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Playground Memories: His, and Hers
Even though it was above seventy degrees in my house, I gathered my coat tightly around me. Tucking my scarf down my front, I sandwiched it between my skin and worn purple sweater. My gloved hands rubbed my goose-bumped arms and, for what seemed like the millionth time, I glanced at the hands on my Mickey Mouse watch. The second hand moved at a painstakingly slow speed. Only five more minutes……
Anticipation has always been one to get the better of me. No matter how hard I try, I can never seem to overcome him. I win one battle, but he eventually ends up winning the war. He’s practically the little brother I never had--just plain annoying. It’s like he’s always poking at the back of my brain, constantly reminding me of an up-coming event. That night, fate was on his side, and he did the best job he has ever done.
I looked at my watch again and tapped the glass cover, convinced that my faithful companion had lost his loyalty. But no, much to my dismay, all hands were in motion and my agony grew ten-fold.
Why is he so late?! I thought, viciously running my hands through my hair. I sucked in a breath loudly, and as I exhaled, my cheeks puffed out like a baboon’s.
He is always saying that it’s one of his favorite qualities about me. That and a million other things my brain does involuntarily. Like when I bite my lip when I’m nervous, or how after I eat a really big meal, I burp unnaturally loud. Those things are “cute” and “adorable”? How about trying the word embarrassing? He calls my frizzy brown hair unique! Frizzy hair is nothing but a pain and brown is just dull. Period. End of conversation. Whenever these topics come up, I usually ignore him. Men just say that sort of stuff to win your heart. At least that’s what my mom used to tell me. The sad truth is, it usually works.
As I leaned over and peered out of my window, I saw the flash of red amongst the fallen leaves on the street and my heart leapt into my throat (it’s a good thing I hadn’t eaten any dinner). Grabbing my bag, I flung open my bedroom door and raced down the steps taking them three at a time. The doorbell rang and I heard the boisterous voice of my father echo in my head as he greeted the man who had come to our front door. I tried to act calm, not wanting to show that I had been practically fuming in my room for every minute he grew late. But when I stood alongside my dad and saw him framed within our doorway, all my intentions were fruitless, and I smiled. And though I absolutely hate to admit it, I am sure that I blushed, too.
I was so nervous when I pulled up in front of her house. You would think it was because of her dad or something. But no, it is she that makes my hands shake. I knew she would be mad at me, no matter how terrible I told her I felt. But I wouldn’t be lying, I really did feel awful. I new I was behind schedule as soon as I hit the road. I’d practically sped all the way down the highway just to get there late. Better than being “in the doghouse” for a few weeks. And frankly, that was something I was very keen on avoiding.
As I walked up to her house, each step seemed to take an enormous amount of energy. My hands were clutched tightly in fists and tiny beads of sweat were collecting on the nape of my neck and forehead. I knew that if I wanted the night to go well, I had to do everything perfectly, and I hadn’t gotten off to a great start.
I knocked on the door and her dad smiled knowingly. He greeted me with his Greek-inherited loud voice (I swear he should have majored in opera!) and we exchanged a few words. I had no idea if what I said was on topic. Soon I realized that, after he paused, he asked me a question and was waiting for my reply. Had I really been spacing out the entirety of this conversation? Numbly my brain searched for an answer. But thankfully, I didn’t need to speak. More like I couldn’t, actually, because she had just stepped out from behind her father and was looking more gorgeous than I had ever seen her. Even though she was just in a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt, I couldn’t imagine anything else that would flatter her more. It was just…her. Even when she didn’t try, she looked simply beautiful. Her green eyes glistened like newly polished gems. And when she smiled…I know men’s hearts aren’t supposed to melt, but when she smiled, my heart liquefied, and all of my worries were swept away.
I recognized the transition in his face as his eyes slowly retreated from my father and began to study me. His mouth curled into an amused smile and his eyes shone like dark marble stones in the evening light. He thanked my father for allowing him to “borrow his daughter for an evening” (upon which my dad whispered me good luck for what reason I had no idea) and reached for my gloved hand.
One of the things I absolutely love about him is his hands. Unlike so many others, you can tell they have seen hard work. Even through my gloves I could feel the calluses on his palms and the rough spots in between his fingers. They are strong and sure, and when they touch me, I feel as if nothing in the world could go wrong.
I didn’t know where he was taking me. From the moment we hopped inside his dad’s old Ford pickup I hadn’t so much as gotten five sentences out of him. One included how pretty I looked. Seriously? In this stuff? I’d rolled my eyes then, but I had turned my head, too, so he wouldn’t see my smile.
From the look on his face, I could tell it wasn’t a place unimportant. His eyes sparkled; his jaw was set; and his hand rested upon mine. Meaning that wherever we were going, he hoped that I will like it just as much as he thought I would.
Finally we pulled up to an old abandoned children’s playground and parked in the now gravely parking lot. At first glance I didn’t recognize where we were, but as we drew nearer, I heard myself gasp in pleasure. Almost as if by habit, my mind began thumbing through various images and memories that had been stored in the back of my mind. As I surveyed my surroundings, I was whisked back eight years, replaying what I deem the most wonderful memory I posses.
It was my eighteenth birthday, and as was tradition, we were to meet at the playground. It was fall, so the leaves on the ground rustled in the wind and squirrels scampered around stuffing nuts into their already crammed cheeks. As it happened, I was sitting on the slide staring into space and listening to the leaves crack and crumble, not even toying with the fact that it was someone other than the squirrels making those particular noises. Suddenly, one hand wrapped itself around my waist and another covered my eyes as my mysterious visitor settled in behind me. It startled me for a moment, but only for that moment. The next I was giggling and another’s laugh mingled with mine. It was a voice I knew well, one I had known practically my whole life. It wasn’t deep, but reassuring, and it was comforting to know he was still with me.
“Happy birthday!” he said removing his hand from my eyes. As he did so, he placed a rather small package in my lap. It was a box, wrapped in lime green paper, my favorite color.
“What is it?” I asked beaming. I knew he wouldn’t tell me, but again, as was tradition, these were the words exchanged every time before I opened my gift.
He grinned mischievously. “You’ll see.”
I ripped off the paper.
“Whoa!” he said playfully, “kill it why don’t ya?”
Ignoring his remark, I carefully removed the lid. All the while he stared at me expectantly, waiting for my reaction.
Inside rested a rather unusual birthday gift. It was a pocket knife. Confused but nonetheless pleased, I asked, “What is this for?”
He took my hand and lifted me up off the wooden platform smoothed by years of small feet constantly traipsing over it. “Follow me,” he said.
I could have sworn that I saw a twinkle in his eye.
We jumped down the fireman pole and he led me to a tree next to the swing set. The tree. The tree all of the kids in the neighborhood called “The Sweetheart Records” because of the many names lovers carved into its bark.
He took the knife and opened it. “Take my hand,” he instructed.
I did as he said, though I dared not breathe. My hand rested upon his and followed his every movement. When he had finished, I looked at the raw knife markings among the rest. My heart soared. “A+N 4 EVER”.
Slowly coming out of my reverie, I made my way to “The Sweetheart Records” and brushed my hand over the initials we had carved together so many years ago.
Breath in, breath out, breath in…Here I went, stepping out on a precarious limb, praying to God that I didn’t fall. She was sure to think that this was cheesy!
My gosh what am I doing? I asked myself. My throat felt dry and my palms unnaturally wet. It felt like my heart was trying to escape me, wishing it could soar away from this place just as badly as I wanted to. I closed my eyes for a moment and took one last deep breath.
I’d better do it while she’s not looking.
I placed one knee down on the leaf strewn ground. Then she turned to look at me. And like I said, when I see her smile, all my worries are swept away.
It was almost as if I were in a fairytale. At that moment, a slight wind picked up and rustled the dead leaves on the ground. A temporary background formed around us as splotches of yellow, red, orange, and purple swirled with the wind’s current. Just before they settled back to the ground, he kneeled, completing the already brilliant picture. He was holding a black velvet box, the setting sun glinting off a small crystal jewel.
“Happy birthday,” he whispered.
“What’s in it?” I asked trying not to get emotional. Stupid hormones.
“You’ll see,” he replied with that same smile he had given me so many years ago.
I smiled and a crystal of my own left a trail down my cheek. I intertwined his gentle, weathered hands within mine, and all was right with the world.