Breaking Bonds

The next couple of posts will be a bit fragmented – I started writing them and haven’t had time to polish them or think them through, but still, I’d like to get them out there and move on.  This one is from the end of September:

I’ve been a little short on cash since coming home.  I have a lot more to do and a lot less money to do it with (at least, compared to what I had on the island, or even in Portland for that matter).  It’s kind of shocking, and depressing really – I’ve always had enough and now I can’t seem to hang on to what I’ve made for more than five seconds.  The Bay Area wasn’t always so expensive, I tell myself.  And it wasn’t – I remember when the bridge tolls were only $1, when $10 bought my sister and I matinee movie tickets with change to spare for a snacks or drinks.  But beyond the usual cost inflations, it used to be cheaper to live in the Bay Area because the last time I lived here, I was a child, living on a child’s budget.

It’s weird sometimes to walk around my neighborhood – it keeps expanding and growing and getting smaller at the same time.  Everything is familiar, but it’s been a long time since I’ve really looked at it.  And now that I’m “grown,” it looks different through grown-up eyes.  It’s like when I watched ET with my kids in Japan.  I kept wondering why you only ever saw the belt buckles of the adults and why I didn’t remember that before.  With a pain,  I realized that I hadn’t noticed before because the movie is shot from a child’s perspective and that the last time I watched ET, adults were pretty much just a bunch of belt buckles to me.  The pain came with the knowledge that I had lost my child’s perspective and the realization that I have become a belt buckle – even if it’s a very high-waisted belt buckle in my case.  And living in my childhood room in my parents’ house doesn’t really change this or the fact that after tuition, BART tickets and food, I’m kind of broke.

To help alleviate some of this financial stress, I decided to redeem some of my savings bonds.  After doing a little research, I determined that it would be best to only redeem the ones that were more than 20 years old, even though they keep earning interest for 30 years.  I noticed that on some of the older bonds, there was a name I didn’t recognize as the buyer of the bond.  I noticed that she always made the bond in care of my dad and wondered if maybe she was an old co-worker of his or a friend of the family.  After some more shuffling through, it dawned on me that this mystery woman was my aunt before she married my uncle.  I have no memory of my aunt’s previous husband, but clearly they were together when I was born.  And suddenly I got very sad and nostalgic thinking about all these bonds that people had bought for me at a time that I can’t even remember.  About how they were all thinking of me and my future when I was still struggling to grasp the basics of living.  I was overcome with gratitude for the wisdom and foresight they had, for the faith they had placed in me when they invested in my future.  I worry about betraying that faith now that I am at that future that they had hoped for me and I have no idea what to do with it.

I had to work hard to hold it together at the bank.  The teller must have noticed my apprehension because he asked if I was sure if I wanted to redeem my bonds because once he started, the process would be irreversible.  It was like a metaphor for this transition between childhood and adulthood and I very nearly backed out.  But in the end, I told him to go ahead.  Every time he ran one of the bonds through the machine, I felt like I was selling off a piece of my childhood.  I felt like Sebastian in Neverending Story II, how whenever he made a wish, he lost one of his memories.  In a moment of sentimentality, I decided not to redeem my birthday bond – the one given to me on the day I was born.  That one, I think I will hang on to until I’m 30, this strangely magical age beyond which I don’t have any plans, beyond which I have no idea what my life will look like.

Mom often talks about mourning the loss of one’s childhood.  I think that many children disregard the need to do this because they’re in such a hurry to grow up.  But for me, the loss is very real and very tangible.  I feel like my childhood is ending before I really learned to appreciate it, like water seeping out of cupped hands.

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