I am three when I learn that birthdays make me another year older. It is a shame, as I enjoy being four, but I am told that it is time to grow up, and growing up means having a birthday. I am given presents to celebrate my indoctrination into the true order of things, but my mind is elsewhere. It knows these things are lies — that presents and growing up are just the things we tell ourselves in order to cope with our own finite mortality.
How do I know this? I am five and have not the words to articulate this philosophy to the people around me.
They are older, I tell myself. Surely, they understand.
But I can see by the glint in their eyes that those ideals are long forgotten.
Those same memories dim as I tear away at my presents and choke too-sweet cake down my throat. My hands are not my own. This body, full of youthful vigor, has its own mind and its own essence. Both are obstacles that will take years to rein in.
The celebration is one of revelry, but with each passing day — as it has been since I first saw light in this world — my memories and knowledge grow dimmer, bent to the will of this child and buried beneath a flood of new memories and impressions cascading into his young mind. He cares little about time or space, about the legends lost a lifetime ago, writ into glory by starlit constellations that shape the midnight sky. I cannot tell him and, in time, I will not remember.
My memories are being trampled, stamped down to bedrock beneath a slew of fresh experiences drank in through the senses. In school, we learn to count, to read, to write. Some fleeting realization strikes me as the days pass, as five becomes six, then seven, then eight. I am dying, but not in the way that I first imagined.
I realize the truth in those final hours, as I near ten years old. I am learning about time, about the concept of it. Why a clock hangs on the wall, and why we build our entire lives around it. I am told that time is fleeting and, to my child’s mind, it makes enough sense that I grasp it.
Somewhere, deep down, it is a hollow truth. I know there is something more to time, and it itches at me like an irritation beneath. It rattles about in my brain, a wisp of a whisper, seeking purchase on any precarious foothold.
There is none to be had.
I flex my wrists and stretch my arms until that irritation goes away. Time is linear, I am told. It only moves forward and there is no way back. You cannot be a child again. You only live once. Your past stays with you.
These are facts, concrete and immutable. And, at ten, I have no proof to refute that claim.
It simply is, as time itself must be.