Written by Emma Flynn
Art by Maria Oswalt
there is a large oak tree outside my grandfather’s home.
mama says it’s been there since she was little-says it watched her grow up just like it watched me grow up. i don’t know why but the thought digs a hole through my chest and when i lift my shirt up in the mirror i see straight through me.
sometimes when i drive by my old elementary school i picture myself going inside and sitting at my old desk. my knees don’t fit and it smells like pencil shavings and erasable markers, but i cry and it hurts because now i am too old to be crying at school.
i still know my old best friend’s garage code, can hear the whir of metallic chains pulling it open when i dream. the day we saved a baby bird plays in my head like a movie, our lips stained with popsicle juice as we burn our feet on asphalt running home.
i lick at my wounds like a dog, but my wounds don’t exist and i am not a dog and the licking looks an awful lot like gilmore girls playing at three am in an empty living room.
summers still taste like sweat and dirty soccer uniforms. dumping our shoes on the porch ‘cause they’re filled with playground sand, picking the scabs on our knees, and running a thumb over the scar that remains seven years later.
lizards dart between the deck and the pool and i squash chips in my sandwich and melt the bread between my chlorine-soaked forefinger and thumb. i teach my childhood dog how to play rescue in the pool and my dad is yelling because now he has to bathe her.
i still have the shape of the first boy i kissed in my hands. it feels like a coke bottle and he had tasted like strawberry milk. we had collided like two crashing cars, feeling for each other in the dim light of the moon with the rain crashing on a tin roof, and now he is grown and lives in illinois. i wonder when we got so old.
sometimes i look in the mirror and see a child staring back, and other times it is a woman.
when did i stop hiding when play dates were over? or made a pinky promise i knew i wasn’t gonna keep? when was the last time i played manhunt barefoot at a softball field? are all my goodbyes sad because i was leaving my childhood, or because i never realized it was happening?
my childhood smells like bug spray and sea salt and chlorine that turns my hair green. it tastes of pink bubblegum and watermelon and broken promises that we would never grow up.
when i hold the fluttering heart of my childhood in my hands it is heavier than i thought it would be. to wear it again would be a burden, but i long for it still.
the street i was raised on smells like gasoline and fertilizer. i dream of dropping a match and watching it all burn down. would i be seized with grief or comfort? are they not often the same thing?
mama tells me that college will ease the sting of lost innocence.
but when i dream of heaven, it is on the lips of a boy that tasted like strawberry milk.