Ah, childhood! I remember it fondly and often. Getting grass stains on my knees, eating fruit roll-ups, and most importantly, not being burdened by constantly reminiscing about my childhood.

Life was so simple then. No responsibilities, no cares, no memories of fifteen to twenty-five years earlier to warp into the romantic if misguided belief that things used to be better than they are now. I miss it so: the absence of anything to miss!

So much about the world has changed. Namely, enough time has elapsed for me to become aware that the world has changed—and is, indeed, always changing. Things just aren’t the way they used to be, because nothing can move through time and remain exactly the same. Also, “the way things used to be” involved me not perpetually thinking about whether things are the way they used to be or not.

God, remember how easy it was to make friends as a kid? You could just walk up to a stranger on the playground and join in their made-up game. I find it so hard to meet new people as an adult, because talking to someone requires me to snap out of my nostalgic internal monologuing for enough time to say hello and introduce myself, which I’m typically unable to do.

Sometimes, I look at old photos of myself and long for the child I used to be. He was so innocent, so pure. There was so much he hadn’t seen, like the photo of him that was currently being taken. There was so much he didn’t know, like the fact that there was so much he hadn’t seen, like the photo of him that was currently being taken. It breaks my heart.

Yes, those were the days. Days that went by without me once thinking, “Those were the days.” These days, I think that all the time.

I didn’t realize how special it was to have my whole future ahead of me. And even more devastating than that, I didn’t realize how special it was to have zero past behind me, meaning I didn’t have anything to sit around and wistfully remember.

In childhood, my heart was so open, so ready to love. A shy smile from a girl was enough to send me into a months-long crush. But as I’ve aged, I’ve built all these protective barriers. Now, I have to make sure somebody has all of the same cultural reference points from the late ’90s and early 2000s as I do before I can bring myself to care about them. It’s tragic, not to mention exhausting.

I wish it could be how it was, when I never wished it could be how it was, because it still was how it was, and had not yet become how it is. Oh, I ache for it.

I used to love to read when I was a kid—what happened to that? These days, when I try to sit down to read, I can’t make it more than a page or two before I get distracted. I think to myself: “Wow, this is just like how I loved to read when I was a kid,” and then all of a sudden, I’m down a nostalgic rabbit hole again, totally unable to focus on the book in front of me.

I’ve tried to remedy that by seeking out activities I’ve never done before, not because I particularly want to play the tuba on a boat or wear pants as a hat, but because they’re novel experiences and, therefore, shouldn’t be able to violently rocket me back to my youth, like the food critic from Ratatouille when he eats the ratatouille. But it turns out that having novel experiences was what childhood was all about, so the very feeling of doing something I’ve never done before sends me right back to childhood when everything I did was something I’d never done before. I can’t win! Much like my first-grade soccer team…

Sorry, was I saying something?

You know what, forget it. It probably wasn’t that important. Nothing in my present is, compared to the totemic, formative experiences of my youth, which molded me into the person I am today—molded me so hard that in order for any new experience to be formative, I would have to willingly become malleable again, and open myself to the possibility of giving up parts of my identity to make room for new ones. Which, frankly, sounds scary.

It’s hard to believe I was ever so impressionable, walking around every day fully vulnerable to the world. Oh god, and I just remembered puberty too. Jesus. Was there really a time, several paragraphs ago, when I was dreamily romanticizing that? It was simpler then, before I remembered the complicated reality that my youth, while enjoyable in many ways, wasn’t actually uniformly great. Ah, how I wish I could go back there—not to childhood, but to the period of adulthood that ended about thirty seconds ago, when I still wished I could go back to childhood.

I suppose I’ll have to content myself with the faith that one day I’ll be missing this moment right now. I’ll shake my head at my present self, which will be my future self’s past self, for not appreciating how good I’ll eventually convince myself I used to have it, right now. These will have had been the days.