POST: 'For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday' - I won't grow up
What's it about?
Ann fondly recalls portraying Peter Pan on stage in her hometown's children's theatre. She played the role many times throughout her childhood, the last time as a teenager, months away from leaving home for the first time to go away to college. How she loved the feeling of flying on stage. It was, quite simply, magical, and not at all scary. But now she is 70 years old, faced with an increasingly ailing father, a day-to-day life as a widow, a body that doesn't work the way it once did, and her own stubborn mortality. Can she, along with her siblings, find solace in Neverland?
What I experienced?
For as long as I can remember, I've dreaded the thought of growing up, rejected it completely, associating it with something unpleasant that I wanted no part of. As the baby of my family, I knew better than most the perks that came with being young, and I was not in a hurry to outgrow them. On my first day of kindergarten, I walked over to my mom, declaring, "I'm so little," looking eagerly up at her for confirmation of this fact. Because even though I attended school now, I was still a kid, and not just a kid, a little kid. That knowledge was incredibly comforting.
As I got older, this feeling remained with me. I never wanted to risk looking older than my age, always dressing on the more conservative side, even for a child. I remember fighting in the dressing room of a clothing store with my mom, refusing to wear a dress with spaghetti straps to my 5th grade graduation ceremony because I thought it might be too revealing. Even though I was graduating elementary school, I wanted to look and feel like a little girl.
Naturally, puberty hit me hard, because there was nothing I could do to stop the changes my body was making. And so, I adopted a stooped posture and donned my older brother's over-sized band T-shirts. Anything at all to mask my newly minted curves, telltale signs that I was growing up, at least physically. I avoided makeup like the plague, even at the numerous performances I participated in during the four years I attended a Performing Arts high school.
A couple months prior to my 20th birthday, I released a cover of the song, "I Won't Grow Up," from Peter Pan the Musical, on my YouTube channel, in response to the fact that there would soon come a time I would not get away with calling myself a teenage girl. I clung to words like, "Twenteen" and "college kid," more aware than ever of the way time continued to pass, more and more quickly every year, it seemed.
And so when I met Ann, I felt for her. Because just as it was hard for me as a child to ever imagine being 22 and rapidly approaching 23, it was near impossible for me to imagine ever being 70. Ann felt the same way, and she was 70.
The lines from the Simon & Garfunkel song, "Old Friends," came to mind:
Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy…
I used to listen to this song and imagine my best friend and I sat on a park bench decades from now. How strange would that be? And then young people would see us and write us off as just a couple of geezers, even though we were their age once, and it didn't feel like that long ago, wasn't that long ago in the scheme of things.
When I walked into the theatre, I was greeted with a chalk board that read, "When did you become a grownup?" Below the question, people had scribbled out answers in different colored chalk.
I wrote that I became a grownup when I started to see my parents as real people, because surely it couldn't have been merely the act of turning 18. Interestingly enough, my mother wrote, "I never did," adding a heart beneath her words and then circling her answer in an even bigger heart.
Ann and her siblings suffered a tragedy, albeit an inevitable one, with their father finally passing away. And what were they to do moving forward? Just...live, which was all they could do, except now they had no parents to aid them. Until this point, no matter how old they were, they were each always someone's kid. But what were they to do after that someone died?
Well, they drank, and they told jokes, in an attempt to get through the night. They fought about their differing political and religious views, all the while oblivious to their newly deceased father's ghostly presence in the home. He was there with them, even if they couldn't see it directly.
Things shifted, and suddenly Anne and her siblings found themselves playing Peter Pan, The Lost Boys, and Captain Hook. Ann, of course, was Peter Pan, flying high above the stage, and even enabling her siblings to fly. For a while, it was like they were all children again. But reality kept creeping in. First it was their age, and the fact that Ann and her siblings could not rely on their bodies to do the same things they did as children. And lastly, it was their responsibilities. Ann's siblings had jobs that helped people directly, they had spouses, children, and grandchildren who needed them. They each left Neverland to return to their "real lives" until it was just Ann, still dressed as Peter Pan.
Her father suddenly entered the space, bouquet in hand, and a memory from decades past played out before us, only Ann was still her 70-year-old self and her father was as old as he had been when he died. Ann had just had her final performance as Peter Pan. Her father handed her flowers and told her he was proud of her, before instructing her to get out of her Peter Pan costume so she could come home with him and they and the rest of her family could celebrate. Oh, how badly she wished she could come home with him now... But she wasn't a teenager anymore. She was 70 and her father was not alive anymore.
Ann faced out, narrating what her younger self had done once her father had left the theatre to wait for her:
"I took off my green tights. But before I went home, I stayed in the theatre for a little while longer. Where you don’t have to grow up."
Ann flew up as high as she could, and then the theatre went black.
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