Photo courtesy of Breanna Foley.

Kailie Foley, Copy Editor

Editor’s note: This is the full version of the story that ran in issue six of The Prospector.

When my older sister walked into my room a few months ago, I was immediately curious about the Sony Handycam camcorder in her hands because I thought it was new. She handed it to me and told me to peer through the hole at the top of the camera.

As I looked inside, I met eyes with my younger self running across the beach in Eagle Harbor, Mich. My hands gripped tighter onto the camera and my heart opened to take in memories I had forgotten as time passed. I had no recollection of any videos being taken of my family when I was a child, so I was completely taken aback. I lost track of time as I observed my past with widened eyes.

Soon my family decided to sit down and watch the videos all together on the TV in our family room. I could now hear each person’s voice from the videotapes —  before the videos played with no audio. It felt as if I was living my childhood all over again. 

A wave of nostalgia blanketed my skin as I could now truly visualize my past for all that it was. It has felt difficult for me to figure out who I am as a person, but those videos were brought to my attention to remind me of who I have always been.

I cannot help but feel distant from the younger version of myself that I see in photographs that my parents took of me. The person I observe living in photographs does not seem like the same person I am today. Although, the child of my past still lives inside of my heart today. 

I can never flip through photographs in a family photo album without feeling a longing in my heart to remember the memories that I look at. But seeing videos of my childhood makes me feel like I can no longer avoid that the younger version of myself has always been a part of me. Time has passed and I have grown, but I hold the child I once was inside of me and I always will.

My life is constantly playing before me through the eyes of others and my own. Seeing my life recorded helps the past feel more real to me. At times, my inner critic can be forgetful of how far I have come when I act or talk in a way I am not proud of. Watching these videos made it feel as if the child I have always been reached out to me and embraced me for all that I am even if I am still working on accepting myself. 

In a picture I can solely observe who I was distantly, but when I see myself in a video I cannot avoid that I have existed in past moments. I see beauty in the moments that were solely me and my family making every day different with our laughs and thoughts. Watching and hearing such simple yet impactful moments of my past helps me feel like I have a stronger grasp on the present. It can be hard to allow myself to be present. But I no longer feel like time’s prisoner when I can hold time in my hands in the form of a video.

The videos on our family camera date back to prior to second grade —  before we moved from Mount Prospect to Arlington Heights. This is significant because the memories I tend to remember about my childhood took place after I moved, and a lot of them seem to be negative. This is why seeing my childhood videos had a strong impact on my heart and mind. 

Before I watched a lot of the happier memories that were filmed at my old home, I mainly remember moments of my childhood that have made me feel out of place. Videotapes showing an honest reflection of my identity had been stored away when I moved and the darkest moments of my childhood latched onto my mind and told me who I was. When I changed schools and left my first home, it felt like I had to move on and start over completely. As I said goodbye to my house, I had to say goodbye to the memories I made inside. I could no longer fall asleep at night while counting the flowers on the wallpaper of the room my sister and I shared. I could no longer climb the magnolia tree draped over my roof that had grown and reblossomed along with me. 

As I said goodbye to the memories I had made in my old house, it felt like I was also saying goodbye to every part of myself that existed up until I moved. The parts of myself that truly defined who I was that were reflected in recordings of my childhood suddenly felt as if they were no longer defined inside of me as I met new people and new surroundings. In a new place It was hard to truly find joy in all of the actions that shaped my personality at the time like listening to music, creating narratives with my sister, and talking to everyone around me out of curiosity. I felt isolated.

As I looked at new houses with my family, a part of my heart felt empty. No house seemed to feel like a home to me. No parts of the house mirrored the home that was seen behind my smiling childhood face in any video I watched. I remember circling the room I now call my own, walking inside of it, and questioning why every wall looked lifeless the first time I saw the house. 

I stepped inside of the bathroom in the basement of the house and the mirror on the wall immediately fell to the ground and shattered. It was as if that was the last defining moment out of many that collectively told me I did not belong where I was standing. 

Photographs of my life along with all of my belongings were moved in boxes from the home I grew up in to the house that forcefully pried my mouth open and made my lips form the word “home” unwillingly when describing it. 

I felt just like a human photograph. I was stuck in a single moment in time in a quiet place and it felt like I was not moving. Everyone was observing me and seeing me in a different light. I could not control that people were flipping the pages of my own photo album before my eyes, because I held onto my heart and stayed stagnant. I could not pause my life and avoid change, I could not rewind my life and go back to the past, and I could not fast forward to a happier moment.

I remember crying with a heavy heart after visiting Dryden Elementary School for the first time, and begging my parents to go back to my old school. I knew it would be hard to connect with people again in the same way I had before at St. Raymond School. The sudden change of moving caused me to say goodbye even to the people in all of my old childhood videos. 

My parents reassured me and told me to wait and see what would happen when I started learning. I still remember my mom singing the girl scout song “Make New Friends.” I stayed quiet and doubted that I would be able to make new friends. As I listened to their words, my heart still felt buried with the roots of the tiger lily flowers in my old backyard. 

In an interview with The New York Times, author Maureen Healy said, “Children are young and new to the world, and changing a child’s ‘safe space’ is a big deal.” This resonates with me because when I moved, my perception of myself and the world around me clearly changed. I had to record new memories, but I was reluctant to because even my skin started to feel like it did not fit my body. My rose colored lens shattered, and I was left to see that I would not be accepted in the way that I always wanted to be.

A young girl I knew at Dryden Elementary School often convinced me with her words that I had to do what she said at recess. It started to feel like my life was not under my own control; like I was not the one recording it. When I saw her at my violin concert, I immediately begged my mom to leave because I was terrified. I found happiness when playing the violin, but stopped playing it as soon as I was put in another situation that made me feel unwanted or out of place.

    When I went to middle school it felt like I had even more of a difficult time holding onto the idea of who I was. Every comment about what was socially acceptable in a middle schooler’s eyes that I heard stripped me of the interests that defined who I am. 

I suddenly stopped listening to music that had always brought me joy from bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. I started to dress in clothes that I thought others would like. I started to question how I spoke to people and why I was doing theatre if people would judge me for it. The child from the videotapes became unrecognizable.

These actions came from a place of fear. In my surroundings it felt like a danger to be myself, and I thought that people would throw words like knives at me if I spoke my mind. I suddenly found myself agreeing with people to fit in. This felt like denying my personality from myself because I have spoken my mind loudly from the moment I was young.

When I conformed to what other people liked no matter what my interests were in middle school, I completely lost myself in the lives of other people. 

For a large portion of my life, I hid my personality so far deep inside of myself out of a fear of not being accepted. Even when I was not myself, I was still treated like I did not belong in a lot of places I inhabited. 

    It has always been hard for me to grasp an idea of my identity. My childhood before I moved felt so distant from my mind when I was in middle school that I did not notice the core of my personality was what has always separated me from people. No matter how much I have tried to strip myself of all I am to be liked in the eyes of others, I cannot dispose of the core of my personality. 

    Watching videos of my younger self helps me recognize that what often separated me the most from others has always been a part of the core of my personality. In a lot of my childhood videos I was usually observing situations inside of my own mind. 

I have always been in my own world creating narratives out of my surroundings. I have always been emotionally analytical even in moments that are happier. I have always seen life through a lens of stories. I now see that the child I have always distantly admired in photographs is the same person as the one I look at in the mirror and cruitique. I now recognize that my past moves with me after watching how fluid memories can be. I carry every moment with me inside of my body whether it is negative or positive, filmed or unfilmed. 

Before I moved, I watched the door of my childhood home change color as it was repainted from white to red. With each new brushstroke, it felt like a step was taken to seal the younger version of myself behind that renewed door. In my mind after moving, the younger version of myself was still left to observe the tangled tiger lilies in my family’s backyard and their spots. She was still twirling in the grass mirroring her dance teacher from her ballet class. She was still catching fireflies in the palms of her hands with her babysitter while walking around the block. She was still climbing the magnolia tree in her front yard. 

Although, as I drive past my old home, I see new cars in the driveway. I see new faces roam the space I used to encompass that are completely unfamiliar to my eyes. The younger version of myself is no longer laughing with her family behind the brick foundation I used to call home. This reminds me that my childhood-self has always been with me. For so long I could not grasp my personality when I looked in the mirror. It felt as if I changed everywhere I stepped foot. 

Now with every childhood videotape I watch, it feels as if the face I see in the mirror is no longer a mask. It feels as if I can’t run away from the core of myself wherever I go. Every video helps me see the roots that still hold up my identity today and helps me pinpoint the characteristics that make me the person that I am. I now see that the child who I once was will always be inside of me guiding my life. 

There have been days where I have put my head in my hands and told my sister I felt as if I have no personality. I now understand why she was always there to confidently tell me that I cannot try to escape from my personality no matter how many mirrors I push away from myself.

During freshman year, my love for writing I had as a child suddenly blossomed inside of me again. I saw the thoughts that took the form of roots in my heart and made a garden out of my skin each time I sat down and analyzed my emotions with words. After watching my childhood videos, I now see that the child who once was filmed admiring storybooks was always meant to write a story of her own. When I focused on writing in high school I still could not grasp who I was because my personality flowed like the wind, but it was my own. With every word I have ever written about how I think and feel I have been able to step back into my identity.

I now show myself in the eye of the world freely for all that I am because I see myself clearly in the childhood videos that I watch. I see a child who is real; a child that is me. As I watch videos of my younger self speaking her mind without a second thought, I realize I do not want to be anyone other than who I have always been. I now have a strong enough idea of my personality to not allow people to tell me who I am until I show them first. 

I used to feel like the person I present myself as to the world currently was a completely renewed version of myself, and I was reluctant to accept any past version of myself. Now I can embrace every moment I have ever been in and every version of myself I have been. Any words anyone has ever convinced me that I am are not sewn onto my body. My childhood self is who I speak freely for because the person I am today understands her wholeheartedly and that is enough. 

Watching videos of my childhood helped me realize that even if I constantly change and grow, I will always be a child viewing the world as my own story to tell. And I will stay behind a camera showing that story to others with my own lens all my life.