I grew up during a time and in a place that many now idealize. I lived in a small town outside a bigger, yet still relatively small, city. You could play outside all day and never worry about someone grabbing you off the street. My brother and I roamed not only the neighborhood, but the town and the countryside beyond, riding our bikes for hours and hours, miles and miles from home, all by ourselves. We were frequently gone a good portion of the day and never thought twice about being out of contact for so long (no cell phones!). Back then, penny candy still existed, it really was a penny and there were a lot of other truly amazing sweet treats available for 5 and 10 cents. Gas varied from 8 to 18 cents per gallon. A loaf of bread (Golden Circles was the best – still don’t know why square bread is so popular!) was less than a quarter. Pop came in glass bottles with a metal lid that you opened with a bottle opener. You pulled it from the icy depths of a big metal cooler full of half melted ice and frigid water and it was so cold, it hurt your sinuses when you took your first swig. (Anyone else remember Potomac Pop? It was awesome!) A bottle of pop was a rare treat, so for everyday, we bought Fizzies, dropped them in water and waited as they transformed our glass of plain water into our favorite tasty flavor (I loved Root Beer). We froze Kool-Aid in ice cube trays for cool treats on hot days. Pleasures were much more simple then. We (my brother and I) had rope swings hanging from a couple of big trees outside my bedroom window and we would swing on them for hours, laughing and talking, trying to see who could go the highest. My grandparents had a large garden and we (again, my brother and I) grazed when we got hungry, eating cucumbers, cherries, blackberries, raspberries, rhubarb, tomatoes, watermelon, gooseberries, peaches and other such delights. We helped shuck corn, snap peas and dig up carrots and potatoes. We also gladly helped make homemade ice cream, cranking the handle of the ice cream maker until the yummy treat within hardened until we no longer had enough strength to turn it any more. We picked up and hulled walnuts, letting the outer green hull rot until it was a dark purple color, then laid them all out in the driveway, watching as our father or grandfather ran over them again and again with the car to break away the outer layer. We put plastic bread bags over our hands to protect us from the stain so we could pluck the black walnuts from the debris. Then we cracked them and dug the nuts from the shell with a pick, eating a good portion as we worked. Windows were always open spring through fall. Doors were never locked when we were home and were often left open. We ran the attic fan at night to cool the house because we didn’t have AC, even though temperatures were often in the high 90’s in the summer. We acclimated. We played in our tree house, ran races with ourselves, built worlds out of Lego, created our own board games and caught lightening bugs at night. We fished, cooking our catch and regularly played in the streams and creeks around our area. We made “cameras” out of maple leaves, caught June bugs, tied a string around one leg and then flew them around like mini self-propelled balloons, and laid on our back in the grass for hours, watching the clouds, searching for familiar shapes. Sounds pretty ideal, right? But in the world at large, the sexual revolution was going hot and heavy…pardon the pun. Drug use was becoming widespread. There were riots in the cities and on university campuses, crime was increasing at an alarming rate, and the family unit was beginning to fall apart as divorce was becoming a little more common and less disgraceful, while more fathers were absenting themselves from their family and financial responsibilities. The times, they were a-changing… In my little world, I existed in one dimension, but lived in another. On one hand, there was the picture-perfect ideal small town veneer. But beyond that veneer, there was a reality only I could see. And that was where I lived. Everyone else only knew the “Matrix”…it was their absolute reality. I saw beneath the covers, behind the curtain, beyond the layer of pretense. My reality was bleak, in spite of the small-town trappings. And I was different because of it, so I was an outcast to boot. Why was I different? Because I knew the “Matrix” wasn’t real. If you’ve seen the movie, which happens to be one of my all-time favorites, you’ll understand what I’m getting at. Reality was less than ideal. Only those who remained in the Matrix “enjoyed” the fake life that wrapped them in its warmth and glitter. Those who had their eyes opened lived in a world that was hard and harsh and dark. That was where I lived…in darkness. In terror. In helplessness and hopelessness. I battled simply to survive. So why, you might wonder, did I not live in the “Matrix” like almost everyone else in my small town? It wasn’t my choice. I was being abused. The abuse peeled away the veneer. It destroyed all sense of safety, security and demolished my ability to trust. I knew what I saw all around me wasn’t reality. It was a lie; not to be believed. The world where I lived smashed the life out of me, crushed me and ground me into a million pieces. Evil lurked behind smiles and benign conversation. There were deadly currents in the air. Glitches abounded. I was trapped. All during my childhood, I had to play the game, act like I belonged in the “Matrix,” pretend like there was no netherworld. But I knew the small town world I grew up in was a false reality. And transversing both worlds tore me apart. I learned not to trust what I saw. I learned not to believe what I felt. I learned to disregard my needs. I discovered there were things behind things behind things and that you had better listen for what wasn’t said, watch for what wasn’t seen and be prepared for what was hidden away. I learned to interpret the waves in the air and to decode what was going on in the mind of my parents. My abusers. The people who hid behind a facade of respectability and smiled while they destroyed my innocence and demolished my life. The people who split my reality into pieces while smiling as though nothing at all was amiss.