On a recent trip to California, I had the pleasure of being in the company of a gaggle of very young girls, and it was pure delight to listen to and watch that chattering, giggling group and seeing those shiny children at play in the sunshine. I loved their honesty and joy and hoped the afternoon wouldn’t ever end.

Three of the more sophisticated girls — they were eight — raided their aunt’s closet and make-up stash. They reappeared wobbling on high heels slipped over wildly colored socks, lacy shawls draped over skinny shoulders, great flowered wedding hats, costume jewelry encrusted everywhere and their glowing, fresh faces plastered with vivid make-up like a stir of plum and peach fudge icing. They looked adorable.

As I sat there enraptured by this enchanting flock, I began to wonder if young kids today worry or think about the crazy things I did when I was a little girl. They probably don’t. Their fears and concerns must be very different now, because the world surely is.

I remembered when I was very young, I always sneaked off to ponds and creeks to catch in jars all the creatures I could. But I used to wonder, looking into those jars at all that beautiful, squirming life, if we humans really didn’t live on a big ball twirling about in space as we were taught. What if, instead, we  lived in a gigantic jar owned by the daughter of an immense giant somewhere out there who enjoyed capturing beautiful, squirming humans.

And then, as I wandered through the woods, I’d often wonder if I’d had other lives before this one, and I’d ponder whether the progression of human life was like a cosmic ladder. We all began on the bottom rung, say the newt level, and then worked over billions and billions of years to human status. And where would we go from there? I wondered about that problem a lot, wondering if we’d one day, at the end of our lives, have to stand, swaying and all alone, on the top rung before falling — splat — to the ground to once again become a newt. Or a molecule. And I speculated on how I could avoid having to stand on that top rung.

I also remember as a little girl worrying about the news of the day. I was an avid newspaper reader and radio listener to the daily news back then and considered myself at the urbane age of nine far too much of a dilettante to listen to those amateur TV newsmen blatting about the various local and worldwide Armageddon.

All that bad news really alarmed me a great deal, so I simply made up my mind one day, I think it was a Tuesday, that the entire world mess was merely an invention of my imagination and that nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, existed beyond the borders of my hometown or any town I happened to be visiting. The whole world was only where I was. Therefore, I no longer had to fret about bombs or starvation or biting animals or wars or diseases or bad people or things that go bump in the night. I was relieved.

I remember as a young girl thinking it was my responsibility to rescue the mice in my school’s laboratory so they would not be used for dissection. It all came to me in a dream one night, a voice telling me that I would definitely have to take a dive off of that top rung unless I saved those mice, because they had a right to life too. And so, like a very good embezzler who gradually takes tiny amounts of money thinking no one will notice, I began stealing one white mouse at a time and sneaking them home in my training bra. By day, I’d store them in a partially opened desk drawer with water and food when I was in school shanghaiing the next rodent and letting them out at night to play and get exercise. One of the really great pleasures of doing this was hearing my sister’s wild, high and delightfully long scream when she went looking for paper clips.

I finally got collared, and like an executioner, I had to haul all those beautiful mice back to their destinies; to be dissected.

And finally, on that drenched-in-sun California day, I had to stop remembering about the little girl I once was, because it was now time for the kids to go home. Before I left, I was asked to meet a terribly shy little girl, a young mother said. “Don’t be offended if she doesn’t speak, or if she just simply walks away. It takes ages for her to come out of her shell. No one can ever get her to speak for a very long time. Sometimes not ever.”

I walked toward this tiny girlchild with long dark hair and huge, deep eyes and was introduced. I leaned down toward her and said “Oh, your name is Cassandra? Hello Cassandra. That is the most beautiful name.”  Cassandra raised her large eyes to my face and studied me intently.

Hey, I thought. I really got through to her. She isn’t being shy. She isn’t backing away. I am someone she instinctively knows she can relate to and can trust. Cassandra likes me. I grinned. Her sweet lips parted, and this beautiful, precious little angel said, “You’ve got really big teeth.”

LC Van Savage is a Coastal Journal contributor. Her book “Queenie” is available at local bookstores and on amazon.com.