#BEDN27 (Warning: May need tissues as the post contains emotional content. I cried)
As young children, we are so eager to grow up. We crave a feeling of maturity and self-importance.
But there comes a time in our life when we reach that level of understanding where we’ve witnessed something we didn’t expect to, and in turn, wish we could wind back the clock to the simpler days. The simpler days where our biggest worry was what to call the new goldfish or if mam would see you sneaking to get another cookie.
In one of my favourite books, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the many events that occur illustrate the irreplaceable loss of a child’s bare naivety and innocence. Two adventurous and light-spirited children, Jem and Scout, begin to realise what innocence is, and the loss of it through the course of events in their small town.
It seems that once the veil of childhood is lifted, we begin to see and think of people and differently, as the children in the book did. We as innocent children don’t know anything but what we’re taught, what’s right and wrong, black and white. It’s only as we get older, we lose ourselves in the obscure midsections of grey.
It is said that experiences make you who you are a person. It’s also said that with hardship comes maturity, and with maturity comes the opening of innocent eyes and minds, which brings the age-old question, is growing up worth the expense of pure naivety?
Knowledge acquired seems to equal innocence lost.
I asked a good friend of mine what he thought about ‘loss of innocence’ and he replied with something that rang true in my head: “It seems like you could take almost any situation where “They’ve lost their innocence..” is applicable and simply replace it with something like “They’ve gained new knowledge..” Suddenly a loss is a gain and a negative becomes a positive”
Traditionally, when someone is said to have ‘lost’ their innocence, it has a lot to do with some sort of event that carries a revelation. They acquire knowledge of some sort. That knowledge, however big or small, changes things or at least the way you think forever. Does that mean that innocence itself implies a certain carefree lack of knowledge?
I decided to ask a couple of more friends about this, about what they thought and it meant to them. Is it a process you can only go through in your childhood? Can you lose your innocence more than once? And this is what they said…
A – I think a significant turning point in my life was walking into the kitchen one morning when I was six years old and being surprised that my mum was there when I expected her to be at work. She told me very carefully that she, my sister and I would shortly be leaving and going to live with my grandparents. Naturally, my first response was to enquire as to whether my Dad would be joining us. She crouched down so we were on an even eyeline and told me that he would be staying at the house.
Being far too young to appreciate what a divorce was, I consented, but remember thinking that something was terribly wrong. Normally, this would be the sort of thing I would immediately bounce off one of my parents, but there was a moment when I looked up at her and saw something in her eyes – a mixture of sadness and trepidation – and I closed my mouth. Somehow I knew that voicing my concern was not the thing to do. Instead, I hugged her and then went back upstairs. Granny and Grandpa were lovely but, with the exception of a set of Tom and Jerry videos I had delightedly watched to death, their house was largely devoid of children’s entertainment. If I was about to leave, I was damn sure going to secure as many toys and books as possible.
Looking back on it, that was one of the first moments where I felt like I had to grow up and be something I wasn’t ready to be, but had to by necessity. My first real indication (as far as I recall) that the world around me was very far removed from the Enid Blyton books I habitually devoured.
Going to university was a huge step in the process of growing up. At home you’re used to having your parents cook for you, wash up and clean the house, but when you’re living in shared accommodation or students halls, you’re suddenly expected to know what this thing called a ‘cleaning rota’ is when it’s thrust upon you. But you got used to it and it event became fun when you share the workload with your housemates, who become your friends. And anything that went wrong or broke in the house or halls could easily be fixed by the landlord or local handyman. So really, I was growing up and becoming more independent without even realising it.
But I think the moment struck me one day as if a lightbulb went off in my head. I am now an adult. After university, I moved in with my other half. Shopping for everything in the flat was fun because it meant that it was all new. New TV, new washing machine, new sofa, etc. But, one day the washing machine broke. It was a bit of a sharp reality because I didn’t have a clue what to do. I mean, what do you do. When something goes wrong your instinct is to call your mum. I felt really alone because I had to sort it out. It was my responsibility, because for once it wasn’t going to get magically fixed by the parental fairy!
N – I lost my innocence when I was six years old, as my parents’ marriage gradually came to an end. We put them on such a high pedestal (it’s like an innate act) and the moment something shakes them up and we see them stumbling, we suddenly sit up and become more aware of THEM – as people. Man and woman. Not just mum and dad. To me that’s when a layer of naivety peeled off.
In the lead up to their separation, I saw certain things that would go on to mould the angry and resentful teenager that I became (unbeknownst to the world – of course). But back then before such emotions evolved/developed, it was confusion that I felt. Heartbreak. Sadness. Loss. Of my family. Of the mum and dad that I thought I knew. That little girl changed forever. What’s worse is that she knew how to disguise it all. At six years old. To the world she was just an adventurous, cheeky and fun kid.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that it happened because so much happened in so little time. Before we knew it, we (me,my brother and my mother) had moved out of the family home and into this apartment and we went months without seeing our dad – who before then I’d spend the most time with. I was a daddy’s girl. So the life that we’d always known was ripped from under our feet. Just like that. My train of thoughts began to change course (or track,lol) right then. Looking back on it now I was aware of concepts that we only come to know later in life. While I’m still very far from being innocent, I am definitely more carefree – more childlike now than I was then. Funny that.
S – “Without a doubt the time I feel I lost an irrevocable part of my innocence, occurred early on in my life, as I suspect happens to most. When I was younger, no more than five, my father, mother, brother and I used to stay with my grandfather, in his house in Warminster.
The land all rich rolling green fields, with rivers ribboning through. My father used to bring his shotgun, and my twin and I would stand in rapt awe as paper targets perched metres away in the trees disintegrated in riotous noise and smoke. It was on such a day, as we stood on a field sloping down to forest, that my father spotted two wood-pigeons dart over the treetops moving towards us. This was fortuitous, as the conversation earlier in the day had turned to how good eating they were.
He shouldered the rifle, and his aim was true. I’ll always remember this fluttering, ragged thing falling through the air, looking nothing like the graceful thing darting smoothly through the sky it had been only moments before. It landed hard, and fluttered and flapped in distress on the ground, so my father levelled the rifle and fired the other shell into it. On closer inspection of the pitiful ball of white feathers, It wasn’t a wood-pigeon, it was a dove.
It was this realisation that stopped the animal becoming some target, but a real living creature, capable of fear and pain and mortality. And finality. And it was this realisation that made my brother and I bawl regretful tears as we buried the bird, in that sloping field, with a flower we’d picked from the rosebushes ourselves.
S – When I first thought about this post, I had an entirely different story come to mind that I was originally going to write about. It helped me get an A* in my English GCSE when they asked for a ‘loss of innocence’ story, and I mentioned it in my Secret Stash of Coke post earlier this month. The story about us as kids finding treasure in the back garden, only to find out years later that it was my dad who had buried it there for us to find. We thought it was genuine treasure. We’d spent those couple of years with a hidden secret that we had uncovered a goldmine, but were at a loss to find out it wasn’t worth anything. But, thinking about it, is it really a loss of innocence if you realise we didn’t actually lose anything apart from maybe pride? Instead, we gained more affection towards our father who wanted us to be happy finding that treasure.
So I thought about the whole loss of innocence thing some more until my brain began to hurt and I realised I was crying. The only thing I could think about was my dad. And losing him. It’s the thing I’d never have expected to happen, ever, and it’s affected me more than I could ever imagine. Realising he’s never going to walk through the door again was a huge shock to the system, that to me was the moment I lost my innocence. The moment I realised that life would never be the same again. It felt like someone had pulled the rug from under my feet and my life was no longer stable. It still feels like that. I won’t have my dad to walk me down the aisle, or have him to dance with at my wedding, or see him cry when I get to tell him he’s going to be a grandfather. That’s all he ever wanted.
The moment the house stood silent without his laughter or obnoxious jokes changed everything. It changed us all. The children of the house quickly became adults in an instant. It was now our responsibility to look after the house and to take care of our mam. That week he died, everything broke in the house. It’s funny now looking back, but the kettle broke, the washing machine, clothes dryer and the dishwasher. I think maybe the hoover and the hot water too. Like my blonde friend above, we felt alone. Normally my dad would fix everything in his own way but where was he now?
When I see something funny or have received some news – good or bad – I’ve always picked up the phone to call him, but now I can’t. So many things I wanted to say and thank him for. But I can’t. Life will never be the same again.