When I was six we moved to the small town that I grew up in, and I began first grade at the local elementary school. My dad was starting at the local college as a professor (or in my world, as a professional paperclip chain maker) and we lived in a large rambling house about four blocks from campus, and about eight blocks from my elementary school. Our landlord was this cantankerous old man who told amazing stories, so I never left the poor man alone. He’d been a WWII vet and looked older than my grandpa, which in my world meant he had lived forever. He couldn’t have been that old since he’s in his 90’s now and still kicking, but at six years of age he seemed to me to be the oldest and wisest person I knew. He moved slow and his skin cut in and out like tree bark as he wove stories about planes, enemies, and most importantly: Ninjas. He was the one who started my fascination with ninjas (looking back I realized he had completely made this story up because he was old and it was amusing), and from the ages of 6 to about 8 my main ambition in life was to become a ninja. Even when I was little, I was insanely curious about everything so when I started to get interested in things I would drag my mother to the library and look up every known fact about whatever it was that I was thinking about for that nanosecond. I dressed up like a ninja for Halloween for about three years in a row, my father was ecstatic and encouraged this growth by also incorporating adventure stories, Indiana Jones obsessions, and karate movies.
Then, in May, my grandmother came to visit. The house being so close to the school, I usually walked with my sister and the three friends that lived around the block from me, but they all had after school activities and normally my mom was the one who picked me up. It was about a week after my grandma had come into town, my dad was gone on a business trip, and it was actually starting to be sunny outside. School had just gotten out and I was so excited to get home because a) I had passed the highest reading level my teacher had which meant I could start reading my own books instead of those little one sentence books she made me read, and mainly because b) now I got to be a ninja. My teacher had said I could not pretend to karate kick the boys at school because my version of pretend was to have them pretend it didn’t hurt, and that wasn’t allowed. I ran around the outside of the school to get to the front because the door to the outside was closer, and I’d already gotten in trouble way too many times for running in the hallways (and about six bloody noses from falling down, the custodian and the nurse were well acquainted with me). I got to the front of the school where normally my mother was waiting for me, only today she wasn’t there. I sat down on the bench to wait, and after what I felt was an appropriate amount of grace period for her to show up with my grandma (read: 15 seconds) I got back up and decided that since I was definitely entering the superior ninja level, I could make it home just fine on my own and started walking. The crossing guard was the custodian who knew exactly who I was and high fived me for making it through the day with minimal injuries, and after I got past that busy street I began to meander my way to the house. I did somersaults, hid behind trees, and narrated how I was fighting off attacking forces the entire walk back. I bounded up our porch, and slammed my face into the door that was supposed to open and be unlocked and wasn’t, my face ricocheted off the door with a loud thud and I could feel my cheek protesting at what was sure to be yet another bruise. The door was not supposed to be locked, and the knob should have turned. This was odd, my mom hadn’t been at school, which meant she had to be at home. I ran to the back of the house to try the other door, thinking maybe she was in the backyard or doing laundry or in the kitchen with my grandma. Nothing. I knocked on all the windows and rang my doorbell eight trillion times, and no one answered. Starting to panic slightly, I decided that she had probably just shown up at the school and so I bolted back towards the school. When I got there, the crossing guard was gone and the place looked empty. I had taken a lot longer than intended ninja-ing my way home. I ran back and forth between the school and my house desperately looking for my mom, even ran to the university to see if I could find someone in my dad’s building who would let me call home, and didn’t find anyone. By this time, it had been about an two and a half hours, I was exhausted from running all over the place and terrified that I would never find my mom again and that I would have to fend for myself, even beginning to doubt my kung-fu bad ass levels when it came to actually making food and sleeping without my teddy bear and my dad in the next room in case I got nightmares. Walking down the street I started bawling, each breath getting more and more hysterical and my face red and sweaty from running, starting to bruise from face planting into a heavy oak door, and now soaked in the psychotic tears of a six year old. Then all of a sudden, I heard my name and looked up to see my mom in an equally hysterical state running towards me, and I have never felt such extreme relief. She just picked me up and carried this sobbing, crazed looking, non-ninja little girl back to the car. I didn’t stop crying for about an hour, not so much because I was so scared about being lost, but because when push had come to shove, I most certainly had not proven to be ninja material and was completely devastated. When my mother finally calmed me down enough to explain to her why exactly her baby girl had been missing for almost three hours, and where I had been, the devastating words slowly sputtered out:
“Mo-mo-mommy! I can’t-can’t-can’t be a ninja!”