The Difference Between Elementary School and College

By: Emma Tamplin

In elementary school I didn’t need sleep. I would wake in the middle of the night to some kind and gnawing urge to form and mold, with my insides, a miraculous woman-doll with a massive head. My parents and teachers provided the clay and it promised to introduce me to myself, so I was given clearance to stay up past my bedtime to tend to my self-sculpting. And the grown-ups were asleep anyways. That was the key, I think. The adults weren’t watching. They provided room and board, caging our clay-mations, and paid no concern. Nobody was paying attention and nobody was paying. There is some beauty in being not-yet monetized, but waiting to be monetized. We were sure that this clay-effigy will be worth something one day. We sat around in art class and insisted, “I am making this one for my mom,” for the unwatching moms. We were sure of gifting: the world would gift us with adulthood and we would gift the world with ourselves as adults.

In elementary school I was in love with whales and so my clay prayer wore a wet suit. I stayed up late in the night to sketch another kind of whale or paste another Wikipedia article into my notebook entitled “Sea Creatures.” I was going to be an oceanographer or a scuba diver or a trainer at Sea World, anything to be in proximity to my air-breathing water-dwellers. In elementary school I did the necessary thing of seeing myself in the world, as a part of the world. My first two decades were graced with a hope to eventually be exactly who I am. The hope insisted that the size of my head was worth tending and the only miracle necessary to believe. I believed that it may and would grow beyond my body, out of time time and from my skull. The hope I had in the future, that grew in my big head, required aloneness and a bedroom to myself and an institution that didn’t yet understand me.

In preparation for this sea-bound future, I joined competitive swimming.

I would conquer my body by attending swim practice five days a week and soon enough I would have lungs twice my size. I felt always the need to be delivered from my inclination to inhale. I resented how often I had to come up for air. In elementary school I refused to acknowledge or give credence to those things that often haunted people: heights, food, time (the lack thereof). I would psychologically transcend these limitations by focusing exclusively on the water and the ways in which I would conquer it; the ways in which it would then welcome me.

In junior high I quit swimming because I always fell asleep on the way to practice and the adults didn’t want to lift my heavy head from the space between the headrest and window.

In high school I started running. I ran for my lungs but mostly I ran to win races.

In high school we thought for a moment that I had mono, or maybe an autoimmune disease. Every joint hurt, my muscles were irreparably sore, I couldn’t sit anywhere for longer than 10 minutes without falling asleep, and people made me sad. My blood work came back fine but nobody seemed to consider the 50 miles I ran every week, or the food I didn’t eat, or the cousin we buried just after my doctor’s appointment.

I could no longer avoid the reality that was my body and her loneliness, sleep and his striking similarity to death, death and its inability to fully synthesize into a-never-ending night. I exclaimed into the night: My ideas won’t keep my eyelids from shutting before my work is done and my hope won’t keep me from gasping for air. A thing in me roared, then yanked itself and let its absence gnaw. I stopped seeing gifting and started noticing thievery. I stopping carving and began clinging.

I condensed. I cleaned the mess that was the collection of my clay bodies and my bedroom walls were promptly painted over the moment I said: Get me out of this town. I’m tired. I made to-do lists to make sure I had enough time to get the right things done and those things were usually temporal (Workout, make lunch, vacuum floors, do laundry). I consolidated my things: I cut my wardrobe to a fraction of its size, learned to properly make a bed, bought a fire-safe in which to put my SSC, passport, and shot record. If I wasn’t going to have a large head, then I better be agile and portable.

In college I began acquainting myself—distracting myself—with the things others had already learned: body, day, time and its passing. I turned my attention to my non-clay body in the day, slave to the night, as is passed out of time. I threw myself into this prison, barbed in shock, because at least it provided room and board. This was perhaps the first compromise.  But this wasn’t often the case for the other inmates. They were released from their parents and curfews and I watched them stay up laughing and procrastinating into the night. Meanwhile, I have a strict bedtime and I wake always in the middle of the night—As a missile of the night—in the Time of My Life in which that old hope was due to emerge, tell, and fulfill. I was supposed to be in the ocean by now.

What went missing were unwatching adults and a hope in an attentive world. I fear what I won’t find when I go looking for what went missing. Remembering the loss of hope is itself a process of losing hope, and losing hope is just a prophecy of hopelessness. I think it is a grave and great possibility that we only know things by losing them; by not having them. Which is the human condition; having and not having. There is no end to what I am not and to what I have lost. But, there is also no end to what I have and to what I take. The fecundities are ferocious and comical. The world is not going to pay attention, but now you have an unwatching world. Being unseen is dreadful but a sleeping world gives you time to invent. You have nothing calling you on you, do not look up from your sculpting. I will wade in my decaying ocean to grow childish into the night.