The Days of Innocence

My brother and I used to play a game every Saturday morning. The game was called, The Two Men in Bed. Every Saturday morning, we would jump out of our beds and into mom and dads’. Mom and dad would always be up by then, doing chores around the house, but we kids loved to sleep in on Saturdays like every self-respecting grade-schooler does while watching cartoons. I was seven and brother was four. Boy, did we have fun!

We took a videogame joystick from our Atari 2600 and put it on the bed. We tucked ourselves under the covers and pretended we were two wealthy men who were crippled and had a special bed built for us. Instead of a wheelchair, it was a “wheelbed”! This bed would drive us around town anywhere we wanted to go…to the store, on top secret missions, across deserts and forests...absolutely anywhere. We drove the bed with the joystick, of course, and underneath the covers was an underground compartment where we kept all our possessions and food.

Mom would always be cooking in the kitchen and she’d pop her head in the room and say, “What are you two doing?” We enthusiastically responded, “We’re playing The Two Men in Bed, mom.” Then I would see her smile and begin to giggle. Sometimes she would say, “Aw, that’s cute, guys!” I didn’t know why she would laughingly say that. I just supposed it was like any other parent or grandparent who thought their kids were cute. It didn’t matter to us anyway. Our minds just moved on with the fun!

On one occasion, I remember little brother and I being out in the swimming pool with our plastic ray guns and inflatable alligator rafts. Mom decided to join us for a swim, and as we enjoyed that nice Saturday afternoon dip, somehow the topic of the two men in bed came up. She said, “The next time you guys play your Two Men game, the bed will have the new Star Wars sheets on it!” I was puzzled because I kept noticing that she would never verbalize, “the two men in bed” part, only “The Two Men.” I said to mom, “Mom, the game is called ‘The Two Men in Bed!’” Immediately, she put her index finger over her mouth and “shushed” me. She told me to be quiet because the neighbors were out. Why the hell did that matter? Why not call the game by its real name? I didn’t understand. In a million years, I would never have guessed why.

Finally, mom took the time to explain it to me. She said grown men don’t sleep in the same bed because “that’s for husbands and wives who have babies together.” Now all I could think was, “Ewwwwwwwww.” In my little mind, such things just didn’t happen.

The disappointments didn’t stop coming. I found myself at school, writing up a story for class. I thought it was a nice story. It was about a man who went trick-or-treating and found a haunted house with horned monsters in it, but a mean, black-haired witch of a teacher said to me, “Uh, men don’t go trick-or-treating, Joseph!” I can still remember her raspy voice to this very day. I felt stupid, but she was right! Adults don’t do those things. Why didn’t I notice that? Then came the Santa Claus revelation—big disappointment! And I really knew things weren’t looking up for me when Monica’s mom started running me off after school. We used to wrestle in the grass, Monica and I. At school, we played Husband & Wife right next to the monkey bars on the playground, but when I started showing off my new smelly armpits to the neighborhood kids, her mom wasn’t a big fan of me anymore!

What happened to the days of innocence, when it was ok to run around wearing nothing but one of dad’s flannels for a Superman cape, when it was cool to freak out the girls by putting bagworms on your tongue? What happened to the days when you were never a weirdo because you jumped off the balancing beam at recess and pretended you could fly, when your favorite pastime was rubbing boogers on door handles and giving wedgies to the kids you didn’t like? What happened to the days of innocence, when boys thought kissing girls was “yucky,” when girls thought boys were “gross”, when the boys loved house-wrecking pillow fights, and the girls loved “no boys allowed” slumber parties? What happened to the days when carrying big sticks around your front and back yards and climbing trees was considered normal behavior? What happened to the days when playing in the sandbox was the coolest thing around, when you could run shirtless and shoeless in the grocery store at mom or dad’s side and maybe get a candy bar if you were good? What happened to the days when the bills were never yours, and when you did something really stupid that got you into trouble, a stern talk with a scary looking, gaunt principal was all you needed to set you straight? What happened to the days of innocence?

One thing about us damn grown-ups: we’re so ready with responses, usually reflex responses, like “Well, we all have to grow up sometime,” and “We can’t stay young forever.” These are intellectual answers, factual answers. I want deeper answers than these, like why we, as adults, must forget how to truly enjoy ourselves as we grow, how to thrive on a diet of creativity as we age? I want to know why we so easily buy into the putrefied lie that says our latter years must be void of happiness, that maturity means we have to trade in fun so that everybody else can have it at our expense? I want to know why we are constantly obsessing about sacrifice, about pleasing everyone but ourselves, and after we’ve given our life-blood doing so, to be told by some rotten-but-well-meaning fuck-nut that we are not trying hard enough, that we are still being selfish. Someone tell me why the innerspring loses its bounce? Tell me why the magic of logic-defying creativity leaves us as dried out office drones, lessoned of love and drained of drive? At what point did we become so damn tied up worrying about others that we just said to hell with ourselves? At what point did we convince ourselves that we don’t deserve that hyper-happiness that comes from having an imaginary friend to play with, from drinking root beer and thinking you’re cool because you’re almost old enough for the real thing, from telling everyone you’re “seven and a half” years old, from thinking you’re invincible because you’re wearing new Incredible Hulk pajamas, from having a birthday party at Chuck-e-Cheese, watching big, dancing, stuffed animals entertain you as you eat piles of pizza?

We certainly can’t relive our childhood, that’s for sure. And we shouldn’t want to because the experiences wouldn’t be the same a second time around. We should treasure our memories of them and realize that being completely na├»ve and ignorant of so much of life as we were then, we were still probably much better off than we are today. Life teaches us a lot of good things, but it also teaches us bad things and causes us to forget other valuable truths we should retain, like the value of being selfish, and the belief that we are entitled to get what we want. For all the wisdom we come upon through the years, it is dumbfounding to discover how much we must un-learn. Wasted years pass by, tragic mistakes are made, bad philosophies are adopted and then rejected, and so many useless phases are gone through, and in all that time only a few gems of timeless wisdom are found.

I may not be able to get my innocence back, but I can sure as Hell sit on the couch, and just before I begin my daily dronish routine, pick up an old Captain America toy and pretend I’m kicking the crap out of Red Skull! No, I’m not too old!

(JH)

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