This afternoon, I was at Emily’s house trying to get all my Faerie Queene read, and as Edmund Spenser and I have a little trouble understanding each other, it wasn’t going swimmingly. I stared out her back window at the brick house settled in the snow in the lot behind her. It looked so much like home. Not my home, you know, but home. I started to think about where I wished I was, and the answer came with an almost unhealthy quickness. I wished I was standing in my dining room on a July day at about 5:30. The sun was shining at angle in through the Windexed front door onto the perfectly warped mirror in front of me, the sideboard smelled of Pledge. (How I love my mother!) Then into the kitchen, and the wood floor under my bare feet went from flat to a hilly shine. Everything there was warm and smelled of marinade and red wine. My mummy handed me a pan of wrapped corn on the cob to take out to my dad. Through the laundry room, feet skimming over the tattered rubber threshold, the sound of Daddy’s voice saying to Mr. Wolff, “You know, it’s interesting…” as he gestured largely with a huge pair of tongs. The deliciously uncontrolled slam of the screen door behind me and I was teetering down the rough grey steps which I painted myself onto a rougher patio. I handed the platter over, and was called “Sweetheart” for my pains. I wandered onto the grass, green and sinking, half listening to the laughter behind me. Those two entertained each other like no other. The smoke followed me, smelling of steak and unspoilt backyard. I didn’t mind. “Smoke follows beauty,” my mom always said. I reached for the swing, lifted my knee to brace it against the weathered blue board–and then I remembered. The swing was gone. The tree was gone. I could not go back.
My first memory (perhaps fabricated, but I prefer not to think like that) is of my father tying bricks to the end of a rope, and throwing them over a limb of our biggest oak tree. He was making a swing. That swing could’ve told more stories than I can, and you can really get me going. We all received ritual lumps on our heads from being swung into when we were a couple years old, and had our hands filled with prickles from a particularly bad rope. Mary had a tomato dropped on her head while she swung, Hannah threw up after trying a new technique, and it displayed a penchant for breaking while I stood on it. Oh, how we loved it. We played Circus and Person and did Merrygorounds and Tornados and Tomatoes and Underdoggies. We snuck seconds on it before church in the mornings, and stayed out long after dark, piffling over turns, and dodging dangerously back and forth in the full glow from the porch floodlight. I knew why I had such a wonderful house: the grown-ups who came to visit liked the wood stove we heated with, even though they didn’t know that if you threw water on it it would make fascinatingly bulbous clouds of steam, and the kids who came, well, the swing was worth skipping dessert. Mary and I had a strong sense of proprietorship which we shared with the Wolffs and the Nealons, because it was a truth universally acknowledged that Hannah gave the best Merrygorounds, and Rosie was the only one who had touched the tree. The swing was the center of our world.
To me, I think it was more than that. All of the euphoria ended naturally as we slowly grew up, of course. Friends still loved it, we still took turns in order, but we did not spend hours. There were no more games. I didn’t mind, though. My best moments on the swing were the wondering, dreamy ones. It was a good for a think. I never sat. I always stood, facing the parking lot, and nudged my hips side to side to side until I was flying. I sang and recited poems quite loudly, I had conversations with people who did not happen to be present, I leaned forward into the wind (though I’d never even heard of Titanic,) I was a princess and the world was mine.
One weekend, the spring of my senior year, my parents were out of town and a bunch of friends came over. We started dinner, then responsibly abandoned it simmering on the stove. We took careful turns on the swing and gave each other pushes. We laughed a lot. A couple weeks later I sat in the upstairs bath at about eleven when there was a sound like thunder. It was a slow, deafening crackling right outside my window. It ended in the most deafening silence. Finally, I hauled myself out of the water, put on a robe, and went outside to see. My parents stood silently in the driveway. There were no words. The big tree filled our large backyard like a bowl. (That’s the way I described it to everyone for weeks–“like a bowl.”) It had been struck by lightning years and years before, and we’d had to have half of the top removed. Apparently the core had rotted out anyway. It was the quietest of nights. There was no other explanation. The fallen trunk, which was at least twenty feet around, lead straight to our neighbor’s back fence like a highway. I was suddenly crushed to know that the baby oak leaves waving in the breeze, whose arrival meant spring at last, were already dying as I watched. And then I knew. My swing was gone. It was unreal. I began to cry. My parents hugged me and said scary, wasn’t it? I said not particularly, went upstairs and crawled into my sister’s empty bed. I pressed my face into the fan that propped the window open, and bawled myself to sleep. I would be eighteen in a couple weeks and it felt as if my world had promptly ended when all I was trying to do was take a bath.
Anyway, I did not quite make my quota with the Faerie Queene this afternoon. I went downstairs, began to tell Emily about the swing, and suddenly I was crying–not prettily and quietly, but messily and swollenly. I am not over it. I am angry that now, when my father grills steak in July, there is no place for the smoke to follow me. As I got older, I think, and I climbed onto the swing less and less, I loved it more and more. It became sacred. It became, in itself, “a spot of time.” It was magic because when I climbed onto it, even at thirteen, I became beautiful. I was beautiful because of something that was not me. I could give no credit to myself, only to that half-second of weightlessness when the swing changed directions and ceased, momentarily, to carry me. Now, there is a gorgeous little flowerbed where the swing hung, and stump of the tree is a huge, odd island. I cannot go back. I cannot, I cannot. Anyway, sorry this is so long. It’s just that I miss spring, I miss my home, I miss my swing.
This was quite “Anne-ish”. I loved it. I know that feeling. I remember the time I felt my childhood coming to an end. I still long for it at times. I still fill the ache.
I LOVE to read your stories. You had me from the first sentence! Love you.
I miss your swing. That one night senior year was so much fun, can we please do that again? You’ll have to convince your family to disappear. I miss you, but I love your writing. It makes me feel like you are with me. And btw, I have started reading Anne of Green Gables finally!
Alice, Dear–You break-a my heart, girl! From the fellow waving the tongs.
“It is Margaret you mourn for.”