Friday, November 7, 2014

"The Golden Hour" by Joanna Knowles

“The Golden Hour”
An essay by Joanna Knowles

“Once upon a once a time, Max and Liz went to the grocery store and they covered themselves in salami and Swiss cheese, over their eyes and their belly buttons and…”

I felt the hot breath of my three little brothers pressed in close, trying to ignore the faint musky scent of their carpet and the solitary Lego poking into the small of my back. I was big sister, and I was silly distraction from various arguments one or two walls over. I spun a new Max and Liz story on many a night, for many months. My homework papers lay untouched for this sacred half hour or so, and in this golden window I was myself - not judged, but adored. They hung onto my words and giggled hysterically, scrunching further into their long stretchy t-shirts and rolling around on the carpet. The faint outline of their teeth glowed by night-light. I prided myself on my creativity, my fluid ability to speak directly from my imagination. I found identity in those moments. I felt a fierce loyalty to those little gremlins. 

I don’t know exactly what happened, or maybe it was dozens of little happenings when I noticed what normal 13-year-old girls did on their evenings. They giggled around lava lamps and played truth or dare, talking about crushes and periods and pimple remedies. I never got pimples and I didn’t know how to talk to boys other than my brothers, but I figured I should. And I started slowly learning the ways of normalcy, or rather, mass-enacted boredom.  

I found my mind going other directions, as I would half-heartedly settle into my storytelling position and merely say, “Once upon a once a time… the end.” And I would shrug my shoulders, saying, “I got nothing.” The boys would pester me, prod me, and even make up their own first sentence, looking expectantly at me to pick up where their words trailed off. I felt frustrated at myself, but I figured that the more distant I was from my silly imagination, the closer I was to being normal, to being cool, to being the new version of myself.

I then found myself making excuses about why I couldn’t tell any more stories. I feigned headaches and busyness. I watched the sparkle in my brothers’ eyes dim and their shoulders fall as they slipped into their bedroom by themselves.  

I didn’t simply lose my ability to tell a story; I temporarily lost my ability to be a part of a Story. I was a main character in these three boys’ lives and then I stepped off the stage. I drew the curtain too soon. I let the opinions of invisible and insignificant critics be my guide as I stepped into what I thought I should be, only to find deep disconnection within the increasingly frenetic search for outside approval. I grew to yearn for those magical nights, when my long hair fanned out on the carpet and I stared at the ceiling, continuing the adventures of Max and Liz and hearing my brothers inhale and exhale in three different rhythms. In my mind, I can still hear their choruses of “Tell another story, just one more, please!” and I know that there had to have been a last night when I obliged, even if I can’t pinpoint that night in my mind.

“Hey, Joanna, remember when you told us Max and Liz stories every night?” my now 17-year-old, six-foot tall brother asked me recently. 

“Yeah, yeah I do,” I said wistfully.


Joanna, my fourth daughter, is 21 years old. A senior at UCF majoring in Interpersonal Communications, she also works in the research library at a major technology corporation and as a Disney World photographer.

Moms, our children do grow up. I treasure the memories in our family, but I realize I'm not responsible for all of them. That's a good thing!

(It should be noted that I originally made up the Max and Liz characters and used them in a Bible based "Alpha Virtues" curriculum I made up for my kids. You can find the song I wrote for it here: "Alpha Virtues Song". I still think Joanna's stories were more fun than mine.)

Virginia Knowles

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