Submitted Date 05/07/2019

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with a neighbor who was one of my very good childhood friends. I stood there with Sam – the last of the "neighborhood boys" that I am still in touch with – as we reminisced in his yard. Many fond memories and valued friendships were created in that yard. After school, all the neighborhood kids would slowly gather together on that long stretch of grass where we would proceed to play our daily game of wiffle-ball or football, depending on the season of course. First my older brother and I would arrive, followed by Dominic, then the Sorenson boys Kolby and Nate. Josh would often come out as well, though he was much older than us. Then, of course, Adam and Byron could always be counted in, followed by the oldest boy Josh. Lastly, we would make sure to get my dear friend Jacob to join us, even if that meant walking over to his house and dragging him to the field. After Jacob, we would need to convince Brayden to come out, a larger, less athletic boy who didn't always enjoy sports. And once we got playing, that field felt less of a yard and more of a stadium. I remember the thrill of stepping up to the plate with bases loaded and all sorts of trash being spoken, then whacking the ball clear into Dora's backyard across the street (which of course was out of the park) for a game-winning grand slam. On those days I could return home feeling like a true MLB champion, and I would be rewarded nicely with a lovely cup of lemonade.


Enjoying sports was an essential part of socializing in my neighborhood. When spring came around, if you weren't signed up for our annual BBA Associations (Backyard Basketball and Backyard Baseball Associations), you could count on not hanging out with any of us until the seasons were over, and while my "California Crushaders" teams never won any championships (that prize was always reserved for one of the older kids that were unbeatable), I always had a good time, especially when I hit that spin move jumper to put myself in the Finals over my older brother who self-proclaimed himself to be Kevin Durant. It was just an unspoken rule that if you played sports with us if you were in the neighborhood. It was like The Sandlot, which was, of course, the unanimously favorite movie.


However, we did not all grow up to be sports-loving, All-American athletes. Believe it or not, we actually developed our personalities and characteristics, despite being practically the same kids initially. In fact, it was essential that we first experienced this homogeneity before we could realize who we truly are. Sure, a few remained passionate and dedicated to athletics, such as my brother, but even then he developed his own individuality. When we were not all engaged in a sport or some other game typically played by young neighborhood children (like the rounds of "cops and robbers" that we played at our local church building) we were doing other activities in separate groups that tended to share similar interests.


My good friends Jacob and Kolby often would join me in fabricating some fantastical world of adventure and magic, which usually consisted of us roaming the neighborhood with sticks – epic swords in our minds – and constructing heroic storylines filled with large scale battles and high-stakes. Many times these journeys would follow us inside our houses where, after convincing our parents to let us have a sleepover, they would continue throughout the night. On those nights, our basements were transformed into various worlds using blankets, sheets, and furniture, where we would eventually concede to the fact that we were not the superhuman characters we played and fall asleep. Other days were spent in fictional worlds created by others as we spent hours upon hours in front of the television, unlocking and beating all the worlds in games such as Lego Indiana Jones and Batman Arkham Asylum. If we were not playing video games on a console, we were playing in-browser games such as Adventure Quest, Territory War (which our parents eventually banned for its over-the-top violence of limbs and heads getting blown off), or Kojent Knight on an old brick of a computer that often frustrated us as much as it did entertain us.


This developing individuality would sometimes be a point of contention when other boys would insist that we play sports while other friends and I would have rather done something geekier, and it eventually seemed that the "sandlot" days were over. When the older boys like Josh and Dominic outgrew the neighborhood hangouts and other boys moved away or hermitted, things became much quieter and personal. My brother and Sam continued to do their sporty things, and Jacob – my best friend at the time – and I continued to do our geeky things. His house soon became our main hangout. Of course, we still hung out with others at times – mainly when we were orchestrating an airsoft gun battle – but the majority of our afternoons were spent in his basement playing video games, watching movies, and constructing games of our own. Some of my fondest childhood memories took place there, such as when we stayed up all night long hyped up on Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew as we beat Halo: Combat Evolved for the first time. Our fantasy and imagination continued to thrive, but it was pressed and packed into game consoles, TVs, and books as it grew less and less acceptable for us to run around the neighborhood screaming with (an possibly at) sticks.


However, where my individuality and character developed most was not throughout the neighborhood with friends. My experiences with them and our separate growths out of homogeneity helped me recognize and understand more of who I was as a person, but it was when I took this understanding with me to the solitude I found in my home that I really developed. It was there that I would fully dive into the many things I was passionate about, the most of which being my love for creation. When considering all the places I found this solitude, one that stands out is my backyard. There, I would get entirely lost in my imagination, turning each and every tangible object into something of a story. I would often shoot hoops on the small, deteriorating cement court we had as I weaved together fictional worlds in my mind or made up little songs and melodies that were never written down. I found it to be the most wonderful thing that, using the miraculous human mind we all have, we can turn any space on this earth into anything we want. Some days I would be exploring jungles like Indiana Jones, other days crossing vast deserts and fighting monstrous beasts. It was easy to lose touch with "reality," but I learned that is not always a terrible thing – even if it meant missing the call for dinner. In these moments I was totally in my element, feeling free as can be.


However, one place where I was able to live this even fuller was my bedroom. I could live out those fantasies in there just as much as I could outside (though there was not that splendid Spring fragrance in the air,) but there I also had my books, movies, and video games. Inside that bedroom (well, technically two rooms) I became more of who I am today than any other place in the world. In there I found my love for literature, both expanding my experience with fantasy and introducing new genres and styles; in there I discovered my passion for film, secretly watching movies that I knew my parents would kill me over if they found out – films like The Big Lebowski and Goodfellas; and in there my adoration of gaming fully came to life as I played titles like The Elder Scrolls, Mount & Blade, Uncharted, and No Man's Sky. It was in that room that I really got an idea of what I wanted to do with my life and who I really am, even if who that is differs entirely from the mold that has been set by my family.


We are all just products of our environments – of our upbringing. Our childhood is the most important time of our life, and I would not change mine for anything. It's fun to reminisce about those good old days of innocence and carelessness, but even greater than that is seeing how those days shaped who we are now. The most beautiful part about being human is that we have our individuality. We all have different passions, disinterests, cultures, lifestyles, traits, and personalities. It's this humanity that makes the world an exciting and worthwhile place to live. It's in this sense that I look back on my childhood and see that pure time as one of the most profound things. That is why I became who I am – all my friends, all my family, and all the wonderful things I got to experience on my own. I think we should all, every once in a while, take the time to reflect on how we got to where we are now. We might just appreciate life a bit more.

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  • Kiersten Felch 2 years, 5 months ago

    It's fun to see how everyone turns into their own person!

  • Tomas Chough 2 years, 5 months ago

    This is great Jared! I agree 100%. Our environments and experiences definitely shape us. Getting together with the neighborhood kids to play outdoors really reminded me of my own past. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Miranda Fotia 2 years, 5 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your childhood experience! Made me feel nostalgic reflecting on my own :)