Life in the Fast Lane

Being focused on my future as a young child has taken a toll on my perception on life.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

There used to be a cherry tree in my Canadian backyard that never passed the height of my father, because the harsh winter would always tear the bark from its twigs and leave it a meek skeleton under the suffocating snow. My two neighbors were luckier—both had massive cherry trees half the size of my house. Their thick petals would waft through the air whenever I returned home from elementary school; I’d stare at my own tree and then begin my homework. Every summer, the grand blossoms would turn into cherries, and my neighbours would invite my family over to pick a few hundred out because their grass would stink of fruit throughout the entire autumn season.

I used to wish my tree would grow just as tall and strong so I could try climbing to the top. But to this day, it stands short and demure. I still love it. Its fine branches are shiny and barely twitch in the wind. Growing up short, I enjoyed being able to reach the bitter cherries when my father wasn’t looking. Compared to my neighbors’ trees, mine aged the best. The folks who lived in the white house with the blood red door had their tree trimmed down so the lowest branches were ten feet above the ground. The neighbours who obsessed over modern housing had their trees chopped down and replaced with a deck. I remember always hearing them complain about the abundance of rotten fruit, squirrels, and the maintenance that came with the trees.

Things are a lot more beautiful when you watch them grow up slowly. They always seem to never grow at all, because there’s more time to stretch, flit around, and not worry about falling. It makes life seem nostalgic, thinking about taking each day one step at a time.

Except no one grows up like that. Life, unfortunately, isn’t a staircase with railings, heating, a nice bed to sleep in, and a bright light. You’re supposed to climb up it blindly, tirelessly, and in the freezing cold. There’s sometimes no one to talk to except for that mysterious beast that only chases you up every few dozen steps. It barks at you, forcing you to pick up the pace. When you slow down to collapse, you get a good look at it—it’s a mixture of your parents forcing you to wear shoelaces, the bus driver telling you that you have to pay the full fare, and moving to a foreign place where there seems to be no one but you in your own world, and all it causes is change. Then you begin to run, skipping a few steps, almost slipping back, and you continue climbing until the vicious cycle repeats.

It’s terrifying to grow up, and sometimes, I think about getting over it quickly. I regret maturing at a young age because most of my childhood was fairly lonely. I had no initiative to be reckless and often spent the weekends alone, reading the same book for the 30th time. It was when I entered sixth grade that I realized all the fun I had missed. Seeing all my friends excited to act more like teenagers and less like children made me wonder why I hadn't taken it slow. Sometimes, I wish I could go back to first grade, ask my old best friend to come over to the playground, and fool around until my father came yelling. Unfortunately, she’s long gone, and I’m stuck in the city where the grass is grey and depressing, so I don’t have the chance to ask someone else to chase me around the nonexistent fields. It strikes me cold when I think about never having that opportunity again.

I missed out on so many new experiences as a child. I quit piano after just one lesson because I didn’t believe I could ever learn to master an instrument if I couldn’t even press the keys hard enough. Seven-year-old me was unaware that I’d have to take music class regardless in middle school. Consequently, I had a nightmarish experience being silently scolded by my music teacher who just couldn’t figure out why I kept freezing up during the D major scale. All my other classmates sat, some already mastering the violin and others playing both the electric guitar and the clarinet as I kept bowing my viola, unsteadily playing F sharp over and over again because my fingers couldn’t press into the D string properly.

My biggest fault when I grew up at light speed was always thinking of my future. I traded my Mandarin classes for French, because I thought I was going to stay in Canada forever. I excelled in my French classes, being content with learning alongside students years older than me. But now that I am surrounded by my relatives here in New York, the numbing sting from not being able to speak to them is more apparent than ever. And after taking Mandarin one year after French, my French skills diminished; taking the time to relearn something that I regretted in my childhood was unbearable.

Seeing my brother, seven years my junior, on his iPad all day burns my eyes. He always comes home, throws his backpack on the floor, and darts for his tablet with his grubby hands so he can take advantage of his free time until my father finds out he has homework. It’s not his fault, of course. It’s mostly mine. I had all the time in the world to take him to the park every afternoon, teach him some soccer, and chase him down the Dallington school field. He could’ve had memories of rolling down the grassy hills, falling into pits of swampy water, and climbing the mulberry tree beside my elementary school. We can’t do that now, because I’m buried in homework and he’s beginning his lifelong relationship with his iPad.

Now he’s laughing every evening at a young teen girl, just like me—except she’s homeschooled and making thousands more than I ever would. He mutters incoherent jokes to her and screams when she’s gone from his sight; his iPad’s battery dies out fast, and soon he’s back to smiling at her face through the Youtube Kids app.