Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Age of Innocence

When I went home for my niece's graduation, I was able to scoop my little baby doll that I had when I was but a wee one.  Dressed in a homemade linen outfit I had hand sewn for him because I couldn't find his original blue pants and matching jacket, he was in remarkably good shape.  He also came with a plastic diaper and miniature baby bottle that you could actually fill with water since he was the kind of doll that could "drink" and "pee".  He was my baby boy.  I named him Richard and I loved him very much.

As I was preparing to leave, I stuffed Richard into my travel bag and made my rounds to say the customary good-byes.  My niece was chatting on the phone with the same guy that had occupied most of her free time during the two days I had been there.  She said she had met him on Facebook and gushed about how cool and funny he was, how they liked and laughed at the same things, and how he showered her with compliments.  I was witness to the latter as upon my arrival I heard him lavish both my niece and my mother with constant proclamations of "Oh, you're so beautiful!" via speakerphone.  I casually asked about this new guy and she proceeded to tell me his name and show me his FB page.  And according to his page, the guy lived in the Middle East, was in his twenties and was a practicing Muslim.  Hmm... well, we're obviously Americans living in America, my niece JUST turned eighteen and we're all Christian.   Glaring red lights of incompatibility in my eyes, but then I figured, "What the heck... She's just talking and having fun with the dude.  Chill."  And so I did (chill, I mean) and left that third day.

About a week or two later my phone rings.  It's my niece, so I answer with great expectations of hearing her normally bubbly voice in response.  But she was in hysterics.  She was crying so hard that my mind immediately went into overdrive: Was someone hurt?  Was my mother (her grandmother) OK?  Did someone die?!  Is somebody in the hospital?!  I mean, her gut wrenching crying was causing me to panic so I took a breath and try to calm the both of us down.  I told her to take her time and tell me what happened... what was wrong.

"He broke up with me," she mustered in between sobs.

I took a breath and said, "Okaaay."  I mean, she'd had boyfriends before so I failed to see why this was such a traumatic situation.  But she wasn't finished.

"He told me that he never wanted to speak to me again and then he started calling me names and said that he never cared about me!" she cried.  Her voice trailed off and she started to break down again. 

I took another breath.  The light bulb went off in my head.  I exhaled slowly then asked her whether she ever gave the guy any personal information, whether she had sent him any money and/or whether he had ever asked her for anything.  She denied the first two, but said that he was asking her to get him some type of immigration papers sent to him.  She said that he wanted her to "sponsor" him or something like that and needed her to pick up the papers for him and some other stuff.  By the time she had confessed this part of the story, my fear had turned to joy and I proceeded to tell her that he was a scam artist and how she should be HAPPY that he excused himself from her life.  I broke down how a lot of people now are searching the Internet for people to either send them money or get them into the U.S. and how blessed she was that she did neither.  I went on and showered her with words of encouragement and love and then told her a few jokes to make her laugh.  And she did.  By the time she got off the phone, she sounded a whole lot better which put my heart at ease.  I was sad that this guy's venomous words and thoughtless actions had hurt her feelings, but I was also extremely glad that she had gone through this because it would be a feather in her cap as far as learning experiences go.

My niece, although eighteen, is a very young and innocent eighteen.  She still laughs at silly stuff and sees a lot of things through rose colored glasses.  Now don't get me wrong - she knows the world can be a cruel place, but this is the first time she's experienced such darkness first-hand.  And so ends her age of innocence.  That carefree time when all seems pleasant and you think a smile is really just a smile with no malice behind it.  It's a time when you notice only the bright, beautiful flowers and none of the life-taking weeds that lurk just below as you travel down life's path. 

And please know that the irony of me having revisited and reclaimed part of my childhood juxtaposed with my niece's crossover into adulthood via her school graduation AND this ugly situation has not been lost on me.  The age of innocence is the shortest "era" in our lives as well as a period of time that we can never relive in full.  You can't un-know what you know or bleach yourself free of dark experiences.  My niece has been unceremoniously initiated.  And with that she has been shoved across the threshold and is now looking at life from the other side.

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