I remember it was when my older sister was in Kindergarten and my younger sister was still an infant. I was alone in my own world, allowed to go outside and play without supervision, as long as I didn’t leave the yard, and it was a beautiful day. My father had constructed a sandbox for us but to me it was a little piece of heaven. I sat and played with my plastic dinosaurs and as I looked up in the sky there was a jet. The plane left a contrail in the sky and I knew, really knew, that one day I would fly that jet, not just any jet, but that one, right there, and the pilot who flew my jet could look down and see me, and he would know me, years later, and remark that he saw me that day.
It was a perfect day in every way that it could have been. I wiggled my toes in the sand until the dew was dried from them and I lay down and let the sun warm me. Oddly, and you may find this had to believe, but I knew on that day, that very day, that life would never be as good in the future as it was at that moment. I would never feel as happy or as safe or as incredible as I felt that very moment. My mother called me in for lunch and she had made peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches. There was milk. I took a nap on my bed, where the bedspread was a baseball playing field, and life was good.
There was one more year, one more good year, then I had to go to Kindergarten. I had to. Then I had to go to the first grade. The “had to” category of life began to fill up and devour everything. I had to get up and go to school. I had to go to classes. I had to raise my hand to go to the bathroom. I had to get in line to go to lunch. I had to sit. I had to be silent. I had to.
I remember in the first grade a kid made a break for it. He ran away, ran back towards the land where he didn’t have to anymore but he was caught. It was other students who chased him down and dragged him back. I still wondered why they did that. I think that once we buy into the things that we all have to do there isn’t anything that we hate worse than someone who escapes. It’s why smokers hate people who quit. (you know you do so hush)
There was a morning in the first grade when I tried to talk my father into taking me fishing instead of me going to school and him going to work. He was thirty-two at the time and I was five. Neither of us knew it but we had just three more years before I would lose him forever to disappointment. I could tell he wanted to go and I knew that we could have a great time, but no. He had to go to work and I had to go to school. I will always wonder if life would have changed that day.
There were years and years and years of what I had to do. Other people had to too. We had to buy certain music and we had to wear certain brands of jeans and we had to wear our hair a certain way and other people had to be like us or they were not cool, like we had to be. We had to like a sports team and we had to drink and we had to smoke pot. We had to find a good job and we had to have someone who looked nice and we had to get up in the morning and we had to go to sleep at night and it all had to be done at a decent hour.
There was the little black and brown rat dog we had when I was a kid, Smut was his name, and I was fourteen when he died and Smut was sixteen. Smut had to die, and it was difficult to live a life where someone I had always known and who had always been there was gone, but death is the one thing everyone who has died had to do. The quarterback who drowned while water skiing, the good kid who died in a plane crash, the nice girl who was murdered, they all had to die. Maybe not when they did or how they did, but they had to die.
It’s getting harder and harder, most recently, to do what the “had to” is telling me I have to do. I’ve done what I had to do and what have I to show for it? After all these years, the one most happiest day I can remember as a kid is when I didn’t have to do a damn thing simply because I was doing what I liked to do or what I wanted to do at the time. Is that so hard? Is that so much to ask? Is what a person wants something that they shouldn’t strive far because they “had to” settle for less?
I’m not saying I want to go sit in the sand and pay with plastic dinosaurs but I would like to have more of a say about what I do want. I’m tired of me telling me that I have to go along with the story line because it’s too hard or too late to change it. What about those dead people who played by the rules and did everything right and they had to die?
In my life, the happiest I have ever been has been when went outside my comfort zone, explored new situations and new places. As a child, it was inside the box. As an adult, it’s when I am most outside it that I am who I want to be.
There is only one thing that everyone who has ever lived had to do. Everything, everything in between the moment of birth and the moment of death, is choices either made or deferred, but nothing is something that had to be until the final moment.