Memories Lost

April 25, 2012
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We grew up on this playground, burying our pasts in tanbark. We built a new future amidst the flimsy plastic towers and we hung with our dreams from the jungle gym. We found love on an old, squeaky swing set. I remember once you asked me jokingly, Aren’t we too old for this, darling? But the truth is that we were born too late, and the years were too short to spend on wondering. All that time’s caught up with me now; when I close my eyes, I want to run away with you again.

Small feet trudged through the spotted sand, and little fists clenched. The boy scowled at the empty playground, scowled at the minivan that drove away from him. In a fit of anger, he kicked at the sand, scattering it everywhere. The wind whipped dusky hair away from his face, and he batted at it irritably. A high sound pierced his ears, rising above the howling of the wind, forming a rhythmic squeal. It came from the direction of the swing sets, and he wandered that way, if only for something to do.

The memories are blurry with fallacies and runaway imaginations, but I won’t forget the day I saw you on that swing, laughing with your hair ribbons fluttering like a kite tail in the wind. The rust stained your fingers, and your skin was perfumed with corroded metal. You were free in those moments, swinging high above the world.

I asked you, How did it feel? I didn’t understand how you could bear to be pulled so far away from your problems, only to have to return to them again because of gravity. Redundant and disappointing. Then again, there were a lot of things you did that I could never understand.

The girl ran ahead, and the parents were struck by the life in her, in the flaming red of her hair and the way her freckles seemed to dance on the tanned plane of her face.

“Slow down.” Nobody noticed her shadow, the boy with black hair that that hid his pale features. Not until he spoke, low and quiet.

“What are we going to do today?” She sighed happily, grabbing onto one of the painted white poles and swinging in a circle. The paint chipped off of the pole and speckled her hands. She laughed and beckoned to him. “Come on!”

“The kids are staring,” he whispered to her, leaning close.

She backed off with a flush across her cheeks before smiling brightly. “It doesn’t matter.” A small tap on his shoulder before her hair flashed out of view. “Come and catch me!”

He shook his head, leaning against the colorful plastic, glaring at the parents. Daring them to look. They quickly averted their eyes, giving their children fake, tolerant smiles. Reminding him of his childhood, or lack of one.

Someone poked him in the side. “Hurry up, or else we’ll be here forever.” Then she was gone again.

He allowed himself an amused smile for her impatience. Then he set off to find her.

You were going to go somewhere. I could see it. So could everyone else. I wasn’t. I would stay there, in a place where they found dead bodies strewn across Dumpsters and scattered bullets among shattered glass. It was a destiny that I had accepted.

“What do you wish for?” She maneuvered the swing so that she could bump his knee with hers, that ever present smile lighting up the dismal night.

He shrugged, staring up into nothing, his swing unmoving and casting a still shadow against the ground. His parents wouldn’t care when he got home, but hers definitely would. And night was a dangerous time to be out in.

“Not to become one of them.” He’d answered to get her safely home, but somehow honesty had slipped into his excuse.

“One of—?” Innocence clouded her face before she looked at the dark, forbidding streets, the ghost town of goodness. “Oh.” She leaned her head on his shoulder, quiet for a moment.

For a moment, he believed she would leave, but then she said, “You know what I wish for?”

He grunted in response.

“I wish for memories.” She raised her arms towards the sky, swinging up high. For a moment, he actually believed she would disappear off into the sky to join the stars. “They sort of get lost in everything, don’t they? I mean, all the possibility. It blocks out the good things.”

He snorted. “There aren’t many good things here anymore. You might as well live in the clouds.”

“Funny,” she said knowingly, leaping off her swing and landing with a light thud in the tanbark. “Usually, the people who say that are the ignorant ones. And you’re anything but.” She tucked her fur-lined jacket closer to her body and shivered.

Silently, he slipped off his threadbare sweatshirt and lowered it over her head. She giggled, the muffled sound drifting out from beneath the black hood. And he couldn’t help but grin, though he made sure to tuck the moment away before she could see that he had.

“Keep it,” he said. “You look like you’d need it.”

“Thank you,” she said reverently, touching the ripped material like it had been spun from gold. Then, she leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek, the touch of her lips more a whisper than anything else. “I think the reason you don’t see the good things is because you are one.”

And then she skipped down the street, her flaming hair sticking out of the black hood of his jacket like a torch that would always light the way.

I don’t get why you hung around me. Another inexplicable thing about you. You said you liked the color of my hair. You said it reminded you of midnight. Midnight is when the bad things happen. Midnight is when creatures of nightmares infest the park, when it reeks of violence and gunshots, and the swings squeal from fear. I wasn’t surprised with the deduction; I was surprised that you said that people like thinking black is a bad color, but here was the contradiction standing right in front of you.

Time flew with you. I think you knew it, but you hid it behind your disarming grin. The swing set would be the music of your memories, and nothing else. You would finally leap off of it and go farther than the never emptied trashcans of that park. But it was better to have been with you than to have spent it doing anything else. You saved me, and I would be saving you if I let you go.

“My parents say I have to pack for school in two days.” She twisted the chains of the swing around each other, getting herself more and more encaged in the tangle of metal.

He watched her, trying to remember the last spark of life that she would leave before she disappeared.

“I don’t want to go,” she said, not looking at him. “I want to stay here. I want to help people.”

“You’re not helping me by staying,” he said. Her head whipped around, and she grinned sheepishly before her face smoothed.

“It’s not just you,” she said solemnly. “You don’t need me. I need you.”

He dropped his head, uncertain what to do with this information.

She shook her head, chuckled. “Look at us, getting serious. Don’t worry. Everything will work out the way it should.” And she released the chains she’d wound so tightly, her sparkling laughter ringing through the silence.

It shouldn’t have surprised me when you came running towards me two days after that night, abandoning your luggage on the ground and throwing your arms around me. It didn’t matter after that, what you said and did, or what I’d tried to hide and erase. We were together, and everything else was insignificant.

I still remember the house we got together, the cramped flat with the unreasonable price. But you fell in love with the view of the park, of our swing set. Everyone could see it. Unfortunately, so could the seller.

Your parents had been so angry that they’d kicked you out, saying you’d lived up to nothing. You didn’t care, and I knew it had been because of me that they’d done it. I was selfishly grateful. You told me to buck up and get working, and by that time, I would have done anything for you. So I started working at the local mechanic’s while you taught children and did countless things to help others. We spent our nights talking side by side on those swings. You were obsessed with them and insisted they were symbolic. I only nodded, but it was true. Those unoiled swings brought you to me.

For a while, we were happy, and I quit trying to memorize you. I would have you forever anyway.

He waited anxiously, pacing around the house, glancing at the clock periodically. The numbers kept moving forward, and so did the quiet.

Blue and red flashed on the closed curtains that he refused to open, making him dizzy, but that was common. He’d heard the loud report of a gun earlier from the direction of the park. The usual.

What wasn’t usual was her absence.

Suspicions snuck into his head, and he shook it rapidly, convinced he was wrong. She was late because something had happened at the school. A parent-teacher conference, probably.

The harsh noise of the lights kept going, and he couldn’t take it anymore. He opened the door.

And screamed.

I picked your body up and untangled it from where it wrapped around the swings. I fought towards it. I think it was there that I became that creature of nightmares that I’d spent all my life fearing. It took the police a while to realize I wasn’t a beast, that I only loved you, and it had turned me insane.

You still smelled like metal, but this time, it hadn’t been from the swings. Blood. Even now, the chains are stained with it.

I think I understand what you mean about the memories. I wish I could remember the cadence of your laugh. I wish I could remember the exact shade of red that coated your hair. I wish I could remember how it felt when you chose me above everything else.

But all I can remember are the swings. Their squeaks still give me nightmares and make me reach out towards endless space. All I can remember is the loneliness, because I’m reliving it.

Memories. Memories born and killed, and when I close my eyes and try to run away with you again, all I see is an empty swing set.

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