When I was ten years old I used to say I could run as fast as a horse. I ran everywhere too, hair streaming behind me in a wild tangle as I imagined the steady drum of hoofbeats over the top of my own two thudding feet.
When I wasn’t running, I walked along holding two towering sticks out to either side, swinging them in long arcs, pretending I was a Landstrider.
In short, the world I inhabited was suffused with creativity, imagination, and a deep sort of joy. It was filled with magic.
Last week I took a trip back to the town I lived in when I was ten. Most of my family lives there still, my cousins all with children of their own now. I love to visit, I love and miss my family, but I hated living there. I’d come from the city and had a hard time adjusting to small-town life. The people were cruel, and the children particularly so.
I didn’t wear the right clothes, didn’t read the right books, didn’t have the right toys. But perhaps more than anything, I didn’t play right. I was teased relentlessly because I wanted to run as fast as a horse and because I pretended to cross flowering meadows with the huge ground-eating gait of a Landstrider.
Most of my family enjoyed and encouraged my imaginative play, but one of my cousins found endless entertainment in teasing me about it. Every few years when we came for a visit she’d laugh and talk about how I’d made some story up or played at being something or another. She wasn’t cruel but her tone was clearly mocking.
Once when I was about sixteen I ran into my nemesis while visiting. She was the one who’d instigated a lot of the teasing while I lived here. To this day I have no idea why, but she hated me as much as I hated that town. We were at the roller rink (still the only thing to do in town even after so many years) and she sent a small boy over to my table to call me a horse. He went to particular pains to explain that it was from Her. For my part, I had no idea what he (or She) was talking about or how that was even an insult (we had much more… interesting… insults where I was from, even at that age) and I brushed it off with a shrug.
During my visit last week I met up with one of my dearest friends from those days. I’ve not seen her since fourth grade but we’d recently reconnected on Facebook. I told her the story about my nemesis calling me horse and she laughed and mentioned that I’d always said that I could run like a horse and that’s probably what She had been poking at. I laughed too, but truth be told I was a bit astonished. All these people who knew me then and the thing they most remember (and in many cases most loathe) after three decades(!) is my imagination when I played as a child. Didn’t we all pretend and imagine at that age?
I’m sitting on a plane now, ears vibrating with the loud drone of the engine, the patch-work landscape of northern Michigan falling into the distance behind and below me and I can’t help but wonder about the desire of some to crush the spirit of others.
I lived in that town for less than two years before we moved on and I’ve never encountered a place quite so crushing in all my life, before or after, and I’ve lived in many places. Is there something that happens in certain places that breeds such a thing? Sort of like the violent malaise of Derry Maine?
Creativity and imagination among kids must be as common as crust on bread. It’s this teasing and taunting and the fear it creates that results in the impression of it being so rare. If Beverly, Bill, Mike and Ben could win against that dread clown so can we against our own bullies. Stay strong creatives. It’s only temporary.