Remembering an imaginary place from a simpler time of life.
In the neighborhood where we both did some of our growing up is an old playground. You remember it, the little park where everybody takes their kids when they all need some fresh air and time to think. It was one of the first things we mentioned when we discovered that we had both lived around there. It's between a building with a brick wall and two old, old weeping willows, so it's mostly shady during the day. The kids can play in the sand pit, on the see-saw, or on the tire swing. That's not many options, but nobody ever seems to mind waiting for a turn. They blow bubbles, hum songs, or tangle their friends' fingers up in complicated patterns of white string.
Two paths of flat walking stones form an X (almost), defining the corners of the playground. Sometimes kids play with bouncy balls along the paths, seeing which way they'll go if they throw them straight or trying to bounce them as high as they can. I used to try to guess how many of me would fit between the ground and the top of the ball's bounce, standing on each other's shoulders. After three of you, it's hard to tell, and shouldn't that top one be holding on to something? I must have had a dozen little balls like that. I remember a pale green one that got dirty really easily. When it had a good number of scratches and tiny divots, I'd hold it up to my window after I went to bed and imagine that it was the moon.
There are five or six benches around the playground, all facing different directions. The layout would look odd and unplanned if you drew a diagram of it, but it feels just right when you're there. The benches are made of sturdy boards, painted dark green, between white concrete arms. They look like they'll last forever. Their angle invites you to lean back, let out a long breath, and pay attention to what happens next. Each bench has a few dates and initials scratched into it, a singer's name (well, one: "Sinatra"! Really!), or sometimes a pair of initials around an awkward heart. J.B. loves O.K. Around ten in the morning, the sun is high enough to come through the leaves, and the light hangs in a field about a foot off the ground, drawing the place together. That's also about the time, if you watch closely, that you might see a small rock lizard dart across the low stone wall next to the sand pit. They gather up their will into a ball, get ready, and go for it. For the two or three seconds that they're out, they're nothing but a speedy little shadow.
I'm going to ask you to have lunch with me there next week, whenever you're free. I'll bring celery sticks, wheat crackers, some hummus that I'll make myself, two cans of 7-Up, and licorice. I'll have a peanut butter sandwich on rye, and I'll bring you a pita bread sandwich with cucumbers, tomatoes, hot sauce, and sprouts (even though I can't understand why you like them). We'll linger a while after we eat, offering more memories of when we were young and staring out toward the road, weighing the rest of our questions against the ones we've already answered. I hope I can hold your hand ... should I sidle mine up to it and poke your fingertips lightly first, or should I grab it, hold my breath for a second, and see what you do? I promise that I will still be ready to be your friend if that doesn't fit your plans well.
How is this ever going to work?