The last time we were at this park my youngest child lost her water ice at the bottom of the slide. I don’t remember the exact physics, only how cherry slush looked like blood in the mud and that there were tears and how I somewhat begrudgingly gave her my own water ice because this is what it means to be a parent. (Also: no sleep and dirty clothes and car interiors so basically disheveledness, but also bone deep contentedness and the feeling of falling in love, only better because it doesn’t go away.)
For awhile, I’d had a mental block about this park. This is where the story gets dark, so you might want to look away (but you probably won’t).
One morning in late winter, I got a disturbing text from my teenaged daughter. Her bus had gone its usual route by the park and the driver noticed too late that a body was hanging from the swings. It was barely dawn, that tricky time of light when your eyes can’t be sure what they’re seeing, so she might have thought at first it was someone’s idea of a sick joke. The driver told the kids on the bus not to look – she even said don’t look to the right, a clarity that impressed me when my daughter recounted this – but you tell a group of kids or anyone for that matter not to look somewhere, they will need to see for themselves what someone is warning them they will never be able to unsee.
The hanged body was ruled a suicide, though rumors and general fear swirled for a day or two. I don’t care to speculate here, but it was an ugly, awful thing she witnessed and my heart broke a dozen times over for pretty much everyone involved, though my daughter bounced back quick enough. The bus ride the next morning was a little white knuckle, but with continued routine there was no time to develop a real phobia of the place, though she said to me last night when I dropped her off nearby for a school event that she still has no desire to go back to the park. It haunts her a little.
I’d felt that way myself, but I still have a little kid that doesn’t know the ugliness of the world. At first I naively thought officials might take the swings down, but when I saw the massive steel arch last night, probably installed in the sixties, I got it. It’s as solid as the trees around it, one of which I kept staring up at after my youngest hopped up on one swing and I gave her a big push to get started. All the other trees nearby were already heavy with buds and blooms, but this one tree – and I have no idea what kind it was – didn’t appear to have any. Otherwise its trunk and branches looked healthy and ready to go, so eventually I stopped staring up and faced the swings.
I heard them too, the terrible groaning, that shrieky metal on metal that seemed almost comically human, but then terribly so. My girl eventually grew bored and hopped off and we took a walk around the park, checking out a fountain under repair and the massive gazebo with its graffiti-carvings, plus all the dogs around the park. Little flitty dogs, one puffed up like a dandelion, another crouched down playfully as we walked past, and one freaking out at absolutely nothing. Once we’d made a satisfyingly leisurely lap, my daughter found a friend on the climbing structure and so leaving involved the usual bit of bargaining that makes me think all kids start out as potentially good lawyers.
My youngest remembers coming to the park with camp last summer and how a boy shimmied up the arch of the swing to the center, an impressive and dangerous feat. My other daughter remembers something worse and I remember something in between. We all remember the fallen water ice because it was funny and sad and agreed we will come back soon with more water ice to see how the massive canopy of trees looks again in late spring. It will all be here long after we’re gone.