“The best things in life are always free. Wishing you were here with me.
This used to be my playground.”
Photo albums lined up on a bookshelf. A folder of family photos on a phone. The times have sure changed, but family still matters just as much as ever.
The playground was her favourite image of her childhood and the youth she sometimes longingly strained to remember in better detail, now that she was getting older and felt it all the time.
She felt so disconnected from them, her siblings, spread out across the country and the world. She knew the saying “blood is thicker than water” but she wondered what that really meant. Would they always find time to make the call or the visit? Blood and water were excellent metaphors, symbols of the love there would always be, but then there was the hustle and the bustle of everyday life. This got in the way of the blood and the water.
“This used to be my playground. This used to be my childhood dream. This used to be the place I ran to, whenever I was in need…of a friend. Why did it have to end?”
The playground was a favourite spot of her own children now. She often sat on the bench or while pushing them faster and faster on the swings, remembering when it was her and her siblings swinging. It was such a freeing feeling as a child, to be flying through the air, the wind blowing through the swing’s movement.
This childhood image of a playground stuck in her head and Madonna’s
This Used To Be My Playground would play in her head when she felt the connection with her siblings slipping away, due to time and location. Life took them all in their own directions. New families were formed and were still growing. It was miraculous, yet it felt lonely sometimes, for her.
“And why do they always say, don’t look back. Keep your head held high. Don’t ask them why because life is short.”
Her children kept her busy and her job and husband too. This was all she’d ever wanted, dreamed of as a child on that playground, a family of her own someday. This was how it was supposed to be, how it was meant to be. Why did she think back often to the past with such a feeling of sadness? She remembered how much they fought and screamed at each other, when they had to share the television or the computer. They wished desperately then for their own things and their own lives. Could they ever have imagined they would have them at the price of distance?
“And before you know, you’re feeling old and your heart is breaking.”
They weren’t the people they used to be. The realities of the world and adulthood had crept in and rolled over them in many ways, big and small. It changed who they were. They would grow old together, only them knowing the secrets they once shared late at night when their parents had told them long ago to go to sleep. School would come early in the morning. Up and dressed and breakfast, rushing to catch the bus. There too they would separate, sitting with their own groups of friends. School had been the first place of sibling separation. It would teach them that there was going to be more for them than each other.
“Don’t hold onto the past. Well, that’s too much to ask.”
The past was not exactly what she wanted. She wanted now to watch her children grow and grow old with her husband. She wanted the same for her siblings, wherever life may take them. Childhood had not been a perfect one, but they had always had each other. Around the dinner table and in the car on the way to somewhere. They had taken a family vacation to Disney Land, all of them packed into a van. Songs made up during long car rides and stories they would tell each other to pass the time were fading from her mind now, but she knew instinctively they had existed and their laughter at these silly things lit up their faces. They were learning how to love and how to share and she knew these lessons from their collective childhoods would stick with them always.
“And why do they always say no regrets? But I wish that you were hear with me. Then there’s hope yet.”
She had soccer practice to drive to and dinner to prepare. She had a proposal to work on and bills to pay, but what about these photos? As she sat on her front stoop and browsed lazily through each one, a family portrait came into view. Her shorter haircut her mother had given her as a ten-year-old. Her glasses covered her eyes, so full of young enthusiastic life. She sat, looking back at her preteen self and her siblings standing with her.
“I can see your face in our secret place. You’re not just a memory. Say goodbye to yesterday. Those are words I’ll never say.”
Did her sister remember the secret fort they built in the back corner where the others never went? She thought about asking her this question sometimes, but when they did finally get together there was so much to talk about. The kids were first priority and they never got much further than that. The deeper and the harder to recall memories were last in line now. Everyone has their own unique memories of that time. How could she be sure any of them had come through for the others like they had for her?
She read her brother’s wife’s Facebook status, the list of weekend plans. This was a small glimpse into his life, which she knew very little about now. Did he still like the same movies and foods? What had changed and what had remained?
“This used to be my playground. This used to be our pride and joy. This used to be the place we ran to, that no one could dare destroy. This used to be the place we ran to. I wish you were standing here with me.”
Photos on a shelf or on a phone. This was not sufficient, not in her estimation. She wanted to be able to visit those days at a whim, waiting maybe for a time machine to show up out of thin air. This was the only way. She would always be connected to the bright faces in the family portrait with an unbreakable cord. The playground was where she took her children to burn off their excess energy, but this was what she got out of being there. The gravel under her feet at the bottom of the slide ringing in her ears, of a time long gone. Somewhere out there they were, living their lives and bringing up their children in the ways they too had been taught. This was a comforting thought to her now. This playground was her time machine.
I wanted to take a moment to thank my own three siblings for all they’ve done for me and continue to do. I am lucky to be close to them all, if not always physically, our bond was formed long ago and it remains strong. They mean the world to me. I hope as we all grow older that we appreciate each other’s lives and make the effort so richly rewarded. We will always be there for each other. Three more remarkable people I have not met. You guys are my core, at the centre and the heart of who I am.
The words within the quotations are the lyrics of Madonna’s This Used To Bee My Playground.