It was a dark and stormy night. Clichéd, I know, but clichés are clichéd for a reason. Storms hold so much potential because they are so dangerous. Car crashes, lightning strikes, ghost sightings, and the like happen most often during a storm. Still, there’s something magical about storms. The way the wind, rain, and energy circle around a single point of calmness. Like the eye of the storm is blind to itself, oblivious to the world around it and the destruction that follows like a loyal puppy.
Kids can be like that. Going through life without a care in the world. Not noticing their impact, be it good or bad. That’s possibly why coming-of-age stories are so popular. People like to hear about kids who never thought twice about what they were doing but were forced to come to the realization that there are other people in this life. I should know; I used to be one of those kids. Haven’t we all been? Haven’t we each led our own personal storm through the fields of life?
My storm was something. I coasted through school, never once thinking about whom I could be helping or hurting more or less often. From middle school up through high school, until college left me stranded. College was different because I was a new kid. I hadn’t been a new kid since I was little and had no recollection of how I had made friends before. In college, the one person I recognized from elementary school wouldn’t speak to me. I had no clue why.
It was about a month into freshman year, and although I lived on campus, I hated it. My roommates would barely even say good morning to me. They all knew each other from high school, and barely glanced in my direction. I started wondering if I would spend every semester of college quietly slinking along the hallways, completing my coursework, but feeling alone. I wasn’t exactly hoping for that, but it was a distinct possibility. I didn’t want to call my parents to complain. They mean well, but they’re the type that wants me to be perfect. I mean, they think they can buy my grades. From me. Every time I got a good grade they did something crazy for me. I own one of the tigers at the Bronx Zoo. So instead I decided to go for a walk in the rain. Walks, at least, are meant to be taken alone.
I walked aimlessly for a while. I didn’t take an umbrella or a raincoat. I wanted to feel the rain. After only a few minutes I was soaked, but I just zipped up my sweatshirt and kept walking. It was dark, but at least there were yellow streetlights everywhere. There were also a lot of trees, which I loved, so I stuck to the shadows. I know. Black sweatshirt, black jeans, hugging the treeline, rain obscuring the dim lighting, during a thunderstorm. It’s a recipe for disaster, but I didn’t pay attention to that.
As I navigated the pouring rain, I ignored the cars driving by. I walked past the different campus buildings. It was strange how the darkness made them seem dead. Only the dorms were still awake. I kept walking, pretending nothing was wrong. I don’t know how long I walked, but the next thing I knew, I woke up in my bed at home. But I almost didn’t recognize it.
The room was decorated with bubble-gum pink drapes, light blue textured wallpaper, and dark wood furniture. I hadn’t had that wallpaper since I got a B+ in fifth-grade geography and redid it to fuzzy purple. So… not since I was ten. I blinked a few times to clear my vision, but the room stayed the way it was. I pushed my pink sheets off me and got up. My room looked bigger than I remembered. Well, not bigger, but taller. An idea occurred to me; filled with horror, I ran to the mirror.
And saw me. Or more accurately, a version of me I hadn’t seen in eight years. I was practically a baby. I took a deep breath and tried to remember where I kept my cellphone when I was ten. I needed to know what day it was.
After a bit of searching, I found my phone under my pillow. I shook my head at my past self. How did I get any sleep back then? It was October 3, 2017. Which was the day it should be. Only... off by a few years. And it was Tuesday, not Friday.
I glanced over at my Barbie clock. Ugh. This whole room is so babyish. Just like me, I guess. It was 7:00. I headed to the closet. At least this would make getting dressed easier. Or not.
Everything was sooo babyish. Did I really dress like some sort of princess back then? All I had was poofy skirts and lacy shirts. That’s what I wore to school?! I would never have gotten away with that if I hadn’t been such a diva. I rummaged through my closet, and then all my drawers. Eventually, I managed to find a simple pair of blue jeans and a gray t-shirt. I pulled a pink sweatshirt from the back of my closet and tied it around my waist. Just in case I landed in one of those years that October was actually chilly.
I went downstairs to see what I could eat for breakfast and ran into my parents. The only thing different about them was that they had less gray in their hair. My father was sitting at the table checking his email on his laptop while sipping coffee, already in work mode at 7:30. My mother was putting a stack of pancakes on the table, but she was dressed for work in a navy skirt suit.
“Morning!” I called cheerily. Although it was still strange to be in my ten-year-old body, I knew to appreciate a cheery greeting.
My parents both looked up in surprise. My father blinked a few times and returned to his laptop. My mother shook herself slightly and turned to get the orange juice from the fridge.
I stood behind my chair. Getting no response aside from confusion was not what I wanted, but I should have known better than to try talking to my parents in the morning. I sat down and put some pancakes on my plate. I started reaching for the coffee, but then caught myself and poured myself some juice. Although I thought I might need the coffee, I didn’t have time to explain that to my parents. I ate quickly, and then got up to leave for the bus.
“Thanks, Mom. Love you both!” I ran up the stairs to grab my bag and my wallet. If I was quick, maybe I could find a Starbucks on the way to the bus stop. Although, then I would have to explain the coffee to the bus driver. I gave up and grabbed a chocolate bar from my stash instead. Just in case I needed some caffeine.
As I started downstairs again, I heard my name. I stopped and tried to listen. I guess in some ways I was feeling ten. My mother asked if my father thought I was acting weird. He said I was probably just going through a phase or something. I stood up and walked loudly down the rest of the stairs. I poked my head into the kitchen to wish my parents a good day and then left the house.
Where was the bus stop for elementary school? I had had a different stop for middle school and another one for high school, so I wasn’t sure which one to go to. I looked across the street. Jason must know. He was in my grade, and he lived right there. I went over to knock on his door, but before I had a chance Jason and his older brother, Ethan, stepped outside. When Jason saw me coming towards him, his eyes widened in shock.
“I think you made a wrong turn, Emma.” Ethan told me, “I don’t know why you would suddenly want to hang out with this loser.” Ethan rubbed his hand through Jason’s dark hair, making it stick up. I looked at Ethan.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say about your brother,” I told him, forgetting that Ethan might be offended that someone three years his junior would scold him. Somehow the difference between ten and thirteen is so much bigger than the difference between eighteen and twenty-one. But he was thirteen and I was eighteen. Except he thought I was ten.
Ethan gave me a look that was both offended and confused, “Whatever. Later.” And hurried off to catch his own bus.
“Ugh. I can’t believe your own brother would call you a loser. That’s so wrong.” I told Jason. “Sorry about that. Wanna walk to the bus together?”
Jason blinked a few times. People have been doing that a lot today.
“Uh, sure. Thanks.” I walked back towards the sidewalk with Jason, trying not to make it so obvious that I had no idea where we were going. At the end of the front walk, he turned left. I followed.
“So… how have things been?” I asked.
Jason looked at me strangely. “What do you mean? You were there.”
“Just humor me.” That earned me another strange look. Right. Ten-year-old body, ten-year-old lingo.
“Uh…” Jason said slowly, “yesterday, someone took over my presentation on volcanoes.”
“What! Who did that?” Why would someone steal the spotlight from a kid?
Jason gave me an ‘are you serious’ look. “Uh… you.”
“I’m so sorry! I completely forgot about that!” Right. Yesterday I was a kid. I racked my brain for some piece of memory about such a thing, but I couldn’t remember anything. I must have thought that he was doing it wrong. Not that that’s an excuse, but I was ten.
Jason stopped, looking nervous or confused. “What are you doing?”
“What do you mean? Walking to the bus stop with a friend.”
“First of all, the bus stop is that way.” Jason pointed down a street I hadn’t known I’d crossed. “Second, if we’re friends, this is the first I’ve heard about it. Wait. Who’s watching us and laughing?”
I felt myself blushing in indignation. “What?!” Easy Emma. You’re an adult. Sort of.
That was the start of a very odd day. Somehow, all the teachers expected me to show off my superior knowledge, and the students all expected me to pull some prank. Like I was some form of nerdy class snob. And maybe I was, but that was almost ten years ago.
It got really weird at lunchtime. A bunch of girls dressed in clothes like most of the way-too-fancy-for-school stuff in my closet walked over as if they were going to follow me to a table. They also asked me why I was dressed so boring. I couldn’t remember a single name. I told them that I had been abducted by an alien and had to live differently for a little bit, apologized, and went to find another table. The weird thing was they believed me. They just walked over to a different table and ignored me. I guess I know what kind of company I kept. If I could, I would have had a stern talking to with the ten-year-old me.
I went to sit down at a table with four other girls. I asked if anyone was sitting there, and they offered to leave.
“What? no. I just want to get to know you. I’m Emma.”
They started laughing. “We know that.” The girl next to me told me. “I’m Carrie. These are Allison, Rachel, and Diana.”
Diana looked at me. “How do we know this isn’t some elaborate prank?”
Rachel elbowed her. “Diana! Be nice! She’s clearly making an effort to be human.” Rachel gestured to my clothes and then caught herself and clapped a hand to her mouth. “Not that you’re not usually human…” she trailed off, looking panicked.
Allison smiled and gave a half-bow, then began to eat.
After that, we had a nice conversation, although Allison didn’t say anything, and occasionally one of the other girls asked me again if I was sure I was okay, or if I was planning something.
After school, I didn’t see my parents. There was a note about what I could microwave for supper, and an apology that they weren’t home.
The next day, I made breakfast for them. I wanted them to actually see me and acknowledge me in the morning. I had coffee and pancakes done by 6:30 when my parents came downstairs. Instead of any sort of thanks, I got scolded for using the stove without supervision. Seriously, I keep forgetting I’m ten.
I shrugged it off, ate breakfast, and then left to go walk with Jason to the bus again. The minute I stepped out of my house, Jason bolted out the door and away. Was he avoiding me? I shrugged that off as well, and headed towards the bus stop. Turns out Allison rides my bus too. She waved at me when I got on, and I went to sit with her.
I started by asking how her night was. She gave me a thumbs-up sign. I asked her why she didn’t just talk to me, and her eyes widened. Then I got it and apologized. I can’t believe I didn’t know she was deaf. She seemed surprised that I didn’t know. I made a mental note to learn sign language as soon as possible.
Allison was able to communicate very well without talking, and although it was hard for me to remember to face her when I talked, I managed. Talking to Allison was especially cool because she was locked in her own world in a sense (pun intended), so she was wise beyond her years. It was almost like talking to someone my own age.
The biggest shock for me was seeing the pack I used to lead dressed in normal school clothes. It looked like they decided that if the aliens could alter my life, they could change theirs too. I can’t understand why I would spend time with people so gullible. Especially since everyone seems to think I know everything. Okay, the classes are a bit easy for me, but I’m up to college, and stuck in fifth-grade.
I think it was most awkward for me to be stuck in a ten-year-old body in conversations. Small talk and tact are not so common skills in ten-year-olds, which earned me plenty of odd glances. I tried to be more polite when I explained to my posse that I was done leading them. They took it pretty well, although I think they elected a new queen within minutes of my walking away.
After that, I fell into a rhythm. By the end of the week, I actually made friends with a whole bunch of kids. Jason wasn’t scared of me anymore either. Making friends at age ten is pretty simple. You go over and talk, but you mostly listen/pay attention to what they say instead. I gave up on trying to get my parents to talk to me. If I remember correctly, when I turned eleven they started paying way too much attention to me, so I could just wait.
Friday morning, my fourth day of being ten again, was very sunny. I walked to the bus with Jason and then rode to school with Allison. I participated a bit in class, and things were going great. Then we had PE. My elementary school was big on preparing us for middle school, so since the main middle school we fed into had the students run a half-mile biannually in preparation for high school, on the first Fridays of October and May all the fifth-graders ran a quarter-mile. We were also timed.
I had taken a semester of track in high school just to fill my electives, but that had taught me a lot of running tips. Knees up, arms in, breathe, and so on. A quarter-mile was going to be easy for me. I could probably sprint halfway. I warmed up with the other kids, and then we lined up at the start line. All we needed to do was one circuit.
I flew around the track, very quickly leaving my classmates way behind. I don’t think any of the other kids were even halfway around when I rounded the finish line. I could have kept going, but I walked it off while I heard the gym coach cheer. Apparently, I was the first fifth-grader to do under three minutes.
Although I thought I could go on, something inside me felt wrong. My little body was not so happy about being worked so hard, and as soon as I walked off the track, I leaned over and threw up. Repeatedly. Until I blacked out.
I woke up in a room with bright lights shining in my face. I was cold. And my parents were there. But they had more gray hair than they had yesterday. I blinked a few times and then tried to sit up, which drew the attention of my parents and the nurse they were talking to.
That’s when I saw the IV in my arm, and to be honest, I screamed.
“How long was I out?” I asked when I had calmed down.
“So… it’s Tuesday again?”
“What?” my mother seemed confused, “honey, it’s Monday. You were found drenched during the storm Thursday night.”
The storm. I was back then. I had survived the storm.
“Right.” my father continued, “It’s lucky your friend was there to get help.”
I looked around and finally saw a girl about my age leaning against the wall. She grinned and waved.