adulthood · childhood · community · compassion · death · friendship · life

This Used to be my Playground

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I’ve been thinking in detail about my home town today.
Thinking about describing it to you: Up the block lived the boy I
had a crush on, across the street from him was our teenage babysitter, the park where
they buried plastic eggs every Easter, the library I used to hide in, and the
honeysuckle fence by the elementary school we all learned to eat from.
I catalogued it all in my brain before I got up. The radius
of what I knew determined by how far we’d bike. The friends who lived the flat
road across town to the other elementary school, and the bakery where my mom
would buy bagels each week, and sometimes cupcakes with frosting heaped on top
in the shape of Sesame Street characters – we’d beg for Cookie Monster, since
he also had a cookie stuck in his mouth.
The Dunkin Donuts down the hill where I got my first job,
and how you could smell the doughnuts baking from the top of the hill. The house next-door where my best friend lived, yellow, now beige with new owners. That big house on
the corner that burned down amid rumors of arson and insurance fraud.
The houses you knew to skip on Halloween, and the little
league fields with an actual brick concession stand. The tire playground that
used to stand at the grade school, where D. fell off the top of the pyramid and broke his
whole leg. The small white, bean-shaped rocks that carpeted that playground; I
picked up a handful the last time I was there, and when I rub them together in my
fist, the sound of scraping unlocks my childhood.
I was going to tell you about the awesome 4th of July parade
one year when I bought a Strawberry Shortcake ice-cream pop that, once
eaten, revealed a “Get One Free” prize on the wooden stick, so that the free one I got had the same message.
The street I first tried to drive down, the patch of pavement
where I fell off my bike and broke my foot.
I’ve been thinking about all this, everything I knew and
remembered, that shaped the world outside my front door, because facebook told me
yesterday that an old classmate’s mom suddenly died of cancer a year after his
father died of it, too. And I was picturing where his house is, just a block
from the library, one I’d have walked past thousands of times. It abuts the big
park where we all went on Memorial Day when school was closed, and there’d be
hot dogs and cotton candy.
For reasons I can’t explain (and despite being tired of
talking about my own cancer — Tired of referencing it like people reference
a year abroad: “Well, last year when I was in Scotland –” “Well, last year when I
had cancer…” as it simply is my frame of reference right now. Tired
and bored of it, and yet astonished at where, like yesterday morning), its
presence and reality will side-swipe me.
My sudden grief wasn’t all about me: it was the sadness of
the reality, once again, that life is so uncertain, so sudden, and so
disillusioning. That life offers those of us in it, grief. Live long enough,
and it just does.
When my final grandparent died last year, my generation, the
one of my classmates, became solidly in the center of life’s process. Our
parents are now grandparents or grandparent age. We’re them. And the generation
we’re birthing is us. We’re transitioning to the center of that boat.
Some of us already have transitioned, lost parents long ago, and have
always been in the center of that boat. But there’s no illusion anymore that
this is something we may be exempt from.
I don’t really know why I cried when I saw this. I felt for
him, for the innocence of our town, for my own remission/relapse fear. For
sudden grief that doesn’t permit goodbyes.
I don’t know how to end this blog. I don’t say that “those
were the days,” that the experience was idyllic, though these recollections tell me it was closer than I knew. But the fact remains that
those of us who grew up, who learned to ride bikes and squirt super soakers at
one another, who bought Big League Chew at the same candy store and rang the same Halloween
doorbells, will always be connected.
We may not be or have been friends, we may barely know the
lives each other lives now, but by circumstance
and proximity, we shaped for one another those two square miles of childhood. 

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