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The thing I miss most about early childhood is naivety. There is a simple inquisitiveness to the first years of life, an insatiable curiosity that runs miles long but barely an inch- deep. Contrast that with now, where our brains may still be hardwired to desire raw knowledge but always with some ugly, untrusting assumption that the answer may be a lie. Only in the mind of a child could an answer to the question “Where do babies come from?” sound plausible without any hint of a more sinister, fleshy confluence. I take a class on oral interpretation of literature, and one of our assignments was to perform a childrenʼs book for a local elementary school. That day I arrived at the elementary school, I was stepping out of my car and into the parking lot at the same time as a girl Iʼd had a crush on in my class. She was beautiful in a way that I think is commonplace for most places but rare and almost unorthodox for Utah, sort of quietly sexy. Her hair was red, wavy and frazzled, bangs that arc over the forehead and rest perfectly on the eyebrows. She was freckled and petite, a fact Iʼd noticed when sheʼd worn a tanktop to class, which was inebriating. Knowing sheʼd had the gall to wear a tanktop fed some inner desire for deviance, something I struggled with growing up surrounded by varying degrees of religious fervor. As we walked to the entrance of the school I pretended to not notice her. I reached the entrance and stood there, pulled out my phone and diddled while I simultaneously waited for her to catch up. She went inside and I followed. From there she and I stood silently next to each other and watched children file in through the door coming in from recess, me too scared to say anything in fear of some extraneous event interrupting me, which, in my mind, would leave an indelible stain on her opinion of me. It wasnʼt the first time Iʼd talked to her - Iʼd seen her at a costume party a few weeks back and had casually asked her who she was supposed to be. The throbbing music had stopped me from ever knowing what sheʼd said, and so my only interaction with her had been an exchange of a handful of syllables and a reticent nod. Instead of talking to her I recalled that Iʼd seen her naked. Walking around in our schoolʼs student art gallery Iʼd stumbled on three pencil sketches of a nude girl in various poses. I have no problem with nudity, but Iʼm supposed to. Mormon religion teaches that the human body is commensurately beautiful and destructive, but I find it to be more gross than anything. Itʼs lumps and dangles of organs all arranged according to the wisdom of some higher order, I guess, and just because it has the capacity to be aesthetically pleasing doesnʼt elevate it to some inherent beauty, and in the same way itʼs hardly evil. Seeing a woman naked, Iʼm told, leads to viewing women like objects more than people, but sometimes I wonder why thatʼs necessarily evil. Truthfully Iʼve been lured dozens of times into treating women like objects, a means to an end of self-validation or some momentary sexual pleasure. Those decisions were stupid of me, but understanding that I was capable of falling into that stupidity has made me infinitely more empathetic than I could have ever been if Iʼd just treated women with respect. Iʼd already seen this woman naked, though, and it was bizarrely intimate. We stood side by side, and I recalled the way her naked butt squished over a wooden stool. I remembered her nipples and the wave of her hair as she looked over shoulder. I donʼt find this creepy in any respect. Imagining someone naked is as harmless as a glass of water: biological function is a naive thing to be ashamed of. Even though it was one- sided in this case, it proves that not every human connection is reciprocated, nor does it need to be. I find one thought in my mind when I stare at a crowd of kindergartners: sex. Sex (or, attraction, if you prefer), and all its myriad threads of attraction influence almost every decision I ever make. It decides where I choose to sit in class, the way I dress myself, the tone I take when I talk and is the judicator for all my nascent social anxiety. Sex has no impact on a crowd of children. They do not care where they sit, and they do not diddle with their phones and wait for attractive women to near. Their parents dressed them when they woke up, there was no moment of contemplation over social preservation. Children are indiscriminate in their manner; the way a boy may speak to his schoolyard chum is just as brash and explosive as he may to me or you or his teacher. The idea that we appropriate respect and act accordingly is the kind you have to install into a child. Similarly, social anxiety is one of the most painful things to learn because itʼs learned indirectly as a product of understanding hierarchical society. But as kindergartners, these thoughts barely exist. Instead they pick their noses and fidget, enamored by whatever is in front of them, which, for a few minutes, was us. All the little stares reminded me of the navel-gazing that constitutes childhood: (adults, tall people, bring boundless security. When adults are around, nothing can go wrong because the world is not capable of it. To them, we must have been gods. The last time I interacted with kindergartners, first-graders or even fifth graders was when I was one of them. Performing for the kindergartners, I suddenly felt extremely old. Not only had I been here once before but I had imagined this dimple in time to be more triumphant. Iʼd made a tiny circle: I could suddenly remember the “older kids” whose lives Iʼd caught glimpses of back when I couldnʼt even read. Theyʼd seemed so old and so incredibly far away. I choked at the idea that I was now where Iʼd envisioned myself more than ten years before, and I was aware of how different that imaginary me and the actual me had become. Performing for the fifth graders upset me. I remembered being in fifth grade and beginning to fall prey to all the nascent social anxieties public schooling brought. Those years were the beginning of disillusionment. While we were performing and I was pretending to be a mother bird, pantomiming my arms into wings, pretending to regurgitate swallowed food, I knew the kids knew we were not always this playful and childlike. I knew they were beginning to suspect, at least in general, that we were more sinister than that - that weʼd learned to draw circles around ourselves, dictating who was and was not welcome inside them. We were not safe authority figures of boundless security but circle-drawers who were capable of violating every callow truism weʼd been promised. In fifth grade I wanted to know when I would truly be older, smarter, cooler, genuinely better. I answered that question for myself satisfactorily when I looked at people whose age I am now. Adulthood, the big kids, things would be monstrously more clear, more full of direction and purpose. None of these were explicit but assumptions Iʼd made along the way: there would come a day where I would wake up and say definitively that I was a responsible adult. Standing in front of rows of children, my mind fingered its rolodex of relationships. There was S, my first girlfriend, to whom I had stupidly confessed I loved more than my parents. There was M, the girl who told me sheʼd lost all respect for me after I ignored her, fecklessly disinfatuated. There was C, my high school sweetheart who confessed that I had become her “filler” once weʼd made it into college. And there is R, the girl I Iʼm dating now, whose affinity for tradition and heavy romance makes her my most unlikely companion so far. The first time I saw a naked woman I was extremely ashamed. I was around 12. Our computer was in the kitchen and I typed in the most asinine thing I could into the address bar: www.poopypants.com, which immediately pulled up a photo of a bare- breasted woman front-and-center. My mother, who was in the kitchen, yelled at me, and I immediately shut the screen off. I remember trembling at the knowledge that the image was still technically there, only hidden by the powered-off monitor, so I unplugged the entire computer and left to my room. Up until that point I hadnʼt really considered the logistics of breasts, what they were and what they might mean. I donʼt know what I thought those lumps on women were (and I have no idea what I thought was zipped up in their pants), but I suppose I just assumed it was as smooth and unassuming as my mole-rat penis. The sight of nipples as pepperoni-like protrusions plastered over a womanʼs chest was the beginning of sexuality for me, followed shortly by pubertyʼs slow drizzle of unwelcome hair and voice- change. It wasnʼt clear at that time what role sex would serve, but I never imagined it would be the fulcrum around which the world operated. That the bunch in my pants would someday cause me to pretend to fiddle with a telephone in order to walk closer to a pretty girl was not a question Iʼd have thought to ask, and even if I had inquired as to the role of my dangling participle, waste excretion would have been sufficient. Iʼm not bothered by the reality, but itʼs disturbing to think I was once convinced of anything more close-minded. I left the school melancholy. Performing for children was like peering back into my life and tasting just how saccharine it was. Itʼs partly upsetting that my life isnʼt like that anymore, but itʼs more upsetting that it ever was. There was so much unattainable promise back then, and I wonder where it went.


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