“You can now demorph.”
Words from my favorite childhood authors are meant to be meaningful. Tucked at the end of a letter thanking us for being their fans. Tucked at the end of the 54th book — the final installment — in the series.
I didn’t want to demorph.
I didn’t want my childhood to be over.
I was introduced to the Animorphs books as a second grader. Later I learned they were a staple of ’90s pop culture. But I checked out the first one from my school library because of its bonkers cover, and equally bonkers synopsis, in 2012.
It was epic. Six teenagers used their power to morph into animals to fight an alien invasion. Corny dialogue. A surprisingly dark overarching plot. These books were timeless.
To 7-year-old me, they were everything. I carried them and their terrible covers everywhere. School. Church. The car ride on the way to the emergency room when my brother fell and hit his head on concrete (no worries, he is OK). No place was too sacred.
Animorphs embodied the summer after second grade. It was leaning my head on the car window while sunlight filtered in and Christian rock played on the radio, and I read until I was car sick. It was nights with the big blanket and the lamp still on.
It was the last time I felt completely, uncomplicatedly happy.
Ten years later, in the summer before my senior year of high school, I decided to revisit them — all 54 books in the series. I wanted to pay tribute to my first-ever favorite books.
I thought I would take Animorphs out of the attic of my life, have a few giggles and well-placed tears, and then box it up again.
This was not what happened.
I finished the series the night before my 17th birthday, crying like someone had died. I closed my laptop, crawled into bed and wrote a journal entry about how my childhood was dead. It was over because the series was over.
I had believed that the books would be a time capsule back in 2012. Instead, they blindsided me, reflecting more on what it’s like to grow up in 2022.
My generation harbors this obsession with nostalgia: All of our fashion is stolen from past decades. It’s cooler to listen to music that came out when we were babies than to be caught up with the stuff of today. Even kidcore, a lifestyle aesthetic on the rise, channels the bright technicolor of being a child.
But nostalgia, in my view, is really a coping mechanism.
This May, I stumbled out of a particularly low junior year. Between the lasting effects of a two-year-long pandemic, political turmoil in my home state and the ever-shifting nature of life as a college applicant, I felt sad and afraid.
These emotions were uncomfortable, but at the time, I pushed them to the back of my mind and pretended I couldn’t feel them. I joined the still-thriving Animorphs fandom on Reddit in committing to reread the entire series, just for a fun, nostalgic project.
But when the series ended, when I was left with nothing but a journal and my own thoughts the night before my 17th birthday, I realized that the experience had not led me back to sunny car rides and peaceful sleep.
Instead, the characters’ growing numbness to the horrors of the alien war reminded me of how I scroll past the news every day, past reminders of how many Americans are dead. How every year since 2020 has trained me to do so to protect my mental health, and how that safeguard is quickly depleting.
The willingness of the characters’ parents to overlook the reality of that war made me think of how many adults scorned Generation Z’s reaction to COVID-19 and all it did to disrupt our lives. How it was impossible to confess that you felt scared or sad without somebody reminding you that your ancestors fought wars. How that didn’t help at all.
The characters’ growing stress about being entrusted with hard decisions spoke to the girl who was afraid to begin college applications, to turn 17, to watch her life change.
I learned that you can’t hide from what is happening to you right now behind the past. I should know; I tried.
The past was teeming with happiness and technicolor. It was good. But it’s in the past. And I’m learning to be OK with this.
Weeks after I finished the books, I wrote the first draft of my college essay. It was easier than I had anticipated; with words on the page, I felt less powerless.
I’m learning that just like the past was full of so many good things, the present can be too. I like my online class. I like my friends, and I like the opportunities I have coming up next year at school.
So I’ll leave Animorphs to the next kid who discovers it in an elementary school library. I hope they like it.
As for me, I’ll close my laptop and get out of bed.
Munachiso Nnamani is a senior at Marcus High School in Flower Mound and a participant in The Dallas Morning News High School Journalism Program. She will be an editor for her school newspaper, The Marquee, next year. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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