Playing Grounds This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   My silence is broken by children's careless laughter, shrieks of excitement, and occasional anguished cries which separate in the air and drift in muted fragments through my open window.

They have taken over the playground , my background, as I used to boast to my friends. They sense that I am too old to play there anymore, so they have marched in, claiming the hallowed ground as their own. And they never even asked my permission.

I am four again. The slide is a silvery metal and the sun glints fiercely upon its surface, rendering it too hot to climb. It has no stairs, for the challenge is to scale it, and then, exhausted, slide effortlessly to the ground.

The narrow, painted metal horses never eat or make noise or even breathe but they take me as far and as fast as I wish to go. My face chafed red by the sharp wind; my hair blowing behind me; I pump my legs faster, pushing the swing higher.

I construct an empire of sand, tirelessly hauling water from the fountain to the sandbox in my tiny pail. I build castles, houses, bridges, and fill my city with real, though invisible, characters. My parents call me to return home, and I cry. "She's overtired," they whisper to each other, because they do not know that I am frustrated that I was not given the chance to complete my building, that I am frightened by the impermanence of my creation. I want to climb the slide once more, and this time reach the top. My parents call again, and I request one last ride on the swing.

I stopped going to the park when the huge slide seemed to shrink, and my interests shifted from swings to socializing. I would look ludicrous now, forming a fantasy world of sand, so I am forced to do it surreptitiously, with my books and my music and the little blank book I keep hidden in my bottom drawer under my jeans.

But I must act my age. To children, I have joined the adult realm. They think that because I am taller, because I have abandoned bright, pink-flowered t-shirts for stark black turtlenecks, because I speak quietly and carry my head high and have long since ceased to cry in public, that I am a grown-up. They do not know that sometimes behind my tightly closed door I reread my old Dr. Seuss books, or that "The Muppet Movie" is one of my favorite films, or that I sometimes fall asleep hugging a silly, grinning stuffed mouse.

A few years ago they tore down the slide, removed my sandbox, carted away the swings, and replaced them with fancy, freshly-painted toys of wood and metal, so complex I could probably never figure out how to play on them. I guess I'm supposed to rebuild my own playground. Adult friendships, with their unspoken rules and petty competitions, with their confidences and secrets, have replaced easily won, quickly forgotten, childhood companionships, and quiet thought has replaced boisterous games. But sometimes, when too restless and reckless to study or listen to music or to act my age, I can always go join the kids in the park. I still belong there. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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