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Starfish


I had a red racecar bed for much longer than I should have. I had my first memory, waking up on that bed. I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream of Disneyland, suddenly aware of my own consciousness. My brain old enough to start stacking information and memories together like Legos, rather than throwing them against the walls and watching them bounce. The front trunk of the racecar became a graveyard for my broken, neglected childhood toys and games. Melted, amputee Batmen, headless dollar store Power Rangers, handballs with butter knives stuck inside them, broken Gameboys, busted X-Box controllers, and scratched, discarded video game discs of Shrek 2: The Movie Game or Lego Star Wars.

These toys and games didn’t come to me broken. I’m not interested in analyzing my life like a Disney movie and asking whether I’m Andy or Sid from Toy Story. I want to meditate on the entertainment from my childhood without being obsessed like a person who thinks in Disney logo font. I played and had fun with these toys and games. They brought me joy and as time passed, they expired in the landscape of my distracted young brain. Waves of my mind like to wash memories of these toys and games along my shores, and I pick them out of the sand, dust them off, admire them, then chuck them back into the waters.

I’m fascinated by the people who wash up on those shores. The types of people that are character actors in your life movie. Splotches of dialogue and scattered scenes in your stitched-together memory. People that affect you on an intangible level. Threads tied and tangled across your character like jumbles of wired extensions. What’s plugged in? What’s just there because you didn’t bother to put it away when you unplugged it? They’re too knotted and connected to untie. It’s its own organism now, and you let it live in your apartment rent-free. I think about kids I’d meet at the park and never see again. A mediocre game of tag, a random dirty look you didn’t understand, hide and seek that got old really quick, and kicking a kid in the face because they walked in front of your swing without looking.

Whose shores am I washing up on? Am I a starfish on their sands or a broken bottle, a piece of trash littered by an inconsiderate beachgoer? I remember making fun of other kids for no reason. I’d say these stupid, kid insults that don’t make sense but were still hurtful based on intent. I’d then internalize jokes or insults about me and not realize the hypocrisy. I wasn’t a big bully on campus or whatever, but you don’t have to be mini Mussolini to hurt someone’s feelings. I remember seeing a girl I was an asshole to in elementary, years later. I wanted to say sorry, but I worried that I was overestimating my own impact on her life. But I mostly didn’t want to have to deal with the awkwardness of talking to someone who knew me in the past. It’s like we’re all deep undercover, trying to push down any embarrassing thing you ever did as a kid and put on the mask of a distinguished drug dealer now. I’m not the same kid who made fun of you for liking Fairies, Candice—I have anxiety now.

What’s the shipwreck at the bottom of my ocean? The golden treasure glowing on the seafloor, waiting for an excavation? I remember telling my middle school best friend about my elementary best friend and it felt like telling a spouse about your exes. I believe the words, “Before you, there was someone else,” were uttered at one point. I think about those types of people a lot: the ones who get replaced and forgotten. People in your life build all these foundations and draw blueprints just to leave for a lunch break and never return. Then you have one good conversation with a person, and they put on their hardhat and get to work on the construction site of your life.

We’re constantly placing people on these platforms in our brains and replacing them as time goes on. Some stay forever, whether we want them to or not, and they form who we are. I can act like I want to dive into my ocean consciousness and find a gem hidden in the deep, but I really don’t. I’m tired of looking at my own beach, my own ocean. Tired of being a castaway on my own blip of land, seeing the same things wash up on my sands. I want to sail to someone else’s beach. Draw another island onto my map so my world won’t so look so small anymore.



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James Reilly
James Reilly
Feb 16, 2021

Great to see this piece again, thanks for sharing it. Resonates even deeper with me now!

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