I have just begun reading The Lover by Marguerite Duras, which recounts the experience, or remembered experience, of a teenager, a child. The book is famous for its erotic depiction of a clandestine relationship between the 15 year old white French protagonist and her much-older Chinese lover, with all the controversy and debate that that entails.
It has led me to thinking about childhood, my own childhood, and the strange assumption that true experience comes with adulthood, that the intense impressions of those younger years are invalid, immature, uninteresting, because they usually lack basis in a reality we would deem significant.
My burgeoning teenage sexuality was a torrid thing, tormenting, often confusing; largely a fantasy guarded closely in my mind and the pages of my diaries, aside from a few fumbling encounters with awkward teenage boys. Yet the force of those feelings, the agonies of shame or ecstasy, are unthinkable these days, now I am in my thirties and wearing a shell hardened by my participation in life, with all the disappointments, disenchantments and supposed wisdom that brings.
I am struck by the intense vulnerability of children of all ages - perhaps even of naive adults? - these first encounters, even just a glance, a touch or a word, must run deep in our psyche, given how strongly they were felt at the time. Children are dreamers, are open, are inquisitive, are perceptive, are inherently honest. The magic of a childhood in which one has been nurtured well is to believe that one could be anything, be partnered with any kind of person, live anywhere. Yet they will experience negative emotions and reactions, which are increasingly more complex as they grow. I am not referring to the trauma of abuse in all its forms, that we understand to be so damaging to the child's development, but rather to those hidden, private struggles born of the smallest thing, that an adult might look back on and dismiss. Those early imprints. Duras tunes into this youthful 'inner world' with painful accuracy, at least for this reader.