24 June 2009


When I was two years old I walked to the edge of the cliff near our house on the Pacific coast and sat for hours staring at the ocean. My mother found me there in the late morning sitting on my knees with my dainty baby fingers resting on my lap. She didn’t panic as she searched the house, as she crouched on her knees to look under the bed, or when she pulled the refrigerator out from the wall. I had crawled out of bed in the morning, before she woke, out the screen door, and down to the edge of the rocks. My thin-skinned baby knees were bruised and dirty when she found me. My hands had made hand marks with orange dirt on my thighs.

My mother delivered me atop a hill so that I could see the vastness of the world when I was born, so she wasn’t surprised when she found me sitting at the edge of the cliff that overcast April morning, looking out at the infinite Pacific Ocean. The clouds were rolling in from the north and rain could be seen in the distance, an ominous mass tumbling over the rocky shore. She often told me that she knew she should have looked there first, but it might have just been one of those ‘after the fact’ kinds of things.

I was a house cat of a child when I was young. Through out the day, I would come in search of food and attention, and after acquiring these things, I would return again to the mythical land of the outdoors. I knew she liked when I would silently come in the side door, grasp the meaty part of her arm from behind and lean on the tips of my toes to kiss her cheek. I had freedom only because I followed her rules. I let her know I was still alive through out the day, and thus I had the freedom to play without her parental eyes limiting my imagination.

I often played down by the rocks, near the shore. The waves would smash into the cliffs and a symphony would compose itself in my head. The crashing waves were my metronome. The rocks were my orchestra. I would direct them with my eyes closed, my hands waving violently. Sometimes when I opened my eyes, anxiety flooded my spine. I could forget my place in the world or who I was when my eyes were closed. Reality was often too intense for my fragile child mind. There was all this beauty around me, real beauty, but I choose to live in my head. It wasn’t a defense mechanism. I wasn’t running from anything. It was side affect of an overwhelming imagination.

I started school when I was seven years old instead of five. My mother seemed to think there was no rush. I attended a small K-12 school about two miles away from our house. I rode my bike five days a week, for eleven years, up the dusty dirt road to the town that lied directly east of our house. The town was modest: oak trees lined its streets and pale earthy colors covered its buildings. The school building itself was new. It had replaced the old school house that was originally built in the 1920s, and, according to the town’s people, was too dated to house its future generation. So the new school was built, but our books remained old. Rumors were spread that they had accidentally spent too much on the school gymnasium to afford new books.

The first day of school my mother came with me to show me the way and to make sure I was placed in a class that didn’t plague me with boredom. I can remember sitting on a blue metal bench, watching her wave her hands with the same drastic swings as I did when I conducted the geological orchestras in my younger years. I couldn’t hear what she was saying because of the cloud of children that stood between us. My mother motioned to me. I got up and walked like a quail to her on the other side of the school patio, small steps, head forward. My tiny seven-year-old body cradled her arm as I peered up at my schoolteacher’s venomous eyebrows.

“Anna, what’s seven times seven?” my mother asked.


“How do you spell elephant?”


She smiled at me and I could tell I had done something right.

“Mrs. Rabinowitz, I understand your hesitancy with placing my daughter in second grade because she’s starting school late, but I can guarantee that she will do fine. She’s actually ahead. She’s been doing math and reading lessons since she was four,” said my mother with only her eyes smiling.

“Mrs. Hendrail— ” started Mrs. Rabinowitz.

“It’s Ms. Hendrail,” snapped my mother.

“Oh…I apologize. Ms. Hendrail, I understand your concern but we simply can’t put Anna in second grade without testing her, and the testing sessions have already passed, she will have to wait until January for the next sessions.”

I was placed in first grade amongst the six-year-olds. When one’s years are so limited to begin with, age is an insignificant factor in choosing playmates. For the first time in my life I played with other children. Sharing came naturally, as did taking turns. It made sense to share, and even as a seven year old, I felt the desire to give to those that I found interesting.

One day during lunch a girl with blond ringlet curls and a pudgy face was crying. My wonderment of her sadness drove me to sit next her; her tears a vast ocean waiting to be explored.

“Why are you crying?” I asked. Speaking slowly, I attempted to sooth her with my voice.
“My mother forgot to pack me a lunch today, and she forgot to give me money. She said she would when we were leaving in the morning but then she forgot. And now I’m hungry and I don’t have anything to eat and water is so boring,” she complained with her voice reaching the higher octaves and her lower lip protruded. She must have been mimicking a little girl she saw on television.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I know that it doesn’t feel good to be hungry, but you know it isn’t going to last forever and your mother might make a really good dinner because she forgot. But here you can have half my sandwich, then we’ll both be sort of hungry, instead of you being really hungry and me being full.”

The girl’s face lost its tightness, as if my words had exorcised a demon from her frail child body. I felt a bubble of contentment expanding inside my chest when she took that peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When her face relaxed, a flood of joy drenched my mind, and I felt a connection between another human being. Even at seven, there was an air of meaning I sensed in human connection. A happiness and relief transferred from her to me. It was beautiful.