Baby’s first existential crisis

The author as a young philosopher, probably 1982.
When I was very, very small, my family lived in what felt like a big, rambling house out in the country. The house was on a corner. Across one street there was a sugar beet field, and across the other was a little corner store where my mom worked for a while.

In the back yard there was a swing set that had an exhilarating tilt when you were too enthusiastic on the swings and an expansive garden where the sunflowers towered above my head and I ate my first bite of raw garlic. There was a playhouse on the other side of the garden, and that’s where my cat Rainbow had her kittens. A small boy ran screaming “Creatures! There are creatures in there!” when he discovered them. I don’t remember who the small boy was or why he was in my playhouse.

Across the garden was my best friend’s house, and the neighbor on the other side had raised boxes in his side yard where he raised snapping turtles. They were terrifying and thus magnetic. My first school was just down the street. My best friend and I once ventured into the fields beyond the school and found a huge beaver dam that we revisited again and again until the deep snows kept us away.

There wasn’t a garage on the property when my parents first bought the house, but my dad wanted one. So he and his brothers built one because that’s the kind of thing they did back then. I remember the day the concrete was poured. My dad held me at an awkward angle and I hovered over wet concrete and pressed my hand into the corner. Someone — probably my mom — carved my name and the date next to it.

Later, after the concrete was dry and the walls were up and the doors were installed and shelves lined the walls, my dad was working on something in the garage and I was in there with him, not being particularly helpful. I don’t know what I was planning, but it involved climbing the metal shelves against the wall. They sat in the corner above my handprint, and they were one million feet tall. Dad worked, and I climbed. I reached the top and cut my hand on a sharp edge.

It hurt, but not enough to make me cry. But then I looked at the small wound, and I was mortified.

I’m not sure where I got the impression that the inside of a people was roughly the color, texture and density of bologna — which is probably why I have never been able to eat bologna — but I was mortified to discover that the inside of my hand was decidedly un-bolognaish.

I wailed, and I launched myself from the top of those metal shelves. My dad stopped what he was doing and came to help. I’m pretty sure he thought I was overreacting, but that’s just because he thought I was crying about a cut when actually I was enduring my first deep existential crisis.

If we weren’t all bologna, what of my other assumptions were wrong?

A lot of them, as it turned out. A few years later my mom packed my baby brother and I up and moved us back to her childhood home. She sold my playhouse to one of her friends, and quite a long time later my dad sold the house altogether.

I drove past the house a few years ago, and it looked exactly like and not at all like I’d remembered it. The tree I rode my Big Wheel around was still in the front yard, and the turtle boxes next door were still there. The swing set was gone, though, and the rough pink-and-grey siding was gone.

I’ll bet my handprint and my name are still in the corner of the garage, though. I’d like to go inside and look at it some day.

6 thoughts on “Baby’s first existential crisis”

  1. Oh boy, what a memory. You should totally stop and ask. I bet they wouldn’t mind if you took a peek in the garage.

  2. The boy in your playhouse was probably one of Shawn’s cousins, some his aunt lived right next door. Great memory!

  3. I think you should stop by and ask to see the garage sometime. I’ve looked up my old childhood home on Google, and it’s definitely changed some. It’s just tougher for me to drive to upstate NY and find it now. 🙂

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