When I was small, I used to try to believe in fairies. Not just the tooth fairy, although I liked her, too, and certainly nothing like Tinkerbell, who was a spiteful, jealous thing I never cared for. These were little sprites and pixies and gnomes you see in paintings and greeting cards, wearing acorn caps for hats and dried leaves for skirts. They were everywhere, just outside of my periphery.
I would pass by a creek on my walk to school, and would think it the perfect haven for little beings. The water was shallow and not too swift, and it was always clean enough that I could see the pebbles and the crawdads moving along the bottom. Plants grew alongside the banks, as plants are wont to do; everything from little crocuses and wildflowers to a young cypress tree surrounded the water, creating the best of hiding spots for when a human like myself came stomping along. I would linger on the bridge for a few minutes on my way to and from school, hoping against hope that if I waited long enough and quietly enough, the fairies would come out and play again.
In the summer months, I would brave the dust and the heat and the ever-present wind and dig holes in my designated hole-digging spot of the yard. I only found dirt and more dirt, and occasionally a bug (on one special occasion I found the bones of some small rodent), but I was looking for gnome homes. Upon failing or losing interest, I would construct little shelters made of whatever I could find: mud, dried leaves, woven pine needles — and prop them up against the pine tree stump in the back yard so the fairies could seek shelter from the wind and occasional rain storm.
I imagined myself among the winged creatures. I would meander the banks of the creek; I would lay in the flower garden at my friend’s house; I would hide in a lilac bush or in a tree and daydream. The fairies would recognize me as one of their own and emerge from behind plants and rocks, popping up out of flower petals and riding in on their beetles with joyous cries of fellowship.
They would tug on my hair and hands, urging me to come with them, each one vying for my attention:
Come play with us, E.
Look — I made you a crown of flowers! See how pretty you are!
Do you like my new leaf-skirt? I made it just yesterday.
There’s no bad things here — we live in a land of joy and peace. Would you like to stay with us?
I made acorn soup for you, just how you like it!
And I would spend hours living in a world without evil, a place where I wasn’t limited by the laws of my parents and the pressures of being human.
I always knew they weren’t real. I was a shrewd little girl, and skeptical of everything. The fairies and sprites were made of the same kind of magic that allowed stars to grant wishes and made faces in the moon. I knew that, despite how thoroughly I tried to convince myself otherwise. I tried to imagine myself sleeping in a hammock made of tangled flower stems, but I knew I was only laying in the grass as gnats swarmed my arms and face.
I wish I had been able to convince myself — even for a day — that fairies were real, and not just a figment of my imagination. It would have added some true magic to my childhood, and it would make this nostalgia that much sweeter.
Some adults wish they still believed in Santa Claus. Some wish they hadn’t found faults in their religion. Some say they miss their imaginary friends.
I guess I’m still trying to convince myself that the fairies are there, hiding just outside of my vision, because I find myself lingering at every shallow creek bed, searching the flora for a glimmer of iridescent wings.
What is one childhood faith you wish you held on to?