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Remember the Dragons?
A figure in a blue and red plaid jumper bends over to pick up a dandelion. She inhales and blows with all her might, watching in awe as the wonderful fuzzies drift away from her. Gleeful children run around bursting into fits of giggles. Bluebirds fly overhead, chirping in song. There is a pleasant breeze that playfully blows the child’s bouncy ringlets and causes the swings to sway ever so slightly. A butterfly floats loftily through the air.
“Tag, you’re it!” someone yells to her. She drops the stem and runs off – without another thought of the flower – dragging a pink blanket behind her. She hurriedly chases ebullient kids around the playground, feeling the woodchips beneath her feet. She climbs up the steps, crawls through a tunnel, and winds down the slide. “Tag, you’re it!” she says to a girl in a matching plaid jumper. She turns around and heads for the monkey bars.
The almost-four-year-old has no thoughts except for those of princesses, rainbows, cookies, and tea parties. What I wouldn’t give for those simplistic thoughts nowadays. “Cherish them while you can,” I wish to tell my four-year-old self. As my mind wanders again, I look up from the pristine playground and gaze out across an endless magical field. Off to the left is my castle complete with a short trunk, thick, wide branches, and a cascading wall of green leaves which shield the girls from the evil dragon.
“Holly!!” I yell across the playground. “Come here, I have an idea.” Holly drops her sand toys and skips across the playground. “What is it?” she inquires excitedly. With that, I turn and
whisper in her ear, my eyes shining with eagerness. “Oooo,” Holly croons with delight. The two girls in the matching outfits skip hand in hand toward the enchanted forest.
“I’m the princess!” Holly claims.
“No! I want to be the princess,” I retaliate. “I am not going to be the knight!”
“No, I’m the princess,” Holly still claims.
“Fine,” I agree dejectedly, “but it’s my turn next.”
With that, the girls enter their mystical castle. Holly pushes through the gate leaving rustling leaves in her wake. She scales the tree quickly and soon sits regally atop her throne. I stand alert below her. A spurt of fire shoots through the gap in the gate. I unsheathe my sword and charge. I dive under the gate and leap up. I am ready to conquer the massive dragon. But wait! Who could be scared of this cute, little, pink creature with purple polka dots? It even has a smile. It beckons me to come play; the dragon only wants a friend. I hop on its back, and before I know it, I’m soaring through the clouds surrounded by cute little dragons --
With that, our adventure is cut short. We run off without a look back, already pondering what to do next. I wonder what became of that dragon.
As I unbuckle from my booster seat, the car door opens and a heap of fabric falls out. “MOM!” I shriek. I can’t believe it; nobody is supposed to see Blankie. “What?!?” she responds exasperatedly. I jump out of the car and bend down to snatch up a barely recognizable pink blanket, now nearly torn to shreds from constant use. “How could you? Are you trying to ruin my birthday?” I cry out, as my eyes dart around the parking lot assuring that no one saw. I stroke the blanket once before hurriedly stuffing it away from sight. This is my eighth birthday party, and I am not going to let anything, especially something I am too old for, ruin that.
I run across the playground to the few remaining tables in the park, my unruly waves flying behind me. Here, I excitedly skip over to Mrs. McMahon and ask her where Holly is. A mischievous look plays across her face as she responds with, “Remember the dragons?” I flush with embarrassment. Of course I remember them, but I’m not about to openly admit to knowing about a silly little game of dreams and imagination. It’s for kids. However, I turn around and slowly slink off headed straight towards our castl – Err – tree. It’s not quite like I remember. There are fewer leaves. The tree suddenly seems too small. Did I really once believe this was a place to fly with dragons? Nevertheless, my face lights up as I join Holly amongst the memories of our past.
We talk about who has cooties and how our tree could have been from the pages of the Magic Tree House chapter book series. From this newly repurposed tree where we talk instead of play (which is now dubbed “The Hang Out”), we see the first guests arrive. Overjoyed, we scurry down the tree and run towards the party. We’re excited because our parents promised us that we could have big grown-up eight-year-old games. While we wait for the rest of the guests, we explore the jungle gym, running up slides, climbing on top of the monkey bars, and swinging superman-style on the swings. At the top of a look out, my gaze falls upon the walls of the field. I can see houses and I hear the rush of speeding traffic. It’s not as endless as I thought it was.
Our dads call out that it’s time for a soccer game. Gleeful children run towards the freshly mowed grass and start picking teams. I run around with the rest of the kids; however, Holly, not caring to join in the fun, simply stands there, bends over, and plays with a dandelion.
She comes up to me with merely the stem and says, “Did you know that if you blow all the fuzzies off you can make a wish?”
“Really?” I say. “Let me try.”
“I got the last one,” she seemingly taunts.
I turn my complete attention away from the soccer game and towards her, “Ughh! You’re so selfish.”
“No, I’m not!”
“I’m not going to talk to you for the rest of the day!” I retort.
I turn my back on her and stomp away. “Mommy, Holly’s being mean.”
She says, “Now, Marisa, you know not to tattle on anyone.”
“But it’s not fair!”
“I don’t care. Now go run along and have fun!”
Within a few minutes, the entire incident is forgotten.
The bike must have a mind of its own. I don’t know how I got here. I had to get out of the house; I thought I was just riding around the neighborhood aimlessly but it appears not. Honestly, I would have been perfectly happy if I never came back here again.
I wheel my bike carefully through a few muddy puddles and find a covered place to park it. As I walk through the soggy woodchips, I pull up my hood to shield what’s left of my carefully straightened hair. I go for cover at the top of a look out. My gaze falls upon the field, the field with very few patches of grass, the field that no longer contains dandelions, the field that used to harbor an enchanted forest but now only hosts a few dead survivors. Our castle-
turned-hang-out spot is one of them. The tree is nearly stripped bare and the branches seem to undulate spreading out towards darkness.
The breeze picks up. It seems to whisper, remember the dragons? A grocery bag tumbles towards the wall that feels as if it is within an arm’s length. The swings creak as they move back and forth eerily with merely the ghost of a child. Water drips off of them in a steady stream. One can only hear the blare of traffic and the echo of laughter past.
Here, I sit at the top of a dilapidated slide, which is seemingly daring me to attempt the steep descent. Should I do it? I just don’t know anymore.
My fingers enclose around a swatch of fabric in my pocket: Blankie. The happiness of childhood comes flooding back to me. The magic of dragons. The innocence of an open heart. The freedom of imagination. By now, I am thankful for the rain. Although there is not a soul in sight, I still wish to hide my tears. The rain and the tears blend seamlessly together as a sob racks my body.
School has become overwhelming. Friendships have dissolved. Relationships have ended. Fights with my parents have escalated. I just try to live this one day at a time hoping (but knowing better) that the next day might improve.
How has it come to this? When had my reality become a place without a glimpse of fantasy? What was I hoping would happen atop this slide? That I would reclaim my childhood? I know that I cannot relive my past, that I can no longer frolic freely. Sometimes, though, I wish my laughter could join in with that of the echoes. I wish I could take off on the back of a pink creature with purple polka dots. I wish that, just once, I could be that carefree child again whose only thoughts were those of princesses, rainbows, cookies, and tea parties.
With that wish, the slide wins. I take the plunge towards my memories. Towards imagination.
I still remember the dragons.