were underslept and overextended when they were young wanted to spend future evenings looking over their portfolio. Nobody who yelled and argued and debated the finest points of principle in their early years expected to have a future of early, quiet nights and muffled, unoffensive conversations over watery cocktails. Nobody who considered sweat-stained, mud-stained, and grass-stained shirts perfectly fine during childhood anticipated a life of buying dull knives, of ensuring that the work clothes aren’t too flashy, of double checking that an extra appetizer isn’t too extravagant.
Perhaps one definition of adulthood is that it is the period when you start to feel nostalgia for childhood. And those moments of late-night nostalgia do arrive with a yearning, they are more than a mere replay of the past, they bring a desire for just one more first—to be innocent, once again, to see the world with virgin eyes, to experience it all again without any expectation or context or forethought, but then you just might start to realize that this mindset, in fact, seems to be the secret, and is a lot more important than the search for novelty. The trick, it must be, is to get outside your head, to stop the rumination, to return to that childhood existence of moment-by-moment experience without introspection, hesitation, or doubt, where there’s nothing at all but the sensation of action.