By Virginia, Illustration by Haley
When you’re little, you live under your parent or guardian’s laws. Until you’re a teenager, you’re never really on your own. Moments between people your age are essentially school and preplanned activities. Location is everything in these scenarios—how else are you ever going to talk to your third grade crush if you don’t end up at the same grocery store Saturday morning? For me, playgrounds have always been a constant. I remember falling off the monkey bars, getting back on the monkey bars and in turn hitting my head so hard I knocked myself unconscious. Warm fall days would be spent at the town playground, interacting with the other occasional kid, and munching on my typical peanut butter and jelly and Capri-Sun combo. My hometown playground shaped my earlier years and provided me with semi-acceptable social skills when I arrived in sixth grade.
Throughout middle school, the playground found a new home on the backburner of my life. With new social opportunities arising all around me, why would I need the sanctuary of swings? The playground didn’t make a cameo again until right before I left for my first year of college. The unknown was looming over my head like a storm cloud, a raging cumulonimbus (and I started thinking about Up far too often). A few weeks before my first semester, I got to hang out with a wonderful boy. As a sort of parting night celebration, we went to the grocery store, got pints of gelato, and imagine my surprise when he brought me to a playground—one that I had never even visited. Granted, it was on the other side of town, but how comforting in a nerve-wracking situation, as if it cancelled out the anxiety I was feeling. As I sat on the swings with him, I felt my childhood molding into the present.
As my freshman year of college progressed, I felt the reality of life weighing on me. Between overwhelming classes and not so savory peers, I began wishing I had a place of my own. As I drove to the nursing home at which I observed a music therapist for my class, I noticed a small playground along the side of the road. It sort of stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the extensive nothingness of the tiny town, but it caught my eye and I stopped on my way back. I let myself soak in the thrill of the dewy grass, sticky benches and rusty swings. Finally, I found a spot for my self and my thoughts. As the semester continued, I stopped at the playground weekly, keeping it secret from everyone else—why spoil a Western New York gem?
Playgrounds reek of unobliterated happiness and carefree bliss—I know, cliché, but there’s something so WONDERFUL in sitting on a swing… bonus points if there’s sand and you can run your toes through it. A few weeks ago, I took my friend Whitney to the playground I frequented at the end of freshman year. We both had a challenging semester, so I knew we could both benefit from some swinging. As I stepped foot onto the squishy, mud-filled lawn, I felt as if a barrier had been put up around the playground, like no one could taint it for me… it was just as I had left it, months before.