To Fall From Innocence

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

**this is the first draft of a creative nonfiction essay written for my class.  I'll be posting a final version later on in my semester after I've revised it.
To Fall From Innocence
To many people the idea of innocence doesn’t mean much.  In the back of many adult minds it’s a term loosely applied to childhood.  ‘A more innocent time’.  People often look down at a child and remark condescendingly, “oh, how innocent”.  And every adult laughs as though they aren’t completely jealous of what that child has; the ability to remain unaware of the most debilitating and horrifying things the world contains.
My stepmom has a belief that at some point in their early life every person has one experience that permanently shapes aspects of their personality.  She calls it a fall from innocence.  Essentially the moment a kid realizes that everything in the world isn’t simple and perfect; when something happens that they will never forget and that will form who they are later in life.  It might make them slow to trust people or obsessed with perfection or scared of never being good enough.  These are real examples.  Very few people have every come across this idea, but I believe in it nearly as much as my mom does.  I have seen her reduce people to tears many times when they recall the one moment that changed them forever and took away some of their youthful innocence.
It is uncommon, but for a small group of people, innocence never really goes away.  In certain respects, of course, no one can remain truly innocent for an entire lifetime.  However, some of the people I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to encounter and know well have taught me that there are ways of holding onto innocence when everyone else seems to get caught up in turning away from it.  My aunt is the best example I could possibly give.
The idea of describing Wendy is daunting.  She is so many things all at once that anyone who didn’t grow up with her as I did might never understand all the intricacies and facets that comprise her.
These are the basics.
Wendy is forty four years old.  She loves people unconditionally.  She is masterfully manipulative. She insists on having the last word.  She is unbelievably stubborn.  She is also wonderfully innocent.  She wholeheartedly believes in Santa Claus.  If you pretend to steal her nose she will do whatever it takes to get it back and put it back where it belongs.
She is intellectually delayed and completely deaf.  She has never heard the people around her saying that Santa isn’t real.  And part of her really believes that it’s possible for her nose to be temporarily stolen because no one has ever told her that it’s not.
These few basic statements barely scratch the surface of who she is.  But they do help make my points about innocence.  When I say she is a committed believer in Santa, this is not exaggeration.  She may actually be his number one fan.  Take her to a Christmas parade and one glimpse of the Big Man in Red will send her into a fit of squealing and giddy hysterics.  Yet this is the same reaction that many things can get from her.  Anything related to Mickey Mouse.  Spare change at the grocery store.  A ‘surprise’ of any kind.  A message on her iPad.  A stranger knowing sign language.  Mail.  Seeing someone she loves.  These simple parts of life elicit an extraordinarily joyful reaction.
Growing up we created or learned games that we played with her.  Many we continue to use to this day.  Because even as my siblings and I grow up, lose our childhood innocence and begin to take part in the real world, Wendy stays the same.  Her delays cause her, in most ways, to function around the level of an eight to ten year old.  That number doesn’t fluctuate much.  Just like a child she gets upset or frustrated easily and is entertained by the smallest things.  It’s true that if you ‘steal’ her nose or dimple she will go crazy getting it back.  It is common at normal family dinners for one of us to grab her nose and start the game.  We pass it from person to person, pretend to eat it or hide it.  She plays along, chuckling, knowing it’s a joke, but also taking it very seriously.  That’s her nose we have and it is crucial that she get it back in its proper place.
At the same time, it is still impossible for me to label her as completely innocent. She’s learned some things in forty four years that an eight year old would never understand.  She has manipulative ways of trying to trick us into giving her what she wants.  Once in a while it works.  More often we easily realize what she’s trying to do, from numerous past experiences.  But she tries to manipulate other disabled friends at work too.  In those cases, she is much more likely to get her way.  She can be very sneaky and creative and cunning if it will help her get her way.  But more often she’s hiding from us plain sight waiting to say ‘boo’ or laughing hysterically at the Three Stooges in her room, her innocence they primary drive of her thoughts and actions.
So what is innocence?  Is it really all vanished by the time we reach adulthood?  These are questions I can’t answer.  But I can say that my aunt’s life is full and happy because she holds on to that innocent joy, not even knowing that there’s another way of living. I sometimes wish we could all get that back.

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