Imagine you are ten years old and deciding what to do with your life. Butcher, baker, candlestick maker. You have an unimaginable future ahead of you. You cannot perceive of an illness or accident that would prevent you from doing anything. You haven’t been on this planet a long time and yet you feel you know a helluva lot. You know you like pastry. You know it’s not wise to live off it. You know you like the rain. You know you aren’t quite brave enough to do anything crazy on your skateboard. Your parents tell you loads of stuff in the wizened way of old folks. Follow your dreams. But your dreams are of running. Someone chasing. Selecting for your future has somehow become the thing to think about, all of the time. How is it that they can suck the excitement out of anything with their calculated predictions, their carefully put forward analysis? They don’t want you to make the same mistakes as them.
You wonder if you are some kind of mistake they made.
Sometimes you feel like a piece of play dough. The parents are big-fisted toddlers who are pawing at you. They make you this way. Then they make you another. A thumb to the side of the face. They don’t like what they see. They roll you into a ball and try all over again. You are getting sandy and dried out. But despite their attempts at sculpture, you are already made. Back in your plastic tub you are bursting forth with your own decisions, little arms bud from the body, thin athletic legs spring out.
The lid pops off and the little play dough boy is off and running. Think; the Ginger Bread Man.
They can’t stop where you go now or what you do. You might get flattened. You might dry out. Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t stop me I’m the Ginger Bread Man.
I used to buy him a Ginger Bread Man every Friday from Annie’s bread stall in the market. In a white paper bag I delivered it to school at pick up time. Smartie eyes. He ate his head off first. I called the woman Annie every week for years. I felt as if I knew her. Then one day I heard her called Janice by another customer. I was mortified. How had I been calling her Annie all these years and she had never corrected me? I asked her. Is your name really Janice? Yes, she said. But to you, I am Annie. I like being Annie. Despite this I started to call her Janice. Every time I said it, we smiled. When the shop finally closed she came out behind her counter and we hugged like old friends; a moment between floury, bountiful baker and loyal customer. I had tears in my eyes. No more weekly Ginger Breads for my boy.
On the radio I hear an interview with the man who is the designer of the Academy Award Envelope. As a child he imagined being the man to design the folded paper encasing the name of and the Oscar goes to. What kind of child dreams that dream?
A visit to a high school makes the play dough boy look small and squeaky. Large boys with hairy legs and deep voices, men really, lope around the courtyards. What has happened to teenagers? So large. The girls, too. Shorty shorts with giraffe-long legs. Hairless, naturally. Lipstick disguised as lip-gloss. Can the ten year old see himself here? Will he get lost between the science room and the art department? Something about my own high school experience bubbles near the surface. It’s scary not knowing people. It’s scary being small. What if no one likes you? What if when you speak, you say something that other people laugh at?
But there are many differences between this high school and mine. We were nearly all white. Girls. Here there are Sikhs with turbans, African, Asians, Indians, Indigenous and us. It is the United Nations. A small blonde white kid popping his way out of his plastic tub. Stretching his legs, rolling over his bowling arm, finding a friend to talk to over lunch. Now I have a place to imagine him when he is away from home at high school. Sitting on a limestone wall around a chess court in the quadrangle engulfed in difference, all made to feel equal.