When Angus was in grade one, he made a friend named Eric. Eric was short and small and cute and red-haired. He was also a champion bullshitter, and there came a point in their relationship where if Eric told Angus something with absolute authority, nothing I said would sway my sweet, naive little boy to believe differently. Everybody in their class was failing math? Eric’s bed was on fire and firemen came to his house and carried the flaming bed down the stairs and up the street to the firehouse? There was a ghost haunting Manotick Pool? All true – Eric said so.
It’s hard for me to fault Angus for this, since I was the world’s most gullible child myself. One might think that all the reading I did would have broadened my knowledge base and created a little cynicism, but I think it might have done the opposite; it made it seem that anything was possible, so when people told me things that were outlandish and highly unlikely, I believed that they were… possible.
In kindergarten, there was a word scratched into the top of the play structure. Another girl told me it meant friendship and said I should use it in class. I could read a lot of words by the time I was in kindergarten, but my vocabulary was not wide enough to know that F-U-C-K does not mean friendship – at least not until I tried using the word in class.
In the small town where I lived, there was a place called Anderson’s Farm. It was a collection of buildings, a barn and a windmill near an elementary school; in the winter, we cross-country skied around the fields. In grade one or two, I was in my backyard with a friend from my street and we could see the windmill in the distance. She told me in a hushed, intense voice about a girl who was taken prisoner by people who lived at the farm. They cut off her head and her little finger (for use in some profane pinky-requiring Satanic ritual, no doubt) using the windmill, and if you looked at it up close there was STILL BLOOD on the blades. I told this breathlessly to my mother later on, who asked drily if I supposed that it hadn’t rained in all the years since this foul deed had taken place. I shook my head sadly at her laughable logic – rain doesn’t wash off blood used in demonic rites, MOM. It had to be true, after all – Tammy said so.
I also remember crying in grade four because one of my best friends said she had heard that some psychic lady had predicted that the world would end at midnight on the upcoming New Year’s Eve. She had made other predictions, and she had NEVER BEEN WRONG. I tried to tell myself it was nonsense, but at the same time I kept thinking, well geez, the world is really old now, maybe it makes sense that it’s almost done. My teacher clearly didn’t know whether to give me a consoling hug or smack me for being such a dough-head.
I had to kiss and hug all my stuffed animals and tuck them in every night just on the off chance that all those books about toys coming to life after their owner left the room were true – how horrible would it be if they were, and my toys felt unloved? Chain letters were absolute torture – my hand would be curled into a useless claw, but if I didn’t finish them all, surely dreadful things would happen. Séances? I would nearly vomit in terror (thank-you, grade six camping trip from which it took me years to recover).
In a way I regret how world-weary I’ve become since then. Miracle cures? Cosmic coincidences? Near-death experiences? I roll my eyes at everything. If I can’t verify it with two independent sources, it didn’t happen. A balance between the two extremes might be nice – having your head on straight but leaving a little room for magic and mystery. I guess that’s why I still read.
As a child, were you a susceptible sucker or a sophisticated skeptic?