She said she was nine years old. She stood fingering the corners of my various books that were stacked and displayed at the edge of my table during the book-signing.
“Do you have any scary ones?” she asked with one of those half smiles to which nine-year-olds seem to hold the patent. “Ones with bad guys in them?” And then, as an afterthought: “For kids?”
I responded that I was sorry but that none of my books were particularly good about including those things – for kids or otherwise. So she politely said that it was okay, but that she preferred scary books with bad guys in them, so she moved down to the next author at the next table and bent over those titles, the hopeful half-smile trailing along with her.
I wish now I had asked her to come back. I wish I had asked her to talk to me about the fun parts of being scared, and the joy of standing up to the bad guys, when we are age nine.
Just a few minutes later, it was my turn to speak during Indie Author Day at the library in Aiken. Ironically, my subject was titled: “Writing for the Child in All of Us.” And my premise was that we are all every age we have ever been. My opening statement even began: “My name is Marti Healy. And I am 9 years old … and I am 12 years old … and I am 17 years old … and I am 4 years old … and I am 62 years old … and I am 32 years old … and I am 15 years old … because I am every age I have ever been. And so are you.”
The point I was making was that we still have – somewhere inside us – every feeling we have ever felt, every experience we have ever known, every hurt, joy, perspective, prejudice, terror and truth. And, along with that, we have the ability to tap into, and be exposed as, that individual in us who experienced it, from childhood on – with all that wisdom and vulnerability.
This young girl’s comments stayed with me long after the event. She helped me remember in particular when fear was “thrilling” – before it got labeled as something to be dreaded, and relegated to the backs of our throats and pushed down under our hearts. And she reminded me to consider a time when “bad guys” were all conquerable. Before bravery became a burden. When victory was simply expected.
I believe we all read for escape in some way. Because when we are reading, our thoughts during those moments are focused on something other than ourselves. If not on a story of imagination, perhaps our minds are wrapped around concepts that give us reason to ponder, and tools to sharpen or even reshape our innocence, our consciousness.
It heartens me when “being scared and bad guys” are not reality for our children, and they can find the thrill of danger and explore their courage in books. And they can live wondrous adventures. And be heroes. And solve mysteries. And have unshakable friendships. And believe impossible things. And experience youth as it will never actually exist.
I suspect that somewhere along the way into being grown ups, fear and bad guys too often sneak in and take control of our realities. They wear thick boots, and shatter our belief into shards of cynicism. I am sorry for that.
Perhaps we should all make a point of reentering our own nine-year-old selves more often, and poke around in the corners, and dust-off the half-smile outlook that believes all good things about the world and other people and motives, and finds the adventure that awaits inside uncertainty, and knows the measure of courage and kindness that overwhelms bad guys.
Perhaps we should never lose sight of that child in all of us.
© Marti Healy 2018