There’s a natural turning point in childhood when we become increasingly aware of ourselves and hypercritical of others. We notice things more vividly as if a fog has been lifted from our eyes. Did that not-so-close family friend of ours always have a moustache? Was that fence always yellow? I’ve never noticed that Aunt Jenny’s thighs look like a drooping cheese soufflé before…
We solidify our opinions and realize for the first time with clarity that we are our own person, separate from the identities of our parents. This almost shocks us and we even feel guilt over some of the unfiltered thoughts that thrust themselves upon our psyches. It is a surprise to find our parents aren’t there inside our heads acting as a sieve through which our existence is filtered. We once felt we were one with them. One mind, one body; pressed against their chest at night, almost sure our hearts beat simultaneously and that if one stopped the other would inevitably sputter out. Now the world feels quiet, expansive. Full of possibility, but also terribly lonely.
When it happened to me I was about eight or nine years old.
It was a muddled, misty day on our farmland in beautiful upstate New York. The skies were heather grey and seemed to be tethered to the ground like someone lowered the ceiling of the whole universe and tied it down to float and slide back and forth like a balloon on a weight. I wore rain boots but was otherwise entirely unprepared for the rain; wet cotton sleeves stuck to my skin. It began to pour and I remember looking up, watching the rain fall from the eaves of the house. Tiny wet pearls fell from an oyster sky. As I watched the droplets seemed to fall in slow motion.
I spoke out loud to myself as I ran my hands along the siding of the house. I was telling a story. The whole thing was so cathartic: the rain, my words falling from my mouth like water. It didn’t matter if they fell flat; there was only me to experience them.
Becoming suddenly aware of myself I remember checking to see if anyone was around. I thought, You’re so weird. Adults don’t talk to themselves like this. But there was something raw and enchanting about hearing my own voice tell a story it did not yet know. I was channeling it from somewhere else, like the story was imprinted in my DNA or ancestral memory. Etched in my bones.
So that was it. The end of childhood—and the beginning of my life as a storyteller.
The fairytale of the rain and the dreamy day was split open by a gripping realization.These stories were meant for more than just me. Who was I to keep them to myself? Okay. I thought, This is who I am.
I guess I’d better get started.