My life has been filled with chilling transitions - points of no return that crept up on me unawares. And not just during childhood, either. They can strike at any time. For instance, I remember with a shiver of horror a time when, as if by prior arrangement, all my friends stopped living off Monster Munch and Müller Fruit Corners and started - quite seriously - offering me apples and bananas as if it was a perfectly normal thing for them to do. Then there was the bleak, barren period when all of my contemporaries started drinking responsibly and leaving mid-week parties at sensible times. Then there was the time when suddenly nobody was eating puddings or snogging strangers in discos anymore; not to mention the horrible, ominous night when everyone I knew simultaneously and permanently lost the urge to freak out for hours on end and jump up and down like a dancing fool. Terrible, terrible moments of realisation and disillusionment accompanied all these times, for I always knew that these transformations were irreversible and I could not see that they were changes for the better. I only felt a sense of something bright, buoyant and unthinkingly carefree being lost.
I think the most unnerving aspect about these transitions in life was how most people I knew just swanned through them without a backward glance or a second thought. Afterwards, I would find myself looking around at my friends and seeing that they had all metamorphosed. I would look at myself and see that I had not. But rather than admiring them and wishing to emulate them, I regarded them with a mixture of incredulity and distain - the way a small boy might look at an older brother who has just informed him that "sweet shop owner" is not a viable career choice. I realised that they had lost many of the characteristics I'd loved them for - characteristics and attitudes I'd always thought of as an intrinsic part of their natures. They'd shed their playful, hedonistic old Monster-Munch-gorging selves like husks and fluttered out as altered life forms I had little in common with. Meanwhile, I was left behind, a perpetual nymph, feeling bereft and disconnected, suspecting that I would never follow suit and knowing in my heart that I would never want to, either - but missing them and wishing them back to the way they'd been before.
Looking back as far as I can remember, I can still clearly recall the first such transition I was ever conscious of. And, being the first, it was perhaps the most painful transition of all. It was the day when I realised that none of my friends would ever again want us to play make-believe games. All of a sudden - and much, much too soon - they had turned their backs on childhood and now there was only the option of rough, sporty grappling games with the boys or of lounging and gossiping by walls in locations where the boys could see us and come over to "annoy" us. Overnight, everyone else's interests had become either physical or informational.
I had no option but to outwardly act my part, but as each playtime went by, I would feel as though multiple imaginary universes were bursting all around me like soap bubbles with barely audible "plips". Nobody else seemed to notice or care or even remember that they'd ever existed. And how I missed the way we used to run to those make-believe places and disappear into them at every opportunity. How I missed the unthinking, effortless pleasure of sharing imaginary worlds with my friends. I would sigh in secret. I would even cry a little and hang my head when nobody could see, for the world suddenly felt more oppressive and darker than before and there was noone I could tell this to. Indeed, I think that I have never in my life felt so lonely and so despairing as at that time. I'd probably have topped my wee self there and then if I hadn't already known that there would always, always be books to read; and if I hadn't, even then, felt a glimmer of hope that there might be others of my kind - that maybe, somewhere in the world, I might one day discover other creatures who were just like me.