The clicking of the film feeding through my memory’s projector keeps a steady rhythm with the little girl on the swing. Her hands clench the chains and she leans back to push forward, her eyes fixed on the clouds above. With each forward thrust, there’s a sense of independence, of flight, of carefree abandon. When the momentum shifts, just before that invisible force pulls the swing back, her body stops in an exhilarating nanosecond of weightless anticipation. In surreal slow motion, the cycle repeats.
There were only two things I wanted more than anything else in my childhood: a dog and a swing. The fates were cruel and my parents offered neither. However, I was fortunate for a brief time to have one of those dreams realized. While they were looking for a home to purchase, my parents rented a house that had a rusty old swing set in the backyard. I think my mother hated it, but I absolutely loved it. It represented the freedom that my young life lacked – freedom that my mother restricted at every turn. Her need to control everything smothered me, but when I sat on that swing, I was my own person. Maybe she knew that and that’s why our next home didn’t have one.
The reason I never had a dog as a child wasn’t so much because my parents wanted to deprive me (although I sometimes wonder if that was my mother’s secret guilty pleasure). It was more about a dog being too much trouble, and kids were trouble enough. Dogs were dirty, germ-carrying, slobbering animals that belonged in the wild. A dog would create chaos in the order my mother tried so desperately to maintain in her home. I wanted a furry companion to love who wouldn’t judge me and who would love me back unconditionally. Being allowed a dog meant more to me than having any toy or being able to do anything else. My heart would overflow with love for my doggy, but that unrequited love had to wait until adulthood to finally be fulfilled.
My only encounters with puppy love as a child were with the cocker spaniels who belonged to a friend of my parents. I enjoyed visiting her because of her dogs – Archie, specifically. He was “my” dog. I loved him and he seemed to love me. It was the closest thing to being able to have a dog of my own. If there had been a swing set in the backyard, those visits would have been perfect.
Repressed, suppressed, oppressed, and depressed – I was just about every kind of pressed you could imagine as a kid. The things I wasn’t allowed to do far outnumbered what I could do. While at home, loud laughter, running and romping, and other normal childhood rambunctiousness was not tolerated for long. Children were to be seen and not heard. My sister and I were relegated to our room to play quietly with our dolls. We had to ask for permission to play outside and even then we couldn’t play in the grass because that would “wear out the grass.” My childhood must have seemed strange from an outsider’s perspective. For that matter, it was strange enough for me to realize that it was not “normal.”
When you spend a few months in seclusion like I have recently, away from human contact of the non-internet variety, it’s easy to let your mind wander to places it hasn’t been in a while, like childhood memories. In my particular situation, the future seems more uncertain now than at any other time in my life. Some days it feels like I have very little to look forward to and can’t make any plans because so many unknown variables are at play. This creates an unhealthy retrospective – how did I get here and why has my life turned out as it has? I try to focus on the positive, but sometimes I’m overwhelmed by emotions that come at me out of nowhere and I weep over little things. Sadness becomes harder to shake off than I’d like. “Hormones,” I tell myself. “It’s just the change in hormones.”
For whatever reason, I find myself thinking about that rusty old swing set a lot these days and those afternoons spent looking up at the clouds. It’s like watching an old home movie of myself. Worn and frayed from being overplayed, the images appear faded in places and skip in others. The surroundings change and sometimes I’m the spectator rather than the person having the experience. Was it a dream? Or was it real? Memories are funny that way.
Maybe I still want that swing set. Or maybe I just want what it represents.