When I was ten years old, my father moved our family from Brooklyn to the middle of nowhere to work for a prison. We left everyone we knew to move to the top of a small mountain, off a country dirt road with only one neighbor nearby.
In those days, my parents were notorious for their arguments: loud, violent, raging, spitting, airborne glasses, and bloody fists. I was just a stray cat who lived among them, slinking around the house, trying not to get crushed by stamping feet.
In the summer, I explored the woods all day. But when winter came, the sky blackened at five o’clock, and my bedroom window was the only safe haven– that’s when I discovered the light.
Rising up behind a mountain in the distance was an unmistakable pale pink light in the sky. It hovered above the tree line like a glowing dome, a bubble of gum, suspended in the air. I didn’t believe in Santa, or magic, or even myths, but this light was different. It was majestic, mysterious. And when the moon shared the sky, it was the most spectacular sight.
Some nights the light was so bright, the sky lit up like fire. Vibrant ripples of orange and pink wavering over the mountains. On cloudy nights, the light was only a soft hue. Still visible and even more perplexing, like an everlasting sunset under the stars.
Where was it coming from? The possibilities were endless: a carnival with thousands of cotton candy carts and unicorn carousels; a magical pond with fairies, whose wings shone and sparkled during flight; a peach orchard with everlasting fruits; or perhaps the true home of the sun, where it lay to rest before rising again in the morning.
I drew every possibility I could imagine. My walls were filled with sketches of the pink and orange enigma in the sky. The light became my beacon of hope. My own best kept secret from the world– or so I believed.
For no reason that I can remember, my father entered my room one night, immediately puzzled and ranting about ‘ridiculous scribbles’. The night was clear, and the light was bright. I pointed out the window. My father shook his head and told me to get in the car. He was taking me to the light.
I bounded after him with excitement. Too full of bliss to be skeptical. The drive wasn’t long, and I didn’t mind choking on my father’s cigarette smoke. I was going to the paradise behind the tree-line. Finally, after all these months.
I can still feel the ache in my heart when the car took its last turn, finally greeting my fantasy: massive cement walls laced with coiled barbed wire; crumbling brick buildings with cylinder smokestacks; lantern-shaped watch towers; a vacant parking lot stretching far in front. Infiltrating the entire property were rickety old street lamps, each fixed with a sodium bulb and omitting an orange glow– a glow that was unmistakably pink against the smoke rising from the stacks.
It was the prison. My magical dome of light was light pollution from a caged home for dangerous criminals. An eyesore tucked away in the mountain. A reminder of terrible events. Death and misery.
Staring up at the lights that were supposed to be peach trees blooming in the snow, I could feel my childhood fade. And I used to believe that this was the moment I lost my innocence. But now, I’m convinced it was my hope. The hope of something better. Something magical. Something to believe in.
Maybe that’s all innocence really is after all—pure, unconditional hope.
Tue Apr 06 2021 04:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)