You know what I don’t like? The “real world.”
People sound so mean when they talk about it. Once, an ex-boyfriend who was still hurt yelled at me, “You don’t know anything about the real world!”
I thought of this:
(A street fight. That’s what it sounds like. source)
Or maybe it looks like this:
Whenever people say “the real world,” they mean that there’s another world, a fake one, that someone is trying to live in. And that is always bad.
But I especially dislike it when people talk this way about kids. “They need to learn about the real world.” When people say this about kids, they mean that they’re too sheltered, or too spoiled, or too safe, or too innocent.
Sometimes people defend things as awful as bullying by saying, “Well, it’ll teach them to deal with the real world.”
As though this place called the real world is full of cruel people, just waiting to torment you. What a terrible place! I don’t want to live there!
Kids are meaner than adults, I think. I even met meaner people in college (they’re still basically kids) than I’ve met since then. Once, when I asked a girl in one of my freshman classes not to use the word “gay” as an insult, she screamed all sorts of things at me. The word “bitch” got repeated a lot. I was really surprised, but I’d be more surprised if that happened now.
I am thankful for my innocence as a kid. I wouldn’t have traded it in then for any amount of forbidden adult knowledge of the real world. My real world was awesome. I was dorky and cool at the same time. Actually, those words didn’t mean that much. I lived a lot in my head, which, since I was always reading novels about magical kingdoms and wilderness explorers, felt a lot like an endless enchanted forest.
I wasn’t stupid. One of the boys I hung out with told me that Leonardo Dicaprio fainted when he saw Kate Winslet’s naked boobs for the first time during the shooting of the new blockbuster Titanic. I didn’t believe him.
“No, he fainted,” he insisted. “They were that amazing.”
“No one faints because they see some breasts,” I said. I didn’t use the word “boobs” back then.
“You don’t know about sex,” he said.
“I know enough,” I said.
Neither one of us knew very much. We weren’t even teenagers yet. But I really did know enough. Why would I need to know more?
Worldly, fast-talking, jaded little kids are popular characters on TV and in movies, and they’re popular in life, where adults find them amusing. Hell, I find them amusing, too! But I’m also glad I wasn’t one of them. I mean, I was fast-talking, but it probably wasn’t clever and knowing and snide. I probably only thought it was. I didn’t know how to swear until I was fifteen, when I practiced diligently and began emphasizing my points with what I considered a gracefully adept placement of a certain four letter word beginning with the letter F. My parents weren’t thrilled, but I couldn’t be stopped. It was too much fun.
There’s plenty of time to learn how to swear and memorize all 256 sex positions from the latest Cosmo and figure out that some people will take advantage of you if you show any sign of weakness and that an enormous variety of automatic behaviors are in fact uncool and pathetic and lame. There’s not enough time to think about enchanted forests undisturbed.
Even now, walking down Broadway in the suffocating heat, surrounded by brick buildings and sluggish hordes of people, I suddenly think of a forest, stretching out into the distance.
This time, it’s a forest I’ve actually seen. In California, which has blended in my mind with the worlds in the fantasy novels I read as a kid.
“I don’t think I’d know how to deal with a forest anymore,” I tell Bear. “They look kind of dangerous and scary. No one is around to help you, in case something happens.” Oh, New York, this is what you do to people.
I used to go out in the woods all the time as a kid. I could look for edible plants all day. Sometimes I even found one.
“It’s weird that I ended up here,” I tell Bear. “It’s the opposite of what I wanted as a kid.”
It’s hard to be an elfyn mage in Manhattan. But it’s OK, because I don’t read fantasy books anymore.
(Bear, protector of the enchanted forest. Werebear warrior, of course.)
* * *
Unroast: Today I love my ankles. They’re an almost exact combination of my parents’ ankles.
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