A birthday memory. Winner of SugarCube's Weekly Random Contest, 23 September 2019.
|Now We Are Twelve
I do remember that, at some time in my childhood, my twelfth birthday assumed an importance beyond all other birthdays. The moment that this happened has long fled my memory, but I feel as though it must have been years before the magic date. Certainly, I can state that, for a long time, I looked forward to being twelve with unusual anticipation and excitement.
Just what I expected to be special in becoming that age, I do not recall. My best guess is that I thought I would achieve “grown up” status, that wonderful time that all children hanker after, believing that they would be masters of their own fate, able to buy whatever their little hearts had become set upon and to go to bed as late as they liked. I am quite sure my motivation was not as clearly defined as that but the impression in my mind would have been similar.
It would be safe to say, therefore, that I approached my twelfth birthday with more expectation and impatience than was occasioned by any birthday before or since. To be twelve years old was going to be the most excellent of experiences, the culmination of long ages of waiting.
My twelfth birthday started well. After years of being requested, begged for and hinted at, my present from my parents was a bicycle. This, surely, was cause enough for celebration and it is true that it made the years of waiting worthwhile. But it was not the life-altering event that the number twelve was supposed to be. That was, no doubt, still to happen.
The rest of my birthday was taken up by the usual birthday things, cake, playing with the presents (which amounted to riding the bike at every opportunity), a few friends to celebrate with, answering silly questions like, “How does it feel to be twelve?” and so on. These were so similar to previous birthdays that I cannot remember any of it in detail. If this was the birthday that my imagination had built up to be so special, it was a bit of a damp rag in reality.
It was only towards the end of the day that the most momentous fact began to sink in. From now on, I was the hallowed age, the holy grail of childhood, the dream that had driven me for so long. I was twelve. Not eleven or, God forbid, the pathetic ten. I was undeniably, certifiably and certainly, twelve. The pinnacle of childhood achievement had been reached.
As the year passed, this feeling increased that twelve had actually delivered on its promise. The awareness of being twelve did not leave me and I gloried in the secret knowledge amongst the eleven year olds and tens. Oh, there were other twelves around but they did not seem aware of their achievement as I was. Twelve was, indeed, the age to be.
It was only as my next birthday approached that I realised my brief reign was coming to an end. How disappointing it was to find that twelve’s power was finite and that, struggle against it as I might, thirteen would arrive inevitably to steal forever my attainment. Come the relevant date, I lost the feeling of being twelve and never regained it.
From the deep wisdom of thirteen I saw now that it had been an illusion. Although twelve offered delights unavailable to tens and elevens, these were as nothing compared to the heights and depths that thirteen played with every day. Puberty it was that mocked poor twelve and sent it unremarked and unlauded to the grave.
Yet twelve remains in my memory as a sort of summit of grandeur, a goal attained and still outstanding. Puberty releases a different world, it’s true, but is also the first step into a universe of complication and competing forces in which the soul is caught in peril to its existence. Gone is the freedom and lack of care that form the brightest stars in twelve’s crown. If childhood is the happiest time of life (and well it may be), then twelve is its highest and greatest expression.
Looking back, I realise that, but for one tiny, insignificant fact already mentioned, I could be said to have peaked far too early in life. Let us not forget that gift that twelve had brought me on the very day of its inception; I speak, of course, of the bicycle. With that gift I had the ability to keep a hold on freedom through the turbulent years of puberty and teenagerhood. For four years this simple invention gave me the power to escape to the wide world of adventure and discovery.
And then the car was to take its place with an even greater freedom that ran through a life steadily becoming more complex and difficult, a single thread of peace in the weave of commotion that is adult life. Now that I am aged beyond mobility so that I am more static than even eleven, I appreciate the gift that was being twelve in ways I did not understand.
Yet did I fail to understand? Something in me must have impressed upon my child’s mind that twelve was to be a year above all others. It was a year that, after all, did not disappoint.
Word Count: 885
Author’s Note: The title of this piece is in homage to A.A. Milne’s books of poems for children, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six.