When I was a little girl, at recess, I would go to the rusty swings and kick myself back and forth. Not the “high” swinging joy of the other children. Just a couple of kicks to keep me swaying.
The swings made a distinctive whiny screech, melodic, haunting. From my childhood home, you could hear those old chains scream loudly, almost echo throughout the nearby neighborhoods.
At recess, I used to keep to the edges of the playground. I was a solitary child at school. I watched the other children with a kind of fascination and awe. I felt apart from them. My participation in my school girl years was voyeuristic. I did not flip upside down on the bars. I did not climb to the top of the monkey bars and gossip with the other girls. I did not play Dodgeball. Some days, I did. Most days, I kept to myself, or else had conversations with the teacher. Children my age seemed concerned with things I did not care about. And, so, I would sit in the grass, or on the swings, and entertain thoughts with more depth than I probably ever have since.
On those swings, I used to project myself into the future. I imagined myself ten years older hearing the screechy whine and imagined myself remembering myself as a child. The future adult would look back on the child with a sense of sadness and nostalgia. It was my present self in communication with the future self. I knew that after ten years past, and if I heard those swings, I would remember that very moment again. A strange coded communication between me and who I would become.
I am much older now than ten years. In fact, I am now, at least, twenty years older than the school girl who dangled her legs from those swings. In my imagined future life, I was pretty with long brown hair, a slender body, perpetually youthful, the kind of woman people wanted to know and talk with and be around—that kind of simple, easy beauty some women have. I smiled a lot. I think I was married with a couple of children, but I don’t know if my fantasy provided as much detail as that. I am remembering an imagined memory from over twenty years ago.
I wonder what the child would think of this adult. I teach, now, for a living. I spend most of my days talking in front of people. I can breeze into a room of strangers, and generally, leave with just as many friends. I am comfortable stepping over the careful perimeter I used to keep as a child. I still watch. I am still an observer, but I have learned how to navigate in that “other” world. In my heart of hearts, I still believe that I am a listener, someone as willing to listen as speak. There are few things I enjoy more than delving into someone else’s thoughts, hearing all of the person's stories.
Even though I do the very thing I used to dread as a child (speak in front of people everyday), I will always be that painfully shy child who kept watch from the shadows.
When I go back to my parents’ house, I sometimes hear those swings, and in a flash, I am eight years old again, feeling the weight of years yet to live, wanting to move forward in time to be the woman I imagined myself capable of. Perhaps who I am now would disappoint that child. Maybe I am closer to that child now than I was ten years ago. We will never sit down and have a conversation, compare notes.
But, sometimes, in the quiet, when you close your eyes and listen to the rush of tires through rain, you can hear the echo of who you used to be, through the clutter of adulthood and all of its white noise.
These days, at 35, I have stopped rushing myself through time. It is enough now to listen to the cry of swing sets and appreciate this specific moment I have been given.