home is in the heart

There’s a place in my backyard where the sunlight shines through the leaves of trees that hang over a familiar playground set. When the wind whispers, those leaves move the tiniest bit, and the sunlight seems to dance on the grass. I like to climb atop the monkey bars of that playground, sit with my legs dangling over one side, and think. I like to pretend I’m a little girl again and watch the world with eyes wide open, feeling loved and fascinated and alive.

After a long day of school and a noisy bus ride, I retreat to my backyard and step onto a blue-green ladder, rusty in some spots from weather and age.  My parents say the whole set is falling apart, but I don’t usually notice. I know that one of the rungs is bent in the middle, another is loose, and the foam that covers the bottom structural pieces has been ripped for years. I still think it’s adorable. One swing has a crack in its plastic seat; the other’s lopsided. The color scheme is not traditional but if summertime were colors, I think it would look just like my playground set – soft blue-greens and golden yellows. It has withstood snow and hail and flood rains; it’s invincible. I can’t remember a time when these monkey bars and swings and slide had ever not been here.

The ladder consists of only four rungs, but I feel like I can touch the sky when I reach the top. From there, I raise myself over the first monkey bar and turn my body so that the first and second bars make a sort of seat. I don’t have to worry about being careful, because the fall would be a short one and I’m sure the sunshine would carry me to safety as it always does. Sometimes, if I’ve not visited in a while, there are tiny spiders living in delicate, almost invisible webs. I keep away from them, thinking it’d be heartless to ruin their hard work, but I don’t even like spiders. I think this place has that effect on me; it makes me fall in love with everything as if I were six years old again, unafraid and innocent. Being above the ground makes my problems feel far away, and the sky is not just above me anymore but surrounding me, protecting me, welcoming me home. In those first few moments on the monkey bars, I’m certain that I’ve found paradise. I open up a book and read, or sing aloud to a song on my iPod, or lie down and close my eyes and just listen. People don’t “just listen” enough, I think. They believe that surrounding themselves with other people will make them less lonely or working themselves hard enough will make them happy, but everyone should just listen. There are easier, more natural ways to cure loneliness and sadness, like sleeping on the grass and listening to the quiet creaking of a swing. People think they were happier when they were younger because they had fewer responsibilities, fewer worries, less stress. Children are happier not because they have fewer problems, but because they allow themselves to forget them. Childen allow themselves to be amazed by the simplest of things – two squirrels playing tag in the trees, a single raindrop falling from a clear blue sky, flowers growing in the middle of broken concrete – so life, for them, is amazing.

So I listen. Often there are birds among the trees overhead that sing for me. Maybe I was supposed to be a bird, to call the skies my home and adore the warm sunshine. From my perch, I can see people in cars drive by my house, and I wonder if they see me, too. Do they look at me and remember their own secret places of childhood? For just one minute, are they hugged by the breeze and kissed by the sunlight and serenaded by the birds, and do they realize that the world loves them, or do those people just glance at me and decide that I’m weird? Maybe the birds think so, too. “What is this lonely girl doing in our yard?” and I would shrug and tell them I just want to re-learn how to feel alive.

As soon as the middle school bus drives by, I know i’ve run out of time. My mom and sister will be home soon, so I have to go back inside the house. I bury peaceful thoughts in the back of my mind so I can reach them if i need them that night or the next morning, but I let the happiness shine through. More than once when I’m stuck in the house or school, I remember how it feels to sit on those monkey bars. I remember to listen, I remember to love, I remember to live. More than anything, I never let myself forget what it’s like to be young.

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