Gia Arora
4 min readFeb 16, 2024

He had not died but he had faded out like a film in the sun. He had been lost or had wandered out of existence for he no longer existed. It was strange to see his small body appear again for a moment: a little boy in a grey belted suit. His hands were in his sidepockets and his trousers were tucked in at the knees by elastic bands.
- James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Photo by Zan on Unsplash

On a cold Thursday morning eleven years ago, I grew up. My hair hung down my back in pigtails, and I made my best friend cry. I threw up at lunch and lied about it because I thought my parents would be mad. My thoughts were very big. My voice was very small. There were sunglasses around my belly.

A year later, I grew up again. I looked back at six-year-old me, and chastised her for being so little. And then the next year, I did it again. And then again. And again.

I started writing my first book when I was nine years old. There was a broken clock and a run-down apartment, a twelve-year old detective and his hapless older brother. I could never bring myself to throw it away, but I couldn’t tell you where it is now. I began my second book — actually, let’s call it my first — the next year. There was an island filled with magic, and a poem about war. I’ve changed all of it, now, but I tell everyone it’s still on the way.

(The truth is, I don’t know those characters any better than I know my best friend from eleven years ago. We grew apart.)

Every poem I write eulogizes the little girl who drank books like nectar, and loved like her heart would fill to the brim and spill over, and wondered like a dream yearning to write itself into existence. My childhood slips every day through the fingers of a six-year-old with a notebook filled with adjective-noun-verb sequences and a girl she loved like a sister. It outlines the letters of a block-letter footnote in a nine-year-old’s favorite book, lies in the bushes by her favorite white pencil. It sleeps buried underneath the stoop of her front porch, where grass used to grow when she was eight.

Sixteen was a lifetime ago, and I remember it like it was this morning. I have been thirteen for less than a week. I grow by a year in the 24-hour span of every birthday. I always think I know everything there is to know. Today is a yesterday I will forget in a week and regret for the rest of my life. My existence is a love letter to my future and an apology to my past.

When did the lump in my throat get too big to let the nectar slip past? When did the lid on my heart grow clasps? When did my wonder dream itself into ruin? The grass on my porch was bricked over. There has been a piece of pencil lead in my palm since third grade.

I miss my friend from eleven years ago, and last year, I made a friend with the same name. I can’t remember the last time I liked the taste of water. I didn’t finish Hamlet the first time I tried to read it, because Ophelia’s death felt like too much. Nectar was slip slip slipping out of my cupped hands. I read Lord of the Rings and learnt every song I didn’t know the tune to. I watched the movies and hated them, then watched them again anyway. I read Hamlet in its entirety when I was fourteen years old, and Act V blossomed like a fire in my lungs. Horatio burrowed his way into my veins. I held Hamlet’s last words to my chest and sobbed.

The first time I was handed my childhood in the form of a book was when I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Incredibly, it also showed me my present. And maybe, maybe, it showed me my future.

I dug my nails into my couch and squeezed a religion out of poetry. I took a copy of my favorite book and turned it into a shrine. There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will. I don’t want to be a child again, because I have never been sure what childhood means.