Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The End of Innocence

Maybe it was because I woke up yesterday morning and it was a rainy day. Maybe I thought about it because I'm talking about beginnings and endings this month or maybe it's just something that always lurks at the back of my mind and pops up when I'm least expecting it.

We all have those moments. The ones where we stop feeling immortal and start feeling human; frail and subject to the whims of fate, disease and accident.

Mine happened when I was twenty-two or vingt-deux ans (as I think of it) because I was living in Paris at the time.

Paris felt like a playground to me. A giant glittering campus full of art, food and exotica. I took risks and made ill-advised choices because I was vingt-deux ans and basically immortal. Then one morning, during a transatlantic telephone call with a friend, I found out another friend was gone.

Not dead, not killed by drunk drivers or premature disease. Just gone. Disappeared. The police were looking for her. There was a statewide search in progress but she'd been gone for three weeks.


Her car was found. The keys to it were in her purse which was still in her car. The only thing of value that was missing was my friend Katie.

She'd been missing for three weeks and then four and then five. I cried about it. We all did. She was our funny, bright shining light of a sorority sister. She was tough. The kind of girl who was going to take the world by storm.

Except she didn't. Instead, the world took her. And for me that was the end.

It was the end of the innocence that had allowed me to skip home by myself through Parisian streets at 4:00 in the morning. I stopped believing I was immune and immortal because if the world could be so capricious as to take my friend Katie then there was nothing to stop it from taking me too. It was a simple matter of self-preservation and grief.

Now that I have children of my own I often think about their innocence. It's a delicate line I walk. Part of me wants to preserve them just the way they are, carefree and insouciant, and part of me wants to wake them up. I have the urge to frighten them into wariness and streetsmarts by oversharing gory details of what takes place in this world of ours.

This isn't one of those posts where I have an answer or am searching for solutions. It's just a recitation of facts. At one time we're all innocent. If we're lucky we get to live long enough to lose that innocence. We don't always think of this as a gift but it is. It's the gift of experience and life.

My friend Katie was never found. She's gone and what's left behind are the hearts that ache in her absence. She lost more than her innocence. She lost everything. This is the kind of knowledge that, all these years later, still haunts me on rainy summer mornings.


Beylit said...

When I was in 5th grade a little girl that lived in our neighborhood, Heidi Seeman, was abducted while she was walking home from a friends house. There was a back road between our neighborhood and her friends. They walked halfway down the road together and then separated and would turn back at their street corners to wave goodbye. Heidi never reached her street corner. They had made that walk hundreds of times before, it was supposed to be safe.

The entire city searched for her. Her father was air force so the search was epic. They found bits of her belongings in an old rock quarry (that is now a shopping center and gives me the creeps because all I can think about is this poor girl and not Old Navy). They finally discovered her body on some farm land not far from the city.

That will pretty much blow anyones innocence right there. Having a school mate kidnapped and murdered will do that. I still managed some pretty care free stupid acts when I made it to college, but I can tell you that middle school and high school were pretty much void of risk taking behavior.

Anonymous said...

I lost my innocence at 12. When your best friend dies in front of you, there's no returning from that. And 19 years later, it still haunts.

I'm sorry they never found Katie.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

A friend once asked me, if you could have one super power, what would it be? I quickly replied, "To know the fate of every person that ever went missing in the entire world."

I'm just that curious. I want to know.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Things like that do make you lose your innocence. And I wonder about my kids all the time. Am I sheltering them too much only for them to be crushed by reality at school? Or am I preserving something for them a little longer because one day they will lose their childhood innocence no matter what I do? I don't know, but for now I can't stand to see it missing in them.

I too am sorry they never found Katie.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

What a very, very sad story. One of my classmates in high school was killed at a party when we were juniors. He was knifed when he tried to break up a fight. I think that was my moment.

Nicki Elson said...

That's just awful - I can't imagine the feeling of just not knowing. Sad that it stole your innocence too, but then again maybe that helped save you and others who knew Kate.

On a happier note - how utterly cool that you got to live in Paris! I have a photo of one of those Metropolitain signs (taken near Montmartre) hanging in my bedroom. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's a terrifying feeling. So helpless.
I had two moments. One when someone I knew from high school died of AIDS (blood-transfusion related.) A year later mortality sealed when I married my wife and realized I was now responsible for her.

~Sia McKye~ said...

That would be a scary wake up call.

I understand totally wanting to allow your kids all the innocent time you can. I've always balanced my kids with reality and the need for caution.

Youth tend to feel ten feet tall and bullet proof and probably because they haven't seen death or danger up close and personal.

For me, add the feeling that I could take care of myself. I was strong from years of hard work before I left home, competition weightlifter in high school, a dad who showed me how to fight like a man--thank god, cross country runner. What was left of my belief that people you knew were safe ended at 21. Thankfully all everything I had been taught came into play and I came through safely.

Experience and life is very much a gift and one I'm glad I have.


Carol Kilgore said...

So sad. My moment was learning my friend had been murdered by her husband, who then killed himself. We're never the same again.

Ella said...

I am so sad and sorry for your friend and you~! It scars us~

My rose colored glasses were smashed, when I was 18. My Dad died suddenly in his sleep. He was talking to me at 1 am...I was up sick, bad cold. He died two hours later. We knew he had problems. He had Rheumatic fever when he was young(from Strep Throat). We knew his heart was damaged, but didn't realize how bad.

It is a difficult path with children. Sometimes if we shield too much, they aren't ready for the world. If we suffocate them, too much, they go wild, when given the chance. I think it depends on your child's personality! (((hugs)))

T. L. Cooper said...

This one made me think... When I was nine I had Reye's Syndrome and spent 4.5 days in a coma. I suppose that was the first time I faced my own mortality though I don't remember for sure, but what your post really made me ponder was whether or not that event caused by classmates to lose their innocence... I had never considered that possibility before...

It is perfectly understandable that certain moments make you nostalgic for Katie. My heart aches that she was never found.

Michael Di Gesu said...

I am so sorry Johanna.

THere is nothing worse than never really knowing what happened to the ones we love.

My mother's father disappeared when she was only two. He had a brain disorder and was prone to violent out bursts. He was institutionalized, but since he was fine most of the time they never locked him up. One day he disappeared.

My grandmother, had detectives looking for seven years. They never found him or a body. He was haunted for the rest of her life ... always wondering. Even on her death bed, forty years after the fact she mentioned him and how she had hoped she would FINALLY be reunited with her love.

Life throws us many curves. I had a horrid experience the other night that I wrote about on my blog. If you get a chance drop by.

Hugs sweets.


Neurotic Workaholic said...

I'm so sorry about what happened to your friend Katie and what you went through. That's so awful, and I wish I could think of something to say that would make you feel better.
Sometimes I see little kids walking with their teachers or playing at recess and I marvel at their innocence too. It's hard to believe that I was ever like that, but I can still remember it. I wish I had held on to it, because I think that I became more cynical as I got older.

P.S. You left a comment about revision and One Direction on my blog a while ago, but I didn't even see it show up because it got sent to my Spam filter for some reason. It's weird because that never happened with your other comments. But sorry I never responded to your comment; I just wanted to let you know why.

Joyful Minimalism said...

I am so sorry Katie was never found. It must have been so unbelievably hard to go through....

I lost my innocence at 14, but lately I feel like it's still there. I have forgiven those who harmed me. It no longer is like an open ending...

Barbara Watson said...

I can only imagine the pain of the unanswered--both for Katie and all who knew her.

Innocence is something we all want to hold on to, especially for our kids.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That is terrible. We forget things like that really happen.

My innocence ended when I lost my father at age eleven.

Talli Roland said...

What a poignant post, Johanna. I've never thought about when I realises bad things could just happen, but I think it was when I was twelve and a little girl my age was murdered. So sad.